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 আপনি had any sleep?
KO: আপনি 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. আপনি know when Michael’s talking, when he’s going, ‘I’m not trying to be difficult. I realize আপনি 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 আপনি could pull it out and mix it so we were able to get a greater sort of mix. But everything আপনি 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 গান গাওয়া live. That was his band playing live. That was Michael up there obviously. If anybody needed to put that concept to rest, I mean আপনি 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 আরো importantly.
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. আপনি 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 প্রদর্শনী and ultimately down the line when we filmed the live প্রদর্শনী in লন্ডন 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 লন্ডন so he wanted to have a nice behind the scenes to be able to attach to that. So that’s where আপনি got the dancers and band members talking and seeing the scenic shots. Then আপনি 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 অথবা আপনি know what we should do here with the lights? অথবা 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. আপনি 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 নকশা 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 আরো 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 দিন 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 চেরি picker and out over to the audience for Beat It. He was really looking অগ্রবর্তী to it. The night before, he had ব্যক্ত 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 প্রণয় them. Everybody’s doing a great job. I প্রণয় you, Kenny. I’ll see আপনি tomorrow. Thank you.’ He left and we were invigorated. We came back that পরবর্তি দিন 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 পছন্দ 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 অনুরাগী 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 কারি 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, আপনি 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 আপনি ever want to add something reflecting on the emotional background?
KO: আপনি 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 দিন 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 অথবা 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 দ্বারা the time Michael had died. So you’re going to see an even sort of completer picture and come to understand আরো detail about all the elements of what we had planned for the show.
Q: How would আপনি 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. আপনি 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 আপনি 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 ব্যক্ত to me, ‘Kenny, go out and find the best artists in the world. Invite them to come and যোগদান 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 বিতর্ক অথবা 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 অথবা 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 লন্ডন and then he really said, ‘If it works and I still feel good and I still have the energy, I would প্রণয় to go to Africa. I would প্রণয় to go to India. I would প্রণয় 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 আরো 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 চলচ্চিত্র and great albums and develop projects together.’ So he was excited about so much. He had so much আরো in him still.
Q: What did আপনি discover about Michael and yourself and your friendship doing this?
KO: Well, আপনি 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 টেবিল 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 দেওয়াল the পরবর্তি 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 দ্বারা 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 ব্যক্ত it like five times and I laughed and I said, ‘You should call the tour This is It because আপনি 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 প্রদর্শনী 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 দিন and want to put on my costume and get on that stage and be Michael Jackson.
Q: How do আপনি respond to theThis Is Not It website? Would আপনি 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 অনুরাগী 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 আপনি don’t know what you’re talking about, if আপনি weren’t there, if আপনি 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 আরো than anything other than spend time with his children. This is what he wanted to do.
Q: What do আপনি 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 আরো 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.
“This is It” opens in theaters on October 28th.