It was March 2020 and the Screen Actors Guild rep on-site at The Retaliators Connecticut shooting location declared that it was officially the last movie being shot in the USA. All other films had ceased filming due to the pandemic.
Unknown to all on-site that day, the first Stay At Home order for US citizens was just a few days away.
Producer Allen Kovac (CEO of Better Noise Films, and best known in the music industry as CEO of Better Noise Music), plus Dan Lieblein (CFO Better Noise Films) and Director and lead actor Michael Lombardi, decided for staff safety that the Christmas-themed horror movie’s shoot should be shuttered until further notice.
A vaccine was barely being discussed at the time, let alone administered, and Kovac’s connections in the medical field informed him that lockdown might last for an entire year, if not longer. He knew he had to devise a new plan for The Retaliators.
“We were thrilled to create a situation where we could expose our artists’ music and on-screen talents to a new comic con, film festival and horror fan audience.”
Alan Kovac, Better Noise Films & Music
“It’s 2020, Covid is now rife, with touring at a halt, we pivoted to put 100% attention on the film,” recalls Kovac. “Our vision from the beginning was always to harmonize the two worlds of cinema and music in a fresh way. Once in lockdown, we utilized the time to focus even more on developing small parts for our artists in the movie.
“We were able to curate the roles and the songs with real attention and care. We were thrilled to create a situation where we could expose our artists’ music and on-screen talents to a new comic con, film festival and horror fan audience.”
Adds Kovac: “When Better Noise Films released Motley Crue’s The Dirt, we controlled the marketing and press for Netflix, and as a result we saw the huge spike in consumption of Motley music which led to the biggest rock tour of 2022 and the biggest [single artist] deal BMG had ever done [at that point] with the purchase from their catalog.
“We know what film can do to music consumption and saw that we could do this for the other acts on the Better Noise Music label with The Retaliators.”
Filming of The Retaliators was allowed to recommence later in 2020 – with Covid safety regulations in place – and the shoot restarted at a fresh location.
With a full roster of Better Noise artists suddenly free due to lack of touring commitments, Kovac and his team began to marry their music talents with their in-progress movie production.
“We are proud to marry film and rock music with a fresh spin.”
Michael Lombardi, Director
“In-between the various lockdowns we moved the production to Las Vegas where we shot with Ivan Moody, Zoltan Bathory and Chris Kale of Five Finger Death Punch, Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee, and Spencer Charnas from Ice Nine Kills,” explains Lombardi.
“Papa Roach’s frontman Jacoby Shaddix was also cast in the film and has his first movie role portraying a sadistic killer who is dealt some rough justice by Marc Menchaca (Ozark / Homeland).”
Adds Lombardi: “There is a long history of horror films starring rock stars – Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Rob Zombie, Ozzy Osbourne, Blondie and more.
“There is also a beloved tradition from the ’80s and ’90s where big rock soundtracks often punctuated and complemented the release of a film — The Crow, The Lost Boys, Last Action Hero and many more. We are proud to marry film and rock music with a fresh spin.”
As filming wrapped in early 2021, The Retaliators score began to take shape via Stranger Things Emmy-winning composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein.
Simultaneously, Better Noise Films began submitting The Retaliators for film festival submissions, receiving global laurels from over 30 festivals.
The Retaliators had its first public screening in 2021 with a strong reception at London’s Frightfest, followed a month later by Screamfest in L.A.
Nikki Sixx – who wrote The Retaliators’ theme song, 21 Bullets –along with several of the film’s actors and several musicians (who were also featured on its soundtrack) walked the Screamfest Black Carpet.
“We are now in the third [promotional] window of four for The Retaliators,” says Dan Waite, President of Better Noise Music. “We started with the grass-roots factor by going to the genre film festivals – without their blessing the horror market would not embrace the project.
“Following several film festival awards and 30 global film festival laurels, we launched in over 2,000 global theatres in September 2022. Now, the film is in its third window of VOD rental and purchase. It’s received an 89% audience score and an 88% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes plus a 4.5/5 score on Amazon Prime, all of which is being driven by horror and music fans.
“Our next window will see the film being distributed on streaming sites, which will drive the mass consumption of the soundtrack and elevate the artists in the film.”
Dan Waite, Better Noise Music
“Our next window will see the film being distributed on streaming sites, which will drive the mass consumption of the soundtrack and elevate the artists in the film, similar to what we saw with The Dirt.”
That Christmas theme prominent throughout The Retaliators isn’t likely to hurt its exposure during the Holiday season, of course.
The Retaliators’ soundtrack was written and performed by some significant names in rock: its theme song was written by Nikki Sixx and features Motley Crue, Asking Alexandria, Ice Nine Kills and From Ashes To New,
Steve Kline, COO Better Noise Music, says this starry line-up has “driven a great deal of the awareness of the movie with DJs across the world”.
He adds: “We timed going to radio globally so that [21 Bullets] would drive awareness to its theatrical release this September and continue to climb the active rock chart through to Halloween when the film debuted in the USA and Canada via its VOD release. When you have a roster of acts appearing both in the film and on the soundtrack, that’s a powerful driver for social media, YouTube, press and radio. It creates a convergence that is undeniable.”
“When you have a roster of acts appearing both in the film and on the soundtrack, that’s a powerful driver for social media, YouTube, press and radio.”
Steve Kline, Better Noise Music
With the film’s trailer having launched in 2021, and its release not slated until 2022, Better Noise had to spend much of last year building awareness and anticipation through to the theatrical release.
Utilizing the film’s score and soundtrack – released as separate projects – Better Noise Music began releasing music videos from both albums highlighting their attachment to the film.
“The strategy at YouTube has been to include The Retaliators footage in music videos of the artists through 2020 to this year,” reveals Paolo Bettaglio, VP Digital of Better Noise Music.
“As a result, over 150 million views of music videos with The Retaliators footage have taken place on YouTube alone, with TikTok and Facebook video numbers multiplying that.
“Fans have been getting very animated about the movie and those that got a chance to see the film at the global film festivals have been social ambassadors for the film as it went into the theatres, and now VOD.”
“over 150 million views of music videos with The Retaliators footage have taken place on YouTube alone, with TikTok and Facebook video numbers multiplying that.”
Paolo Bettaglio, Better Noise Music
Adds Lombardi: “The Retaliators has frequently been mentioned in the same breath as Die Hard. Horror fans are making that link as [our movie is] set at Christmas: it’s been seen by some as a Holiday movie with a dark twist.
“[Because of that] we believe that The Retaliators will keep delivering for the artists, plus the soundtrack and score of the film, year after year.”Music Business Worldwide