Q&A: 'This Is It' director Kenny Ortega


The Hollywood Reporter's Matthew Belloni caught up with the director (and co-star) of "This Is It" as he took a break from Tuesday's premiere afterparty to introduce the Michael Jackson documentary to fans at the multiplex next door.

The Hollywood Reporter: This movie came together extraordinarily quickly. How long did you actually have to work on it?

Kenny Ortega: We started in late July, and I handed it over the first week of October. Just a few days ago. There was a lot of tai chi just trying to keep my focus and not being thrown off by all of what's been (said) out there.

THR: What's the craziest rumor you heard while you were making the movie?

Ortega: Body doubles. Or that he was being forced to do (the concerts). Or that he wasn't well. Michael didn't want to do the concerts to be validated, so I didn't want to make the film about that. This wasn't to validate him, this was to tell a story, and I wasn't going to let any of that stuff get in the way.

THR: Was there a movie in your head before you started assembling all the footage?

Kenny Ortega: The movie in my head was the movie that would help fans to understand what Michael Jackson was trying to accomplish with This Is It (concerts). And it was really difficult. Piecing together (footage), praying that we would find something. Because the cameras weren't always on. We had 120 hours (of footage) but not all of that was of Michael rehearsing.

THR: You have a favorite moment in the film?

Ortega: His humanness. The parts where you see Michael in real situations. Where the stakes are high and he's dealing with something that may be problematic.

THR: Did the Jackson family have any approval rights over the final cut?

Ortega: No. I'm certain that they could have interjected, They just didn't take that option. They were always invited to come and participate. Remember, this happened so quickly after Michael died, it was an emotional roller coaster for them more than for any of us. People are saying that Mrs. Jackson doesn't want to see the film, but sources close to Mrs. Jackson are saying it's really about wanting to wait to see the film. Four of his brothers were here tonight, many of his cousins and extended family. The relationship with the family has, for the most part, been very positive.

THR: How involved were John Branca and John McClain, the executors of the Jackson estate?

Ortega: They were involved in (securing) music rights. And they did look at it (but) very rarely had much to criticize. I was always open to anything they had to say. They represent Michael now.

THR: When they did criticize, what were their gripes?

Ortega: I can't even remember. Honestly it was that small. McClain was just excited about finding "This Is It" the song. Can you imagine shuffling through the files and stumbling on that? It's crazy.

THR: Was Paul Anka invited to the premiere?

Ortega: Yeah, he was. What a great guy.

THR: Do you think Sony will extend the two-week run?

Ortega: I hope so. In the beginning we didn't know whether the fans would spread the word and come. We knew that Michael's fans would come, but two weeks was about whether we have a bigger audience than that, and hopefully we do.

THR: We're hearing movie theater owners refused to let the DVD come out before the holidays, so it'll be a late January DVD release. True?

Ortega: That's what I'm hearing. I don't have a date, no one's told me, but I think it's early next year.

Ortega with Michael Jackson during filming (Getty)

THR: What about a sequel? Is there good footage you didn't use?

Ortega: There's quite a few hours of behind-the-scenes footage that go along with the DVD.

THR: What's next? What happened with your planned remake of "Footloose"?

Ortega: The differences just became so big between the studio (Paramount) and I. Just the approach to making the film. You don't want to get in there and find out in the middle of an experience that you're not on the same page as the studio. And the studio has changed hands. When Brad Weston was the president, we were developing a film that he was excited about and I was excited about, and a transition has been made and there's a new person (Adam Goodman) running the studio, and we don't see eye-to-eye on the idea. And that's fine. He's the president, no disrespect. There are other projects, so I'll take a little break and find something fun.