Yesterday, Today, & FOREVER The King of Pop

Exclusive: The Makers of Michael Jackson’s This Is It

Source: Edward Douglas

Wednesday, October 28, the world will finally have a chance to see some
of the last performances by the "King of Pop," Michael Jackson, thanks
to the extensive rehearsal footage that accumulated over the months in
which he prepared for his string of sold out shows at London’s O2
Arena, plans that were cut short by Jackson’s sudden death on June 25th.

The results are Michael Jackson’s This is It,
not necessarily a concert film as much as a behind-the-scenes
documentation of all the work and preparation that went into what many
thought would be Jackson’s comeback.

To learn more about the movie, sat down with the film’s
director Kenny Ortega (far right) and Jackson choreographer Travis
Payne (center), both of whom have been working with the singer on his
live shows going back to the "Dangerous" and "HIStory" tours, as well
as the show’s musical director Michael Bearden (left). It was
surprising to see them doing so many interviews for the movie,
considering how difficult it must have been to talk about their dear
friend, and it was quite an emotional experience for the men to talk
with reverence about Jackson and his involvement with the movie from
the beyond.

Before our interview, we were given a brief glimpse at roughly 13
minutes of footage from the movie, which showed Jackson preparing a few
of the numbers from the show with this team. The footage goes through
songs like "Human Nature" and "The Way You Make Me Feel" in their
various incarnations as we watch their evolution from the early
rehearsals to the last few weeks just before the show was going to
debut. Needless to say, the first time we see Jackson in full regalia
doing some of his trademark moves, a shiver goes down your spine,
because it’s obvious even from that little bit of footage, Jackson was
still very much in his prime when he passed. How long does it usually take to stage a production
on this scale? I know the shows were announced in March, so were you
guys already well into planning and preparation at that point?

Kenny Ortega: No, actually, not at all. Michael called me just
before the announcement in March, and then we began early April, and in
the beginning it was just putting the team together and conceptual
discussions, then the dancers started at the end of April, the band
started the first week of May, didn’t it?

Michael Bearden: The band started the first week of May, but I started earlier. I was on before the dancers.

Ortega: We put our creative team together, then we put our
dancers, singers and band together. Michael was actually working with
Travis privately on building up his dance routines and then also worked
with Michael privately on the music. We all kind of came together on
the big stage at the Forum in May.

CS: So that was the Forum that we saw in the movie.

Ortega: The Forum and the Staples Center. There are five venues
in the picture: the O2 where Michael made the press announcement, the
Nokia Live which is where we did the big dance auditions, and then we
did Center Stages where we did band, dancer, singer and conceptual
meetings and early rehearsal, and then we moved into the arenas as we
started to put the show on its feet.

CS: So we’re going to be seeing some of the auditions and other things leading up to rehearsals?

Ortega: Yeah, yeah.

Travis Payne: The film is the story of what was to be "This Is It." It’s the entire process, the creation of the show.

CS: I know you two (Kenny and Travis) worked with Michael for a long
time but was this the first time you worked with him, Michael?

Bearden: No, I worked with Michael in 2001 on the 30th
Anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden, right before 9/11
happened. This is the first time I worked with him this closely and in
this capacity. I was just a sideman in that band, and I worked with his
brothers and every artist that was on the show, but this was not my
first time working with him.

CS: Since you all had experience working with him, did you get the
impression that he was trying to reinvent himself in some ways or was
it just a matter of giving the fans what they were expecting?

Ortega: (chuckles) He didn’t need to reinvent himself. It wasn’t
about reinvention, but in putting the show together, at times it was
about reimagining, freshening, creating new stimulus, surprises.

Expanding ideas.

Ortega: Expanding ideas, but there were the classics that didn’t
need to be touched. It was a real rangey dynamic of ideas that were as
simple and as basic and as intimate as Michael standing on a stage in a
light with the band and the audience, to these enormous elaborate
3-dimensional motion picture production experiences. We had a cast of
70 that was planned to open the show in London. It was truly without
question the most realized arena production I think ever.

Bearden: Amen.

Payne: Yes.

From what I’ve seen, this could have been like a long-running Broadway
show that you set up and it would just run for months and months if
they wanted. I was curious about the filming of everything. Was it
always very common to do that?

