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Kenny Ortega Discusses 'Michael Jackson's This Is It'

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Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson rehearsing in 'This Is It.'

© Columbia Pictures

What Audiences Won't See in This Is It

Kenny Ortega stuck to using only rehearsal and behind-the-scenes footage, keeping the film about Michael Jackson's professional life and his commitment to making the London concert series a success. "There is absolutely nothing in this film that wasn’t created from the time Michael Jackson announced that he was doing the concerts until the day that Michael died. We didn’t want to touch it. It was like I called it sacred final documentation and if we went back in to shoot the band or anything, then we left ourselves open to people going, 'That really didn’t happen. They tried to color it differently.' However, in the DVD series, there is a tremendous, I would say three to four hours, of information that’s not in the film that comes again from that source, but also now post source," said Ortega. "So that we did go back and now talked in hindsight about the experience of working with Michael. We completed some ideas that Michael had blessed and signed off on that we didn’t have quite finished by the time Michael had died. So you’re going to see an even sort of completer picture and come to understand more detail about all the elements of what we had planned for the show."

Reflecting on Michael Jackson

Ortega had worked with Michael Jackson for more than 20 years having directed his 'Dangerous' and 'HIStory' tours in the 1990s, and was close to the performer who captured the hearts of millions of fans worldwide. "You really came to appreciate his kindness and his sweetness and his generosity and the wonderful collaborative spirit that he was about and the way that he worked with people, never wanting to offend anyone. My God, if he thought that he embarrassed somebody, it would just knock him to his knees. That’s why you always saw him, even in the deepest frustrating moments for him, he would say, 'With the love. That’s what the rehearsal’s for,' because he really appreciated us so much. He said to me, 'Kenny, go out and find the best artists in the world. Invite them to come and join our journey and then let's inspire them to go to places that they've never been before.' So Michael knew who was in front of him and he had the greatest admiration and respect for everybody. Even if he had a little debate or a disagreement with someone, he never wanted it to get to the place where that person might have thought that he didn’t care for them or that he didn’t respect them," said Ortega.

Asked what he discovered about his friendship with Michael through putting this film together, Ortega replied, "Well, you know, Michael just gave me such trust. From the very moment that we began, it’s like he threw the clay in the middle of the table and he said, 'Put your hands in it with me right now.' He liked creative jousting with me. He loved it. He loved wrestling down ideas. Whatever stuck to the wall the next day, we didn’t even remember who came up with it. We so didn’t care. It was such a partnership. It was so easy. Out of our ego and it was so about what belonged in the storytelling."

"Michael had for a couple of years been entertained by so many people with ideas and he would call me every once in a while, we would have dinner, we’d talk on the telephone. He’d come to visit me on set and he’d say, 'There’s nothing out there that has enough purpose behind it for me to want to do it,' meaning in the live arena. He’d say, 'Keep thinking.' I was doing my films and suddenly I got this phone call - after two years of us talking about the possibility of maybe doing something live - and he said, 'Kenny, this is it.' I swear, that’s what he said. 'This is it.' Then during the conversation while we were talking, he said it like five times and I laughed and I said, 'You should call the tour This is It because you keep saying it.'"

"What happened when we got together right after that was he, before any conceptual ideas, started talking to me about the reasons why. The reasons behind wanting to go out and do it. 'Here’s why we need to do this and now let’s create the show that gives worth to these reasons.' That is what I’ll take with me. His sense of responsibility, that it wasn’t enough to just go out there because he could. It had to be important. It had to have worth. It had to have reason, raison d’etre as Gene Kelly used to say to me all the time. 'What’s the reason for being there that’s going to inspire me to get up every day and want to put on my costume and get on that stage and be Michael Jackson?'"

Had Michael Jackson not died from acute propofol intoxication on June 25, 2009 at the age of 50, he and Ortega were planning on working together on multiple projects. "Yeah, we were going to do a couple of films. Before we even knew that we were going to do 'This Is It,' Michael and I were already in the early development stages in talking about doing a Legs Diamond musical and a full length 3-D Thriller motion picture," said Ortega.

"Michael was not intending to resign from the business. He wasn’t retiring. However, this was what he was calling his final curtain call for live touring. What he thought was he’ll do the 50 shows in London and then he really said, 'If it works and I still feel good and I still have the energy, I would love to go to Africa. I would love to go to India. I would love to go to Japan.' [Choreographer Travis Payne] and I saw it. Michael was intending to go out there with his children and see the whole rest of the world, share that experience with them, meet the fans, take one more grand bow, and then he wanted to pull the plug on his live performing because he said, 'I don’t want to be out there doing it when I can’t do it with the integrity that I’m known for. However, let’s make movies and great albums and develop projects together.' So he was excited about so much. He had so much more in him still."

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Michael Jackson's This Is It is rated PG for some suggestive choreography and scary images.

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