Director Simon Maxwell On Working With Michael Jackson

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What was the first video directing job for a music video where you were like, “Oh my god, this is actually quite a big deal”?

I had a long stint with Michael Jackson as a director of post-production. He did a world tour in ‘88, ‘89. It was meant to be a one-off thing, and then it turned into, like, eight months while he was on the European tour.

So were you dealing with live visuals, or documenting the tour?

Everything. It started off as just like, “We’ll bring in some tapes, and you can cut it together,” and then, “Oh, by the way, we have another hundred tapes coming in, so how about getting a team of editors together, and you can be director of post-production,” and, “Oh, and by the way, can you come out and shoot some stuff while you’re at it!”

But that’s how it works, if you’re part of that whole creative community. It’s a bit like that in Tauranga or Auckland: if you’re in that creative community and build up relationships with people, eventually something will come.

The whole industry is based on personal relationships. The way in is by hanging around and picking up the bits and pieces and working the graveyard shifts, and eventually you get a break. Someone will be sick, or can’t do something, and they’ll go, “Oh there’s that guy that’s been hanging around, and he seems quite good and seems to know what he’s talking about, maybe give him a shot.”

How was the Michael Jackson experience, because that time was like the ultimate excess of everything – budgets, money. What was it like being in the middle of that?

Well, it was an education. I think stamina was the thing that came out of it most, because he never slept. So, you know, he’d start at 9 or 10 in the morning and work through to 3 or 4 the following morning, six days a week. Seven days a week!

And the thing about those sort of guys – and it carries through into working with Trent and various other people – they’re so focused. That’s what makes them stand out from the rest of the crowd, and that becomes quite an addictive thing when you’re involved in that. And they are receptive to ideas, which is good, but they are absolutely driven and they know what they want. And they won’t rest until they get it, so there’s no point in going, “Oh, she’ll be right!” That doesn’t exist in their environment.

[Michael Jackson] never slept… he’d start at 9 or 10 in the morning and work through to 3 or 4 the following morning, six days a week. Seven days a week!

So he was incredibly driven. What was the atmosphere like? Was it relaxed, or would you all be yelling at each other?

He’s very quietly spoken. Very polite. But emphatic that “This is the way it’s going to be done.” And of course they all have their inner circle, so they all hang around. And they make sure that whoever they’re with, their wishes are realised. So the inner circle with those people – Trent had some, Michael had some, they all have them – it’s quite a political arena. You have to please everyone.

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Sources: The Pantograph Punch | Tally777 | All Things Michael


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