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Studio 666
Courtesy of Andrew Stuart / Open Road Films

Dave Grohl, A Rock Star Possessed, Drums Up Scares In ‘Studio 666’ – Deadline Q&A

SPOILER ALERT: Dave Grohl hasn’t sat still for more than 30 years, so it’s not much of a surprise that he’s ended up creating and starring in his own feature film.

As Pat Smear, one of the founders of L.A. punk legends The Germs, touring guitarist in Nirvana and a cornerstone of Grohl’s Foo Fighters, told him, “Drummers are like sharks, if they stop moving, they’ll die.”

In Studio 666, a horror comedy in the vein of The Evil Dead, perpetual movement doesn’t necessarily prevent death either. (Watch the trailer below.)

Grohl, who came up with the idea of the Open Road Films-distributed film that debuts theatrically on February 25, is a fascinating creature.

For some, he is best known as the drummer of Nirvana; for many he is the founder and frontman of Foo Fighters, a group that began as a solo project and turned into one of the most successful, stadium-ready groups of the past 25 years. I’m sure there’s also still a few punks left who might have seen him playing squat shows with DC hardcore band Scream.

Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl Unveils Horror Comedy Movie 'STUDIO 666'; Open Road Lands WW Rights For February Theatrical Release

He is equally comfortable discussing Naked Raygun or Voivod as he is professing his love for Billie Eilish or honoring his friend Lemmy with a story of the time he met Little Richard. In recent years, he has also become a curator of musical history through documentaries such as Sound City, Sonic Highways and What Drives Us, projects that feature contributions from artists as diverse as blues legend Buddy Guy or Big Black frontman and In Utero engineer Steve Albini.

Grohl also is a horror movie fan, devouring such films as The Amityville Horror and The Exorcist, as well as band movies such as The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night and KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park — a combination that led to Studio 666.

The film tells the story of how The Colour and the Shape rockers move into an Encino mansion steeped in grisly rock history to record their much anticipated 10th album. Once in the house, Grohl finds himself grappling with supernatural forces that threaten both the completion of the album and the lives of the band.

Directed by Hatchett III director BJ McDonnell with a screenplay by Jeff Buhler (Pet Sematary) and Rebecca Hughes (Cracking Up), it stars the band, consisting of Smear, Nate Mendel, Taylor Hawkins, Chris Shiflett and Rami Jaffee, as well as Whitney Cummings as sound-bath-taking groupie neighbor Samantha; Leslie Grossman as chirpy real estate agent Barb Weems; Will Forte as the unfortunate, Coldplay-loving delivery man; Dream Widow member and original victim Jenna Ortega; and Jeff Garlin as label boss Jeremy Shill. Slayer guitarist Kerry King also plays a drum tech.

Speaking to Deadline via Zoom in late January, Grohl explains how the film came about and was filmed in relative secrecy, the influence of his metal side project Probot, how he was able to land a John Carpenter-penned theme song and how he hopes it will encourage other bands from Wu-Tang Clan to Radiohead to make their own movies.

The Them Crooked Vultures drummer also tells Deadline about his accidental path into directing music documentaries. He explains that he would have done a second season of HBO’s Sonic Highways if he hadn’t broken his leg during a show in Sweden in 2015, how he watched footage of Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary Get Back with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr and why films such as The Decline of Western Civilization, Dig! and Heavy Metal Parking Lot are important cultural documents.

He says, “We’re making a f*cking rock ’n’ roll movie that has a few dumb scares, and it’s going make you f*cking laugh your ass off.”

DEADLINE: How did your band feel when you suggested a film where you would have them running for their lives?

DAVE GROHL: Not surprised. The premise of the movie evolved. It didn’t begin with me murdering everyone and going solo. It began as a story of Foo Fighters trying to find somewhere to make a record, winding up in a house that’s possessed by some ungodly demon. Then it just it ballooned into something that we never imagined, which was an actual full-length feature horror film. Most everything we do is on a whim and we don’t put too much thought into anything, but the music. We felt comfortable making this film because of the videos we had made before, which had all come from random dreams, ridiculous bus chatter or backstage riffing.

