Kenny Ortega: “This Is It”
Jackson’s long-time friend reveals the King of Pop‘s creative fuel and what to expect from his concert documentary This Is It
‘He wanted to share what he loved
with his children – and now we have this film for his children. He
wanted to get out there and reconnect with his fans and sing the songs
that they wanted to hear – and now they’re going to hear the songs they
wanted to hear.”
Kenny Ortega, the longtime creative partner of Michael Jackson and
director of This Is It, a document of the preparations of the King of
Pop’s intended career-bowing series of 50 spectacular concerts at
London’s O2 Arena, talks about the motivations behind those concerts
and the most anticipated big-screen event of year – a film dubbed by
some as “Dead Man Moonwalking.”
Everybody’s talking about This Is It, but nobody’s seen it. What is it?
It celebrates the last four months of Michael, while he was invested
in his last theatrical work, and going through the creative process of
conceptualizing, rehearsing, interacting with all the design teams and
the creative teams.
How stressful was it for Michael, preparing for the London concerts?
It wasn’t stressful for him. It was something that he enjoyed. It
was nourishing, it was invigorating. It was something he was very
excited about, that had great purpose behind it.
How did that project come about?
For two years, Michael and I had been discussing, day-dreaming and
lunching on potential ideas. And then one day I got a telephone call
from him and he said “This is it, this is the one.” This was going to
be his final curtain call. Together we invited artists from all around
the world to join us – he inspired all of us to think outside of the
box and to take the journey with him.
And how well does this film get across the idea of that journey?
You get a really good sense of it. There’s much more music and
staging than I ever imagined. In the beginning, I thought I was going
to have more of a documentary. In the end, what I have is a sort of
hybrid between documentary and concert film.
How truthful is it?
You’re getting an unguarded, raw, truthful version of Michael.
You’re getting remnants – this is a mosaic, really stuck together,
trying to do our best to give everybody a really grand-scale idea of
what his dream was.
He was in the room with me the whole time helping me make decisions.
[Laughs]. How I really feel about his, I mean, is that Michael wasn’t
there [for the making of the film]. I’ve done my best to channel, and
to include him, and, as his friend for so many years, my best to
protect his integrity.
The integrity of the concert series has been called into question. Was Michael up to it?
No one put this on Michael. Why do people have to take the integrity
of Michael away now that he can’t fend for himself? This was his idea,
his choice. This nourished him, excited him – he was looking forward to
this. Why do we want to take that away from him?
The thought is that he was pushed into it, to help clear his debt.
Isn’t that a consideration for all of us in life? Why should that be
any different with Michael than anybody else? Give him credit. If
anything was responsible for hurting this man it wasn’t his creative
work. It’s sickening to me that that’s where the focus wants to be. He
wanted to be there more than any of us.
Will this film show that?
Of course it will. Whether or not it will quiet [the salacious
speculation] or not, you know, there are people out there who have an
agenda – and they always will. That’s just life. You can’t create for
everyone. That’s what Michael would say. If you tried to, you wouldn’t
get anything accomplished.
A Minute With: Kenny Ortega on the ‘It’ in "This Is It"
After Jackson’s death, Ortega was
hired to edit together 80 hours of video taken on stage and behind the
scenes of the "This Is It" rehearsals for the 111-minute movie. Many of
the recent interviews with Ortega have been about Jackson’s sudden
death and the events around it, so Reuters took a minute to talk about
the movie and what fans will actually see.
Q: How about for a change of pace, we focus on the movie:
A: (laughs). Thank you.
Q: It has been called part documentary, part concert film, but what does that mean? What’s the "It" in "This Is It"
It’s such a unique idea. I call it a "musical mosaic." We took the
remnants of what we had and constructed a musical story that I think
will help fans appreciate what Michael was putting into "This Is It",
what his dreams for it were, what his goals were for it."
Q: Does it have a plot or themes? What happens onscreen?
It doesn’t have a plot line. There is not a narrative, however there is
definitely a story. It is a story of a master of his craft, a great
genius in his final theatrical work and creative process. You see him
interacting. It’s a privileged path to observe Michael as the creative
architect and mastermind behind his work. And this is something that I
don’t think people knew he did, let alone ever seen him do.
Q: So, we get a picture of Michael as a creative force.
A: Yeah, as the conductor.