Payne: It was always part of the process to document everything,
often times just for reference sake, so that we could compare what
happens from one day to the next. All in the efforts of honing the
ideas to be the best they could, so fortunately, like every other
process, the cameras were rolling, which is thankfully how we were able
to construct this movie.

CS: Who originally came up with the idea to do this? You obviously
had spent a lot of time getting this show together, but who said, "We
should at least try to show the people what they would have seen…"?

Ortega: Well, the fans were demanding it. Immediately after
Michael had died, while we were all just really arrested with the
tragedy of it, in the midst of creating the memorial and really just in
slow motion moving to the surreality of what had happened, the fans who
were also going through their own tremendous agonies over the loss of
Michael but also, at the same time saying, "We had tickets. We must
know what was it? What were you doing? Please please…" They were
begging in the thousands from all over the world in every language,
"Please, please, please let us know what Michael was doing. Share with
us, anything. Don’t you have anything?" So the estate that represents
the better interests of Michael, his family picked up on that and they
came to us and said, "We need to do this." At first, we were all like,
"Huh?" But thankfully, we all agreed together that this was… we’ve
said that this was an honor project, not a glory project, and that this
was about a calling. It was like our responsibility to recognize that
the journey was not over, and that we had to step it up and pull it
together and find a way to become objective enough to be able to do it.
It was very difficult, but we kept each other in the room, we kept each
other up…

Bearden: A lot of tissue moments, a lot of tissue moments.

Ortega: We had to take some walks.

Bearden: Yeah.

And this was Michael’s greatest work, and he was so very
passionate about it. He knew that this was a time to return to the
stage and remind people of a lot of the messages that had been woven
through his music and his art for years. Peace and hope and love and
protecting the planet and doing everything we could as a humanity to
insure that there is an environment safe enough for future generations
to inhabit. We knew from that moment on that this was so important to
him. It was a journey we had all begun together that it was very
important that we finished it… for and with Michael.

CS: At what point did you start going through the footage and what
was involved with that because it must have been so difficult.

Bearden: Well, it was after the memorial and there was talk of a
tribute concert and that was right before the bidding happened for the
footage and then once Sony acquired the rights, all of the talks about
tributes stopped and they brought Kenny and Travis and I in to look at
this endless long string of…

Ortega: (laughs) 80 hours of footage.

And it was quite emotional because we hadn’t deal with it at that point.

CS: Not all 80 hours at once of course.

Ortega: No, no, no, but basically, we saw enough to know that
there was enough there to do something, and that was in like mid-July,
and then we talked about it musically, we talked about it conceptually,
and we left the editors for two weeks and gave them a conceptual plan
and direction, and then they did a massive assembly and that was like
six hours and we all came in and looked at that together, then we got
together and talked about it, and just basically went in after that and
said, "Okay, here’s the movie we want to make. We see a movie in here."

Bearden: At one point, one of us was with MJ every day, either
Travis or Kenny or I or all of us collectively, so it was a big lump of
clay, if you will, that we could start to see where to chisel and we
had to do it as a team, because there was so much to do, and the other
thing that we did was we always considered Michael in every aspect of
it, so it wasn’t only us guiding the hammer and chisel, it was MJ. I
would go, "Does he like this shot here? No." Each of us would have a
moment where we actually felt Michael’s presence, so that’s what
happened. We had a wonderful blueprint from Michael; he was always the
architect of everything that he did, and since we were there every day,
we knew what he wanted so we tried to realize his vision and try to
translate that into the film.

Ortega: I have to tell you. One time, we were sitting in a room
and we were looking at three different performances of rehearsal of
Michael doing one song, and I was like, "I love that. How are we not
going to lose that?" and Travis and I were looking at it, and I was
like, "What do you think we should do?" and Travis said, "He said ‘All
of them’" and I said, "What?" "He said ‘All of them.’ He told me, ‘Use
them all.’" Then we realized that he was in the room, and he was
talking to us and he was saying, "You don’t have to just show one of
them, show them all!" At different intervals of the film, you may see
Michael in one afternoon’s rehearsal of something and then in the very
next song, you might see weeks of rehearsal in a compilation. We really
did feel guided, we really did, we felt guided. The other thing that
was in our minds and in our hearts every single day was the fans. What
do they need? What is going to help them come to arrest this heartache
that is inside of them. Before we would throw something out, we would
say, "I dunno about that. They’re going to want that." So we argued for
them, we were like there for them.