DEADLINE: You’ve always seemed to enjoyed making music videos, even as far back as in 1995 with the Big Me video. This seems like an extension of that. 

GROHL: From day one, we’ve always felt that the music and performances are most important. Everything outside of that just seemed like candy commercials to us. We always laughed at people that took themselves a bit too seriously, in that commercialization, in that promotion of some image that might not necessarily be themselves. We’ve always felt comfortable just being who we are. This is just a much bigger example of that. We’ve been a band for 26 f*cking years, you can imagine just making an album, hi*cking weird if you want to keep the ship together. I don’t think anyone was surprised when they were presented with the idea, but I think everyone was very surprised to see the end result, because we did not imagine that it would be what it became.

DEADLINE: Take me back a step; I’m guessing it started as a fun conversation that then ballooned into a proper feature film.

GROHL: The whole thing is crooked and linear at the same time. This started almost three years ago. I was writing music for our album Medicine at Midnight and when I write music for the band, I usually kind of disappear by myself in a studio and demo song ideas where I play all the instruments and get the drums and do the bass and guitars and come up with melody lines until I get to the point where I feel like I have material that I can present to the band. When I do that I like to be totally alone. No distraction, just by myself, engineering the session and everything. I have a studio in my house and then we also have a recording studio down the street but here at home I’m surrounded by children that are screaming “Daddy! Daddy!” all day long. Down at the studio, a guy from another band will walk through the room or the crew is always there. I wanted to find somewhere I could be by myself. I started looking for houses in the area. I was looking for houses just to rent to set up somewhere. Coincidentally, at that same time, an old landlord of mine from a house I rented 10 years ago, while remodeling my [current] house, called and asked if I wanted to buy a piece of the property of that house that I lived in 10 years ago. I said “I don’t want to buy it, but can I rent it for a few months just to write and record some songs”. He said “OK”. This is the house in the film.

I lived in that house 10 years ago, for about a year and a half while I was remodeling this house. I never really thought it was creepy, never thought it was haunted. But it is a beautiful old Valley weekend movie star mansion. A lot of a lot of houses in the Valley were movie stars’ weekend homes, before it was over developed. Charlie Chaplin had a place down the street and Clark Gable had a place down the street. I move in there and I start doing demos. It’s just me by myself in that big old house. At the same time, an old friend texted me and said, I just came out of a meeting with this movie studio and they said we’d love to make a horror film with Foo Fighters. I texted back and said, “That’s the most ridiculous f*cking idea I’ve ever heard in my life”. I love horror films. But why? It just didn’t make any sense. As I’m there by myself, all day and night, starting to get spooked by being in this whole mansion, I thought, Oh, shit, well, I’ve got the place. We might as well just do it here. Not imagining some two-year long process to make a full length feature film.

I thought, in true Foo Fighters fashion, we’ll just blast through it and make it something very light-hearted. That’s where it began. After I was demoing the songs in that house. I was setting up the demos for the producer, he said “Where are you recording this, the drums sound amazing”. This is a big joke in the film. When you see someone walk into a recording studio, the first f*cking thing they do is clap to hear the acoustics. Everybody chooses a studio by the drums. I mentioned it to my two producer friends, John Ramsay and Jim Rota, who have done Sonic Highways, Sound City, What Drives Us, most of our videos. They’re my friends. They’re my drinking buddies, and they’re really f*cking good at what they do. That’s how it sort of started to bloom into this.

Courtesy of Open Road Films

DEADLINE: Talk me through the process. You’ve got a story by Dave Grohl and you’ve got a couple of writers in Jeff and Rebecca and BJ as director.

GROHL: First, I presented it to the band, everyone laughs and probably imagines it’ll never happen. But says what a funny idea. Then as it progresses, I started meeting with different screenwriters. I had actually met Jeff and Rebecca in the music scene years ago, ten years ago or more. They seemed like part of our tribe. I knew them from Eagles of Death Metal, from the rock scene. We’re friends and we have lots of mutual friends. They’re f*cking smart, they’re f*cking funny and they’re f*cking cool. We basically just sat and laughed about all of the ridiculous options we have within this really general, practically cliché premise of band moves into a haunted house, singer becomes possessed. But then you elaborate from there with a spirit in the house and you have to finish the song.

