Don't go to the Flight 666 hoping for 'Spinal Tap'-like heavy metal clichés or scenes of hotel rooms being smashed to pieces. After 37 years as the biggest hard-rock group in the world, the tattooed, long-haired musical artists of Iron Maiden have outgrown all that crap.
“We hit a point in the tour where we were a little disappointed that there wasn't more drama behind the scenes,” said Toronto-based filmmaker Scott Mc Fadyen, co-director with Sam Dunn of the documentary that chronicles the mega-group's intense 2008 world tour. “But we realised that that was becoming the story in and of itself. What most surprised us was the work ethic. They haven't gone out and ruined themselves. They sound better now than they did in the '80's.”
Iron Maiden embarked on their 45 day/23 concert tour of 5 continents under their own steam. On their custom-outfitted Jumbo jet 'Ed Force One” (named after the iconic character 'Ed', a skeletal hedonist that has symbolised the group's machismo since the mid 1980's), the group undertook a re-enactment of their landmark 1982 “Number Of The Beast” world tour, this time incorporating countries that had supported them but that the group had not been able to visit 25 years ago.
“Ever since 1984 when they played in Poland and 1985 when they played in Brazil, they are a band that has tried to play beyond the usual itinerary,” observes Dunn, recollecting landmark concerts that defined the international allure of Iron Maiden. “Obviously Metallica, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest have huge followings, but there isn't a band quite like Iron Maiden that has such cross-cultural appeal”.
McFadyen and Dunn are committed metal afficionados from way back – through their production company, Banger Productions, they have celebrated hard-rock in their documentaries Metal: A Head Bangers Journey and Global Metal. Regardless of their reputation, getting the go-ahead to accompany Iron Maiden on this incredible assignment proved daunting, both logistically and psychologically.
“That first day, when they showed up at Stansted (Airport, U.K.), you could tell that not all the guys were happy about having cameras around. It was not until we hit Australia that we felt the guys liked us and were into having us around”, recalls Dunn. With a seven man crew and a schedule that allowed them only one day off in 7 weeks, Dunn and McFadyen became obsessed with their project. “When you are filming a documentary, you become worried about what you might be missing. We worked 24/7,” recalls Dunn, exhaling a disbelieving sigh at the thought of his schedule. “We were out there to capture the essence of this tour and all the behind-the-scenes stuff going on. We hit South America and were exhausted and we still had a couple of weeks to go.”
Iron Maiden have gone through several line-up changes but currently enjoy a very stable dynamic. Drummer Nicko McBrain is Mr Personality in the group, often dragged out to front foreign press conferences, his devil-may-care, flattened-nose gruffness infectious in its affability. “Nicko deserves his own comedy show”, says Dunn. “He has always been a bit of a mystery for Iron Maiden fans, tucked away behind that gigantic drum kit. This movie allowed him to get out in the limelight for a change.”
Lead singer Bruce Dickinson – an irrepressibly energetic individual who piloted Ed Force One for the entire world tour – was refreshingly open with the filmmakers, but it was the softly-spoken bass player Steve Harris, a founding member of the band and the filter through which all suggestions about the group's direction are passed, who proved most accommodating. In terms of having final say on the content of the film, Harris was the one they had to impress. “The most shy member of the band is the one that everything had to go through to be 'Maiden-ised', as they say”, remembers McFadyen. “He's the keeper of the gate.” Ultimately, their concerns proved unfounded. “Having seen the footage, he ended up giving us, like, a page of notes. It was the biggest compliment he could have given us.”
One of the most memorable moments in the film occurs when Dunn and McFadyen, travelling in a van behind the super-group, are set upon by rabid Argentinian fans who mistake them for someone important. “In northern countries, like Canada, where we live, we really take for granted (the impact of) music”, says Dunn. “For young people growing up in countries like Colombia or Costa Rica, they don't get the opportunity to experience a live show like Iron Maidens very often. To be there for these moments with these kids, to be a documentary crew capturing it, it was really something special, a once in a lifetime moment for these kids.”
Next on the agenda for Dunn and McFadyen is a documentary on Canadian glam-rockers Rush – another retirement-age supergroup that, like Iron Maiden, never achieved the acceptance within the 'Musical Establishment' many believe they deserve. Iron Maiden were honoured with their first major award in February of this year – the British Music Awards Best Live Performance trophy. Sam Dunn is philosophical. “You wonder why critics like Elvis Costello so much”, he ponders. “It's because they all look like Elvis Costello”.
Despite a pedigree that reaches back decades, Iron Maiden have new fans to reach, new goals to achieves. In the hands of Sam Dunn and Scott McFadyen, Flight 666 ensures the bands direction and purpose will be forever remembered, and eternally revered.