Not only in music and dance, but also in his own words as he’s talking
about the show and his reasons for including different songs or staging
A: That’s right, and in other people’s words,
too … Nowhere near the 80 hours did we have Michael in rehearsal.
However, we had enough to be able to cut together a pretty big portion
of what Michael was planning for the tour. The film is somewhat
wall-to-wall music. The band, the singers, Michael live. You see it,
you really feel it, you sense it. It’s raw, unguarded, it’s a unique
behind-the-scenes look at the creative process of putting a show
Q: When you were sitting in that dark, editing room
looking at the video, were there times where you said to yourself, "I
have to show that. That is pure Michael"? And what were they.
Absolutely. First of all, when I assumed this and took on the
responsibility to direct this … I realized it was my responsibility,
the journey wasn’t over, and then I called upon Michael immediately,
and I was just like, "you’re not letting me go in there alone." And
everyday, I really did bring Michael with me as best I could. And never
forgot he was there. He was in my mind and in my heart, Michael, along
with some of the other creative friends that worked with us on the
We started to look at the footage and we had two things
in mind: most importantly Michael’s integrity and secondly, what is
going to serve the fan base. And the footage talked to us. It jumped
out at us. There were times, I swear, when we heard Michael say "Use it
all; do it all." And I’d look at (my collaborator) and say, "did you
just say that?" And he’d say, Michael said, "Do it all." And I’d say,
"that’s what I thought. I thought I heard Michael say "do it all."
Q: The opposite question is, were there parts of Michael you didn’t want to show?
It’s unguarded, and it’s raw, and it’s real and it’s truthful, and it’s
not always pretty and he’s not always lit, you know. We weren’t really
overly protective. It has soul and heart and truth and warmth and
magic. The real answer to that question would be "no."
Q: For all that has been said and written about Michael, what don’t people know that comes through in the movie?
That he did it all. He did it all. He wrote the music. He understood
the music. He knew every part that everybody was supposed to play. He
could sing you the bass line or the guitar part. He could play the horn
line or the string line. He knew the harmonies, he sang them all.
think what we walk away with, for those that might have forgotten … I
think this will remind people, I hope it will remind people, of this
incredible talent that existed, you know, and the tremendous legacy he
left for us.
(Editing by Deena Beasley)
Kenny Ortega Interview, Michael Jacksons This Is It
Posted by: Sheila Roberts
MoviesOnline sat down to talk to with producer/director Kenny Ortega about his new film, the highly anticipated Michael Jackson’s THIS IS IT. The
film offers Jackson fans and music lovers worldwide a rare,
behind-the-scenes look at the performer as he developed, created and
rehearsed for his sold-out concerts that would have taken place
beginning this past summer in London’s O2 Arena.
Audiences will be given a privileged and private look at Jackson as he has never been seen before. In raw and candid detail, Michael Jackson’s THIS IS IT
is the last documentation of Michael Jackson in action, capturing the
singer, dancer, filmmaker, architect, creative genius, and great artist
at work as he and his collaborators move toward their goals of London,
the O2 and history.
Dubbed the Billion Dollar Maestro by Daily Variety, Kenny Ortega has
conquered feature films, television, stage, concerts and massive live
events such as the Olympics with equal excellent. As Michael Jackson’s
director and creative partner on “This Is It” as well as the previous
Jackson concert tours Dangerous and History, Ortega has been a friend,
trusted colleague and collaborator of Michael Jackson’s for over 20
The multiple Emmy Award winner famously directed and visualized
Disney’s billion-dollar High School Musical franchise of films both for
television and as a feature film. Ortega directed the Hannah
Montana/Miley Cyrus “Best of Both Worlds Tour” featuring The Jonas
Bros. He also directed to tremendous praise the Opening and Closing
Ceremonies for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Kenny Ortega is a fabulous person and we really appreciated his
time. Here’s what he had to tell us about his new film and his historic
collaboration with Michael Jackson:
Q: Have you had any sleep?
KO: You know, I haven’t had any sleep for the last few months. I
haven’t. During the rehearsals, I worked pretty late hours and then we
did the memorial and then we started up on the film and the film was 14
hours a day, seven days a week, every week since we started and then we
handed the movie over and it was like mixing. We just came back from 10
days out on the road starting in Chicago with Oprah and back here for
the premiere. It’s just been an absolute whirlwind. Like the wind last
night, I was like ‘nothing new to me.’