Once the song is finished, then the demon is unleashed and then you f*cking kill everybody. But until then, you’re possessed, and trying to get your band to finish the song. It went from there. We’ve worked with BJ before on a couple of music videos with us, the “Run” video and “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” video. He worked with a guy named Brandon Trost, who’s another great friend, a really talented f*cking cinematographer. Then Tony Gardner is a special effects person we knew from the Run video. Tony goes back, he is legit. Tony is in the Thriller video as a zombie that’s walking and his arm falls off.

DEADLINE: There’s a lot of in-jokes whether that’s questioning your BBQ skills or the Pearl Jam high-fives. Those are things that only you guys really talk about but presumably if these people are part of your tribe, it makes it easier to fit this all together.

GROHL: You have to consider that we have always been trapped in our own little Foo Fighters bubble. It’s almost like there’s a moat around the band that protects us from outside influence, that we like to keep that vibe or aesthetic intact. One thing you’ll learn about our band is most people we work with, we’ve worked with for 20, 25, 30 years. In a way that’s protected us, or helped us retain our own personal vibe and aesthetic. I don’t like agents calling agents as much as I like texting someone that I know, saying, “hey, I’ve got a really f*cking crazy idea I want to try and then we do it”. More often than not, we don’t necessarily know how to do what we’re doing. We just decide to try to do it. When you assemble a group like that, you can only have fun. I can honestly say that making this movie was a f*cking blast. Also, because nobody had any real expectations. We just thought instead of making a music video, we’re making an hour and 40 minute long music video. Instead of having a two day shoot, it’s a six week shoot.

DEADLINE: The song that you’re writing in the film gives me Probot vibes [Ed note: Probot was Grohl’s heavy metal side project that featured the likes of Lemmy and members of Voivod and Venom that was released on Southern Lord Records in 2004].

GROHL: I’m here in my studio in my home studio right now and when I’ve got nothing to do, I will just sit around demoing riffs all f*cking day long, which is how the Probot record came about. That was in my basement in Virginia. I was just f*cking around and giving all those songs to all these different singers. I had all of these riffs and when the idea came, that there should be a song, some epic metal opus, that will unlock the seventh Gate of Hell and unleash the demon. I thought, “Let me put together like five or six of these crazy riffs I have and record this 12 minute long thing and we’ll use that”. That’s basically what it was. I went down to the studio and did it in an afternoon and just recorded this awesome metal shit. It’s so fun. I’m looking right now at a bunch of songs… I’m making the lost Dream Widow record as we speak.

DEADLINE: I did wonder whether Dream Widow would become part of the Dave Grohl catalog.

GROHL: I guess. That’s the thing… I thought I’ll make a Dream Widow record and I’ll do it in five days. It’s very Probot.

DEADLINE: You must have recorded in some spooky studios.

GROHL: First of all, Sound City [where Nirvana recorded Nevermind] did have a ghost. I never experienced it. But a lot of the people that work there had some really crazy stories about what would happen after everyone had gone home. But the Robert Lang studio [where Grohl recorded the first Foo Fighters record] in Seattle… that’s funny because I lived just down the street from there and the only time I’ve lived anywhere that had any sort of paranormal activity was in the house down the street from Robert Lang’s. I lived in that house for two years but there was something else in the house. I wasn’t the only one that felt it. I wouldn’t mention it to anyone and then other people would mention it to me. Then I finally mentioned it to Robert Lang and he said there’s a ghost in the forest that separates me from Robert Lang’s studio. Like a legit f*cking creepy thing. It was the ghost of a woman and she was in my f*cking dreams. But as far as recording studios, I haven’t really haven’t had too much.

DEADLINE: You’ve played Satan before in the Tenacious D project.

GROHL: That was easy. All I had to do is take off my Dave Grohl mask. That’s what Kyle said. That was that was a f*cking blast, because doing anything with Tenacious D is always the most hilarious moment of your life.

Courtesy of Open Road Films

DEADLINE: How did you approach [Slayer guitarist] Kerry King (left) to tell him you were going to burn him alive? That can’t have been an easy conversation.

