IFMCA member Kevin Koltz recounts his experiences working on the upcoming Michael Giacchino documentary Director By Night
I was fortunate to have been part of the crew that made the documentary “Director by Night.” In fact, I was the last of the crew added, but you’ll get no complaints from me there. Having not worked for over two years I was just happy to get the call. And what a call. In late July of this year my wife and I were literally just getting off a plane at New York’s JFK airport after taking our first trip in years due to the pandemic. My phone rings and the voice on the other end says, “I take it you’re back in the country.” I reply, “Yes Anthony, I’m just back. What’s up?” After a bit of a pause for dramatic effect I hear, “I need you. This time for real.” I’ll explain that last line but first, a little backstory.
I have known Michael Giacchino’s brother Anthony since September of 1994. Back then we were a bit younger, with Anthony being five years younger than myself, and hired on the same day by A&E Networks to help get The History Channel off the ground. The new network was launching at the first of the year and there was a lot of post- production work and formatting of programming to be done. After the launch Anthony continued with History while I was pulled back over to A&E to work on their Biography series. Over the years we remained friendly but never worked together. I first met Michael in 1996 at an apartment party in the East Village and it was an exciting time for him. He had just begun work on the score for video game “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.”
Jump ahead a couple of decades to late 2018 and both Anthony and I have long left A&E and History and are working as independent producers. He a bit more successfully than myself but I had just had a good run on a two year series about the history of Madison Square Garden that won a number of Emmy awards.. At the time Anthony was in development on a docuseries with a working title of “Masters of Music” for the still to launch Disney+. The series would feature Michael and another big name creative (who will remain nameless) examining major turning points in Disney history seen through a modern perspective. Anthony texts me with, “Look at your email. I need you. Call me.” He was offering me a producer position on “Masters.” I freak out. This is the dream job!
Unfortunately, delays and the Covid pandemic killed the dream job. A lot of development work was done but in the span of a couple of years, Disney+ figured out what worked for the new streaming service. It wasn’t going to be our docuseries. The loss was soul crushing, but we had to move on. Then in late July of 2022 the that other call happened and word from Anthony was, “This time for real.”
While I was thrilled with the reality of working again, even remotely from Portland, Oregon, I will admit to being a little surprised at my role on “Buzzcut,” which was the working title for “Director by Night” for a very long time. I was asked to do rights and clearances. Field production was already in the can by late July… or so they thought… and Anthony and his team were concentrating on post production. I’m more of a Producer with production coordination, interview, story and research chops. Rights and clearances? Sure, I’ve done that on my own productions with it being a combined effort on others, but nothing like this… and then it hit me. This was a feature documentary, on Michael Giacchino for Marvel and Disney. I figured with Michael’s composing career the music clearances alone would be seriously challenging. Anthony must want my film history and film music history background. Then it really dawned on me… ‘In doing rights and clearances, I’ll get to interact with a lot of people within Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Lucasfilm and other studios. This will be a challenge!’ That last thought would prove to be a bit of an understatement.
Upon signing on, I was told that the delivery deadline had been moved up three weeks to mid-September. Ouch. Also, the first cut of the documentary that I saw defined the term “Rough Cut,” and it was just cut one of many. This production had a temporary opening, which wasn’t going to hold or excite anyone, and multiple endings which were in worse shape than the opening. None of the endings were working either. While the delivery deadline was a concern I discovered that the more structural problems with the documentary were in good hands. Anthony likes to consider options. He knew that he needed a new ending, but the various cuts all had sections that were quite solid. His plan was to combine the best material with a new ending and through line. Fortunately, Marvel ended up giving us back the three weeks. With Disney’s D23 Expo coming up, Marvel just didn’t have the time to focus on us. The documentary’s premiere would be pushed to either late October or early November. D23 would also prove advantageous in another way — it gave us an ending.
In digging into rights and clearances, Anthony wanted me to first focus on Michael’s biographical segment and go after rights for another sequence that existed on one of the cuts. A sequence that I thought was incredibly cool. What was in place visually as a place holder for the biographical section was an animated segment that had been done by the Kennedy Center, and I was surprised to find it had a visual mistake. It included Cars (2006) which had been scored by Randy Newman. Fortunately the animation for the biographical section would be redone and Cars 2 (2011) which Michael had scored could be replaced along with better high resolution versions of the other graphics. I later found out that the needs of the other sequence is why Anthony really wanted me for the project. It involved Michael’s love and early childhood fear of Bigfoot, also commonly referred to as Sasquatch. On set and from memory, Michael discussed with some crew members a film he saw in the 70s where a woman is sitting in her living room and Bigfoot’s shadow is seen passing behind her on a window shade. After a few seconds where the woman continues to be oblivious, Bigfoot’s hand crashes through the window and grabs her. This totally freaked Michael out as a kid. I knew what film this was but our crew was already ahead of me. It was the old Sunn Classic Pictures “The Mysterious Monsters” aka “Bigfoot: The Mysterious Monster” (1976), and Michael had described it flawlessly. This was the first film to feature the home movie taken by Roger Patterson in 1967 which claimed to show a Bigfoot. It also starred the late Peter Graves as the on-camera narrator tracking down the mysterious monster. Now I had worked with Peter on the “Biography” series. Because of this, Anthony surmised I was the best bet to figure out how to reach his estate to get their approval for including this “all important clip” where Bigfoot’s arm crashes through a window.