Q: Was syncing in post a nightmare?
KO: Not a nightmare. Fortunately, we had everything being recorded.
We had our monitor guys. You know when Michael’s talking, when he’s
going, ‘I’m not trying to be difficult. I realize you guys are trying
to do your job but I’m having a problem. It’s like somebody sticking
their fist in my head.’ He’s talking to the monitor guys who are over
there recording everything. Not everything was recorded where we had
separate stems. Some things were just in two track so we didn’t have
the ability to bring Michael’s voice out as much as we would have liked
to. We did our best and other times we had it as good as in a recording
studio where you could pull it out and mix it so we were able to get a
greater sort of mix. But everything you heard was happening right there
in the room. That’s Michael’s band playing all that music. Those aren’t
records. He wanted it like the records as he made very clear, but those
were his singers singing live. That was his band playing live. That was
Michael up there obviously. If anybody needed to put that concept to
rest, I mean you saw him. He would just start to improvise and start to
sing out of nothingness and suddenly the band kicked in and we were
into a rehearsal. That’s how organic that process was for us.
Q: Had he ever done Jackson 5 songs as an adult before?
KO: Oh yeah. Since I’d started working with him which was back
during Dangerous and HIStory and many one offs that we did, in Korea
and Germany, many places, JFK Stadium in D.C., Michael loved to pay
tribute to those years, to the songs and to his brothers more
Q: The rawness accentuates the fact that it was never meant to be seen.
KO: It wasn’t, it wasn’t. But also, we had three big chunks of
footage that we worked with. You saw the big films that we incorporated
into the storytelling. Those were 10 short films that Michael and I
developed and produced together that were incorporated into the
concert. So those were always intended to be a part of the concert.
Those were made for the live show and ultimately down the line when we
filmed the live show in London which was a plan, those would have been
a part of that. Then we had the behind the scenes, interviews, the
making of, because Michael had intended to film the concerts in London
so he wanted to have a nice behind the scenes to be able to attach to
that. So that’s where you got the dancers and band members talking and
seeing the scenic shots. Then you had what I call the miracle footage
which was the footage that we use. It was a tool for us to videotape
the rehearsal so that we could at any time we wanted to go back and
look at something and say, ‘Why don’t we open this up musically or you
know what we should do here with the lights? Or why not bring the
dancers out at this moment?’ That it offered us an opportunity to kind
of after the fact step back, look at something and be able to make
creative adjustments. We’d done that ever since we started working
together. We didn’t always turn those cameras on and there were only
two of them and sometimes one. You can imagine the complication of
trying to tell a story and cut this movie together. There were times
where I was on the floor banging and kicking and screaming because we
didn’t design this to be shot as a film. We never planned it. There was
no script. I didn’t say, ‘And now go in for the close-up and can we do
one more take of that?’ That was never part of it.
Q: Were any musical numbers left out because the footage wasn’t there?
KO: Yeah, mm hmm, yeah. The day that Michael died, we were waiting
for him to come in to block him into Dirty Diana, which was at the end
of Dirty Diana, he stepped into an illusion and before your eyes went
up in smoke and then suddenly appeared completely on the other side of
the stage rising up on the cherry picker and out over to the audience
for Beat It. He was really looking forward to it. The night before, he
had said to me he was very happy. He saw the dream coming to life on
the stage. The only thing he wanted me to say to anybody creatively,
dancers, creative team was, ‘I love them. Everybody’s doing a great
job. I love you, Kenny. I’ll see you tomorrow. Thank you.’ He left and
we were invigorated. We came back that next day and we were all up on
the stage really excited working with our illusion makers, working with
our technicians. We had our aerialist, Danielle, on the stage and Tony
Testa, one of our associate choreographers was standing in for Michael.
It was just like we were getting everything ready for him to walk in
and step into what was going to be one of his favorite days because he
loved illusion. When we discovered that, in fact everything stopped.
Q: Did your Hocus Pocus background help reinvent Thriller?
