Having worked extensively as a director and camera operator on a wide range of films, BJ McDonnell has helped bring cinematic stories to life over the past two decades, and in his latest directorial project, he combines the music of Slayer with intense storytelling for a powerful viewing experience. With Slayer: The Repentless Killogy in theaters for one night only today, we caught up with McDonnell for our latest Q&A feature to discuss coming up with stories for The Repentless Killogy, working with the band he grew up listening to, bringing together horror icons for the film's eclectic cast, and giving fans of Slayer something that they can treasure forever.
Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us, and congratulations on Slayer: The Repentless Killogy! When did you first start working on this film, and how did the opportunity come about?
BJ McDonnell: I was called to do a pitch interview with Gerardo Martinez at Nuclear Blast Records. He was interviewing horror film directors to direct the next Slayer video. I went in and pitched that I wanted to do a video that really spoke Slayer to me. I said I never thought Slayer had a video that really made me feel like what the music conveyed or the feelings I felt while listening to the music. I loved the "Seasons In The Abyss" video with the pyramids in the background, however, I wanted to put my touch and vision on how I felt with the music. I said MTV and other music video platforms that censor music videos are a thing of the past. I felt we could really go full bore brutal with the song "Repentless." I pitched two different concepts. One was a post-apocalyptic satanic cannibal biker video, the other was the prison riot video—both extremely graphic and bloody. The biker video would have cost a fortune to shoot, so after the band read the two concepts, they chose my prison pitch to go with. Then the "Repentless" video was born.
What was your first encounter with the music of Slayer? How long have you been a fan of their work?
BJ McDonnell: All through middle school I was very big into Anthrax and Metallica. I grew up in the south and went to a christian school where I was the only metalhead/punk rock kid there. I only had a little exposure to new music other than my friends who lived in my neighborhood. When I started high school, I met a surfing buddy, David Law, who was always singing Slayer songs in homeroom. I loved the lyrics and asked him what band he was singing. He gave me a Slayer tape and I was instantly a fan of the music. It became my go-to surfing and BMX bike theme music. I was hooked!
How did you approach writing the screenplay for Slayer: The Repentless Killogy? Did you create your own stories from listening to their music?
BJ McDonnell: The Repentless Killogy is really Gerardo Martinez's concept of making some sort of trilogy. He always had the idea of doing some sort of a storyline. After we released the "Repentless" video, Gerardo said, “He,y lets make a prequel and a sequel to the 'Repentless' story.” I was excited to begin writing, so I sat and did the pitches for "You Against You" and "Pride In Prejudice." Since we did a full brutal prison riot already, I wanted the next two videos to have a different feeling, but still uphold the blood and gore. I wanted "You Against You" to be more an action film, and "Pride In Prejudice" to be a suspense thriller. I showed the guys the ideas and they were totally into it. So we created those videos. It was only later that Gerardo talked about doing another narrative and full live concert. Gerardo and I wanted to build a Segway into Slayers follow-up album to "Repentless." I began writing the “Denouement,” which later was re-named “Killogy” with the idea that Slayer's next album we would continue the storyline of Wyatt (Jason Trost) and go down an even darker road. We went out and filmed the narrative that tied the three videos into it as well as shooting the live concert at the forum. We were in editing and then we got the news Slayer was calling it quits. NOOOOOOO!!!
How much did you collaborate with Kerry, Tom, Paul, and Gary while writing the screenplay and shooting the film?
BJ McDonnell: The band was very easy to work with. I wrote the video pitch ideas and would turn them in to Gerardo and Rick Sales. They presented the videos to the band and after they read the ideas they were on board. It was pretty simple. They really let me do what I wanted to do. I was so happy that I made them happy with what we did with the music videos. I put them in pretty horrible conditions weather-wise when we did the videos. "Repentless" was scorching hot, "You Against You" was windy and dry, and "Pride In Prejudice" was absolutely freezing up in the mountains of Wrightwood, CA. The band never complained and were so up to getting out there and doing what they do best. The weather was tough, but the guys were tougher. They believed in what we were filming and that’s why the videos came out so entertaining. They are an absolute pleasure to work with.
Where did filming take place for your segments of the movie, and how many days did you have in your shooting schedule?
BJ McDonnell: Because the Killogy is made with the music videos in it, there were multiple locations. "Repentless" was a two-day shoot at Sybil Brand prison. "You Against You" was a three-day shoot at Club Ed in Palmdale, CA and an airplane graveyard. "Pride In Prejudice" was a two and a half day shoot in Wrightwood, CA and Pasadena. The Killogy narrative portion of the film was a three-day shoot at Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, CA, downtown Los Angeles, my house, and at the LA Forum.
