On December 15th, 1983, 13 months after the Thriller album debuted, Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller was released on VHS Home Video. Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller provided me (and the rest of the world) a closer look at his personality, his dedication to his art, and showed that it took a team of people to make it all happen. I’ve always considered this to be a big part of why I became a fan and always thought that the documentary has been an overlooked part of the usual “Success of the Thriller album” narrative.
Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller was released as a home video, which is the way I first saw it but, was first shown on both MTV and Showtime. The documentary was made to help finance the Thriller short film which cost over 2x the budget CBS Records was willing to spend. (Especially on the seventh and last single of an album.)
In his autobiography Moonwalk, Michael Jackson credited his attorney and trusted advisor at the time, John Branca with the idea for a documentary. He shared that Branca (now one of the co-executors of the Michael Jackson estate) thought that a film of the shooting process would help alleviate some of the cost of the video. John Landis however, credited George Folsey Jr. (who produced Thriller and worked with Landis throughout much of his career) with the initial concept. Either way, it was Branca who would negotiate the deal and bring it to fruition.
“[John Branca] suggested that we make a separate video financed by somebody else, about the making of the “Thriller” video. It seemed odd that no one had ever done this before. We felt sure it would be an interesting documentary, and at the same time it would help pay for our doubled budget. It didn’t take John long to put this deal together. He got MTV and Showtime cable network to put up the cash, and Vestron later released the video after Thriller aired” (Michael Jackson, Moonwalk).
According to a TIME Magazine article from late December 1983, “Sing a Song of Seeing,” MTV paid $250,000 for exclusivity rights to air the documentary and Showtime paid an additional $300,000 for it. They then had more than enough money to finance the 14-minute-long short film.
Directed by Jerry Kramer, the 45-minute-long program chronicled the taping of Thriller and included additional behind the scenes footage and interviews to tell the story. From dance rehearsals and choreography, to wardrobe, to the makeup and transformation of Michael from man to werewolf, Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller covers a lot of ground. Kramer did a great job at putting the documentary together, providing great context on how Michael Jackson and John Landis came together to make history, a step-by-step look at the makeup process with artist Rick Baker, and even the composition of the background music used in the short film. In fact, Kramer did such a good job, he was asked a few years later to come back and work on the Moonwalker film, which he did. Opening the anthology section of the film, the camera pans along Michael Jackson’s dresser, to show his rhinestone glove, belts, accessories, awards, and later a small television showing clips of Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller, a subtle ode to their previous collaboration.
Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller was one of those videos I give credit to for having a huge impact on me as a Michael Jackson fan. It’s one of those things I’ve always dreamed on having on DVD, with of course, some additional never-before-seen footage. But it’s something I also wouldn’t mind waiting for until Thriller's 50th year anniversary or another time in the future.
And again, I am so grateful and happy that I had the opportunity to visit and experience one of the places where Michael Jackson made history, even if it was only for a few minutes. I’ll keep my dad’s hand-me-down VCR player and the VHS cassette for times when I feel reminiscent.
But then again, it is 2017 and there’s always Youtube. right?
(I hope you guys enjoyed that first installment of Collector's Corner. Is there an item you would like to see covered? Let me know in the comments!)