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Back 27-05-2020
Media: MJ Street

Interview: Marcos Cabotá reveals the secrets of Sonic Fantasy

Interview: Marcos Cabotá reveals the secrets of Sonic FantasyInterview: Marcos Cabotá reveals the secrets of Sonic Fantasy
Interview: Marcos Cabotá reveals the secrets of Sonic FantasyInterview: Marcos Cabotá reveals the secrets of Sonic Fantasy

In two years, "Thriller" celebrates its 40th Anniversary. An album that, to date, remains the best-selling album of all time. This inexhaustible myth inspired the Spanish director Marcos Cabotá. A great admirer of the King of Pop, he decided to embark on an ambitious project: telling the story of "Thriller" through a documentary that gives voice to those who were with Michael Jackson in studio in 1982. In such a unique spring climate marked by COVID-19, the director took the time to reveal some secrets of this long-awaited project.

MJStreet: How did the project come about?

Marcos Cabotá: First of all I adore Michael Jackson and I am also a director here in Spain. The last documentary I made, 3-4 years ago, is called "I Am Your Father", and it talks about Darth Vader. It was a great success and has been sold worldwide. Netflix has purchased the rights. I was also nominated for a Goya for this documentary, it was just amazing. Since then, many of my friends said to me, "Now you have to make a documentary about Michael Jackson." Because they know that in my life I have two passions: Star Wars and Michael Jackson. I didn't know how to start because Michael Jackson is such a vast subject that I was a little confused. So I had to take my time and think. If I had to make a documentary about Michael Jackson, I didn't want to make a movie just for the fans. I wanted to make a documentary aimed at everyone. Michael's impact is global and we had to find the best angle. And then I thought of "Thriller". It is the best-selling album of all time, and there is only one in the world at that level. I realized there was nothing about "Thriller". The Estate has done nothing. I find it incredible that there is no documentary dedicated to the best-selling album of all time. There have been books, but no movies dedicated to "Thriller".

So I started consulting these books. Also, "Thriller" is not my favorite album. So I wanted to try to better understand the history of this album, better understand its impact. And I realized that there was a true story to tell. So my friends Toni and Laura (from MJ's HideOut) played an important role in this story. As a director, I know that I have to count on the support of people like Toni and Laura. Toni is like a living encyclopedia of Michael Jackson, and Laura is second to none organizing a project. Then, with these two people by my side, things started to get simpler. I went with them to France to attend one of the MJ Music Day, which offered an interesting seminar led by Michael Prince and Brad Buxer. We were there as fans attending this event. And at one point, they released the trailer for a documentary dedicated to Bruce Swedien's career, from his Chicago debut to the album "Invincible".

I contacted the director of this film, Gareth Maynard, who is English and who had stopped promoting the film for several years. I was watching this documentary and I said to myself, "It's good, it's not perfect, but it's not bad". I looked at him with professional eyes, as director. And I found it a shame that this film could not be properly broadcast and watched worldwide. At the end of the screening, I went to Gareth to say, "It's a nice documentary." And I added: "What are you going to do with him? And he said:"Nothing. Seven years have passed since I did. I couldn't sell it, so there's nothing else I can do. "

I came home and a week later I called Gareth and said, "I'm going to do a documentary on 'Thriller' and I would very much like Bruce Swedien to be a part of it. That would allow me to talk about this album from Bruce's point of view. Would you agree to contact him so I can interview him at his home in Florida? I would go there to film a new interview and ask him new questions. But I need the basis of your work and that you agree. "

We discussed it and he said "OK". He had taken the time to watch my other movies and liked the way he worked. He agreed with my proposal, that's how he became a producer of "Sonic Fantasy". I was able to watch Gareth's footage and use a few things for my documentary, but 95% of the tape is made up of new footage.

I had to re-shoot the interviews, especially for format reasons. When broadcast on television or Netflix, you must meet certain technical standards. For his documentary, Gareth had used his own camera, but did not meet these broadcast standards. So I went back to filming everything with film media, in 4K.

MJStreet: How did you select people to interview for this documentary? Did you start from a ready-made list or did you include some people while filming?

Marcos Cabotá: I made a list to start. I also started with books like the one you wrote with Francois (Allard), it was very useful for me. But he also wanted to interview people who had worked with Bruce Swedien and Michael, even if they weren't part of the "Thriller" project, like Brad Buxer. I wanted to hear about the relationship between Michael and Bruce Swedien. And also, when he was at Bruce's house to film his interview, he said, "Oh, you should also question this person!" And that's how I added other names to the list!

Typically, for a two-hour documentary, fifteen people are selected to interview. And for this we have had thirty. It could have gone even further, but in reality we only have two hours for this documentary. Then decisions had to be made.

MJStreet: During the making of this documentary, were there any preconceived ideas that actually turned out to be different? Have you changed your mind about certain aspects of "Thriller" when discovering new things?

Marcos Cabotá: Totally! Actually, I really liked "Thriller", but after making this movie, I like it even more. I understand why it became the best-selling album in history. It is not just a matter of songs and music, it is also a matter of context, of when everything happened. It depends on many things related to the recording industry, but also to society in general. These are all factors that also explain the success of "Thriller". I discovered things I didn't know about the album and of course incorporated them into the movie.

MJStreet: You told me that "Thriller" is not your favorite album... So which is your favorite Michael Jackson album?

Marcos Cabotá: "Dangerous"! I love everything about this album. I like the way that Michael Jackson, with Teddy Riley and other producers like Bill Bottrell and Brad Buxer, worked on this record. I like the innovative sound of "Dangerous" with songs like "Jam", "Why You Wanna Trip On Me" or "In The Closet". For me, "Who Is It" is a masterpiece. I really like "Thriller", and now that I've been working on this documentary for almost two years, it's an album that I love even more. It's magic. There is this incredible team made up of Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson and Bruce Swedien, not forgetting Rod Temperton. This is something that cannot happen again... This new documentary is for everyone. We all know "Thriller" and "Billie Jean". And my goal is that once people see this movie, they hear the album in a completely different way.

MJStreet: I saw on the website of the documentary that the tape contains an interview with Quincy Jones. Was it easy for you to contact him? Because he usually asks not to be asked about this time. Did Bruce Swedien's participation in the project make it easier?

Marcos Cabotá: So it was, in fact, everyone we see in the documentary agreed to participate in the project because Bruce Swedien was the starting point of the adventure. Because, in addition to telling the story of "Thriller, we are also, in a way, going through the story of Bruce Swedien. That's why all these people agreed to be part of the movie. They love Bruce, and in fact it was Bruce himself who called Quincy Jones for us.

MJStreet: If I remember correctly, the documentary will be available on Netflix. As this was a legendary album, did you get the rights to use the music from "Thriller" to include it in the documentary?

Marcos Cabotá: First of all, I would like to point out that, for the moment, the transmission on Netflix is ​​not confirmed. It is true that my previous documentary was broadcast on Netflix worldwide, but at the moment I do not know if it will come to Netflix, Amazon or will be broadcast elsewhere. But, in any case, my goal is to spread it around the world, through Netflix or another platform.

And regarding music it is a very good question. In fact, in my Star Wars documentary, I was not allowed to use the movie's soundtracks. So I made sure to make a documentary in which music didn't matter as much, so that people who watch it didn't care. For "Sonic Fantasy", I contacted the Estate. To this day, I am not yet authorized to use the music of "Thriller". But what I can already say is that Brad Buxer is part of the documentary soundtrack. He plays pieces on the piano and also plays Michael Jackson songs again. But I hope the Estate allows me to use music. In a way, this documentary focuses primarily on the history of the album. I don't want to "spend" precious minutes playing an entire song, because there is so much to tell about album creation. I want to spend more time on the details, anecdotes, images, photos, and testimonials that I was able to collect during my research. Music is important, but that's not all.

MJStreet: Now that you've made this documentary, do you understand better why "Thriller" became the best-selling album in history?

Marcos Cabotá: Much better. As you will see in the movie, everyone wanted to do something huge. This project was born out of the frustration Michael felt about himself because he had only won a Grammy for "Off The Wall", which had already been very successful with the public. "Thriller" was born in a very specific social and political context. There was a devastation of music in the recording industry. Quincy, Michael and Bruce wanted to release the best album possible. And in fact they planned everything. This is what I show in the movie. Quincy Jones often says, "You can't predict these things." OK, that's true, but all three knew very well that they were doing something huge. They were constantly looking for the best of the best: not only for the songs, but also for the musicians and techniques used in the studio. In a way, they knew very well that they were creating something great.

And back to your question, I now understand why it became the best-selling album of all time. The strong point of "Thriller" is that you can listen to it today without being able to say when it was created. It is kept up to date. It is as if it had been recorded yesterday.

MJStreet: When will the documentary finally be released? Has a date already been set?

Marcos Cabotá: The assembly is 90% complete and should have been completed a few weeks ago. But due to the current pandemic, we had to take a break. We plan to finish it by the end of the summer and release the movie by the end of the year... and why not on the anniversary date of the album's release!

MJStreet: In the documentary, did you mention the fact that the "E.T. Storybook" project completely changed the schedule for "Thriller", to the point of damaging the final sound of the album's first master?

Marcos Cabotá: That's right. And also, this part of the "E.T. Storybook" is one of the most important parts of the documentary. In hindsight, we realize that this story played a huge role in the production of "Thriller", particularly with the problems encountered with the record company MCA. Michael had to leave the studio to dedicate himself to this album, and in fact it changed the story of "Thriller".

MJStreet: Last question: carte blanche. Do you want to add something in particular?

Marcos Cabotá: Yes, I want to say that I have read many comments and received quite a few questions about this documentary. People want to know what it contains. I want to reassure you: I adore Michael Jackson, and this documentary has nothing negative, just the opposite. Others have asked me what Quincy Jones is like, how he talks about Michael, etc. Here again I assure you: Quincy loves Michael. I also heard people say that Bruce was a little bitter for Michael... Again reassure everyone: Bruce loves Michael. And I also want to add that this movie introduces the person, the human being that was Michael Jackson. This is something that we managed to highlight in this documentary. All the interviewees love Michael and speak of him with great affection. I can't wait for people to see "Sonic Fantasy". Personally, when I see it, I have tears in my eyes. I made this movie with love, just like you and Francois wrote your book with love and passion.

People shouldn't expect a documentary like Spike Lee's on "BAD 25" or "Off The Wall." Their focus was on treating the albums song by song. For my part, I wanted to tell the story around "Thriller" and, therefore, I gave much importance to the narration. We have avoided being overly technical for fear of isolating ourselves from the audience. You have to see this documentary as a beautiful story, as a love story. It is a love story with people who love music and who, at one point in their lives, put all that love into making this album, "Thriller". I can't wait to release this movie. This is my seventh documentary, and I can already say that it is my favorite.

Interview by Richard Lecocq (MJ Street)

Special thanks to Toni Arias