Production is underway on an official documentary about Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the biggest selling album of all time.
The Michael Jackson estate and Sony Music Entertainment are joining forces for the untitled film, which is being directed by Nelson George, the noted music historian, journalist and documentary filmmaker. Thriller has sold 34 million copies in the U.S. alone and an estimated 100 million copies worldwide, won eight Grammy Awards and yielded seven top 10 singles. It was released 40 years ago next month.
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The film “takes fans back in time to the making of the record-breaking album and release of revolutionary short films that redefined the music video format and captivated audiences globally,” according to a release about the documentary. “’Billie Jean’ remains the most streamed Michael Jackson song, and ‘Thriller’ is the only music video that has been inducted onto the elite National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.”
George’s documentary will feature “never-before-seen footage and candid interviews,” chronicling “the point in Jackson’s career that launched the singer into mega-stardom and created a pop culture phenomenon that is woven through the culture and continues to influence the worlds of music, television, dance, fashion and more to this day.”
George’s credits include an upcoming documentary about baseball great Willie Mays and the 2015 documentary A Ballerina’s Tale, about Black ballet star Misty Copeland.
“The release of Thriller redefined Michael Jackson, taking him from teen star to adult superstar, who composed memorable songs, sang beautifully and reached the highest level of on-stage performance,” the director said in a statement. “The album, and the short films they inspired, created a new template for marrying music and image. It’s been a privilege to explore this extraordinary album and revisit its magic.”
Along with “Billie Jean,” Thriller included the tracks “Beat It,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” “Human Nature,” the title song and “The Girl Is Mine,” a duet with Paul McCartney, among others. Thriller was released by Epic Records and produced by Quincy Jones, who had collaborated with Jackson on his previous album, Off the Wall. The release announcing the documentary highlighted the groundbreaking nature of Jackson’s album — which was No. 1 for an astounding 37 nonconsecutive weeks on the Billboard 200 — and its singles.
“’Beat It’ was a new kind of pop-rock hybrid and demolished the longstanding segregation between black and white music with Eddie Van Halen’s incendiary guitar,” the release noted. “On ‘The Girl Is Mine,’ a Black man and a white man bantered about the same girl. When a fledgling MTV, which was programming white rock artists almost exclusively, refused to play the video for ‘Billie Jean,’ Epic persisted. Once the wall came crashing down, MTV’s ratings soared and a door was opened for a generation of African American artists.”
John Branca and John McClain, co-executors of the Jackson estate, commented, “Michael opened and explored emotional depths and pushed the boundaries of sonic innovation on Thriller. In the process, he breached destructive barriers in the music industry and literally united the world through his music: there isn’t a place on this planet that hasn’t been exhilarated by the music of Michael Jackson. This documentary’s exploration of Michael’s process and impact is revelatory.”
Sony Music Entertainment’s Tom Mackay, president, premium content, added, “Michael Jackson’s Thriller marked a momentous and pivotal moment in both music and pop culture around the world. We’re excited to expand the estate’s documentary collection with our upcoming film and look forward to sharing it with fans around the world.”
Jackson died in June 2009 at the age of 50.
The untitled Thriller documentary is the third nonfiction film to focus on a Michael Jackson album. The previous two, Bad 25 and Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall, were directed by Spike Lee. The estate is behind other enormously successful MJ productions, including the 2009 film This Is It, the Las Vegas spectacular Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil, and the Tony Award-winning MJ The Musical on Broadway.
Sony Music Entertainment will distribute the untitled Thriller film. Colin Hanks and Sean Stuart from Company Name serve as producers. John Branca and John McClain serve as Executive Producers. No expected release date has been announced.
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