If all of the song news, advertising and giveaways weren’t a hint lately, we’re all pretty excited for the film The Retaliators to be officially released in cinemas this week. For myself, I just love getting to watch any new indie horror that comes along because I’m pretty jaded from all the reboots/remakes/requels coming out of Hollywood, but for the heavy music junkies here at Wall Of Sound, there’s the added excitement of seeing some of their favourite heavy metal icons up on the big screen.
Wall of Sound got to sit down with The Retaliator‘s actor/director Michael Lombardi last week to find out how this project came about, why working with musicians was so important to him and what lies ahead for Better Noise Films.
Going back a few weeks… During my first watch of The Retaliators, I was halfway through the film before it hit me; I recognised the lead protagonist, Pastor John Bishop! A quick Google search to check and sure enough, it was Michael Lombardi who starred in the TV show Rescue Me. That guy doesn’t age. So it was pretty exciting to go behind the scenes of his latest feature film endeavour.
For those who don’t know much about Michael Lombardi, he began his career in music as a drummer for various bands, he was the singer/songwriter for hard-rock group Apache Stone, he also spent 20 years acting in a variety of TV shows and movies and now he’s joined forces with Better Noise Films as the Head of Production and Development and trying his hand at directing. So, we started there!
What drew you to be part of The Retaliators as an actor, and also to take part in directing?
So mid-2000s I had a rock band, I had a little record deal so I love music and my roots were pretty deep in that. I used to go and write with these brothers called The Geare Brothers (writers of The Retaliators script) and creatively we just collaborated so well and our tastes were so aligned. I hadn’t spoken to them for a while and when I reconnected, they mentioned [they were] writing screenplays. I said ‘send them to me’ because I just love the way these guys wrote.
I read The Retaliators and even though it wasn’t saying, ‘hey, music here, music there’, the music just jumped off the page to me; I just felt it. I felt the wink of the 80s, all those great movies of the 80s and 90s like The Lost Boys, The Crow, Judgement Night, Breakfast Club, with great scores and great, great music.
In this script, I saw a lot of things. I saw the Spielbergian small town, fun little beginning… into this crazy [storyline]. It’s a slow burn and it’s story-driven and that’s what I loved about it. I’m an actor first, and I wanted to make it to act in it. That was my main goal.
With Better Noise Music jumping into Better Noise Films, this is their second outing. The first being Sno Babies, and you were involved in that production as well, so obviously there was something that kept you coming back to these guys to work with them for these feature films?
Yeah it’s Allen Kovac. He’s the CEO and founder of Better Noise Music and now Better Noise Films; and the thing about Allen is, he’s a pretty loyal dude. When he believes in something and believes in you, he gives you a lot of responsibility to do it so he never stepped foot on set.
I was working on Sno Babies; it’s about the heroin epidemic. It’s not a documentary, it’s a true story about a girl who gets involved, goes to a party, football player gives her an opioid because he’s injured, boom, it’s her demise [and] by the end she’s shooting heroin… Anyway, I was at his house for dinner talking about it. Nicki Sixx from Motley Crue is there. So I’m telling these guys about this movie… long story short, we ended up producing the film together.
Then when I got The Retaliators, Allen said, ‘Let’s do this. Here’s Ivan Moody, the lead singer of Five Finger Death Punch, and Zoltan (Bathory – rhythm guitarist), here’s their numbers, call them. Here’s Jacoby Shaddix from Papa Roach, here’s Tommy Lee, call these guys, let’s get them in the movie. Let’s do it in the right way’. So I connected with all of them before they ever got to set and we talked about their roles pretty carefully because we wanted it to be a film first, and we wanted it to be a symbiotic thing. They’re bringing value to the movie, their music is supporting the scene in a proper way, their acting is good.
So that was the goal, and again, all the musicians really brought it, these guys were all so good. They’re storytellers naturally; they write music, they perform music, they play their instruments and tell stories but I think in this case, you have to hone it in a little bit more because you’re acting in front of cameras. So instead of being so big, you just put it behind your eyes and you feel it. But the thing is, as a director, I’d rather work with someone who’s ready to bring it and pull them back a little bit and be able to sort of mould that, than someone who’s afraid – and none of them were afraid. I’ll tell you that.