In the footage, there’s a split screen of Michael doing three different
versions of how he ends one song. This show seems so planned and
well-rehearsed so is there still room for improvisation when it comes
to what Michael does in each song?

Ortega: These guys had to learn every song of every record. They had the whole catalogue.

Bearden: We had about 30 songs done in two weeks. I have the
same sort of work ethic that MJ. He’s all work. Very kind, very gentle,
a perfectionist but not in a dictatorial sense where you must do
whatever he says. It’s very collaborative, but at the same time, you
had to get done what he wanted to get done. We had to be at the ready
for anything that he wanted to do, because he was so spontaneous and
creative that way, even though he had a sense of direction. A wonderful
thing that I loved about MJ is that he allowed for what we all called
"creative jousting" so if there was something that I didn’t like–or
not even that I didn’t like but had a different suggestion–then he
would go, "Well, then make me feel that. Okay, let’s do that."

Payne: Having performed in the "Dangerous" and "HIStory" tours
with him on stage, he was a master improvisational dancer, the best I’d
ever seen, and there was a lot of room for him to have a different
experience every night. There were moments where he called the chunks,
where he was expected to tuck in and be in unison with the dancers, and
that’s what we would focus on in rehearsal, but then clearly there was
room for him to have his own experience, so that it was fresh and new
for him every night.

Ortega: And he always wanted you to be watchful. When you worked
with Michael Jackson, you had to plug in. You weren’t the band or the
singers or the dancers; you were an extension of Michael Jackson. It
was an organism, and you see in the film. At one point, he goes, "No,
stop. That happened too fast. Watch me!" and someone might start to say
something and he would say, "Just watch me. I’ll take you there." What
it was was Michael was the conductor, and that at any given moment, he
was liable to go into an improvisational moment. He was going to play
the crowds, and he says it, "I might just want to shake my shoulders. I
might want to just unbutton my jacket." So basically what was happening
was everybody was getting fine-tuned, plugged in, and you even see him
at one point, he does a stop and he does a little hesitation to see if
anybody’s going to jump the gun, a little passive/aggressive test…
and no one does, and he’s got a little smirk on his face, and he knows
he’s in charge and that everybody’s watching him and paying attention,
and then he drops that hand and everything goes. Michael had that
ability on any given night, at any given time, to switch it up. He had
to be ready and the choreographer had to be ready…

CS: That sounds a lot like James Brown. I’ve seen concert footage of
him where you’re really amazed that his band can keep up with him,
because there’s no way they could know what he was going to do next.

Bearden: That’s funny that you say that because we actually
talked about that a lot, and that’s where he got a lot of that from. It
is pretty much like James Brown and Jackie Wilson and all those things
he absorbed when he was a kid. He would be on the side of the stage
when the brothers were playing at the Regal in Chicago, all these
wonderful places that they played, and he would just listen to them and
he’s looking and studying and even at age 8, he’s doing this.

CS: This movie isn’t really a concert film as it’s more behind-the-scenes…

Ortega: When we started out making the film, we did think it was
going to kind of be a documentary, in that it was going to, as best we
could, tell the story of the greatest show that no one ever got to see.
I always put my foot down when anybody ever tried to reference it as a
concert film and I’d say, "Don’t say that." Because we were always a
work-in-progress. We never were able to become the concert, the show
that we had set our path on, however, the movie at some point kind of
just grabbed a hold of itself and formed itself, and what we ended up
with was 111 minutes that’s pretty much wall-to-wall music. The sound
in this film is extraordinary. Michael worked with Paul Masi, Academy
award winner that did the mixing for "Shine a Light," the Scorsese
Rolling Stones film. Really, it’s like a mosaic that lives somewhere in
the middle of being a documentary and a concert film.

CS: Do you think a movie like this might have ever happened if
Michael Jackson was still alive? Would he have allowed this much
behind-the-scenes footage to be seen?

