Brett Ratner On Directing Dead & Company for AMEX's 'Unstaged': "It's Like a Spiritual Journey"

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The filmmaker calls his pairing with the band "unexpected."

On Nov. 7, Brett Ratner will join the ranks of directors who have teamed with American Express on the company’s interactive music project Unstaged — a partnership with Vevo and YouTube — when he directs the latest installment featuring Dead & Company at Madison Square Garden.

The now-touring band — comprised of three members of the Grateful Dead, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and Bob Weir, along with Jeff Chimenti, John Mayer and Oteil Burbridge — is playing a free concert (via sweepstakes giveaways for 10,000 fans) with a benefit partnership with NYC’s Robin Hood Foundation.

Other fans will be able to live stream the show via the AMEX Unstaged app, just like previous shows that have featured big-name acts paired with bold-faced names behind-the-scenes. The most recent Unstaged featured Disclosure and executive producer James Corden. Other pairings (artist with director) have included Tim McGraw and Bennett Miller; Pharrell and Spike Lee; Kings of Leon and Fred Armisen; Vampire Weekend and Steve Buscemi; The Killers and Werner Herzog; Coldplay and Anton Corbijn, and many more.

As for Ratner, THR got the director on the phone on Friday to discuss his strategy for the Unstaged project.

You’ve directed many music videos, but have you ever done a full concert?

I did Jodeci at the Apollo years ago. This is a different technique, but I've done it with tape back in the day. For me, it's so exciting to shoot a legendary group like this. What's interesting about what AMEX is doing is that they are such a cool brand and their whole concept of Unstaged performances is matching up acts with unexpected directors. For me to do Prince would've been the obvious choice. Or even for me to shoot a concert with a rapper. But what is so brilliant about it is that they asked me do it with Dead & Company. It's unexpected.

How are you approaching this?

It's a mix of things. AMEX created this Unstaged mobile app, so we shot some content for that with the band while they were on tour to get the fans excited about the show. The cool thing is I've also interviewed all these Dead fans and people can go on their smart phones and watch that too. We're designing a whole experience, so it's not just the show. There are pre and post show experiences. For example, I interviewed these two women who told me that they've been to 150 concerts together since the early '70s. It's almost like a spiritual journey. People say that it's about the drugs, but it's really not. It's about the music and the experience and everyone being so kind to each other.

When it was announced that John Mayer would be joining the band, some longtime Dead fans weren’t so happy. However, the reviews have been stellar. What do you think of John Mayer?

I knew the reviews would be great with him. I went up to San Francisco to their studio, and the first thing I saw was a camper parked outside. It was his — he was living in a camper outside the studio. It's a f---ing camper that’s not luxurious. He has learned 70 or more Dead songs and that’s what so brilliant about the band. They go after great musicians, and he helps bring those songs to life. It's almost like working on a movie with a great actor. These guys are great musicians. 

You always have so much going on. How many hours a night are you sleeping?

I should be sleeping more. I don’t sleep much, especially if I have something I’m doing the next day. Last night, I barely slept but it's because of excitement or the ideas that pop into my head. I’m hyper at night, it’s weird I don’t use drugs or drink alcohol. I’m very straight edge. It’s all energy. I still have that joie de vivre and passion for what I do. ... For me, instant gratification takes too long.

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