KO: It didn’t hurt. It didn’t hurt but it also came from my
background of loving Michael Jackson’s Thriller and being a huge fan of
all of his short film work. But it was one of the first ideas that
Michael and I talked about was let’s create a 3-D experience in an
arena for the fans. Of course, people were like, ‘What?’ The
technology, they were really racing to get it finished. We had the
first HD 3-D screen up and we were creating these films. There were
people that were not even sure it was going to work. When we first
tested the 3-D on the screen in the arena, it was mind blowing. Then
what we were planning on doing was Michael had all these other ideas.
We had Michael Curry who designed The Lion King was one of our scenic
designers and puppeteer designers. We had giant illuminated characters
dropping out of the ceiling over the heads of the audience and these
beautiful puppets that were coming down the aisles and moving out of
the vomitoriums. Michael was so excited about it. He liked to call it a
4-D experience. So, you were going to have a 3-D movie, the cast on
stage and then the smoke billowing off the edge of the stage into the
audience and all of these elements dropping in over your head and your
3-D glasses on.
Q: Did you ever want to add something reflecting on the emotional background?
KO: You know, the only reason why I didn’t do it was because I
didn’t want anyone to ever say that we fabricated anything. We didn’t.
There is absolutely nothing in this film that wasn’t created from the
time Michael Jackson announced that he was doing the concerts until the
day that Michael died. We didn’t want to touch it. It was like I called
it sacred final documentation and if we went back in to shoot the band
or anything, then we left ourselves open to people going, ‘That really
wasn’t how it happened. They tried to color it differently.’ However,
in the DVD series, there is a tremendous, I would say, three to four
hours of information that’s not in the film that comes again from that
source, but also now post source. So that we did go back and now talked
in hindsight about the experience of working with Michael and we
completed some ideas that Michael had blessed and signed off on that we
didn’t have quite finished by the time Michael had died. So you’re
going to see an even sort of completer picture and come to understand
more detail about all the elements of what we had planned for the show.
Q: How would you like Michael to be remembered as an artist and as a person?
KO: I think people were saying it last night. They were echoing
everything that I felt in my heart. People coming up to me and saying,
‘We didn’t get it. We didn’t get the closure from CNN. We didn’t get to
say goodbye properly from CNN.’ Not meaning that they were being
irresponsible. It was just that the information wasn’t there and that
people were saying that not only did we get to have these final moments
with Michael as the artist, but we got to come to know him better than
ever before as a man. You really came to appreciate his kindness and
his sweetness and his generosity and the wonderful collaborative spirit
that he was about and the way that he worked with people, never wanting
to offend anyone. My God, if he thought that he embarrassed somebody,
it would just knock him to his knees. That’s why you always saw him,
even in the deepest frustrating moments for him, he would say, ‘With
the love. That’s what the rehearsal’s for’ because he really
appreciated us so much. He said to me, ‘Kenny, go out and find the best
artists in the world. Invite them to come and join our journey and then
let’s inspire them to go to places that they’ve never been before.’ So
Michael knew who was in front of him and he had the greatest admiration
and respect for everybody. Even if he had a little debate or a
disagreement with someone, he never wanted it to get to the place where
that person might have thought that he didn’t care for them or that he
didn’t respect them.
Q: Shouldn’t he have done movie musicals?
KO: Yeah, we were going to do a couple of films. Before we even knew
that we were going to do This Is It, Michael and I were already in the
early development stages in talking about doing a Legs Diamond musical
and a full length 3-D Thriller motion picture. Michael was not
intending to resign from the business. He wasn’t retiring. However,
this was what he was calling his final curtain call for live touring.
What he thought was he’ll do the 50 shows in London and then he really
said, ‘If it works and I still feel good and I still have the energy, I
would love to go to Africa. I would love to go to India. I would love
to go to Japan.’ Travis (Payne) and I saw it. Michael was intending to
go out there with his children and see the whole rest of the world,
share that experience with them, meet the fans, take one more grand bow
and then he wanted to pull the plug on his live performing because he
said, ‘I don’t want to be out there doing it when I can’t do it with
the integrity that I’m known for. However, let’s make movies and great
albums and develop projects together.’ So he was excited about so much.
He had so much more in him still.
Q: What did you discover about Michael and yourself and your friendship doing this?
KO: Well, you know, Michael just gave me such trust. From the very
moment that we began, it’s like he threw the clay in the middle of the
table and he said, ‘Put your hands in it with me right now.’ He loved
creative jousting with me. He loved it. He loved wrestling down ideas.
Whatever stuck to the wall the next day, we didn’t even remember who
came up with it. We so didn’t care. It was such a partnership. It was
so easy, out of our ego, and it was so about what belonged in the
storytelling. Michael had for a couple of years been entertained by so
many people with ideas and he would call me every once in a while, we
would have dinner, we’d talk on the telephone. He’d come to visit me on
set and he’d say, ‘There’s nothing out there that has enough purpose
behind it for me to want to do it,’ meaning in the live arena. He’d
say, ‘Keep thinking.’ I was doing my films and suddenly I got this
phone call, after two years of us talking about the possibility of
maybe doing something live, and he said, ‘Kenny, this is it.’ I swear,
that’s what he said. ‘This is it.’ Then during the conversation while
we were talking, he said it like five times and I laughed and I said,
‘You should call the tour This is It because you keep saying it.’ What
happened when we got together right after that was, before any
conceptual ideas, he started talking to me about the reasons why, the
reasons behind wanting to go out and do it. Here’s why we need to do
this and now let’s create the show that gives worth to these reasons.
That is what I’ll take with me. His sense of responsibility, that it
wasn’t enough to just go out there because he could. It had to be
important. It had to have worth. It had to have reason, raison d’etre
as Gene Kelly used to say to me all the time. What’s the reason for
being there that’s going to inspire me to get up every day and want to
put on my costume and get on that stage and be Michael Jackson.
Q: How do you respond to theThis Is Not It website? Would you take legal action?
KO: I don’t. I mean, everybody, the way I look at it is they’re all
fans. Everything is coming from a sense of loss. There are some fans
out there that are just looking to sort of point at something, to point
to the reason why we don’t have Michael anymore, put blame. All I would
say is Michael didn’t live that way. That’s not the spirit of Michael
Jackson. Michael didn’t assume. There were an awful lot of people
though that did assume about Michael Jackson. They created scenarios
and they speculated and even persecuted him and demoralized him. I
would just say to anyone, if you don’t know what you’re talking about,
if you weren’t there, if you don’t have the information, don’t put that
information – – don’t. Don’t do it. See the movie. Look at the movie.
The movie speaks for itself. It’s Michael. It’s Michael talking,
Michael doing, Michael sharing. It’s pretty clear. It’s pretty honest.
It’s pretty raw. It’s pretty unguarded. That Michael wanted to be
there. He was doing this. This nourished him. It invigorated him. It
excited him. He wanted to do this more than anything other than spend
time with his children. This is what he wanted to do.
Q: What do you look for in artists to participate?
KO: Collaborators and people that are not afraid to go on a journey
and get outside of their head and that are less concerned about an idea
being theirs and more concerned about being a part of a team that
arrives at something that’s special.
Q: What’s going on in High School Musical land?
KO: I’m not going to do High School Musical 4 but I hear that they might be doing an all new cast, all new.
Q: What happened to all the sets?
KO: All of it’s in storage. All of it’s in storage. Some of it is
spectacular. Somehow maybe in the future we might be able to pull it
all into some kind of idea. I don’t know. I hope it’s not just going to
sit behind closed doors.
Interview: This Is It Director Kenny Ortega On His Last Work With MJ
By Katey Rich: 2009-10-27
Even though he’s an experienced film director, with High School Musical 3 and Newsies
behind him, Kenny Ortega didn’t start his last adventure with Michael
Jackson with the camera in mind. He signed on as the director of "This
Is It" with the intention of taking the entire show to London, and had
cameras on hand during rehearsals to provide references points for
himself and Jackson, as they worked with the rest of the crew to put
together the best live concert imaginable.
Of course, nothing turned out as planned. After Jackson died on June
25, Ortega and his team were left with a production that would never go
live, but also 80 hours of footage from the rehearsals and behind the
scenes, documenting the final days of one of the world’s most beloved
musicians. It was clear that, in some way, the show could go on after
Tomorrow This Is It,
a concert movie and documentary about those rehearsals in the Staples
Center in Los Angeles, hits theaters nationwide. Last week we talked to
Ortega about putting the film together without Jackson, where he was
when he heard that Jackson had died, and what he learned about the King
of Pop that none of his fans have ever been able to know. Check out our
You edited down a lot of material–we heard it was 200 hours– to make this. Does that mean there will be a second film?
It wasn’t two hundred hours. It was eighty. Most of that was film
footage that Michael and I had produced for special content to appear
in the concert. Part of it was behind the scenes, extensive interviews
with everybody behind the scenes, the sets going up, the show being
built and then part of it were these cameras that were capturing
rehearsals. They might do an enhanced, a bigger version, an extended
version someday but I do know that the DVD that’s coming out next year
has a tremendous, weighty additional footage. I’ve seen it and it’s
powerful and emotional and moving and fantastic. I would hope that does
the trick, personally.
Can you tell us about your reaction when you found out Michael had died?
We were expecting Michael to come in that afternoon to rehearse with us
and we were really excited. Michael and I had seen each other the night
before. Our phones started going off and text messages and phone calls
and ‘Is it true? Have you heard? This station is saying that –’ and for
quite some time I just kept thinking to myself that the gardener could
be going to the hospital, that anything could be happening. Knowing the
media and the way that it works around Michael, I just didn’t go there
at all. I didn’t allow it to be that. Then it got more intense and more
intense and then eventually I got a phone call from my family and then
some pretty well known journalists and then from the hospital itself,
from one of our promoters who said, ‘Michael in fact is here and it is
Michael. We’ll let you know when we know more.’
So all of us got together, the entire company stopped and we all came
together and we put Michael into the circle and all of us just imagined
him back with us and in good health and wanted to believe that the
circumstances would end up bringing Michael back to us. Time stood
still. I received a telephone call from one of our promoters that said
Michael in fact had died. I made him repeat it three times because I
thought that I was hearing voices. It didn’t feel real. It was surreal.
Then I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to hang up and I’m going to call
you back and if this is really you then you’re going to answer the
phone and then I’m going to know it’s the truth.’ I was helped into a
dressing area and was really going through some kind of a shock. We
called him back and he answered the phone and I said, ‘Tell me
something that only the two of us would know.’ He said, ‘Kenny, it’s
me. It’s Paul. Stop it. Stop it. Michael’s dead.’ It just felt like
everything inside of me, like a building collapsed, the foundation.
Everything inside of me just collapsed like a bomb had dropped. It was
surreal beyond things. It was dark and painful and everywhere I looked
I just saw people holding each other up and falling to their knees. It
was really horrible. No one expected it. As much as it has been said,
as much as it’s been said in these weeks, we as a family believed in
our hearts and in our minds that we were going to London and this was
How do you direct Michael Jackson? Can you say no to him?
You don’t tell Michael no. You disagree. You don’t ever have to
criticize Michael. What you always get with Michael is an open mind and
that’s all he expects back from you. He would say to me, when he really
believed in something that I wasn’t on the same page with him about,
he’d say, ‘Please, please, just promise me that you’ll keep it alive in
your mind for five minutes. I know you’ll come to agree with me.’ I
would say, ‘Oh, you’re wrong there, mister.’ Michael loved that about
our relationship. He called it creative jousting and he loved that. He
rolled up his sleeves and we wrestled ideas and it didn’t matter. I
know that Michael kept inviting me back time and time again because I
didn’t just yes him, nor I did I boss him. We had a wonderful repartee.
I know that Michael trusted me that I would get the work done. He would
say to me, ‘You build the house. I’ll rock it down.’
How did This Is It begin?
He picked the phone up and called me. We had been talking for two years
off and on. I’d say, ‘What are you thinking?’ He’d say, ‘You know, it’s
not enough that you can do something. You have to do it. You must.
We’ll do it when it’s right and we’ll do it when I know that it’s
important enough that I must do it as opposed to it’s just something
that’s out there that we can do.’ He was being offered situations like
Celine Dion had in Las Vegas and he’d say, ‘I’d rather make a film. I
don’t see any reason to do that right now in my life.’ So then I get
this phone call and honest to God this is what he said to me; ‘Kenny?’
I said, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘This is it.’
And that became the show?
Yeah, and he said that five times during the conversation. I said, ‘You
keep saying "This is It".’ ‘It is. This is going to be my final curtain
call. This is it.’ I said, ‘You should just call the show that. It
makes perfect sense.’ As we went along over the weeks, everyday he’d
say, ‘This gives another meaning to "This is It". "This is It", a call
to arms. We have to all realize how important it is to invest ourselves
and pumping more love back into the world.’ He just kept finding more
and more and more reasons behind the titles of ‘This is It’ to nourish
the fact that he was doing this and that it was important and that we
How much were you involved in directing the music of the film?
I’m all about improvisation. Michael was extraordinary at that. The way
that I worked with Michael was that you just paid attention. He led the
way. Michael would say, ‘Stop,’ and everyone would stop and there would
be a collective holding of your breath, like [inhales] and he’d say,
‘Watch me. Don’t jump the gun. I’ll lead you. I’m sizzling right now.
Let me sizzle.’ We’d say, ‘Okay, okay. Everyone just let Michael
sizzle.’ That meant, ‘I might want to work the moment. I might want to
shake my shoulders. I might want to look over there, over there. I
might want to take my time.’ He was an expert at timing. He understood
how to work an audience as good as any other entertainer that I have
ever seen or worked with in my entire career.
Now you have to work without Michael being there. How do you do that?
I had to sort of call myself to attention and snap out of what I was
going through emotionally to take on this responsibility and to
continue forward with this journey in terms of now becoming the
filmmaker. The one thing though that I did every single day, is I would
say, ‘Michael, boy do I need you to be with me today. Please, don’t
disappear.’ I would walk into the editing room and Michael would be
there with me, as would Travis Payne, as would Michael Bearden and then
we’d all talk.
Michael talked about working on a move that was going to beat the Moonwalk into the ground. Did you ever see that move?
He was just starting to go to that place. Through his improvisational
work, towards the last weeks of rehearsals you started seeing things
coming out of Michael and you just went, ‘What is that?’
Was there a particular move that he was tending towards?
He did this slow motion thing that he did in "Billie Jean" and in "Beat
It," he started jumping up into the air. He looked like he was in slow
motion, and when we were watching the film it looked like we had slowed
him down. So he was playing with stuff. He was really working with it.
The dancers who were less than half his age, I mean we’re talking
eighteen to twenty one year old dancers, twenty two year old dancers –
Michael is fifty years old on that stage. These were eleven of five
thousand seven hundred kids from all over the world that were the best
dancers on the planet that we had picked to be on the show and they
were brought to their knees watching Michael Jackson during the
What’s it going to be like to work after this?
I don’t know
what the future is going to be like, not getting the phone calls, not
hearing the new ideas, not getting the invitations. Handing the movie
off at the beginning of October and saying, ‘Here –’ was the hardest
thing that I’ve ever had to do. It really was like giving a child away.
That was the first time that I was taken aback, realizing that this was
really the end of something. Now it’s just about how do we turn this
all around and make it mean something and make it worth something, keep
his messages alive, do the work that he is no longer here to do and
hopefully this film helps a little bit.
Ortega: MJ never thought he lost his crown
He said he hopes the
film will continue the work Jackson started as well as set the record
straight regarding the singer’s much-publicized life.
"Michael was going through a lot of drama in his life, as you know,
and I just remember during that period of time just praying for him
because I had spent so many days with him. We toured. We traveled to
different places in the world. I went into the orphanages with him. I
saw what he did for children. I saw the way that he was around
"I just remember I felt so lonely for him and I remembered praying
that he would survive this. And I couldn’t imagine how he was going to
survive this. … I just thought: ‘This has to be the most difficult
thing in the world. How do you manipulate your way through this kind of
energy?’ He was being persecuted and I just prayed for his redemption
and his saving," Ortega, who had previously worked with Jackson on his
"Dangerous" and "HIStory" concert tours in the 1990s, told UPI in New
York Thursday, while promoting the documentary.
Ortega said he and Jackson had been trying for a couple of years to
find a project on which they could collaborate before deciding to work
together on the "This Is It" concert series.
"I walked into his dressing room one day and I was feeling so good.
We had been having a great week of rehearsals and I said: ‘Michael, I
can’t wait for that curtain to open up in London … I cannot wait to
hear that reaction. You are going to triumph. You are going to show the
world. You are going to be validated, my man. You are going to get your
crown back,’" Ortega recalled.
"And he giggled at me and, without trying to make me feel small, he
just looked at me like I was a little boy and said: ‘Kenny, you’re so
silly. God bless you.’ Because that man did not live to be validated.
His investment was coming from a purer place."
Asked if he thought Jackson ever felt he had lost his crown, so to
speak, Ortega replied: "No. I think that he knew it had just been in
safe keeping; that it had been maybe sort of knocked off. I asked him,
‘How do you feel about the way the dancers look at you?’ And he’d say:
‘Beautiful, beautiful. I love them so much.’"
Ortega said he also asked Jackson how it felt to have his 50 London concerts sell out so quickly.
"I said: ‘Are you surprised? You don’t have a record out. You
haven’t been on stage in over 10 years …,’" Ortega said. "And
(Jackson) said: ‘I wasn’t surprised. I know my fans.’ He knew they were
there. He believed that they were there. He knew they would come."
The director also contradicted rumors claiming Jackson found the
rehearsal schedule grueling and feared he wasn’t up to performing 50
dates over the course of nine months.
"He was never out of breath (at rehearsal). He never left tired,"
Ortega remembered. "He always left invigorated. He always left
nourished, enthused, excited and looking forward to having a good time."
As for the concert schedule, the director said it had been Jackson’s
intention to take the show on the road after his O2 residency ended.
"What he really wanted to do was to go off to the rest of the world and share this with the rest of the world," Ortega said.
I’m happy for Michael says director Ortega
This is It director Kenny Ortega told an audience at an Entertainment Weekly
event in Los Angeles Monday night that he’s “happy for Michael” that
the film, which opened to $101 million worldwide last weekend, is now
the highest grossing concert film in history. “Michael had filmmaking
in his future,” Oretga said at EW’s tribute to the legendary
director and choreographer at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. “So I’m
just glad that this film—even though he didn’t get to have that
experience—has in fact made him a movie star.”
Ortega, who choreographed Dirty Dancing and directed all three High School Musical
movies, was rehearsing Jackson’s planned 50-concert event in L.A. last
summer when the singer died suddenly. (In the wake of that death, Sony
bought the rehearsal footage and Ortega ultimately decided to direct
the film.) Ortega, 59, had worked with Jackson in the 1990s and knew
the singer well. Speaking to an audience of approximately 200 in the EW
lounge — part of this week’s American Film Institute Festival in
Hollywood — Ortega gave Jackson credit for helping resurrect the movie
musical through his short-film style music videos for songs such as ThrillerSmooth Criminal. “We wouldn’t have movie musicals this day if it wasn’t for Michael Jackson,” Ortega said. and
The director also recalled personal memories of Jackson, including
that Jackson had two or three personal colognes that he frequently
used, and that during rehearsals for This is It, dancers
would line up to get hugs from Jackson just because of how good he
smelled. One afternoon, when Ortega had been working hard all morning,
and was covered in sweat, he went to Jackson’s trailer to talk to him.
As Jackson approached Ortega to hug him, Ortega said, “You don’t want
to hug me. I’m sweaty. I stink.” Jackson replied, “That’s ok,” whipped
out a bottle of his cologne, and spritzed Ortega with it. Ortega smiled
at the memory. “That whole rest of the day, everybody just was hugging
me and saying ‘You smell like Michael!’” he said.
Screening ‘This Is It’: Part of the Healing Process
By Sharon Waxman Published: December 01, 2009
It’s pretty rare to screen a concert film that ends in a standing
ovation, but that’s what happened tonight when TheWrap screened “This
Is It” to an overflow theater at the Sherman Oaks Arclight.
The director of the film, and of the abortive Michael Jackson concert,
Kenny Ortega, was greeted with applause and viewers on their feet. It
may just have been a concert film, but it was of Michael Jackson in his
final moments as an artist and as a performer.
The film shows what the overwhelming noise of gossip columns,
tabloids, and endless cable tv obscured: Michael Jackson was a vibrant,
thinking, and still supremely talented performer, fully in touch with
his muse up to his sudden death in June.
Ortega was visibly moved by the show of love and enthusiasm for the
film and for its subject, his friend Michael Jackson. We’ll have more
on his interview after the screening tomorrow, but for tonight, it’s
enough to know that this film touches a nerve in Hollywood.
As one audience member, who with a few dozen others mobbed Ortega after
the q&a to ask such questions like – does he dream about Michael
Jackon? – said, “This is part of our healing process too.”
debt of thanks to him,” Ortega said.
“He’s my angel. Whenever I said
yes to him, I came out on the other end benefitting greatly.”