Rehearsal footage could yield Jackson film
100-plus hours give AEG Live long-form optionsLOS ANGELES — A 30-second snippet of Michael Jackson rehearsing two days before his death was released Thursday, part of more than 100 hours of footage that could be turned into live albums, a movie and a pay-per-view special, the promoter said.
The treasure trove of material, along with possible insurance proceeds and ticket sales to memorabilia collectors, could help benefit the late singer's estate, which is burdened by an estimated $400 million in debt.
"He was our partner in life and now he's our partner in death," Randy Phillips, president and CEO of concert promoter AEG Live, said in an interview at Staples Center.
Jackson had been rehearsing for a giant series of comeback shows in London.
"If we all do our jobs right, we could probably raise hundreds of millions of dollars just on the stuff we have worldwide and then the estate could eradicate its debt."
AEG Live also stands to profit from the material. Jackson's album sales have exploded since his death, with three of his albums in the top three spots and 2.3 million tracks downloaded in the United States, Nielsen SoundScan said. Worldwide digital downloads for the week hit 3.3 million.
The clip released Thursday shows Jackson dancing and singing to "They Don't Really Care About Us" on June 23 during a rehearsal at Staples Center. He died two days later at age 50.
Phillips said he released the clip because he was tired of seeing the singer negatively portrayed in the media since his death.
"I said let's grab one piece where we can show people where he was headed," he said. "He was developing getting his moves together."
The rehearsal footage, shot in high definition, includes Jackson performing his hits "Thriller" and "Beat It." Other footage shows production meetings and auditions.
"We have enough audio to make two live albums, and he's never done a live album," Phillips said. "This is really the last great work of a 21st century genius."
The production budget for the 50 London shows, which were set to begin July 13, swelled to more than $25 million, he said.
Part of those costs included 3D technology used to produce what Phillips called "mini-movies" involving "Thriller" and "Earth Song."
"That's what's so compelling," he said. "Just `Thriller' is nine minutes of 3D visual insanity."
Another possibility is a tribute show at The O2 arena in London that would be broadcast worldwide and then sold as a DVD, the promoter said.
Phillips said AEG Live is waiting for Jackson's estate to be settled to see who the company will be dealing with. The estate "would get the lion's share" of any profits from the release of the rehearsal footage, he said.
Insurance will help cover any losses on the London shows if the coroner's autopsy shows that Jackson died accidentally — including of a drug overdose — but not if he died of natural causes, Phillips said.
AEG Live took out $17.5 million in insurance coverage through Lloyd's of London.
That would fall short of the $25 million to $30 million Phillips said AEG Live spent on Jackson's advance, producing the shows at The O2 arena, covering some of Jackson's debts, and paying his staff and rent on the Holmby Hills mansion where he died.
Phillips added, however, that 40 to 50 percent of concert ticket-buyers have so far decided to receive tickets as memorabilia in lieu of a full refund, a pace that is on track to help the company at least break even on its expenses.
The sold-out concerts had garnered some $85 million in ticket sales, but AEG has offered full refunds on the face value and surcharges.
Phillips said AEG is not in any financial trouble: "I'm heartbroken but the company's fine."
Jackson left behind a battle for control of his estate. Lawyers named in Jackson's will as executors estimated the estate is worth more than $500 million. His mother, Katherine Jackson, is also seeking to become estate administrator.
Phillips said he saw no need to sue the estate to recover any of AEG's costs.
"Right now I think the estate and AEG are very much in line and not adversarial," he said, "and I'd like to keep it that way."