GROHL: BJ knew Kerry from something he filmed for Slayer. I’d met Kerry before, we have a lot of mutual friends. I think he was delighted. You could imagine, you’re Kerry King from Slayer, you better have a pretty grisly death. We tried to deliver.

DEADLINE: He was probably more annoyed to be playing a drum tech. You’ve also got a John Carpenter theme song. How did that come about?

GROHL: This is probably the craziest coincidence or story involved in the whole film. When we started pre-production for the movie, I mentioned it to our lighting designer Dan Hadley. He’s been with us for a million years. Dan went out on tour with John Carpenter, when John went out to perform his music. Dan said, “You should call John Carpenter and see if he’ll make a cameo.” I said there’s absolutely no f*cking way that he’ll ever do this. Dan gave me his email so I totally blind cold emailed him and said, “Hi, my name’s Dave, we have a mutual friend, Dan Hadley. We’re making a horror film, wondering if you’d consider doing a cameo.” Little did I know that John Carpenter’s godson [and The Kinks’ Dave Davies’ son] is Daniel Davies. Daniel is in a band that we took on tour with us 15 years ago [stoner rock band Year Long Disaster]. John Carpenter responds and says, “because you treated [Daniel] so well on tour 15 years ago, not only will I make a cameo in your film, but I’ll also write the theme song.” It was the most incredible thing. I did not expect it. I could not imagine it. It happened and when he sent that song, we all got goosebumps. I mean, it can only be John Carpenter. Some people might hear it and think that just sounds like John Carpenter. It is.

DEADLINE: Tour etiquette pays off by the sounds of it.

GROHL: Listen, I mean, we like to have a good time. Everyone’s welcome.

DEADLINE: You mentioned loving horror movies. What were the movies growing up for you?

GROHL: The first horror movie that I really remember was the original Amityville Horror. I read the book before seeing the movie. It was one of the first books I read front to back. It was probably 1979, so I was maybe 10 years old. I read the book over and over and then the movie came out and I was f*cking terrified. I’m still scared of that movie. Growing up in Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC, The Exorcist was filmed in DC and that house and those steps that go down where everyone was killed on the steps, the bottom of those steps is where all the punks would hang out and drink on a weekend. I spent a lot of time there on those steps and at that house. To this day, I still consider The Exorcist to be one of the greatest movies of all time, not just horror genre, just one of the greatest films. Those were my big ones. Friday the 13th… I love The Evil Dead. I’m such a goof and I love gore.

DEADLINE: This has got an Evil Dead vibe.

GROHL: I would say so. I mean as we were building the idea for the film, we definitely were cherry picking from our favorite horror film clichés. We’re in a haunted house where there’s a f*cking gate to hell downstairs and it’s a book made flesh. We’re stuck in this house together, like The Shining… we’ve borrowed a few elements from a few different classic horror films. We always realized the one thing that would set this apart is that it was a rock and roll movie. That’s an old tradition that somehow faded over the last 20, 25 years.

DEADLINE: The Beatles made movies, KISS made movies.

GROHL: I just saw Paul Stanley the other night for his birthday and I told him that we had made a horror film. I said “I don’t know if we could have done this without KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. He said “I sure hope it’s a lot better than that”. To be a band in a movie, whether you’re The Beatles or the Spice Girls, it’s a genre within itself, that’s sadly disappeared. Because it only adds to the entertainment. We’re making a f*cking rock ‘n’ roll movie that has a few dumb scares, and it’s going make you f*cking laugh your ass off. That was really our main intention.

DEADLINE: You’ve almost got a second life in films, whether it’s this movie or directing documentaries like Sound City and Sonic Highways. Is Dave Grohl, the filmmaker, an accidental path?

Sonic Highways
Sonic Highways Courtesy of HBO

GROHL: Pat Smear (right) once said, “Drummers are like sharks, if they stop moving, they’ll f*cking die”. Whether it’s film, or music, or cooking, whatever it is, I just need to remain active. That year of the pandemic, where everything shut down, I f*cking panicked and wrote a book [The Storyteller]. I couldn’t go out and do shows. We actually started the movie just before the pandemic; we started in February 2020 and worked up to March 14 and had to shut down. We only had six more days to shoot. Then we took a big six- or seven-month break and finished it off.

