Jason Cilo and Henry Astor Interview


                                              


COMPLIMENTS

BEYOND THE SONG is definitely one of my all-time favorite DVD’s, it is so well done!!

First and foremost a huge thank you to the producers of BEYOND THE SONG… it is an excellent product that captures the magic of Bobby and stands the test of time.

Thank you so much for the wonderful program of BEYOND THE SONG. I love watching it.

From Jason & Henry: Thank you to all for the kind words and comments. It’s truly an honor to have been able to do this film and to bring it out to Bobby’s fans. Knowing that we have the fan’s approval is really what it’s all about. Many times when we were making the show, we had first and foremost in our minds what we could imagine would be Bobby’s take on any given thing, and we simply tried to stay true to how Bobby lived his life. We’re really glad if you all think we did a good job.

PRE-PROJECT

How did the idea of BEYOND THE SONG come about?

While we were in college in 1991, a friend named Rick Brown introduced us to Bobby’s music and amazing life story. About 7 years later, after we’d both pursued other aspects of the film and TV business, Henry called Jason one day and simply asked “What about Bobby Darin?” That seemed like a very good question. We had a contact set up a meeting with Bill Baker, who was then the president of WNET Channel 13 here in NYC. We rehearsed our meeting pitch for days, literally down to who would say what words and when…but it turned out we needn’t have bothered: Bill Baker’s first assignment as a cub reporter in the late 50’s was interviewing Bobby Darin. He had literally been waiting for some producers to come into his office with a Bobby Darin documentary. And we were it. Two true stories: just before the meeting, we were in a store buying water and gum, nervously killing time, when over the store radio we heard "Beyond the Sea." We looked at each other and just shook our heads in amazement. Then, right before the meeting, a pigeon sat on Henry’s head. That’s good luck, you know! It was meant to be! Those were just two instances where Bobby’s playful spirit seemed to be on our side.

What results have you seen?

We were prompted by the simple fact that it was a great story that hadn’t been told. And we also, with some initial legwork, were able to secure the involvement of the Estate and Steve Blauner, without whom none of this would have ever been possible.

How was the title BEYOND THE SONG chosen?

Many people know Bobby’s songs, even if they don’t always know it’s Bobby singing them. But we were interested in the facts of Bobby’s incredibly diverse life and the twists and turns it took throughout a tumultuous time in American popular music history. VH1 had a popular series at the time called "Behind the Music." We thought we’d go "Beyond the Song" in an obvious play on "Beyond the Sea."

What was the inspiration behind BEYOND THE SONG
and was it difficult to get produced and on the air?

Was it difficult? Yes, it was. It’s always difficult when you truly care about a project. And we, much like Bobby, were young and somewhat inexperienced at the time; we’d never made a feature-length documentary before and, truth be told, had very little idea exactly how to do so…but we knew the story, and we knew that our passion could get us through the difficult parts of the process. When you really care, it hurts when commercial or executive considerations feel like they’re taking something away from the thing that you love, but that’s as important a part of the process, learning to handle and address those concerns and changes, as the dedication it takes to see a project through.

What role did PBS have in the marketing of the program?

PBS was entirely responsible for the funding and marketing of the program. In our initial meeting with Bill Baker, who just so happened to be a huge Bobby Darin fan who had actually met and interviewed Darin as a young reporter, we knew we’d found someone who believed in Bobby’s story. We left that meeting asking each other, “Did we just get the money to make this film?” and not really believing it was that easy. And it was. We quit our day jobs and began work on the film mere weeks later.

Have both of you collaborated on other projects before?

This was our first collaboration. But there were others following the Bobby film and we hope that there will be more to come!

THE INTERVIEWING PROCESS

While arranging interviews, had you contacted any band members?

Deciding whom to interview is always a challenge. We might have reached out to a few, but we really relied on Hesh and Blauner and the late, great Al DiOrio, who opened so many doors for us and really was one of the reasons why the film got made. Al was a truly lovely man who treasured Bobby Darin and was incredibly generous and giving of his time and his personal archive. We owe Al a special debt of thanks, and wish we could have had one more chance to reminisce with him before he passed away.

I assume that Sandra Dee refused to participate in BEYOND THE SONG, but was Andrea Darin contacted about being part of the program?

It’s not accurate to say that she "refused." We always felt we had her blessing, through Dodd Darin’s involvement in the film. Sandra is a major part of the Bobby Darin story, and we had great footage of her in the film and wonderful reminiscences about her from her son and the others in the film, all of whom spoke movingly about their relationship.

