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“Heavy Metal Parking Lot”: Filmmakers Krulik and Heyn talk to Night Flight
In early 1986, back when Maryland resident Jeff Krulik was just 25-years old, — a graduate of the University of Maryland, he was in charge of running a cable TV station in Southern Prince George’s County at the time — his friend John Heyn came up with the idea to videotape the partying tailgate parking lot scene at the Capital Centre in Largo, Maryland, near Landover.
And so that’s exactly what they did, right before a Judas Priest/Dokken concert, on May 31, 1986. The result, a 16-minute documentary called Heavy Metal Parking Lot, changed both of their lives.
Their unpretentious “man on the street”-style interviews with rowdy concertgoers (slightly NSFW for their salty language) became a pre-internet sensation, and it was circulated among friends on bootleg VHS tapes for years and years, achieving cult status — after seeing the movie for the first time, director John Waters said “It gave me the creeps” – but what you may not know is that its underground success actually led to a eight-episode “parking lot” series for the TRIO cable network, including “parking lot” episodes for Cher, Yanni, Motörhead, Dolly Parton, Neil Diamond and much more.
Both Krulik and Heyn were aspiring filmmakers at the time, and taped about an hour’s worth of footage on three 20-minute tapes which Heyn later edited down, at his workplace, into a short 16-minute documentary, a process that was considerably more labor-intensive in the ’80s compared with today, as this was all pre-computers, pre-internet, pre-everything.
The rabid fans they met in the Capital Centre parking lot that day — mostly getting drunk on beer, whiskey, swigs from a bottle of Southern Comfort being passed around, and possibly even dosed on LSD and railing about Madonna and “punk shit” — pretty much held nothing back in their comments.
As you’ll see, and the reason Heavy Metal Parking Lot became such a fan-shared cult classic was because it represented then and now what can happen in an unscripted world when free-thinking young people aren’t afraid to look squarely into the camera lens that a stranger has stuck in their face and say what’s really on their mind.
Night Flight contacted filmmakers Jeff Krulik and John Heyn to get a little more background about their celebrated cult hit Heavy Metal Parking Lot and the TRIO TV show, and here’s what they told us in this exclusive chat:
“Prior to meeting and becoming fast-friends in 1985, we were each working on our own independent films about DC movie palaces. In fact, I had already finished my experimental documentary when I met Jeff, after reading about his project in the Washington Post. I didn’t assist him on his movie theater project, but we eventually started to collaborate on other video projects; HMPL happened the year after we met. Here’s my 1984 movie palace film “Theater Dark” (music by Brian Eno).”
Heyn says he didn’t assist Krulik on his movie theater project, but they eventually started to collaborate on other video projects, leading up to Heavy Metal Parking Lot.
Unfortunately for Krulik and Heyn, they didn’t make any money from Heavy Metal Parking Lot, as too many copies were given away and after awhile it was treated like a public domain property (they still own the rights to the film). It has been screened in college classrooms, and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Experience Music Project in Seattle.
Then, things began to change, in 2004.
“We were approached by Radical Media who pitched TRIO. Radical Media were a big deal then, and seem to remain so. I had been very familiar with them because I had worked for Errol Morris’ production company — first as a segment researcher on his tv series First Person, and then as a archival footage researcher on The Fog of War – and Radical Media had helped turn Errol into a commercial directing powerhouse, and also produced The Fog of War. In fact, Jack Lechner was one of the Executive Producers on The Fog of War, so I was glad for all these interconnecting dots.
I’m having a hard time to remember who/what/when but now that I’ve reviewed some old emails from spring 2002, it looks like the idea came out of a TV pitch brainstorming session between principals with Radical (mostly a commercial agency at the time looking to move into TV and longform) and agents at CAA. The guy who first approached us was Frank Scherma, and it soon got passed along to a producer at Radical named Jack Lechner, who eventually put the whole thing in motion.
At the time (2002), our hopes and dreams were pinned on creating a narrative feature film that would spring from the world shown in Heavy Metal Parking Lot. It obviously never happened, but we were seriously working towards it with some collaboration — scripts, reps, lawyers, the whole thing — but as that crapshoot remained just that, some folks involved with Radical Media approached us. Andy Cohen was our TRIO point of contact, and he was very gracious and big fan of the original film.”
Andy Cohen (credited as executive producer Andrew Cohen) — he was the head honcho at TRIO at the time and is now what Heyn called “the network superstar” at the Bravo network — greenlit the idea for a half-hour series on NBC’s smart digital-cable network (which was available to DirecTV subscribers at the time) devoted to popular culture.
Krulik and Heyn (and Radical Media) expanded the original idea to feature not only other recording artists, but parking lot gatherings of all types of groups, including a Civil War reenactment gathering and a Sci-Fi convention.
The very first episode, however– there were just eight of them total, a half-hour long, and we’ve got clips from six of them below — saw the filmmakers returning to a parking lot for another rock concert, right outside a Motörhead concert in Asbury Park, N.J.
Episode 1: Motörhead Concert, Cher Concert, Sci Fi Convention
Episode 2: 50 Cent Concert, Yanni Concert, WWE
Episode 3: Phish Concert, Dollywood, Surfers
Episode 4: Justin Timberlake/ Christina Aguilera Tour, Kentucky Derby, Civil War Reenactment
Episode 5: Fleetwood Mac, Tattoo Convention, Cat Show
Episode 6: Dixie Chicks Concert, Daytime Emmys, White Stripes Concert
Krulik: We quickly realized we were aligned with a legit operation, and it wasn’t going to be any guerrilla seat-of-your-pants production which we had previously felt right at home with. So it became a much bigger endeavor, with many moving parts. Our attachment was as creators, as well as producers, but there were many people involved with that title, and we weren’t at every location or very rarely in the edit (all post-production was at Radical in NYC, and we remained in DC/MD).
