April 20, 2022

Behind the Music

Season-one directors of HBO's Music Box discuss how they approached their subjects.

Margy Rochlin

Garret Price
Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage
"I was interested in exploring a specific time in music when I came of age, [though I] was guilty of a bit of rose-tinted nostalgia. Woodstock 99 was the perfect conduit to dissect not only the culture and sociopolitical context of the late '90s, but also a compelling story (and warning) of the dangers of nostalgia [as well as the] commercialism and power dynamics of the time. I gravitate toward narrative themes and storytelling in my films, and those three days of the festival naturally unfolded in the structure of a horror film, which I completely connected with."

John Maggio
Mr. Saturday Night
"Robert Stigwood was a gambler — he won and lost big throughout his career. I chose to focus on his professional life in the 1970s, when he seemed to have the magic touch. Everything he produced became an instant sensation, from Jesus Christ Superstar and Tommy to Grease and, of course, Saturday Night Fever. He was able to see before anyone else the synergy that was happening between movies and music and he harnessed it, transforming the way movie soundtracks were produced and movies were marketed.

In that moment he helped shape the zeitgeist, perhaps more than anyone else in Hollywood. He saw the potential in disco and, for better or worse, extended its life another few years. By the 1980s it was over, and he seemed to have lost his touch. He receded into the background, but not before he had made hundreds of millions of dollars."

Tommy Oliver
Juice WRLD: Into the Abyss
"The truth is, I didn't choose to focus on a specific period. I was handed a drive with 8,000 clips and 250 hours of footage from the last eighteen months of Juice's life. My goal was to tell his story through that footage so that as much as possible of the documentary was his own words and told from his perspective."

Christopher Frierson
DMX: Don't Try to Understand
"I have always had a keen interest in public figures whose narrative is seemingly shaped by the media, perhaps not their own truth. So, when the opportunity came about to pitch a music-related film, I naturally thought of Earl, or DMX, as I would have called him back then.

I was never interested in relitigating the past with an 'A to Z' biographical film, but more so creating a portrait of a man at a crossroads in his life, freshly released from prison, and what could be gleaned or further understood from the uphill battle ahead. To that aim, we decided to focus on a singular year in his life. We thought a document of anyone attempting to overcome a sliver of what DMX was facing, for a set period of time, could be the most honest way to represent the true character of the human being."

Alison Klayman
"When I first spoke to Bill and the Ringer team, they said that some initial conversations had happened with Alanis's team [and] that she was potentially interested. I leapt at the chance. Jagged Little Pill was a formative, favorite album of mine growing up. It was the first CD I ever bought. It made sense to me to make [the documentary] about this album and who Alanis was when she wrote it. The film goes from her childhood careers in entertainment so that you can understand who this nineteen-, twenty-year-old was [when she] wrote the album. Then it goes through the tour at the release, going from those small clubs to massive arenas.

"This was a perfect project for me because of how much I love this album and how much I felt like I didn't know the story behind it. That wasn't how I engaged as a fan. I engaged through the music, and I'll bet the majority of people are like me. But there's a lot to discover about the story behind [the music]. And twenty-five years later, [we may need] to reframe it and set the record straight in some respects."

Penny Lane
Listening to Kenny G
"When Bill asked me to come up with ideas for music documentaries, what I thought right away was, 'When I think about music, I think about taste.' But the word taste isn't in our film, which is funny because the core of the pitch was this idea of taste. I thought of Kenny because I came of age in the '90s. That was the height of both his success and ubiquity, but also the backlash and hatred and mocking. I wanted this to be a film that was very clearly and narrowly asking, 'What makes him so successful, and what makes some people angry about his success?'"

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #3, 2022, under the title, "Backstage Pass."

Read the feature article on Bill Simmons's Music Box here.

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