Michael Jackson’s This Is It offers his fans a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the performer as he developed, created and rehearsed for his sold-out concerts that was planned to have taken place at London’s 02 Arena this summer.
Michael Bearden, the Musical Director for the show, worked with Jackson for many years and took time today to speak with me about the late icon’s final performance.
One of the incredible things you do in this movie is you take one song and use clips from numerous rehearsals and it’s seamless, how hard was it to get the sound right?
It was pretty difficult actually. Different days, the band was live so we had to make sure the tempos were the same on different days. It was hard to piece it together but we were pretty consistent and M.J. was as well, he was like a built in clock as far as tempo goes, so it was difficult but we were able to do something that I think is a unique piece of filmmaking.
It was never meant to be a film, it was just a documentation for M.J., where he could look and compare weeks, how we looked last week and try to make that better.
Did you ever cheat by adding anything to it?
No, we didn’t cheat anything just so we could answer that question honestly! And really we know M.J. wouldn’t have wanted that. We wanted to start with the footage that we had, and just craft a film out of that. We didn’t shoot anything, we didn’t add anything, we had what we had, it was a big piece of marble and Kenny Ortega, our wonderful director, came up with what you see.
How did you choose which songs use in the show?
Fans on the internet made a list of songs they’d like to hear, and Michael had a printout of the fans’ survey and he showed it to me,. He said, ‘What do you think?’ and I looked at it and said, ‘You know, M.J., that’s cool but you have no J-5,’ and he went, ‘I don’t?’ and he threw the paper away. To this day we don’t have a set list complete. It was angst-ridden for both of us.
He so loved the fans that he really wanted to do everything they wanted to hear, and I said, ‘Yeah, we can do that, but you’ll be on the stage for 24 hours.’
And he said, ‘I don’t want to do that!’ So we kept the iconic pieces, Beat It and Billy Jean and then we figured out what else he wanted to do. Everyday I would come in and say, ‘Oh, we should play this,’ and he’d start dancing and say, ‘I really love that song,’ and I’d say, ‘Let’s do it,’ and he’d say, ‘No, we can’t.’ I said, ‘Why?’
And he said, ‘Because we have to have production value, I can’t just do a song, I don’t want to cheat the fans.’ All of his songs were like his children.
Michael’s sister, La Toya says she isn’t planning on seeing the movie because she isn’t 100 percent sure if Michael would want his fans to see his performance not absolutely polished, without the production values, what do you think of that?
La Toya is his sister, it’s her right not to see it, but it’s shortsighted. She’s presupposing that we didn’t love M.J. as well.
We were there every day, so we know what he would want and what he wouldn’t want. As a matter of fact, Kenny, Travis (Payne) and I sort of channeled Michael and thought of him at every moment in crafting this film, so if there was something that we saw that we didn’t think M.J. would have wanted, we didn’t put it in.
We knew we were making a film that was an honor project and not a glory project. We also knew that his children were going to see this film, and we wanted to make sure that they were proud of daddy in perpetuity; this was going to be forever.