On stage with the ‘King of Pop’

2009-11-01T23:45:00Z On stage with the ‘King of Pop’By Nancy Raskauskas, Gazette-Times reporter Corvallis Gazette Times

Michael Jackson's "This Is It," which opened last Tuesday for an limited cinematic run of two weeks, was the king of the box office this weekend, leading both the U.S. and international charts with profits of about $101 million worldwide.

Edited from raw video of rehearsals for what was supposed to be Jackson's final concert tour this summer, the film shares intimate behind the scenes moments with one of the most widely beloved, controversial and influential artists of all-time - all captured on film thanks to the steady hands of Tim Patterson, a Corvallis native and Oregon State University graduate who worked as a cameraman and later as an editor on the film.

A once in a lifetime opportunity

Patterson lives in Valencia, Calif., with his wife, Jill Jones, and runs a small production company called Tim Patterson Productions Inc. He got on board with "This Is It" in May, after reading a newspaper article that said that AEG Live was handling Jackson's comeback concert series.

Summertime is an off-season for Patterson's business, so he decided to call up an old-friend, Paul Gongaware, who works with Concerts West and AEG Live, and he offered to shoot rehearsals of the show.

Over the years, Patterson had worked with Gongaware from time to time, on various projects including music videos and Warren Miller films. In the mid-'90s, he'd worked on promotions for Jackson's "HIStory" tour.

He couldn't have caught Gongaware at a better time. It turned out that he and other producers had just been discussing the possibility of filming some behind the scenes footage for the tour.

"I really enjoyed working with Michael on the "HIStory tour," Patterson said. "I thought it would be really cool to be involved with his last tour."

For the next six weeks, he and another camera person, Sandrine Orabona, worked closely with Jackson and the cast and crew filming about 140 hours of raw video destined to be used for archival footage and Web promotions for the tour.

When Jackson died on Friday, May 25, the entire project came to a dramatic halt just six days before the cast and crew was scheduled to fly to London for the concert series premiere at the O2 Arena.

The following Monday, Patterson was asked to bring all of the raw footage and his editing system to the AEG facilities in Los Angeles, where it was placed in a vault in a room with a security guard posted outside the door.

While the world reeled in shock from Jackson's sudden death, Patterson began cutting sequences of film.

Audiovisual nerd

Patterson has strong ties back to the mid-valley. His parents, Thomas and Helen Patterson, have lived in Benton County for 50 years and reside in North Albany.

Patterson was born in 1956 and grew up in Corvallis, where he attended St. Mary's Catholic School, Wilson Elementary School, Cheldelin Middle School and Crescent Valley High School.

In fact, Patterson - who graduated in 1974 - was among the first students to attend the then newly completed high school. He credits teachers Bill Ford and Charles Dunn with fostering his interest in film. Patterson took Ford's Audiovisual class.

"In those days, people thought we were nerds," he laughed.

"We had a video recorder … and there were all these empty rooms and facilities available," Patterson said, explaining that the school had no seniors and only about 400 students in the first year. "So, we took a spare room and made it into our studio."

Patterson later attended Oregon State University, where he majored in television and film, a department that no longer exists. Professor Richard Weinman sparked Patterson's interest in early music videos and the pair of them have kept in contact over the years.

Patterson remembered an assignment where Weinman asked his students to put imagery to a song.

"I loved the whole idea of music videos," Patterson said. "Years later, that's what I still love to do."

After graduating from college, Patterson moved to Portland, where he was an intern for Odyssey Productions, a small company that specialized in commercials. In the early 1980s, he moved to Seattle just as a new concept called Music Television, now better known as MTV, was getting off the ground.

His first major break came when he and fellow Crescent Valley graduate Kevin Costello shot a low-budget music video for Seattle band Rail, a group that had opened for national acts such as Van Halen.

The music video was entered into MTV's "Basement Tapes" competition and eventually won a $100,000 recording contract from EMI. Patterson later moved to Los Angeles.

Because of the Rail video, Patterson was introduced to Gongaware, who unbeknownst to both of them would later give him the backstage access to document Jackson's final days.

Backstage pass

Rehearsals took place in three locations: Center Stage in Burbank, Calif.; the Forum in Inglewood, Calif.; and the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Patterson and Orabona were on hand around the clock using Sony PMW-EX1 cameras to capture high-definition digital video of the rehearsals, which generally ran from about noon to midnight daily.

In addition, Patterson spent his free mornings editing the raw footage for a 10-minute internet promotion for the concert series called "Meet the Band."

"It was a fairly grueling schedule," Patterson said.

All the footage was shot with hand-held cameras allowing Patterson to get up close to the performers on stage.

"We shot this stuff very stealth and very guerilla-style," Patterson said.

On the eve of Michael Jackson's death, rehearsal ran past midnight. The final two songs that Patterson filmed were "Thriller" with a full-costumed cast and "Earth Song."

Patterson was in his office editing film the next morning, when he heard that Michael Jackson had been taken to the hospital. "I called Paul, and he said grab your camera and come in," Patterson recalled.

He was driving to the Staples Center, when he heard on the radio that Jackson had died.

It would later be reported that Jackson died at the age of 50 after suffering from cardiac arrest and that he had been administered drugs such as propofol and iorazepam. His death was ruled a homicide by the Los Angeles County coroner.