Our partnership was with Radical Media and they pitched it to the basic cable networks, with TRIO TV eventually biting — the series was short-lived, just like the network, but it was still a gas and a great honor to be a part of it. Creating commercial television is a very specific and linear job, and Radical did fine. Of course, the whole thing is practically forgotten now.”
Krulik: “I’m sure the TV shows are owned by the NBC and Bravo food chain, but have largely been forgotten. I’m still glad we had that exposure and it’s part of the Heavy Metal Parking Lot saga, and that chapter is over twelve years ago. It’s interesting now that I think about it and remember it, we were adamant that the series be called ‘Heavy Metal Parking Lot’ as our vision was that the TV show would be more of a state of mind, than literally be in heavy metal parking lots. We wanted to brand/hammer home that notion. Of course, smarter exec heads prevailed –I seem to recall it was a British TV programer named Michael Jackson who was in charge — and he wisely insisted on it just being called ‘Parking Lot.'”
Neil Diamond Parking Lot
Krulik: “Neil Diamond Parking Lot was shot in 1996, back at the same arena, and it first screened as a work in progress at underground film festivals in 1997 and then premiered in its completed form in 1998. It was eventually included on the DVD which was produced and authored and released for our 20th anniversary in 2006. Neil Diamond Parking Lot was our own production. It never aired on TRIO. There are no TRIO segments on the DVD that we released, only the original film from 1986, plus Neil Diamond Parking Lot, Harry Potter Parking Lot and lots of other content and extras that we produced for it.”
As a further aside and nod, Krulik would like to single out “talented filmmaker Todd Rohal who authored the DVD, his genius is all over that, and we remain very grateful to him and his friends who helped.”
Periodically, Krulik and Heyn have coordinated their efforts to get greater exposure for their original short film, and for the various sequels and associated Parking Lot projects, and there is now, of course, a 20th-anniversary DVD edition of Heavy Metal Parking Lot, with sequels, outtakes, and “where-are-they-now?” bonus footage from some of the same concert-goers that not only survived the 80s and attendance at heavy metal concerts.
There were other attempts by Kulik and Heyn to capture the same kind of spontaneous results — a Monster Truck Parking Lot, circa 1988, remained unfinished, but eventually, over a decade later, Krulik and Heyn were able to compile their footage for a Neil Diamond Parking Lot (completed in 1998), and that same year they compiled a Heavy Metal Parking Lot: The Lost Footage DVD release too (the 25th anniversary DVD collects everything in 120 minutes).
Krulik traveled across the country with a road show, “Heavy Metal Parking Lot: 15th Anniversary Tour,” which we here at Night Flight saw in Los Angeles as part of the Cinefamily’s programming at the Silent Movie Theatre, a few years ago.
Heyn has previously referred to Heavy Metal Parking Lot as “our reluctant calling card.”
Heyn: “My output as an indie filmmaker is minuscule compared to Jeff’s. My professional filmmaker M.O. has been working unsung day-jobs in video production in DC and then working with Jeff on some of his projects when time and energy permit. I’m happy with that arrangement, as work and family obligations haven’t afforded me the same career path or prolific indie film output as Jeff. I’ve been producing and editing videos for the federal government, for twenty years, including a stint at the Department of Veterans Affairs. I produce mostly federal employee training films, instructional videos, panel discussions, documentaries, PSAs, promos, etc.; nothing really gets wide exposure.”
Here’s an example of some recent work of Heyn’s.
Heyn has also continued to work with Krulik as a producer and director, and some of their more recent projects include Led Zeppelin Played Here (2014) and Heavy Metal Picnic (2010). Heyn explains that sometimes it just meant working as a second-unit cameraperson and occasional editor.
Heyn: “That’s the real division of labor in the world of hands-on, low-budget indie filmmaking. Honestly, Jeff was generous giving me those credits as my efforts on those films pale to the Jeff’s herculean efforts in getting those films made. I really dig working on rock docs.”
Among the other highlights in Krulik’s career thus far is Ernest Borgnine on the Bus, a charming little film about being on the road with actor Ernest Borgnine, who had decided in his last years to travel the country in a huge, tricked-out customized luxury bus, and Krulik was there to capture a lot of wonderful moments. Krulik’s résumé also includes his work for Errol Morris, and as a segment producer for both Discovery Networks, and National Geographic Channel.
His honors include guest filmmaker at the 48th Annual Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, participant in WGBH/PBS Producers Academy, and inaugural recipient for the Peter C. Rollins Award for Achievement in Documentary Film, given by the Popular Culture Association. His commissioned work includes a one-hour documentary on carnival sideshow history for The Travel Channel. His other documentaries include Hitler’s Hat, and the award winning I Created Lancelot Link. In 2008, he produced the Emmy Award-winning documentary Eatin’ Crabs for Maryland Public Television’s Chesapeake Bay Week.
(By the way, the Capital Centre arena no longer exists — it was imploded on December 15, 2002, to make way for The Boulevard at the Capital Centre, a town center-style shopping mall that opened in 2003).
Jeff Krulik (1982) (photo from here)
Watch a short interview with both Jeff and John right here:
Our heartfelt thanks to Jeff Krulik and John Heyn for helping us re-live the memories again!