I get a Gatorade script that has Michael playing himself, one on one. Okay. It’s an idea that has been done before. All I can see is the tedium of having him play himself to stock footage and I had enough green screen doing SPACE JAM. I speak with the agency folk and they have no idea what or how to do it, just that they like the idea.
What I do know is that all of MJ’s goodstuff has been seen over and over since his video, COME FLY WITH ME, has been atop the video lists for years. One of MJ‘s skills was trash talking on the court and I had done an experimental film with him that frightened Nike. I sent the film to the creatives and they liked the trash talking idea. It added a dimension that the idea didn’t have.
‘How do we do it?’
‘I have no idea…yet.’
My two ‘go to’ guys for digital work were Johnny in New York and Digital Domaine across the street. Across the street was closer, so I went across the street.
The challenge was to see Michael at three stages of his career, UNC, the Bulls, and Washington. Hair was a problem as it changed a lot at different times. It changed to NONE. He was also a little fat at Washington.
How accurate could this be? It had to be perfect since kids went through these things frame by frame on their computers.
DD showed me a bunch of head replacement stuff they had done, actors heads pasted on stuntmen, but the issue was de-ageing MJ. No problem (Fred says).
I believe him.
The process they want to use is a sequence of digital scans of MJ that they will use to replace the head of whomever is MJ’s double. That’s the hard part. We have to find doubles that closely approximate MJ at various stages. I can fake the action with competent athletes by having Michael do the deed (if he’s willing). I come up with a few practical shots (in prep) that will be the spine of the action, and the trash talking will do the rest.
The job is tough enough, but some dumb stuff comes up at the last minute. Michael has lost weight since the previous season so we have to quickly recast the ‘other MJ.’
Michael refuses to wear the short shorts from his Bulls days, so the Bulls Michael has to be able to duplicate his moves.
I need a miracle.
Nigel comes through. He finds a player that is the same dimension as the young MJ and has mad skills.
‘Why isn’t he in the NBA?’
‘Bad luck, but he’s playing freelance pro ball for a small team, somewhere. The only problem is that his coach doesn’t want him to do this.’
‘I have no idea.’
‘Will he do it? He’ll make some serious money and meeting Michael can’t be bad.’
The kid consented even though his boss was going to fire him. I hoped that Michael could put in a good word, because the kid’s appearance was a miracle, and now all I had to do was film the thing normally without regard for technology. The only thing we had to do was add MJ hair to the kid.
Fred suggested that we do a tongue thing with Michael but he refused, so we had the kid do it. It worked for a frame or two, that was all we needed.
The shoot went well, the editing went well, and the digital stuff went well. Much weller than the project had any right to. Something that could have been a tech nightmare was pleasant.
The agency tried to screw me.
They held up my fees claiming that I didn’t use up all the hours in the budget. One phone call from my attorney and the check was in the mail.
They did screw the kid, though, claiming since they didn’t see his face, he wasn’t a principal. SAG laws weren’t clear on that point and I never knew what the finals were on that.
MJ never went to bat for the kid.
The kid did play professionally with the Harlem Globe Trotters.
The spot is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.