It’s not something that I particularly focus on. But if an opportunity arises where there’s something that either seems substantially worth of a big chunk of my time, then I will do it. That’s usually based on its relevance or how much fun it is or what purpose it will serve. Like the documentaries, whether it’s Sound City or Sonic Highways, those are meant to inspire the next generation of musicians, not just to remind people today of where music came from, but to inspire younger musicians to take it from there. What Drives Us is the same.

DEADLINE: You look like you’re having a lot of fun when you’re sitting down with Buddy Guy or talking to old friends like Steve Albini.

GROHL: I was a terrible student in school. I was horrible. I don’t think I wanted to learn, which is such a shame, considering my mother was a public school teacher for 35 years, which was f*cking tragedy. But there was so much I wanted to know when I sat to interview any one of those people in Sonic Highways, the interviews would go from one and a half to two and a half to three and a half to four and a half hours, because I consider them more conversations. I think that the people I was talking to felt like I was eager to learn. I just devoured all of that information. Had I only done that in school, I probably wouldn’t be a f*cking rock musician. But I felt just as much a part of the audience or a viewer. I really felt like I had my own sort of education for one.

DEADLINE: Did you ever consider doing more Sonic Highways? There’s obviously lots of musicians you could talk to and studios you could explore.

GROHL: I launched into it right after that season came out. I went straight to HBO with an idea for season two. It was still within the framework, or a template of that first season, but it had grown into something else. I started calling all these different musicians and picking these different cities and it was a go, we were going to do it. Then I broke my f*cking leg. There was no way that I could do this hobbling around for eight months. I couldn’t do it. Then we put it on backburner, but I never say never. It took a good year from my life and made it better but that’s a big f*cking project for sure.

DEADLINE: You’ve done some commentary on [punk rock doc] The Decline of Western Civilization. You’ve talked about your cousin Tracey getting you into punk rock, did she get you into that film?

GROHL: Oh, yeah. I had the record before I saw the movie. I was in love with the music before I ever saw the film. When I finally saw the film and put the faces and places to these songs, it made it even better. More than just being a music documentary, I think that film is really important historically, and a portrait of the social climate of Los Angeles at the time. My 15 year old daughter, she watches it just as much as I watched it when I was her age. It really captured a moment in time that I don’t think will ever happen again. But the energy and the spirit is really inspiring and the music is f*cking incredible. It’s as important as any Dylan film or documentary, it was almost like a much noisier folk revolution.

DEADLINE: Then you ended up in a band with Pat, who was in the film.

GROHL: I know it’s so funny. I’m finally to the point after knowing [Pat] for 30 years, where I can ask him questions about the film because I never wanted to bug him with it. Now, I’m like, whatever happened to the guy who shaved an X in his head.

DEADLINE: Penelope Spheeris, who directed those three films, is making a fourth film at the moment.

GROHL: Wow. I’ll be there. I mean, that sounds amazing.

DEADLINE: I know you’re a big Beatles guy. What did you make of Get Back?

GROHL: I hate to say it, but I haven’t seen the whole thing yet. I saw a few pieces of it as they were editing. I saw about an hour and a half portion that takes place in the beginning of the sessions, and an hour and a half portion that takes place at the end of the movie, rough cuts, rough edits. I actually watched it with Paul and Ringo. It was it was an overwhelming experience. I never watched the Beatles creatively in action. Of course, I’ve devoured their entire catalogue and outtakes my entire life and they’re the reason why I’m a musician so to see the four of them together and get a taste of their dynamic, it was interesting because I understand that energy. I’ve been on both sides of that energy, where I’ve been the drummer, sitting there in the set, waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen. I mentioned that to Ringo afterwards. I said, “Man, I know how you felt”. But then at the same time, I’ve also been with the Foo Fighters on the other side of that dynamic where I’m trying to facilitate or orchestrate or conduct that collaboration.

DEADLINE: Did you ever film the early days of Foo Fighters? Is there your own version of Get Back in 20 years?