The person to find was Mr. Graves former Publicist. After a prolonged “Senior Moment” with my memory and a little digging I wrote a Hail Mary email to an address I could only pray still worked. Luck was on my side and Peter’s former Publicist Sanford Brokaw wrote back. Mr. Brokaw and I quickly got off the emails and went old school with phone calls. Peter Graves it must be said was truly a class act. Sanford told me Peter stories and tales involving other clients and I managed a few Peter stories of my own. In the end, getting permission to use the clip from their end would not be a problem. Unfortunately, I had another end to deal with. The film’s owners. I warned Anthony right at the start that I knew who owned this film… and he wasn’t going to like it. After Sunn Classic’s film library was sold numerous times, it came into the ownership of one company. Paramount! I was on a Zoom call with Anthony so I could see his face. He didn’t even flinch. I said, “Let me enlighten you. Paramount is, hands down, the most expensive studio to license clips.” I then told him the true story of the producer behind John Travolta’s “Biography.” You can’t do it without “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease.” Travolta told the producer not to worry, that he would get them to play ball. He would get both the clip and music costs down… personally. In the end… Paramount didn’t budge. Full price. When it came time for Eddie Murphy’s “Biography,” Murphy obviously knew this story and for clips from the studio that launched his film career and that he had an exclusive contract with for a decade, the exorbitant costs were paid out of his own pocket. Anthony being a history lover appreciated my rather colorful history lesson about Paramount, and after asking if what I’d told him was true (it is) said to get back to him on costs adding, “This is an old movie nobody cares about. It won’t be that bad. And we need it.”
Apart from sticker shock, Paramount is pretty great to work with. Why? It’s because they totally get the process, respond quickly. In addition, with their costs being so high you either pay the tab or you don’t, and their feelings aren’t hurt either way. They got back to me after a little more than 24 hours with a quote for one minute, and the running time for our needs was exactly that, one minute. Getting Anthony, our production coordinator and our legal department on the phone, I started by asking Anthony to have a seat. He declined and just asked me to spit it out. I said, “$15,000 for one minute. Which is actually $7,000 less than I thought it would be. I think my having found the DVD thus avoiding any further lab costs is keeping it down.” My attempt to soften the blow didn’t work. After an explosion of “What????!!!” and “Are they kidding???” on the other end of the phone from everyone involved things settled down and Anthony just said, “OK… it’s cut.” I still think it was the coolest moment in the show… and it was gone. Paramount’s feelings were not hurt. At all. That cannot be said for Sanford Brokaw. After a few attempts to reach him directly, and I wanted to tell him personally, I’m sure from the tone of my voice in messages he could tell that I was calling with bad news. He never called me back and I had to leave a detailed message. It would have been a great moment, but the budget just wouldn’t allow it.
There are a few other things you didn’t see in the final and they all come down to studio politics. You might have noticed that Michael and family visited Universal Studios back in 1985. Universal had to sign off giving approval to use those home movies. What they didn’t sign off on was everything else related to Universal. Those little productions that Michael scored involving dinosaurs, one quite recently? Forget it. Universal was VERY clear. “We have to deny all other elements for use in this project.” Those elements included a brief clip from “Jurassic World,” a still of the “Jurassic World” Summer 2015 Teaser Poster Style B, an animated logo to “The Lost World – Jurassic Park” video game and a “Back to the Future” (1985) title graphic seen on home movie footage of the Cinerama Dome back in 1985. I get it. Apart from cruise ships, Disney and Universal are in direct competition. A solution was proposed, not by me but the following was actually proposed during a production meeting: “Couldn’t Michael call Steven Spielberg and ask him to get Universal to play ball here?” Ah youth. I’m glad I had my audio on mute because I let out a very audible laugh. Anthony just calmly said, “If Michael is going to call in his one favor with Spielberg, trust me, this won’t be it.” Apart from the backlot home movies… Universal was gone.
One other studio didn’t play ball either. At all. Requests would go out. Very professional ones. Nothing came back. Ever. During the Biographical section there is mention of Michael having worked on “The Batman” (2022). You see his mother Josephine reading the copy on camera at this point. It was originally covered with an animating title from “The Batman’s” trailer. I actually asked the Director of Licensing from another studio if they could give me the lowdown between Disney/Marvel and Warner Bros. I was told that Warner Bros policy is to ignore the request if it involves anything Marvel. I shouldn’t have been surprised but… Noted.
Finally, there is one other cut I’d like to mention. This one isn’t rights and clearances based. It’s more about studios and their wanting to protect their relationships with actors, which is important. In “Director by Night,” Michael introduces Gael Garcia Bernal to his brother Anthony who is shooting behind the scenes footage. Bernal says that he sensed him. I wished you could have seen the full exchange. Bernal very kindly explains to Anthony that he will have to be careful and avoid being in his sight line because he will play to cameras. How he does this is incredibly kind and professional and is an example to others in the acting profession. It was truly impressive. The Powers that Be made the decision to cut the majority of the exchange because they didn’t want it misrepresented if and when it hit the internet. That too is understandable, especially considering that Bernal is new to the MCU. I just personally wish that others could have seen just how impressive Bernal was during that exchange. By mid to late September Anthony was still shooting but after the D23 Expo we had our ending. I couldn’t show or license any Universal Classic Monsters that influenced the making of “Werewolf by Night.” but we cut that away even though we had a pretty cleaver way around the problem and got the Fine and Final cuts delivered on time. Tight… but on time. In the end the think “Director by Night” surprised a lot of people. Many love the more intimate family and friends dynamic while others feel cheated that it wasn’t a traditional behind the scenes look at the film Michael directed. Even I was surprised I only had to clear “Marvel Studios Fanfare #3,” the one and only Michael Giacchino cue used in the entire production. That was Michael’s decision however, as he wanted the documentary to focus on his directorial debut. I guess a more detailed production examining of his full career will have to wait. I for one would like to work on that production too. Rights and Clearances would be fine but let’s talk Producer here.