Ortega: We have never found a movie out there that is like this.
We tried. We really wanted to find one, we wanted someone to show us
something, to help us. It would have been really nice to have a
reference, and I want to say, "No, I don’t think so."

Bearden: Yeah, someone asked me that earlier and there is no
reference, because even "Shine a Light" and those kinds of music films,
the artist could actually go to the premiere and see it. This was never
intended to be a film.

Ortega: How about that there was nobody in the arena while we were shooting it.

CS: I heard some applause during certain moments so obviously someone must have snuck in.

Ortega: 11 dancers and a few crew members that were privileged to witness it.

Bearden: Have you ever seen Michael in any video moment in an arena that big with nobody inside?

I want to talk about Michael’s legacy. Obviously, he made and sold a
lot of records, and now everyone is realizing we’ve lost someone great.
Can you talk about that legacy and where you feel it goes from here? Do
you think that his unfortunate passing will insure more people discover
his music?

Payne: I think so. I think that clearly Michael’s fanbase that
had been with him all these years was poised to descend on O2 and just
soak it up and be with their hero, but I think of course, because of
his untimely death, there’s a lot more curiosity surrounding the
project. I believe that it could quite possibly reach many more people
than it would have. It’s unfortunate that we had to lose him physically
in the process, but I believe that he’d be happy that a greater
audience are going to get to hear and see the messages that were so
near and dear to his heart for all of these years that were the
foundation for him wanting to return to the stage.

Ortega: And we had such reason behind everything that we were
doing. Everyone that worked on this project, once we lost Michael, kind
of immediately knew that he left us with this responsibility. His
music’s always going to be there. His short films are always going to
be there. You can look at "Dangerous," you can rent "HIStory" or
"Thriller," but the reasons behind Michael wanting to go out and do
this series and beyond–take it to India, take it to Japan, take it
around the world–were plentiful, and they were deep and they were
sincere, and he was really emotional behind some of it. We were there
every day, coming to really appreciate and value why Michael was doing
this at this stage of his life. Now he’s gone and I know I speak for
all of us here and everyone involved, we know that part of the legacy
we have to keep by doing everything we can to remind people of those
messages that were so important to Michael. That’s how you keep someone
alive. That’s how the legacy continues, and even grows, that all of us:
His fans, the creative people that were privileged enough to work with
him, have to remember that we have our part to do. We have a
responsibility to do.

Payne: Hopefully, if people attend this film, and are able to
connect with Michael again and are able to hear the messages that are
so passionate to him and he was so adamant about. If each one of them
goes out and does one thing each day, then that would have made him
happy. I believe that starting there can affect a great deal of change,
and that would be a triumph.

CS: I wish there was a movie like this when Elvis Presley passed
away or when John Lennon was shot, because this puts the focus back on
the music. I haven’t seen this in IMAX so how has the footage
translated to the larger format, because it’s obviously very rough.

Ortega: Yeah… at first, our post-production producer came in,
dancing a jig, Chantal Feghali, an amazing post-production
supervisor/co-producer, she came in, "We’ve got the IMAX!" and we kind
of looked at her and went, "What?!?" Because it is gritty, it is raw,
it is not always so pretty.

Bearden: It was never meant to be a film.

Ortega: But in fact, all the folks that went to Seattle to work
on it came back to us going, "You’re going to flip out." You know on
Halloween night, we get to see it at IMAX, they’re giving us a special
screening. I hadn’t even told you yet.

Bearden: Is that right? Wow.

Ortega: I don’t know if you know but we have 15 world premieres
happening simultaneously, which I’ve been told is completely unique and
from Los Angeles, we’re going to be like the homebase, plugged into all
15 of those world premieres, screens everywhere, Leicester Square in
London, they’re expecting thousands of people to come in at 1 o’clock
in the morning. On the streets, they’re going to have big screens out
there. Everywhere on the planet at the same time. We’re talking some
major cities including Sydney and Tokyo and London and…

Bearden: Even Bermuda!

Bermuda, Munich, it’s pretty exciting.

CS: As far as your own plans, Kenny, are you going to go back to working on "Footloose" now that you’re done with this?