"It was a very sad and emotional day at the Staples Center," Patterson said.

The world watched

That was a Friday and the cast and crew were given the weekend off. Patterson didn't know what was going to happen, but he did know he was sitting on a mountain of valuable footage of Jackson's last rehearsals that only he and a few others had seen.

"I never imagined it would become a $100 million dollar motion picture," he said.

On Monday, he was called in to pull out some select clips from the footage to release to media outlets. He had the help of another experienced editor, Brandon Key. His "Meet the Band" piece (which Jackson had viewed and approved before he died) was also shared with AEG executives.

On Tuesday morning at about 11:30 a.m., Patterson and Key messengered a tape with a clip of the song "They Don't Really Care About Us" to one of the many news media trucks parked outside the building.

Because Patterson and Key didn't have internet access in their editing bay (another security precaution), they called their wives and asked them to alert them when the news stations aired the clip.

Less than 15 minutes later the clip was being shown live around the world.

"At that moment we realized that we were involved in something big," Patterson said.

A grueling schedule

"We were working around the clock," Patterson remembered.

Out of the approximately 20 songs that were planned for the concert tour, Patterson and Key had rough cuts of half a dozen songs by the end of the week. He also attended the memorial service for Jackson, where he filmed behind the scenes before the start of the ceremony.

Within a week, the presidents of four major motion picture studios, Sony, Paramount, Fox and Universal, all came in to personally view the footage and bid on the rights to the film.

"Rarely do executives go to studios," Patterson said. "Usually, the (pitch) is brought to them, but AEG wouldn't let the footage out of the room."

Sony eventually won the rights to the footage two weeks later for a bid of $60 million dollars. It was, according to Patterson, a sound marriage as Sony already owned the rights to most of Michael Jackson's music. He was asked to stay on as one of the main editors for the motion picture because of his familiarity with the material.

It would take another two weeks for the courts to approve the deal (as Michael Jackson's estate was in limbo at the time), but Patterson and the rest of the crew forged ahead with the editing. There was no time to lose. Sony wanted a Halloween release for the film, and they knew that they would need about a month to mass produce the film onto more than 8,000 optical prints (the traditional film spools that most theaters around the world still use). Not to mention the time needed to translate the film into various foreign languages for subtitles.

It was already early July. That meant that they had about eight weeks to edit the entire film for a mid-September delivery date, a process usually finished over six to nine months for major motion pictures.

"So, we just kept working," Patterson said.

Kenny Ortega, the concert tour producer became the film's director. Ortega had past experience directing the three "High School Musical" films. Travis Payne, Jackson's personal choreographer, became a co-producer of the film. Both men had long personal histories with Jackson and worked to create a film that would be both a tribute to Jackson and a thank you to his fans.

"He wanted to make sure this stayed a labor of love," Patterson said of Ortega.

Production eventually moved from AEG Live to Sony in August, where security around the project was still extremely tight. "A third editor, Don Brochu ('Out of Africa') was brought in to help."

"I really feel I have a talent for working with music, but I've never cut a motion picture before," Patterson said.

The first cut of the film was almost three hours long and was eventually cut down to one hour and 12 minutes.

Because the film was only shot with one or two cameras running at a time, a running joke throughout the editing process when Ortega asked for another film angle was that "the other nine cameras weren't running that day."

"We didn't use anything in the movie that wasn't shot in the rehearsal process," Patterson said. "We were lucky we had what we had."

The editing crew only took three days off all summer. One was Jackson's birthday on Aug. 29.

In the final cut, Patterson not only ended up with two screen credits for editor and cinematographer, but two cameos that were captured from the second camera. You can clearly see him kneeling on the edge of the stage just a few feet from Jackson as he sings "Billy Jean" and "Man in the Mirror," near the end of the film.

Patterson is still at work on the project. The home video/DVD version of the film will have up to three hours worth of extras, such as cast interviews and segments on the technical side of the production that Patterson is editing.

'The Man In The Mirror'

"No one had ever seen him so unguarded," Patterson said. "Not only was he (Jackson) in control of every aspect of the show, but he was also a wonderful human being."

Patterson hopes the film, which opened to rave reviews, will show audiences the vibrant performer Jackson was up until his death. In the film, he has no problem hitting his complicated choreography with dancers less than half his age.

"It should put an end to all this medical talk," Patterson said. "It was completely untrue, as you see in the movie."

The cast and crew of the canceled concert series were given a special showing of the film last Monday, one night before the worldwide premiere. It was the first time many of the dancers and musicians had seen the film.

"They were in such awe of him," Patterson said. "They were honored and privileged to work beside him."

"When he died, it was an especially heavy blow to them. They went from having three-year contracts to back on the street looking for jobs," he added. "For me, it was maybe easier, because I was still seeing Michael every day. Those guys needed closure."

"I've never worked on a project where people have been so wonderful. The nicest, caring human beings that I've ever had the privilege to work with," Patterson said. "I think that says something about Michael Jackson."

"I'm glad the world will finally get to see the real 'Man in the Mirror,'" he said.


"This Is It" is playing locally at Regal Ninth Street 4 and Regal Albany 7 Cinemas.

Copyright 2015 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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