Do you still have the rest of footage (from interview scenes) that you did not use
in the documentary?

The tapes exist…it would be fun to go back and revisit the film. Maybe one day we will!

In interviewing and researching, did you find any contradictions of fact
regarding Darin’s life?

Contradictions? In the life of Bobby Darin??? Nahhhh! Are you kidding? The man was a living bundle of contradictions! That’s what makes him so fascinating. Like many genuinely talented people who don’t fit the mold of what’s popular at a given time, Bobby was a complicated and multi-faceted person. We worked really hard to try and hit that elusive balance of portraying Bobby’s lighter and darker sides.

Was there anyone you wanted to interview who refused? And if so, do you know why?

One of the truly wonderful aspects of the process was that virtually every single person we called for an interview said one word to us almost immediately: “yes.” From Ahmet Ertegun to Dick Clark to Tony Orlando to Connie Francis to Andy Williams….to Steve Blauner….each of these people was incredibly generous with their time and their personal memories. It was one of the best parts of the process; sitting with people who really were legends and hearing what a special place Bobby Darin STILL had for each and every one of them. Ahmet Ertegun is beyond a legend. He was front and center for the musical and cultural revolution in America and Britain for more than 50 years, and yet he would always say that Bobby Darin was by far the most special of all the incredibly artists he’d ever worked with. Think about that for a second. Truly amazing.

Was there any one person who seemed to be the most knowledgeable about Bobby?

Dodd, obviously. And Gary. Al DiOrio. Hesh. Blauner. Dick Clark. We could actually list every one who appeared in the film. Everyone really knew a lot about Bobby, because he was such a fascinating person. Overall, we’d say the feeling we got was that people had been waiting a long time to tell their stories about Bobby.

Of all the people you interviewed, did you have a favorite one to talk to?

Steve Blauner, by far, is the most hilariously profane, straight-shooting, no-BS, old school Hollywood legend who would also turn teary-eyed in a second when the story got emotional. Steve Blauner is a big softie who truly loved and still misses Bobby Darin. He had a lot of great stories that we had to promise not to use in the film! Some were truly hilarious but we’ll never speak them, because you don’t mess with Steve.

ABOUT THE PROGRAM

Did any of the producers know Bobby personally?

Neither producer knew Bobby personally, but we’d definitely say that after hundreds of hours of exposure, we “knew” him in the way you do a subject of a film. You have to both go into it knowing a little, but not too much, and find your way to an expertise along the way.

How much footage is there from Bobby’s attempted documentary of his return to nightclub performance – Live at the Coconut Grove 1966?

The discovery and delivery of this footage was one of the great moments in making the film. In a totally casual conversation with Steve Blauner, he off-handedly mentioned that he had the original film canisters from the Grove concert “somewhere." To find these canisters and transfer them to videotape; amazing. We remember that the grizzled, jaded lab techs who were doing the transfer were also immediately mesmerized by Bobby’s performance, and basically they ended up doing so much more than the simple transfer; they went out of their way to correct the black and whites, and make sure that everything was top notch and first class. This was typical of the kinds of things that would happen when people without much knowledge of Bobby would be exposed to him via the materials in the film. They became involved, too. Every one of those guys is a part of this film, too.

Did most of your visual material come directly from The Estate?

Most of the visual material came from licensing houses that owned the rights to the shows he was on. But people like Al and Harriet and, of course, Steve, leant us great troves of materials which we wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere else.

Was it difficult to obtain certain footage?

We really would have liked to have shown a 1959 “Mack the Knife” clip but it was just too expensive to license. But we knew we had a good amount of stuff that had never been seen before, so we always felt comfortable.

Was it a conscious decision to not cover the Big Sur era in depth
or was it just a lack of time?

It was really a lack of time. There are many areas in Bobby’s rich life we would like to have expanded on but were limited by time.

One glaring note that jars me every time I watch BEYOND THE SONG is the shot of the dying Robert Kennedy on the kitchen floor at The Ambassador Hotel… what was the thinking behind including that particular shot and what do you think it added to the finished product?

The event was a seminal moment in American history AND it was to have a profound effect on Bobby’s life. The image of Kennedy dying on the floor was used to bring to the audience the significance of that moment. This was something that profoundly moved Bobby and caused him to make some serious and drastic changes in his life. The image is an iconic image in the history of American images, however difficult it may still be to look at: it’s a truth about our society, and Bobby would no doubt not want anyone to flinch away from it’s difficult lessons.