Woo! You know, I gotta take a minute. I really have to
take a minute. I haven’t had a chance to really fully just have some
personal time with the idea that Michael is no longer here. That that
phone is not going to ring with some new idea, that I’m not going to be
sitting across from him, talking about the movies that we were
planning. These things, I’ve had to put on the backburner and just stay
focused on the creative issues at hand, and I think before I do
anything next, that I just want some really good alone time, and some
time with my family. Because a lot has happened, and it’s going to
impact my life. Michael and I weren’t just doing "This Is It" – which
is enough to be doing with Michael. I mean, you come out the other side
of that, having been on a journey like never before. Michael and I also
had film projects in mind, so this changes the course of my life, and I
just need to kind of step back and look at that. "Footloose" is out
there. There are other projects in development that are out there.
What’s absolute is that I’m going to put a hold on that right now.

I echo what Kenny says. I haven’t really had time to
process everything. We went straight from Michael passing to the
memorial to the proposed tributes to the crafting of the film, to the
funeral. Like he says, I’m still going to miss the alone time with
Michael just talking about simple things like grits or anything stupid
that we would talk about, but what I am going to do is that I’m the new
musical director for George Lopez’s new talk show that’s going to come
out on TBS four nights a week starting November 9. What I was able to
do was get a couple of the guys that were in MJ’s band and who weren’t
working–when Michael passed, the work stopped for them–so I was able
to get them into a new fold and we’ll still be able to create and do
things, which I was happy I was able to do. In this tragedy, came some
light for them. I never stopped working on this, but this is something
I can do. I’ll still need some alone time to be with my family and I’m
going to take that time, but I’m going to embrace this new project, and
George was gracious enough that I think he said he wants us on to talk
about this when the film is out.

Payne: Fortunately, we had the opportunity to assemble this film
with Kenny leading the way, and that’s all supporting each other, and
it began a healing process for us. It proved very helpful and cathartic
to be able to sit there with the footage and still be with Michael. I
hope that his fans will feel that way, too, that they have him back for
a while, and to celebrate him now. I think that the world has mourned
for so long, and I’m not at all suggesting that we forget him, but I
think it’s time to celebrate him and do the work. I think he would want
to connect with his fans, get these messages out there, and smile down
from heaven that change is actually happening because of his work.

Michael Jackson’s This Is It opens on Wednesday, October 28.

Michael Jackson’s This Is It – Behind the camera with Videographer Sandrine Orabona

by Trey Borzillieri

Clearly Michael Jackson’s This Is It
has a life of it’s own. I saw this movie at 10:30am and boy did I get a
surprise. I was expecting an empty theatre this early in the morning.
It was packed. I also expected the audience to begin dancing in the
aisles from the onset. Not the case.

My expectations were way off. A few minutes into this unbelievable, one
of a kind film, tears welled up in my eyes and began streaming down my
face. I put my half eaten bag of popcorn to the side and my napkins
turned into tissues.

I know I’m not alone when I say Michael Jackson had been absent from my
life… a life he had been very much a part of many years ago. I
remember being put in a long time-out in 3rd grade for wearing a green
and purple sequined version of his glove, homemade by my mother. A
"long time out" is good way to describe what Michael Jackson has been in for many of us.

In the documentary This Is It, he is back! Wow! From the films first
song, Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, the talent, emotion and love of
Michael Jackson strikes you, no matter what age you are. If you’re a
Gen-X’er then you will be quickly catapulted into a brief self-analysis
of your life. A sort-of evaluation of what has happened to you since
you last saw this man like this! Then comes the rush of emotions aided
by the music of course… past, present and the finality that you are
watching him for the last time. Napkins turn to tissues all over again.
As I wiped the tears off my face, shocked and embarrassed, I popped my
head up to look at the rest of the audience. It seemed people were
having a similar experience to mine. One can’t help watch this
incredible film in shock and awe – just to be clear, a good, thankful,
wonderful version of "shock and awe." It’s almost as if we were
destined to have this last piece of Michael Jackson no matter what.

This Is It is now the highest grossing documentary in history. Behind
the camera capturing these revealing, special and final moments with
Michael Jackson was Videographer Sandrine Orabona. She is a small
documentarian in comparison to the epic scale of what the film now
represents on all levels. As the world shares these moments with
Michael in this extraordinary documentary one can only imagine what it
must have been like to be six feet away from The Magician at work!
Please tell us Sandrine.

