Today is the anniversary of the 1986 Judas Priest Capital Centre concert that was immortalized in the documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot. John Heyn and Jeff Krulik’s 16 minute video of Judas Priest fans tailgating perfectly captured the heavy metal zeitgeist of the mid 80s. The documentary made the rounds at local film festivals before bootlegs made it a cult classic.
Heyn and Krulick’s idea of filming teenagers tailgating before a rock concert became the PARKING LOT ODYSSEY, taking them to Harry Potter book signings, a Neil Diamond concert and even a short-lived cable series. But it all started with a two guys from PG County with some video equipment in Capital Centre parking lot. Recently, I interviewed Krulik, now a freelance/independent tv/video producer, about Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Heyn also contributed to a few answers and provided the images in this article.
Q: What was the inspiration for Heavy Metal Parking Lot? Were you guys Judas Priest fans?
A: No. Not in the least. We were into punk rock and the like. But we were never dismissive of the music, and luckily we blindly plicked the Judas Priest concert. Their music really holds up. It’s classic and timeless.
Q: What parking lot were you guys in? Was it Stars and Stripes, Liberty Bell, etc.?
A: John and I have absolutely no recollection of the parking lot we started in. That’s pretty cool you remember the names of those lots. They all had patriotic themes. I remember it was particularly sad to see all that was left of the Cap Centre after demolition were many of those giant poles with the parking lot names on them.
Q: How many times was Heavy Metal Parking Lot shown in public?
A: If I remember correctly, John arranged a screening at DC Space in the Fall of ’86. Later that Spring I showed it at the Vinyl Event Record Convention in Silver Spring at my booth (I was a part-time record dealer) and then there were a few more showings, culminating in our opening slot at the AFI Theater at Kennedy Center in 1988 before the Chuck Berry documentary ‘Hail Hail Rock and Roll.’
Q: How long did it take to put the original documentary together?
A: I think we spent about two hours, 2 1/2 hours on site at the Capital Centre. That was it. Stumbling around the parking lot. Then John took the footage and months later really came back with the goods. He’s the genius architect behind it. My contribution was the equipment and the title.
Q: To the best of your knowledge, when did bootlegging really get going? Was there a point when you realized, “Hey, we were onto something?”
A: You bet. It was 1994. We had stopped showing it around these parts in 1990, again at the AFI Theater as part of our own self-curated program called the ‘Don’t Quit Your Day Job Film and Video Festival.’ It was a gas. But we realized we couldn’t force our friends to watch it anymore, and that was it. Finito. But then out of the blue John got a call from Sophia Coppola and he’ll tell you what that was like…
John Heyn adds: Yeah, Sofia Coppola called me in ’94 to inquire about using clips from HMPL in her TV pilot for Comedy Central called High Octane. She was a fledgling producer at the time (most knew her from her role in dad’s Godfather III) She had tracked me down in Silver Spring thru the phone directory (there wasn’t any internet back then).
She said she was a big fan of HMPL. She had rented it at a cult-video store in L.A. called Mondo Video. Mondo Video had been renting it and promoting it (as a bootleg) for some time; through them it was reaching an audience of L.A. scensters such as Belinda Carlisle (the Go-Gos) and Hollywood actor/director Paul Mazursky. This admonition was the first inkling that we had a west coast word-of-mouth following, including film & music cognoscenti. Through the seven degrees of separation, Sofia Coppola turned her cousin Nicholas Cage and filmmaker-husband Spike Jonze onto it. We’ve susequently sent them “official” copies.
Recently Sofia wrote me to request the newly-released DVD. I sent her a copy in Paris, where she’s directing her latest film. She’s remained a (fanatical?) fan all these years.
Not Sofia Coppola
Q: Did the success of Heavy Metal Parking Lot influence your career decisions?
A: It just re-inforced my decision that I love verite man on the street true life self-referential filmmaking. Sadly, it was almost 15 years too early for reality television, not to mention it was before the era of videos being submitted to ‘film festivals.’ It was doomed to cult obscurity early on.
Q: Initially, what stuck out about the Judas Priest fans? Have your views of them changed over time?
