Q&A: Heavy Metal Parking Lot director Jeff Krulik

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

On a sunny spring Saturday in 1986, Jeff Krulik and John Heyn went to the parking lot of Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, with a video camera. The resulting 16-minute documentary has since gone down in rock-doc infamy.

Capturing the booze- and drug-soaked tailgate party before a Judas Priest concert, "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" may have been the original viral video. Years before YouTube, it was a staple of sixth-generation bootleg VHS dubs.

This Saturday at the Drexel, you'll get a rare chance to see "HMPL" on a big screen. It's the "opening band" for the Found Footage Festival.

On the 25th anniversary of the documentary, we caught up with co-director Jeff Krulik.

Q: Over two decades ago you pointed your camera at a bunch of drunk kids and got gold. Where did the idea come from?

A: John Heyn and I were aspiring documentary filmmakers in our mid-20s, starting to use public access cameras to record what inspired us. I was the manager of this local public access/community TV station, so I had access to professional 3/4-inch equipment (an industry standard at the time). John came to me one day with the idea, and I thought, let's go for it. We weren't heavy metal or Judas Priest fans, but their upcoming concert on a bright spring Saturday became our target. John just thought it would be a cool subculture to explore, and I completely agreed. Again, we wanted to make documentaries, and we were both drawn to unusual and offbeat subjects. In this case, heavy metal fans, right at the peak when '80s metal was on the radio and could fill arenas.

Q: What was the day of filming like?

A: Truthfully, all that I can remember is what thankfully made it to screen. I know we drove in, paid a parking fee like any concertgoer at the time, drove around, then eventually got out and started wandering around. Believe me, we were a total novelty. A camera crew in that place? Totally unexpected. Plus, we weren't exactly metalheads. I wish there was a picture of us from that day I could show you. But we never went with an agenda to make fun of anyone or try to manipulate the direction of what we were recording. We just let the camera roll about an hour of footage on tape, that John edited down to the best 15 minutes. We were only in the parking lot for two hours. Then we left. We didn't go to the concert.

Q: Most people who have seen the film haven ' t seen it with an audience in a theater. What ' s that experience like?

A: People always enjoy the experience with a crowd and on a big screen. John and I still enjoy that too, even these many years later. There's a great collective energy that happens. Perhaps not unlike "Rocky Horror," although no one shouts out lines or makes fun of anybody, thankfully. What's particularly cool is being able to see what's going on in the background, especially if you're used to just watching it on a small TV screen. That's always fun.

Q: How do you think " HMPL " would be different if it happened in the age of YouTube?

A: These days viral video - on YouTube and the like - is so instantaneous that shelf life is sometimes only hours, days or weeks at best. So who knows what would happen? I'm sure it wouldn't have taken root like it did as a cult film, organically and completely unplanned. We were very lucky that it struck a chord, and over the years after we stopped showing it (in 1990) developed a reputation, albeit on the underground, tape-trading network.

Q: What ' s it like having your movie shared via bootleg?

A: The whole "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" odyssey has been quite a journey for us, but we remain flattered and grateful that there continues to be interest. We used to give tapes away like water, because we never had the resources or vision to release it theatrically. And there were no outlets at film festivals either, because no fests ever showed video back then. So were doomed to the bootleg circuit. I guess we've tried to put the genie back in the bottle, but it's way too late, and we've just moved on to other projects.

Q: Do the official DVD and Hulu releases take away from bootleg mystique for you at all?

Well, not really. We are firm believers in the new distribution platforms provided by online video. I don't think there's ever going to be bootleg tape-trading anymore. Those days seem to be over.

Q: What ' s your favorite moment of Heavy Metal Parking Lot?

A: That's hard to say, because I love every frame of the film, and the people in it all seem like family to me. I find myself quoting obscure passages at times, but they don't even make sense out of context so I won't bother saying them.

Q: Much of your work focuses on people on the fringe, but your approach is warm and not judgmental. Is there a reason for that theme?

A: I've been fortunate to build a body of work that does seem to resonate with that theme, and I appreciate when it's noticed. I laugh at mean-spirited humor and comedy just as much as the next guy, but I could never do anything like that, and I hope I never do. Sometimes, you can stray into that territory, but I try to keep anything awkward and uncomfortable out of the frame, whether when I'm shooting it or in post-production. It's just how I'm most comfortable.

Q: Ever consider " Justin Bieber Parking Lot " ?

A: Well, not exactly. But we're always open to opportunities with a paycheck attached. For instance, our bona fide, but short lived, cable TV show called "Parking Lot." It lives on in my YouTube channel now: http://www.youtube.com/user/ParkingLotTV

Found Footage Festival

7:30 and 10 p.m. Saturday, March 19

Drexel Theatre

2254 E. Main St., Bexley