TB: I just saw This Is It.

SO: So what did you think?

TB: I was blown away. I think I was all business walking into it. Then everything hit me and I was a disaster.

SO: A disaster as in crying?

TB: I started crying and crying and crying.

SO: Do you know how many people said have said that to me?

TB: Like the first song…

SO: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’

TB: Yes, yes and I mean I wasn’t expecting any of it. I think it was a
combination of his life, what he represented in my life, his talent and
the finality of it all.

SO: I’m so happy to have been a documentarian on it and even to just
have been in the presence. I think that what the Director, Kenny
Ortega, was able to do is to distill the emotion that we all felt while
we were there during rehearsal. Everybody hired on the crew were very
good at what they do all the way up. We all felt so gifted and
fortunate to be on the project and to be around this man because of
everything he represents, because of how amazing he is as a musician,
as an artist and just to be in a room with him while he was rehearsing,
performing or going through the paces. Just being around his process
everyday, I would come home and just be like I can’t believe I’m a part
of this, I can’ t believe what I lived today. And everybody felt that.
My friend Chucky, wearing the green jacket, he is an Emmy award-winning
choreographer. He won an Emmy for choreographing the High School
Musical films with Kenny Ortega. He dropped a potential project to
audition as a dancer with no guarantee that he was going to be a
dancer. He got the job and everyday he would look at me and be like, "I
can’t believe I am living this." Now this is a man that not only is he
a dancer, but he is an Emmy winning choreographer, ok, so it was not
lost on any of us, you know how amazing this experience was. I think it
is really captured in the film.

TB: Yeah it is. You’re describing what hit me so hard…everyone
feeling so fortunate to be there and what a gift this is and so
appreciative of that. At the same time it was a flashback to someone
who has in many ways has been absent from his musical life, absent from
being the person we all know in terms of performing and…

SO: You mean as far as his comeback?

TB: Well this was the beginning of his comeback, so he’s been absent
from the stage for a long time and the movie allows you to get to know
him again, it’s makes you appreciate his talent all over again and then
in the back of your mind you know he’s gone… and this becomes a one,
two, three punch that the audience can’t help but be effected by when
they watch the movie.

SO: It’s a really powerful piece of work because, for everything that
you just stated. And I think what’s really important is that Kenny
chose to focus on the experience that we were living in the moment,
this piece doesn’t focus on the fact that he’s passed already because
it is understood. I think that the power of it is drawn from the
experience that we all had and by focusing on our experience, people
are able to embrace essentially what we lived [during the rehearsals].
I had a friend say to me, "I felt like I had a front row seat to this
experience". And I replied, "That’s cause I did." I was there. If you
feel in your seat like Michael Jackson is performing Billie Jean six
feet away from you that is because he actually did perform Billie Jean
six feet away from me. If you feel that power coming through the
screen, you can imagine what I felt on stage when that was happening.
And you can see that too… there is a handful of us, I turn the camera
around and it’s like fifteen crew and dancers on the floor watching and
they can’t believe what they are seeing. That was the experience.

TB: Can you describe the amped up feeling you had at that moment?

SO: It’s exactly what you are talking about in terms of when you go see
the film. It’s like genetically we all have Michael Jackson inside of
us. In some way or another because of the way we grew up. We listened
to his music and we realized what a genius this man is. And then also
we [the crew working on this] are all professionals and we appreciate
that even more as a dancer, as a musician, as a documentary filmmaker
we understand that side of it even more. And then all of a sudden all
of that comes up in you and you’re like I’m watching a man that I’ve
seen on TV, that I’ve appreciated from a distance, doing what he does
best six feet away from me. And I’ve got his team of crew members
behind me feeling the exact same and the only reason I can’t do it is
because I’m holding the camera. So many times I caught myself dancing
while I was shooting. The bassline for Thriller just moves right
through you.

TB: A very cool moment was when he vocally did the little guitar thing
in the rehearsal for Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ to show the way it was
to be done. He made the guitar sound so well and for a long enough time
that it actually sounded like a real guitar.

SO: Watching a process for an artist like that… I am in awe. For the
legends like Michael Jackson or Martin Scorcese, to just be around
their process and absorb that like a sponge it’s like an
apprenticeship. Just watching these people work is like a gift.

