Remembering Michael

Michael and Bruce discuss a scene

As I try to write this week, I’m distracted and frustrated by the barrage of media coverage of the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray. I’m hoping that these memories, ones of sadness and death, are not topmost in our minds when we think of Michael Jackson. Naturally, I get that Michael’s life was surrounded by controversy, and that people’s opinions run the full gamut when it comes to the pop star they saw in the media.  But having worked closely with him just before his death, as we prepared for the This Is It tour in London, I had a chance to develop an unambiguous opinion of him – one that is at odds with the messages and images coming from the trial.  So I thought I’d offer a few words of my own about the man I came to know, and of his final days, in hopes that more people will remember Michael as I do – as a soft spoken and gentle man, a genuine visionary, a humanitarian, a wonderful and caring father, and an inspiration as the most brilliant entertainer that I have ever had the honor of working with.

Michael visits the set while Bruce directs a scene for "Earth Song"

My professional relationship with the man began when I was hired to direct a series of 3D short films, which would be interspersed throughout the concert as introductions to some of his more iconic songs: “Thriller,” “Earth Song,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “They Don’t Care About Us,” and “Smooth Criminal.” The videos were designed to blend into the performances so that the audience would not know where the 3D movie ended, and the live performances began. We called it 4D and it had never been done before, helping make Michael’s This Is It tour a one-of-a-kind experience. It was to be one of the key pieces in Michael’s vision for the concert and something he worked tirelessly to accomplish. I found him to be extremely likable and working closely with him throughout the production, I admired the amazing creative influence he had on people.

Of course I knew and respected Michael’s body of work, but the “Ahaa!” moment for me was during one of the rehearsals at the Staples Center. I’d just reviewed the latest cut of our Earth Song film with Michael and others. Afterwards, I was out on stage checking on our huge 3D LED screen, and Michael was center stage. There was a lull in the rehearsal so the lights were not on him. Still, he began singing “I’ll be There.” I stopped to take it all in. It was like there was a choir of voices performing – so beautiful it brought me to tears. Up to that point I’d enjoyed a professional relationship with him like many other stars I’ve worked with. It was at that moment, however, I realized I was in the presence of a superstar.

Bruce with Zombie dancers after wrapping "Thriller" shoot

Michael was an inspiration on so many levels. He was brilliant musically, but he’d also been the creative force behind many of the groundbreaking videos of our time. If there was a bar for excellence in music videos, Michael was always a grade above that. He’d worked with some of our best film makers like John Landis, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee. And in terms of 3D films, he’d already done Captain EO at Disneyland twenty years prior, which was the best 3D film of its type. It was clear that he wanted to raise the bar on these 3D films—yet Michael never made me feel that pressure. We laughed a lot, and he brought a positive, creative energy to the set.

Michael was also a wonderful father. One example: We were on the set of “Earth Song” and Michael was discussing a shot with me. He was there with his three kids, Prince, Paris and Blanket. His youngest, Blanket, approached, and was pulling on his dad’s coat sleeve to get his attention. Michael turned around and said gently, but like any parent, “Blanket, can’t you see I am talking to Bruce right now. Just wait a minute and I’ll get you a juice.” Two body guards the size of refrigerators stepped in and offered to take care of it, but Michael said, “no, I’ll get Blanket the juice myself, he’ll just have to wait for a few minutes.” “Superstar” or not, he was just a father, as I am, trying to deal with a child’s interruptions with patience.

It seems that people chose sides on almost all aspects of Michael’s life, so I guess it’s no surprise that the same would be true of the events leading up to his death. But for me, getting to know him during those final days, he never struck me as controversial. I still smile when I recall that image of father and son, walking hand-in-hand, in search of what I am certain was the most important thing to both of them at that moment—their time together.

These are the things about Michael that I hope don’t get lost in the media circus that surrounds his memory today.

Rest in peace, Michael.


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