GROHL: Like making of shit? I think we actually have a few times. We’ve been a band for so f*cking long and we filmed so many things, I’m sure there’s a vault somewhere filled with just useless imagery that nobody wants anything to do with. But it surely would not have the relevance of something like Get Back. It’s a funny thing to be in a band. It’s hard enough to navigate a relationship with one person, trying to try to join four people and lasso them into a common place is not easy.

DEADLINE: Paul and Ringo probably thought the same thing back then. You’ve been the subject of documentaries yourself, particularly Nirvana docs. How do you feel about being on the other side of that?

GROHL: Mostly with Nirvana documentaries, I see it all from a much different perspective, in that my perspective is much, much more simple and human, in that, I remember how it smelled. I remember things that might not make it through the screen. I understand how, over time, it shifts into some sort of iconic territory, or some sort of general idolatry. But to me, I remember it just being very simple and human. Which hopefully comes across in the documentaries that are made.

DEADLINE: Like watching Get Back with Paul and Ringo, are you able to watch back the things that you’re in and relive that smell?

GROHL: Foo Fighters stuff more than Nirvana stuff. Of course, some Nirvana footage makes me really sad, either, because it was a very difficult time or a very beautiful time. I don’t spend too much time watching Nirvana things. But also some of those documentaries, and I’m sure Paul and Ringo feel the same way, it’s almost like flipping through an old photo album. A lot of your memories are based on these old Kodachrome snapshots that have been in your mother’s living room for the last f*cking 50 years. I’m glad that we’ve had the opportunity to capture those, not only to share with our audience, but just to reinforce the memories that I have, and remind me that it was real.

DEADLINE: I interviewed the guys behind Heavy Metal Parking Lot recently and they’ve got a photo of you with a VHS copy on a tour bus.

GROHL: That was our local f*cking arena where I lived, that’s the Capital Center. Oh, my God, well, listen, man, I didn’t know those people, but I knew those people. All of the Baltimore accents, and the clothes. I do remember that time very well. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the heavy metal parking lot. But I did live through that era. Again, that’s a moment in time. Thank God we have that to refer to, to know what not to do.

DEADLINE: I’ve heard you talk about Dig!, a film about the Dandy Warhols and Brian Jonestown Massacre. I feel that, as well as The Decline of Western Civilization and Heavy Metal Parking Lot are almost historical, rather than just some of these glorified promo videos that we see these days.

Courtesy of Interloper Films

GROHL: It’s hard for us to imagine churning butter, but it happened. So, watching a documentary like Dig!, seeing these two bands fall in love with each other, which happens often. You find your brother band, your sister band, you become a tribe, your big family. It’s not often that it goes as far south as it did in the movie Dig!. It’s been 15, 20 years or something since I’ve watched that film, but oh, my God, what a f*cking meltdown. This is a movie that should be shown to the next generation of musicians to warn them that these things can happen. God, I love that f*cking movie, it’s so f*cking good. What a f*cking masterpiece. When people ask me about my favorite horror film, I usually say it’s Dig!

DEADLINE: What else is on Dave Grohl’s directing wish list?

GROHL: It really just depends on the moment. If there’s an opportunity, that makes sense. I’ve had a few offers. I’ve got so much f*cking shit going on all the time. There was once a project I was offered, I was on the fence, but then talked myself into it. Halfway through pre-production, I realized that I was having to force myself to be inspired and the red flags went up. Usually with everything that we do, I run headfirst as fast as I can, just flailing and screaming and laughing and charging.

DEADLINE: What was the project?

GROHL: It was actually to direct a feature film, not a documentary. It was cool, but I wasn’t 100% there. As with everything, it just has to grab you. The best work you do is when it doesn’t seem like work, it seems like something else, like you’re doing a service to the thing that you love.

DEADLINE: Studio 666 feels like that. I was going to ask if there’s a potential for a sequel but [SPOILER ALERT] you kill most of the band so I guess not.

GROHL: You never know. Believe me, we’ve talked about every f*cking sequel possibility. Everything from getting the Wu Tang Clan in. I do think that whether it’s Foo Fighters or another band, I hope people will take the ball and run with it from here to bring that that rock and roll movie genre back. Look at all the f*cking remakes that you have to suffer through every year. F*ck that, put the money towards sending Radiohead into a f*cking into a haunted mansion and see what happens. Believe me, people will enjoy it.

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