TB: Any comments on the process you saw while filming?

SO: Everybody that was on the show, like Kenny Ortega, Michael Bearden,
Travis Payne and Michael Bush. These are all people that have been
around Michael for a long time and they are also great artists in their
own rights. There is kind of like a creative short hand they use rather
than a lot of technical jargon. Like when Michael says; "make it sound
like you are dragging yourself out of bed" It immediately evokes an
emotional reaction and you can then translate that into the music that
you are making and I thought it was a brilliant way of conveying that

TB: Did he have down days?

SO: No. Because of the level of energy that everyone shared, I didn’t
even have my down days. What you see is what you got everyday at
rehearsal. Everyone from Michael on down was really focused and on
their way to creating this amazing show.

TB: Something that jumped out at me… his hands. They just came out of
the screen, like the hands of a magician; they were all over the place.

SO: I was so focused on my little screen [in the camera] that I never
really noticed that but a number of people have mentioned that to me.

TB: One of my favorite parts of the movie was when he started working
on Human Nature, the creativity and the spontaneity of that.

SO: But that’s what I’m talking about. That is the kind of creative
short hand that was flying all over the stage. It was a very creative
space for everyone involved. All of the musicians were spot-on.

TB: Everyone was front and center and ready to do their best.

SO: Well you don’t get that kind of job without that though, I mean,
front, center and incredibly happy to be there. Everybody. Grateful.

TB: I was really expecting people to be dancing in the movie theatre
and I could actually here crickets. It seemed like the audience was in
shock, overwhelmed and grateful to being seeing it more than anything

SO: Different people have different experiences; I think it depends on
the audience. I have seen it a few times and they’ve all been
different. With the crew it was very much like reliving it. I have seen
it when the audience has been dancing and also seen it with a crowd
that experienced it very much like you did. I see new things every time
I watch it.

TB: The film is important, thank goodness you guys were there to
capture it otherwise we may never have had anything like it with
Michael Jackson.

SO: It was one of the things that made it so special for me at the
time. The fact, that I personally had never seen anything like this
before. I had never seen this side of Michael Jackson. To this day I
continue to treat it as an incredible gift. I think a lot of people
feel that way now that they’ve seen the documentary.

TB: A random thing –E he was wearing a shirt with Popeye gambling on it at one point.

SO: That’s Michael Bush right there. That’s the incredible art of Michael Bush.

TB: Was that rehearsal costume? Or everyday clothes for him?

SO: Michael Bush dressed Michael Jackson. Always.

TB: How did everyone deal with news of his passing?

SO: It was a very difficult day. I was actually there shooting at the
time and I almost dropped the camera. I had to shoot on my knees
through the better part of that moment. I was overwhelmed with the
emotion and I was like, "Ok, I am going to pass out". But I couldn’t
because I had to film. The way I can describe it is… the entire world
was mourning that day, imagine how it was in the rehearsal space. I
have a hard time remembering it actually. I feel like I had an
out-of-body experience.

TB: Were you a fan of his growing up?

SO: Who wasn’t? But I have to say that I am even more of a fan of his
after having done this and observing him as a professional.

TB: Who are you?

SO: A documentarian, more specifically a music documentarian. A documentarian, shooter and editor.

TB: Can’t wait to see what you do next. Thank you.

Sandrine Orabona can be found at

Huffington Post

As the production got under way, it quickly became clear that Jackson’s
creative ambitions for the concert were beyond anything he’d ever
attempted. With the budget already past $24 million, Jackson told his
team he wanted to recreate one of the world’s largest waterfalls on the
stage. “I was ready to jump off the balcony of my office,” Randy Phillips
says. “We went and met with Michael, and Kenny said, ‘Michael, you’ve
got to stop. We’ve got an incredible show, we don’t need any more
vignettes.’ MichaeL said, ‘But Kenny, God channels this through me at
night. I can’t sleep because I’m so super-charged.’
Kenny said, ‘But
Michael, we have to finish. Can’t God take a vacation?’ Without missing
a beat, Michael said, ‘You don’t understand — if I’m not there to
receive these ideas, God might give them to Prince.’”

Reviews: Michael Jackson’s This Is It

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