The Director's Cut
For six weeks, Bruce David Klein toured with Meat Loaf through Canada while on the first leg of the singer’s North American tour. The 44-year-old Southern Westchester resident was there to film as crew members threw seats over various ice hockey rinks for for freezing nighttime performances. He was there when the famous recording artist decided to change the name of the tour from “Seize the Night” to “Three Bats,” resulting in a reprint of thousands of T-shirts and other merchandise. He was there to see Meat Loaf cope every time he checked into a hotel room, every time he got on a delayed flight, and every time he endured a fan meet-and-greet. “Meat Loaf is very concerned about getting germs on tour, because if he gets sick, then seventy people are out of work and twenty thousand fans are disappointed,” Klein says. “But these people come for meet-and-greets, and they want to hug him. Seeing him come up with non-tactile ways to hug people is absolutely hysterical.”
The footage he shot became the documentary Meat Loaf: In Search of Paradise, which Klein directed as president of and executive producer for Atlas Media, the company he founded in 1989 and one of the world’s largest independent producers of nonfiction television. Atlas Media generates 150 hours of original programming each year, including television shows for networks like the History Channel and the Food Network, web series for popular sites like Fearnet.com, and, now, theatrical documentaries.
But Klein doesn’t come across as particularly executive-like. Rather than a three-piece suit, he’s more likely to wear sneakers and a vintage-style tee. When I ask about his interests, he names people—Stephen Sondheim, Sigmund Freud, Stanley Kubrick, Béla Bartók, and David Bowie—instead of hobbies like golf or skiing. The word that first comes to mind is “creative,” not “corporate.”
And creative he is. In addition to producing and sometimes directing, he writes for his shows. In fact, writing is how Klein, who hails from a family of scribes, got his start in entertainment. (Among his brothers are a screenwriter and a political opinionist, and his father wrote books about business—in addition to romance novels he penned under a female pseudonym.) Klein didn’t feel the pull towards writing for or working in television until he started messing with experimental shows in a run-down TV station at Binghamton, where he went to college. “I would stage televised happenings where I would be on camera playing the piano, and then I’d take an axe and chop it up and light the whole thing on fire,” he says.
From there, he got a less pyromania-driven job at a local ABC affiliate, working after class from 8 pm to 5 am editing commercial reels for the next day. Even from his isolated nighttime post, he saw how not to run an affiliate. “The station was number three in a market with only three stations,” he says. So, on his last day, he decided to tell the general manager exactly what he thought.
“I had nothing to lose,” he says. “I told him what he was doing wrong at the master controls, why the scheduling was off, why the sales guys weren’t selling, and why they weren’t succeeding.”
A few months after graduation, the station’s program director quit, and that same general manager called to offer Klein the spot. Klein, then 22, became the youngest program director for an ABC affiliate in the United States. Three years and a couple different TV jobs later, he launched Atlas Media. “I started this company off of credit cards and a five-thousand-dollar loan,” he says.
He became interested in Meat Loaf after the recording artist was booked to host one of his shows, History Rocks the ’70s, for the History Channel. It got the producer thinking about Meat Loaf’s enduring fame, going back to his Hair days. “He had all of these milestones over a really long period of time,” he says. “Besides, how can you not be fascinated by a guy named Meat Loaf?”
Meat Loaf, however, had no interest in being a part of a documentary. “He said, ‘Absolutely not; I’ve never allowed anybody to film me behind the scenes in that way,’” Klein reports. “Because, as the film portrays, he’s the exact opposite of what you’d expect. He’s just a simple, almost reclusive, shy guy.”
Klein eventually wore down Meat Loaf and his manager, and Meat Loaf: In Search of Paradise premiered at the Montreal Film Festival last year (where Variety pronounced it “at once hagiographic and revealing”); the film had a limited run in 100 North American theaters in March, and was released to DVD in May.
The documentary wasn’t easy to make; the star continued to be a reluctant subject. “I hated every minute of being filmed,” Meat Loaf says. Klein remembers a time when, after complaining that Meat Loaf wasn’t giving him enough access, the singer screamed at him for almost a half hour.
Klein, Meat Loaf says, “is a pesky little thing and he manages to wiggle and squeeze himself into places that I didn’t necessarily like all of the time.” But, he adds, “what really matters is that the finished product is fantastic!”
Central to the documentary is the extent to which Meat Loaf was able to reinvent himself from Bat Out of Hell superstar, to low-key Connecticut dad, to Fight Club actor, and back into the limelight. “It’s really unfair the way we take these artists and freeze them in an iconic image,” Klein says. “People mostly remember Meat Loaf from Bat Out of Hell: the big, sweaty guy with the ruffled tuxedo shirt and the long hair screaming at the top of his lungs. Now he’s a very different person. It’s thirty years later. So what fascinates me is that you have people who say, ‘Well, he doesn’t sound the way I remember him,’ or ‘He doesn’t look the way I remember him.’ To them I say, ‘How do you look compared to the way you did? It’s been thirty years for you, too.’”
You can tell that Klein cares about the possibility of evolution because he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed in his career, either. That’s why the slate of his projects comes across as so disparate. Walking through the editing bays, production studios, and other “pods” in the Atlas office, you can find people watching footage of lavish parties being thrown (for Behind the Bash with Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network), cataclysmic storms (It Could Happen Tomorrow on the Weather Channel), high-falutin’ art in foreign museums (Art Attack on the Travel Channel), toilets and how they work (Who Knew? on the National Geographic Channel), or intestines being sliced open for autopsies (Dr. G. Medical Examiner on Discovery Health). “Everybody who works on Dr. G. has changed their diet,” Klein says. “They never have partially hydrogenated oil, and they eat fiber all day.”
When not behind the camera, keyboard, or editing bay, he lives with his wife, Hillary, and two kids, ages seven and 10, in Southern Westchester, where he moved after having lived in Greenwich Village for 13 years. “I like the fact that, while in Greenwich Village, everyone is alternative and quirky, there are much fewer people in Southern Westchester who are weird and quirky,” he says. The family likes to eat at old-guard Italian restaurants like La Manda’s and Mulino’s in White Plains. And he keeps them entertained by playing instruments including the piano—but, thankfully, he’s stopped lighting them on fire.