A: I loved those guys then. And I love them even more now. Those people feel like family to me. I’m most grateful that they never showed any aggression or hostility to us when we shoved our camera and microphone in their faces.
Q: Was there one fan or part of the evening that stuck out more than all the others?
A: I remember absolutely nothing from the day we taped. All my memories are from the video. Everyone loves the one they call Zebraman.
Q: Your Web site notes that Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford loves Heavy Metal Parking Lot? What kind of feedback have you gotten from Judas Priest fans over the years?
A: Truthfully, most hardcore Judas Priest fans and/or devoted metal fans never even heard of the video. Maybe that’s different now, but for the longest time it was held close to the bosom of alternative rockers.
Q: When did Heavy Metal Parking Lot first appear in a film festival? How many has it been exhibited in?
A: I arranged a screening at the New York Underground Film Festival in 1997. Since then, I’ve lost count. But they’re mostly regional fests and alternative microcinema type spaces.
Q: What was your favorite description of Heavy Metal Parking Lot?
A: Alona Wartofsky once wrote in a generally positive review in the Washington City Paper that ‘the filmmakers don’t reveal themselves to be much brighter than the subjects on screen’ and I’ve always loved that line.
Q: Heavy Metal Parking Lot is now available on DVD (from Filmbaby). Had it been available for sale previously, or had it always been available only through bootlegs?
A: We had it on vhs for at least five years. Before that, it was the domain of the bootleggers and tape traders. Finally, John Heyn and the brilliant Todd Rohal (http://www.ghandshake.com) created the magnum opus DVD that we’re currently self distributing.
Q: Twelve years after Heavy Metal Parking Lot, you returned to the Capital Centre/US Airways Arena/whatever for one last time to film Neil Diamond Parking Lot? Was the magic back? Do you feel you captured the zeitgeist like you did with Judas Priest?
A: We were happily surprised to see that the metal fans and Neil Diamond fans shared some sort of common gene: passionate devotion. They were a lot closer than the 180degree arc that I thought first existed.
Q: You even did a Harry Potter Parking Lot and a “parking lot” series on TRIO. Did any of them give you the same satisfaction as Heavy Metal Parking Lot?
A: I’D say the whole PARKING LOT ODYSSEY has been gratifying. Each excursion has its own thang going. I remember when I went to shoot Harry Potter Parking Lot I was thinking ‘ugh’ here we go again as I lugged my camera out of my car, but then an hour later the results seem to satisfy. The TRIO tv series would have been more satisfying if it was on a network that people could get.
Q: Please tell us about any of your other films.
A: I’m getting THE LEGEND OF MERV CONN ready for the Maryland Film Festival. There’s a short trailer on my website. It’s part of THE MARYLAND TRILOGY which also ran at the New York Underground Film Festival. I hope to screen that at the AFI if they’ll have me back. There’s really a pile of short documentaries I’ve cranked out over the years, most available on my website http://www.planetkrulik.com, although I got lazy after 2003, and there seems to be some recent web meltdowns so forgive if some of this stuff doesn’t play at the moment. I’ve only been able to accomplish this output by the affordability and accessibilty of video. But it still requires a great deal of sweat equity.
Q: The first line of your obituary may contain, “…who created the cult film Heavy Metal Parking Lot.” Do you think that this will be your lasting legacy? How do you feel about that?
A: I’ve always joked that my tombstone will say ‘He Made a Lot of Films, But He Was Only Known for Heavy Metal Parking Lot.’ This is a bittersweet thing. I guess you could call it our 20-year albatross, but hey, it’s better to be known for something than nothing at all.
Q: Okay, probably the most asked question you get — will you ever produce “Return to Heavy Metal Parking Lot.” They are back together you know…
A: WE’d love to produce ‘Return to Heavy Metal Parking Lot. We’ve pitched this thing over and over and over. We got close at VH1 but then they went all Celebreality and that’s that. Can’t say I blame them.
Q: Thank you for you time, any parting words?
A: I’VE said too much already. I’m a blabbermouth. I love the sound of my voice. I love the clickety clack of my typing.
The story of Heavy Metal Parking Lot ends here…for now. We can only hope that Heavy Metal Parking: 20th Anniversary Reunion finds the backing it deserves. While we wait for that to happen, check out these sites below: