The unlikely odyssey of ‘This Is It’
Patterson drove 40 miles from his home to downtown Los Angeles with $60
million worth of film footage in his trunk.
As he sped down
Interstate 5, Patterson carried virtually all of the 140 hours of
rehearsal footage from Jackson’s planned “This Is It” concert series
that would eventually be whittled down to the 112-minute movie now
playing in theaters around the world.
Patterson, 53, a
commercial director whose biggest regular gig is making ads for a golf
equipment company, was one of two camera operators hired by concert
promoter AEG Live to record “This Is It” rehearsals. Every night after
work, he transferred hours of video shot by himself and collaborator
Sandrine Orabona to two hard drives in his home office. The afternoon
that Jackson died, Paul Gongaware, a producer of the concert and movie,
called Patterson with an urgent request: The footage, which had
suddenly become uniquely valuable, had to be delivered to AEG’s
downtown offices immediately.
Thus began an unlikely odyssey in
which a commercial director who had never worked on a feature film
before became the only person, besides Jackson’s close artistic
collaborators, involved in “This Is It” from beginning to end.
with longtime collaborator Brandon Key, Patterson worked on every cut
of “This Is It,” from the original footage given to the media days
after Jackson’s death to DVD extras recently completed. “This will be
the most important and incredible thing I do in my career,” he said.
involvement began in May when he e-mailed Gongaware to ask whether
there might be some role for him in preparations for the “This Is It”
concert. Gongaware was looking to start compiling behind-the-scenes
footage. He hired Patterson and Orabona and put together a budget of
$80,000. Over the next six months, using two $6,000 Sony cameras
Patterson bought for the project, they worked six days a week, often
until midnight, shooting performances and candid moments and
interviewing dancers and others working on the concert.
the footage was intended only for promotional Internet videos and
Jackson’s private archives, many important moments were shot by only
one person. When performers’ body microphones were turned off, fuzzy
sound was captured with a boom mike attached to the camera. “If we had
known it was going to be a movie,” said Patterson, “we would have shot
with nine or 12 cameras and gotten coverage on everything.”
week after Jackson died, Patterson and Key were at AEG headquarters,
with equipment strewn on the floor, trying to figure out just what they
had. Within a week of the singer’s death, they cut together the initial
97-second clip from “This Is It” that became an Internet sensation. By
mid-July, top executives from studios including 20th Century Fox,
Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures and Sony Pictures came to look
at what they had come up with. Soon after, Sony agreed to pay $60
million to turn the footage into a movie.
Patterson and Key
worked with Don Brochu, who edited director Kenny Ortega’s “High School
Musical 3: Senior Year,” to assemble a first cut. Patterson and Key
then worked seven- day weeks for about a month, tweaking the first cut
into the finished movie. “We could have shown more behind- the-scenes
stuff, but Kenny felt strongly that Michael would have wanted to
include more songs for the fans,” said Key.
After the movie was
done, Patterson and Key went on to edit additional content for the DVD,
due for release in January or February. “I never imagined that I’d ever
work on a project where I would break down and cry in the edit bay,”