Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Stress of the "Thriller" Video

Michael considered himself a strict Jehovah's Witness. He didn't believe in blood transfusions, Easter and Christmas, which he felt were "pagan holidays." He even did not celebrate his own birthday. As other Witnesses, he did not believe in pledging allegiance to the flag.

Armageddon was near, Michael would say, and only God's most beloved believers (Jehovah's Witnesses) would survive. But of these, 144,000 would go to heaven to reside with Jesus for a thousand years, while the other Witnesses rebuilt Earth as a paradise for the resurrected.

"He was very devoted," recalled his voice teacher Seth Riggs. "He would come in for his lesson, and before we got started we would have a prayer and read the Bible. Then there would be another prayer before we actually began the lesson. Sometimes we would get down on our knees."

Despite being a devout Witness, and donated quite a bit of money to the religion, the church's elders were very upset with him, mostly because of the "Thriller" video.

Impressed with the An American Werewolf In London movie, Michael hired John Landis and Rick Baker to direct and create special effects for the "Thriller" video. The video would be fourteen minutes long, at a budget of $600,000. John Branca advised Michael to find a way to finance the expensive project.

Branca and Michael came up with the idea of a video called "The Making of Thriller." The behind the scenes footage, along with interviews, the video documented the production of the video. Then Branca approached Vestron Video, a video distribution company, and had them pay $500,000 for the right to distribute the project.

Then, he went to MTV and told them about the sixty-minute documentary, and that if they wanted to show it, they'd have to pay for it.

Because Michael was so popular, MTV agreed to finance part of the "Making of Thriller," if Michael would license the station for an official debut. Then, Showtime also paid for second rights to the video. So, with the video costing just over a million dollars, MTV and Showtime paid for half.

Now, we all know what the video "Thriller" is all about. It was fun and fantasy, with some of the greatest dancing put on film. Michael did not make it to advocate Satanism and the occult, but that's what the elders of the Jehovah's Witnesses implied. Even before the work on the video was finished, Michael was called into meetings with church elders at Kingdom Hall in Encino, to discuss the video concept, and the state of Michael's soul. Michael did not want to be told what to do, by his father, nor his church. The church insisted he repudiate his work. He refused.

Finally, when the elders threatened to force him to leave the religion, Michael became extremely upset. He made several call to John Branca's office, but no one recognized him because he sounded so distraught.

Long story short. Michael wanted to video destroyed. Branca assured him that they were invested in the project and the church had no right to dictate to his artistry. Branca never destroyed the tapes.

Branca happened to be reading a book about Bela Lugosi. Lugosi was also a religious man, but his religious beliefs did not interfere with his art, nor did the movies he made make him any less religious. He told this to Michael, and suggested that a disclaimer be put at the beginning of the video. Michael agreed, but John Landis said, "Bullshit! No Way."

Branca told him if there was no disclaimer, there would be no video. Then, he explained the whole story to Landis. "Jesus Christ," Landis said, this kid's in bad shape, isn't he?"

Michael ended up with the first videocassette to apply for gold and platinum certification. The Thriller album sale before the video's release was down to 200,000 copies a week, The week after the video was shown on MTV for five days, the album sold 600,000 copies, and shot back to number one!

"Thank goodness for Branca," Michael said to an associate. "If it wasn't for him, the "Thriller" video would be ashes by now and there would have been no "Making of Thriller." That was a close call, but when Michael asked Branca did he destroy the tapes of the video, Branca said yes, but they were sitting on his desk.

Thank you J. Randy Taraborrelli " Michael Jackson - The Magic and the Madness" pages 324-328.

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