Docs That Rock

MJ Docs: The Making of Thriller

Seems appropriate this week that this blog should focus on all the documentaries that examined Michael Jackson. It’s tougher than its sounds. He was one of the most difficult people to profile, given Motown, Sony and his own penchant for locked up control of his music as well as personal effects like photos. In many ways, it reflects an era hard to comprehend. All music was carefully apportioned and doled out at just the right time – in fact, before MTV, labels avoided any acts on TV in fear it would dilute the concert going experience or rob the recordings of mysteries. (Contrast that to today where the ideal is to get as much exposure on as many different platforms as possible and release things for free in hopes they’ll entice someone to pay for something.) So Jackson and his team zealously guarded the myth and mythmaking, presenting only the art and not the making of. (And obviously, MJ’s private life was always at arm’s length, until the ill-fated Bashir documentary, which will be the subject of a forthcoming post.)

But one early project that broke through the veil was this pathbreaking Making of Thriller project. At 45 minutes, director John Landis had the foresight to record the behind the scenes dancing and make-up discussions at the Thriller video shoot. It became a precursor and model to today’s DVD extras.

The Making of doc was the subject of a recent feature in the UK’s Telegraph before Jackson’s passing. When Landis submitted the script for Thriller, the 14 minute video length was longer than any video anyone had proposed, as was its price tag, rumored to be $1 million but more likely in the hundreds of thousands. MJ’s record label refused to pay for it at the time, arguing the album was already on its downward chart descent. So Landis did a deal with Showtime (with some funding from MTV) as well as the making of feature. Landis admits at the time:

We used to call it ‘The Making of Filler’. It turned out very well, but the truth is that it’s filled with scenes from American Werewolf because I owned them, and anything else we could find to fill up the time. When we found we were still six minutes short, we decided to put in pieces of the video itself. In fact, it’s very effective, but at the time I thought, ‘This is shameless.’

Check out the start of the Making Of piece above from YouTube. I believe the official release is out of print but searchable on eBay and Amazon.

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June 30, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

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