Banger Films has long been the voice of heavy metal and a platform to showcase the genre as a powerful, global musical movement versus the kitschy footnote in pop culture it’s been viewed as. Recently, Banger Films has expanded its creative vision from film production into the realm of digital television with “BangerTV,” the world’s fastest-growing, digital channel for heavy metal music and culture.
BangerTV shows include Overkill Reviews, Lock Horns, BangerTV Interviews, and their first foray into scripted comedy, Heavy Metal Hitchhiker. The show stars Mitch, a metal head gas station attendant, who finds an abandoned guitar belonging to his favorite band, RÄGR. It’s up to Mitch, following in the footsteps of his dad, a roadie, to find and return that guitar to RÄGR, because the show must go on.
Heavy Metal Hitchhiker features the acting talent of many familiar faces from various BangerTV shows, in particular Blayne Smith, a Toronto-based comedian who hosts Overkill Reviews and appears on Shredders of Metal. Smith not only acts on Heavy Metal Hitchhiker but holds writer credits on all eight episodes. New Noise recently caught up with him to chat about Heavy Metal Hitchhiker.
Prior to the TV show being made, was there talk about taking the core story of Heavy Metal Hitchhiker in other creative directions versus the final product we saw on YouTube?
Oh yeah, we bounced around all kinds of ideas with all kinds of crazy stuff. Somebody would toss an idea out and it’d be like, “That’s great but that’s also expensive,” and another suggestion might be, “Again, that’d be great but that could ruffle some people’s feathers the wrong way.” Eventually it led to this idea of a guy named Mitch, hitchhiking.
Casting Mitch wasn’t difficult. I am a standup comedian and I know a lot of other comedians. My producer asked me, “Do you know anyone that seems like a roadie?” And Garrett Jamieson immediately came to mind. Garrett was perfect for the role, he really just is the character, and he’s such a great fit that it all came together, naturally, with him being there.
How much of the show’s script was improv?
There definitely was some with me and Che Durena (“Hank”) since we’re both comedians and wanted to have some fun with it. Originally, the whole show was going to be heavily improv but we had to switch to a slightly more rigid, scripted format because improv with two people in a car—not super COVID-19 friendly.
Why produce eight episodes, and why did each episode clock in at under 10 minutes?
You know, you have to work within the confines of YouTube and what people like. There’s also the confines of money and time, not to mention a global pandemic, so it was myriad things that all came together to make it what it is.
Is the endgame to move from YouTube to Netflix, Hulu, or another streaming service?
That’s something I wouldn’t be opposed to! There’s other series that began in similar fashion. I’m a big fan of High Maintenance, which started out as a little episodic series on the internet, and Letterkenny, which began as a small-town, Canadian sketch show. With Heavy Metal Hitchhiker, we’re just trying to have fun, and at Banger, we’re always trying to make something as big as we can, so we’ll take it as big and far as it’ll go.
Heavy Metal Hitchhiker boasts quite the impressive metal soundtrack. Was it expensive getting the licensing rights to that music?
We’re really lucky because we, as a company, have a really good working relationship with a lot of bands. Between our YouTube channel and our documentaries, we have a lot of pals, which is cool. And I think with the way the music ended up on the show, it was everyone who was part of Heavy Metal Hitchhiker reaching out to musicians they knew or bands they were fans of, and at Banger, we like to push and promote everyone.
Also, the friendly price for a Power Trip song is a lot friendlier than it would be for say Rush, which would’ve eaten up most of our budget to produce the show. Most people don’t realize, until you’re working in TV or film, how expensive the licensing fees are. Take the movie Guardians of the Galaxy and their soundtrack, for example. Most of us probably thought they spent more money on that than on Chris Pratt. How about the third Thor movie with Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song?” They probably used that song as much as they did to get their money’s worth!
Talk to me about shooting the show and how the pandemic figured into that process.
Wow, well, the story of this is almost like the plot of the TV show itself, where we had to get production across the finish line before all of this stuff with COVID-19 started happening. We had written it and blocked off filming for the final week of March 2020 before the entire world went into lockdown. At that point we were like, “Crap, are we gonna be able to make this?”
We actually didn’t think we were going to do it and then things started to loosen up a bit with all of the restrictions in place. Essentially we had to rewrite the show because every episode was like two people or more, in a car together, in pretty close proximity to each other. So, we rewrote it, retooled it, and got Mitch outdoors a couple more times and got the show made doing it as safely as possible.
By the time we finished production, COVID-19 blew up again huge, so we got it done just in time before lockdown hit. It took about a month of shooting to do the series and then we did all the editing later. We really threaded the needle there.
Was there talk about trying to get guys from bands like Municipal Waste or Limp Bizkit to do guest shots in the show?
Well, the band that Mitch was striving to get the guitar back to was Possessed, because Jeff Beccera and Possessed are friends of Banger. They were doing a show in Toronto the weekend we were filming, and we were like, “This is kismet, this is fate, the stars are aligning for us.” We were hoping to get a couple more cameos shot and then everyone, all the musicians, were stuck at home. Just like that, no one was travelling, so we had to make do with what we had.
If there’s a second season of Heavy Metal Hitchhiker, what bands have reached out to you and asked to appear in the show?
I don’t want to give anything away, but the response has been really great, and if we do a second season, we have some plans I think everyone will be really happy with.
What about TV or movie stars, has anyone from Hollywood contacted Banger and asked to appear in a possible second season?
I can’t really talk about that until that stuff gets solidified. I don’t want to reveal or jinx anything, right?
The viewership numbers for each show seemed to average between 19K and 39K. Were you happy with that?
This was our first venture into doing anything really scripted with the channel. Prior to this, we’ve been kind of a review and documentary type of a hub and to be honest, we were kind of nervous doing this show since people come to us for a certain thing. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but metal fans don’t always react well to change. However, as it turned out, everyone that came to the channel was happy with Heavy Metal Hitchhiker and liked it.
The first episode did really well and then after that, you know, there’s always that drop off after the first of anything that’s on YouTube. The nice thing is that it’s evergreen content and the numbers have remained pretty steady and we’re happy people are enjoying it.
Does Banger still consider itself a metal underground entity or something more mainstream?
We’re still firmly metal underground, that’s our home, that’s where we’re happy to be and if anything like Heavy Metal Hitchhiker breaks out from it, that’s sweet, that’s what we love. The YouTube channel was created because the company, Banger Films, is a big production company now and we’re doing big stuff, and lot of it is happening outside the metal world, so the YouTube channel is our way of staying true to our roots, and the core, and the heart of Banger. We’re always trying to keep the metal underground happy and make stuff for it because it’s a really under-appreciated market.
We’ve got all this metadata now that shows that metal fans are the most dedicated fans, they actually love the music they listen to, and they financially support it more. It’s always weird to me that people haven’t figured this out and made content for metal previously. We’re always happy to make content for metal fans, and quite frankly, don’t get enough stuff made for them.
Contact Banger Films, and let them know you want a Season Two of Heavy Metal Hitchhiker.