How long did the process of completing the documentary take, from start to finish?

The production lasted a total of six months in real time. And what felt like 10 years in emotional and stress time!

What were the obstacles? Was there ever a point when you thought the program would not be aired or even completed?

There were many obstacles, both practical and emotional. First, with a fixed length of an hour, we had to make some painful decisions about which parts of Bobby’s story to leave out. This could (should?) have been a two hour documentary. Second, we were working within a budget so w e had to pick and choose our clips as well as be creative with the clips we could afford.

What would you say was the most challenging task
in the making of BEYOND THE SONG?

The most challenging task was deciding which parts to leave out of the story while creating a comprehensive and entertaining portrait of Bobby’s life. But in many ways the most challenging thing was finding within ourselves the belief that we, who had never made a film like this before, could actually go all the way to PBS and get to make the movie.

Thank you so much for this wonderful documentary which was instrumental in introducing me to the versatile performing talents of Bobby Darin, whom I only “discovered” after Spacey’s movie. It was great that you collected and showcased so many different song clips, many not available elsewhere at the time. However, I did notice an oversight. None of the songs from Bobby’s Directions albums were showcased (tho now we can see “Change” and “Long Line Rider” on YouTube). In fact there was very little attention given to Bobby’s political views and activism which were so much a part of his character. I don’t remember there being any clips from the Mike Douglas Shows where he really spoke a lot about his views. Was this a deliberate editorial decision or merely an oversight?

We disagree that there was “very little attention given to Bobby’s political views and activism,” but also, this was first and foremost a celebration of Bobby Darin the entertainer. That’s what he’d have wanted to be known as, first and foremost, as Dodd says in the film. He wanted to be a great entertainer. We think the film highlights and makes a hell of a great case that he was in fact one of the greatest, most naturally gifted entertainers that ever lived. You could spend an hour in a film covering Bobby’s “wilderness” years, but we just couldn’t do more than we did given the time constraints.

(As part of the same question) Likewise Bobby’s songwriting talents. While it was great to have the “Rainin’” clip, some of his greatest self-penned hits like “Things.” “Multiplication” and “Eighteen Yellow Roses” never made it to the screen. Would you have done anything differently if you were making this documentary today?

Very much so. Bobby’s political and civil rights involvement was a large part of his story and it would have been nice to have delved into that some more. If the budget was there it would have been nice to include more songs and film clips. Bobby wrote hundreds of songs. You have to choose maybe 20 representative songs to highlight in the film.

BD QUESTIONS

Regarding the 1970 clip of Bobby singing Mack, what performance/program was that from? He seemed so relaxed and totally enjoyed the positive audience feedback.

If we remember correctly, that would be the Flip Wilson show appearance. Interesting thing about Bobby that not many people (other than you guys, of course) is how much he was a part of the early careers of Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor, and Nipsey Russell.

After capturing all that Bobby accomplished in his short life, do you feel there was so much more he could’ve achieved had he lived?

We think the world was his oyster. He was such a versatile talent and such an original thinker that we don’t think he would have ever been left behind by the times. He was a savvy businessman who refused to be pigeon-holed and that combination would have allowed him to evolve and flourish with time.

Were there widely disparate opinions of Darin’s character?

In our research and conversations with people who knew him there was a general impression of an upstanding individual passionate about his profession. I believe that what you saw is what you got. Of course, Bobby could be demanding and short, but remember: he knew he didn’t have much time. It’s hard not to forgive that impatience given what he knew about his health.

Was there a main or 2 main themes that kept recurring
in relation to Darin’s personality or career?

Perseverance. Originality.

Can you tell us more about Bobby’s later performances
and his creative process in them?

The thing that sticks out about later performances is the anecdote told about Bobby during the 73 NBC special. His circulation was bothering him, and his hand would go numb. During the clip, you can see him shaking the hand in frustration to get the feeling back so he could perform the way he wanted to. That clip tells you a lot about what Bobby Darin gave to his career and his performance.

I would love to know more about Bobby as a songwriter, and how he decided what songs to sing in his programs The BOBBY DARIN AMUSEMENT COMPANY and THE BOBBY DARIN SHOW and such live performances as the Desert Inn that became a live performance cd.