Well you know that the bands have had the experience of acting/making music videos and this is something that you’ve directed in the past! You’ve actually directed music videos for Asking Alexandria and Bad Wolves, so it’s just like an elongated version of that. When you’re saying that they feature in the movie, it’s not just a cheesy little easter egg throwaway like ‘Oh look there’s Ivan Moody, oh look there’s Spencer Charnas!’ They’re part of the integral storyline of the movie and making these characters their own.
Yeah and that was the goal. It really was, like I said, I wanted to film first. I didn’t want to be like, ‘oh we have this cameo – this guy – so now let’s ride their core audience’, I wanted, again, to be a film, and really be sure it was something that they were proud of too, you don’t even realise the responsibility you’re taking on.
It’s so hard to make a movie and do this through Covid and all the obstacles, but I love the script so much. I never looked back and now we’ll see hopefully, like people like it… but you know, you go on a journey in this thing and it’s a fun popcorn movie, but hopefully, you’ll think a little bit and I think the performances are all great.
It’s interesting how heavy music is making its way back into multimedia facets. I mean, we’ve been following it for years, it’s always been shied away because it still is considered a niche market. But horror films and heavy metal go hand in hand, to the point where I was watching a movie the other day where the cast members had a sing-along to a Pink song, and it just felt out of place. Whereas if you want the tone, the heaviness, and what makes a horror movie keeping you on the edge of the seat, you need to have that heavy soundtrack.
Yeah, man. And boy, do we have it in this one. And I think what’s so important about this, because there’s so much music, we had to really carefully pick what songs went where… I thought it was really important [that] the music needs to enhance the scene, the actors, the emotion, the performance, the point of views, and like, Five Finger Death Punch ‘Darkness Settles In’, like what a great montage that is for me in the movie.
All the songs I got to know so well and the artists, I just directed and produced the Hyro the Hero video (‘Who’s That Playing On The Radio?‘), and I got to know these people and as artists, the respect level, man, it’s just what an experience. I could go on and on but you’re right the two do go hand in hand.
Yeah, it sounds like all the intricate details about everything with this film has been planned out so properly to the point where you’re not chucking songs in there from Better Noise Music bands for the sake of product placement… You’re putting them in there because they suit the feel of the film, the bands have written these and the musicians have put these songs together for this film, in particular, more so than just grabbing something and going ‘yeah we need a rock song in the background, this will do’ that kind of thing. Is it really like that in the making of process?
100% And I’m going to tell you why, Allen Kovac. First of all, he says, ‘Hey, I liked this song from this band. I think it would be a nice fit in the movie’. And then he and I talk a lot about where it would fit best. So we changed the music all the way through and then I’d send him a cut and he’d go ‘I like that, but not there or I like this part’. But the other thing, the other reason about him is he gives you a tremendous amount of responsibility, and a tremendous, you know, amount of faith. So you never want to let the guy down.
He was like, always there and he’s there for his musicians and he’s a hell of a music manager… He’s a smart guy. And you know, the music business is tough, but I will tell you, he cared about all these people and he wanted this to be something good too.
It’s honestly going to open up so many more doors with so many more possibilities in future with stuff like this happening and I guess with Better Noise Films being at the forefront of it all, we can all trace it back to here to where it all began and I personally cannot wait to see what happens next! We’ve got Sno Babies, we’ve got The Retaliators, but is there anything in the future that we should keep an eye on?
Oh yeah, we got some things poppin’, we got some things. Allen and I have been talking a lot throughout this process. This has really taken on our full attention and it still is like now, we’re you know we’re coming to theatres and then we still have to bring a lot across the finish line here. However, we can’t help but sort of bubble with excitement about the idea of the next project and who knows, if this thing does well, I think there’s places for The Retaliators to go, you know, a franchise prequel/sequel. Who knows!
The Retaliators has already been well received at film festivals with premieres at both Frightfest and Screamfest, and has won awards for ‘Outstanding Horror Feature’ at the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor at the Orlando Film Festival and Best Make Up at Screamfest.
Interview by Kim Anderson @kimshootsthings
The Retaliators is in cinemas for two very exclusive screenings on Wednesday 14th and Friday 16th of September. If you’re a dedicated heavy metal/horror fan this is not to be missed! It’s a blood-soaked, slow-burn ride that needs to be experienced on the big screen.
The Retaliators – Australian Screenings
Special Screening Events
Wednesday 14th September & Friday 16th September
Grab tickets for The Retaliators now!
NSW/QLD/SA/WA/NT – eventcinemas.com.au
VIC – villagecinemas.com.au
Tickets and Film Info Here
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