You directed several Slayer music videos prior to The Repentless Killogy. How much did that working relationship with the band help you while making this film?
BJ McDonnell: The relationship got better and better each time we were in the mix of pre-production and production. I always sent the treatments in so the band could sign off on each one. I wanted to make sure we were all on board and happy with what was down on paper before we began shooting. We all really saw eye to eye on the videos.
What made Wayne Isham the right fit to bring in as the other director on The Repentless Killogy?
BJ McDonnell: I wrote and directed the narrative of the film. Rick Sales brought in Wayne to direct the live concert portion. He has been around for many years and done some outstanding videos in the past. Rick Sales wanted someone to direct the live concert that had done live shows before. My experience is all feature film and television based. I really wanted to direct the concert portion, however I had my hands full directing the narrative. I am glad Wayne was there for that. He was great to work with and did a killer job.
The Repentless Killogy features an all-star cast of actors who are beloved in the horror community, including Danny Trejo, Tyler Mane, Derek Mears, Bill Moseley, and Caroline Williams. How did they get involved?
BJ McDonnell: In the beginning with the "Repentless" video I called in as many favors as I could—people I had worked with in the past that are easygoing and cool. So it was a phone call with, “Hey I’m doing a Slayer video and I would love it if you could be in it.” It was never meant to be a “who's who in horror” video. It just turned out that way. Same thing with the crew and cast. The videos would never had been what they were without the crew and cast that came and helped out. I had many industry pros that jumped in and did what they do best on these videos. I couldn’t have done it without them.
Looking back at your time on set, is there a favorite or memorable moment that stands out?
BJ McDonnell: I think my favorite moment was right after we shot with the band for the first time on "Repentless." I was driving home sweaty, totally beat to shit, and I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face knowing I had just finished working with a band I looked up to for so many years. Knowing that what my crew and I had just got done doing would be a part of Slayer history forever. Realizing that the band and I were now friends.
Slayer: The Repentless Killogy will be in theaters for a special one night only event on November 6th. What can fans look forward to experiencing at these screenings?
BJ McDonnell: The fans can expect to revisit the original videos in chronological order with a short unseen portion at the end. It’s a bit of a “cliffhanger,” as this was meant to carry over to a new Slayer album that now won’t happen. I think even with that in mind it is a blast. Then, the full live concert at the Forum is fantastic—a piece of history that everyone can pop into their Blu-ray player and always get to have a live Slayer concert forever.
Ultimately, what do you hope viewers take away from Slayer: The Repentless Killogy?
BJ McDonnell: I hope viewers enjoy the blood, sweat, and tears everyone poured into this project. I hope people take with them the narrative and live concert, remembering the legacy that Slayer left for them and for future generations to come. It’s something people can always watch and have forever.
In addition to directing, you’ve also worked extensively as a camera operator on films directed by William Friedkin, Rob Zombie, J.J. Abrams, and many other notable directors. How have those experiences impacted your approach to filmmaking?
BJ McDonnell: With each individual project I get to work on, I always try to take something with me from it in the end. Each director I’ve worked with has taught me things I never thought of doing as techniques with actors and crew. I’ve learned things to do as well things not to do. It is like your own personal film school each day at work. The knowledge of just being on set and working so close to these people is invaluable.
With Slayer: The Repentless Killogy coming to theaters on November 6th, what other projects do you have coming up that you’re excited about? Is there anything you can tell us about working on The Conjuring 3? Also, where can our readers follow your work online?
BJ McDonnell: I’m happy to be wrapping up The Repentless Killogy. It was one music video that turned into a few years of collaborating with the band as well as the record label becoming what it is now. I’m proud of the storytelling we did through the music of Slayer. I’m currently working with my good friend Marcus Dunstan on the third installment of the Collector horror films, directing second unit. I’ve also been day playing camera operating on James Wan's new film in Los Angeles that's gonna be very cool.
I want to focus on more serious horror, thriller, or action films. I’m looking for good scripts right now. I wish I could talk more about The Conjuring 3. We wrapped it up not too long ago and it's in post production. I think Michael Chavez did a stellar job stepping into such big shoes to fill. Can’t say much more than that, so you guys will all have to wait!
To learn more about Slayer: The Repentless Killogy and where you can see it in theaters, visit: