HBO 'Sinatra' Doc Promises Never-Before-Seen Footage

"It's like his autobiography, but it's told through song," says director Alex Gibney
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Frank Sinatra

Prepare to see a Frank Sinatra you haven't seen before.

That's the promise being made by Alex Gibney and Frank Marshall, the team behind Sinatra: All or Nothing at All, a multipart documentary series coming to HBO. Though Sinatra's life was indeed well documented while the musician was alive, Gibney and Marshall believe that the access that they were granted to the family and their never-before-seen footage will offer viewers a new and richer story about one of the greatest entertainers of all time.

"It's like his autobiography, but it's told through song," Gibney told a room full of reporters gathered for the Television Critics Association's semiannual press tour Thursday, adding: "And to hear him narrate his own life through these interviews is what it made it worth doing."

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The biggest challenge will likely be sorting through the copious amounts of footage the pair have gathered, according to Marshall. Sitting beside Gibney on the Pasadena stage, he recalled an early trip to daughter Nancy Sinatra's home, where she let the producer troll through her many boxes of rare concert footage. Marshall was also invited to a sizable warehouse in Santa Clarita, he said, which housed still more footage (home movies), as well another 16 hours or so of Sinatra audio.

All secondary interviews conducted for the four-part Gibney-helmed documentary, including those with several Sinatra family members, along with icons like Quincy Jones, were done as audio only. "It allows us to stay in the present of the time," Gibney explained, adding of his plan to layer them on top of footage from the era: "So it feels like you're living the events and not looking back at them."

When it airs, the documentary will not be purely chronological — or "a strictly cradle-to-grave biography," as Gibney put it — but rather a retelling of Sinatra's life, organized by the key moments that occurred during it. Over the course of multiple installments, All or Nothing at All will explore the musician as well as the man, with Gibney noting that he found himself particularly interested in Sinatra's Gatsby-esque rise from an insecure younger musician to the star the world came to know.

Asked how Sinatra will feel about the finished product if he were still alive, Gibney said he'd "hope" that his subject would like the film. Marshall was that much more confident: "I think he'd be very pleased," said the producer, "because everyone now gets an opportunity to see what he was thinking."