The fact that Bobby wrote so many songs, in our opinion, is something that elevated him above and beyond Frank Sinatra in terms of being an all around talented entertainer. Of course Sinatra had The Voice. Nobody can ever dispute that he was probably the greatest male vocalist of all time. But Frank didn’t write songs or music. Bobby did. As to how he chose what he chose…like many things, we suspect Bobby mixed in what he knew his audience wanted to see and hear with just exactly what he WANTED to do at any given time.

Could you tell us a bit about his work in recording HAPPY?

Can’t say we know much about that specific recording session.

Did Bobby’s friends and band members realize how terribly sick he really was?

Some of them, yes. But it wasn’t in Bobby’s nature to advertise that or use it as any kind of an excuse whatsoever. Again, we recall Dodd’s words in the film. Bobby knew he didn’t have much time, so he wanted it right now, yesterday. That drive was certainly apparent to everyone, if his health issues weren’t.

I have always wondered how Bobby Darin came to choose “Mack the Knife” for his nightclub act and subsequently to the THAT’S ALL album. In the BEYOND THE SONG program, Darin biographer Al DiOrio said he didn’t know how that came about. I read somewhere that Bobby saw a performance of THE THREE PENNY OPERA when it was performed off-Broadway by Lotte Lenya in 1956. I have never been able to confirm that anywhere. Do the producers of BEYOND THE SONG know if this is correct?

There are as many stories about how this song was chosen as there are stars in the sky. Like any great classic, the fun is in finding the truth in all of them, rather than looking for the “one.” Like Bono says about the recording of classic songs, “Sometimes God walks into the room.” That’s pretty much what happened in the recording of Mack. It’s just a classic vamp that Bobby delivered with such insouciant authority that every version before or since is a pale imitation.

While making the documentary, did you learn anything about Bobby you didn’t know? Were you already Darin fans? Or did making this program make you fans?

Almost all of what we learned about Bobby was stuff we didn’t know when we began to make the film. Of course we knew the rough outlines of his life story, but it was just as much an exploration for us as it would be for someone learning about him for the first time.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about Bobby?

Well, probably the degree to which all of the stuff in Bobby’s wilderness years, post RFK, was very real. A lot of times you think entertainers are faking their interest in political things because it’s the tenor of the times, but this was a real thing for Bobby. He felt things very deeply. That’s the serious answer. The funny answer is an unprintable anecdote that Steve Blauner told us about Bobby becoming, shall we say, excited while performing, and the lengths he would go to protect himself against unwanted exuberant manifestations of that enthusiasm. For the rest of that story, you’ll have to ask Steve!

BEYOND THE SONG

What moments in the program struck you as particularly special?

One of our favorite moments has always been the clip of Bobby in the studio directing the players and recording “Rainin.” There’s an amazing shot of just this brilliant old-school drummer ‘stirring the soup’ and deep in the pocket of the song. And it’s such a great song and performance and the studio footage shows so much about how all around talented Bobby was…that’s an image that’s always stuck with us. And also the Cocoanut Grove footage is amazing. And Jason’s personal favorite clip is the version of "For Once in My Life" from the Andy Williams Show. Incredible energy and and yet a just prototypical Bobby Darin mastery of the art of physical performing. He never really breaks a sweat, his movements are so easy and fluid, yet they display a total command of the art of being onstage. That’s such a definitive clip of Bobby. Break out your DVD’s and watch it again!

Do you think showing the duets with Jimmy Durante and Judy Garland showed the mutual respect between Bobby and other long-time, well-respected entertainers?

Absolutely. And more than that, those clips helped show how Bobby was respected and appreciated by such old-school performers. He was one of them, even when he was in mid-20’s.

By featuring full versions of certain songs and performances, did you find this helped in telling Bobby’s story?

This is such a great question. There is absolutely no question that this was one of the best decisions we were allowed to make. Very early on, PBS let it be known that they wouldn’t object to long sound-up’s or even complete songs. Looking back on it, there was just no other way to really convey what Bobby was all about than to have these complete songs.

FUTURE PLANS

Are there any plans to work on any other Darin-related projects?

We’d love to go back and do a stylistically much more sophisticated documentary. But in a lot of ways, it’s kind of perfect to let it be the memento of that time and let it rest.

Do you have enough material to perhaps do a BEYOND THE SONG PART II?

There was and is a TON of Bobby Darin material which would be fantastic to make use of.

THANK YOU, JASON AND HENRY!!!



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