November 30, 2010
Michael Jackson dreamt of a triumphant return
to showbiz after years of seclusion with the music video of
One More Chance in 2003, only to have the dream turn into his
Michael Jackson dreamt of a triumphant return to showbiz after
years of seclusion with the music video of One More Chance in
2003, only to have the dream turn into his worst nightmare.
Charles Thomson speaks to the performer's colleagues, collaborators
and co-stars about his little-known final music video.
This is Part 1 of a four part feature.
1. Engineering Michael Jackson's Comeback
2. Michael Jackson's Dream Takes Shape
3.Filming of One More Chance
4. Dream Return Turns into a Nightmare
Engineering Michael Jackson Comeback
In Summer 2003 Michael Jackson and his team were quietly plotting
an extraordinary comeback. Amid the tranquil setting of his
sprawling Neverland Ranch, Jackson was meeting with his business
partners, advisors and publicist on a regular basis to devise
plans for a multi-faceted comeback that would re-launch the
star into the stratosphere. The comeback would be surprising,
seeing Jackson branch into new areas and industries and rehabilitating
his image at the same time. Michael Jackson's Fallout with Sony
The past few years had not been kind to Jackson. His 2001 album
Invincible had received a mixed critical reaction and had been
mocked by the press as a commercial failure. In the Summer of
2002 Jackson had blamed low album sales on his record company,
Sony, branding label boss Tommy Mottola 'racist' and 'devilish'.
He claimed the label had sabotaged Invincible by failing to
promote it and, in a series of speeches, announced his intention
to leave the label. However, his public fall-out with Sony had
led to further tabloid mockery and his campaign had ultimately
Negative Publicity from Martin Bashir's Documentary
Jackson's confidence had been rocked by two further incidents.
The singer found himself at the center of a global scandal in
November 2002 after pictures of him dangling his son over a
hotel balcony in Germany were beamed around the world. He was
dealt another blow in February 2003 when Martin Bashir's documentary
Living with Michael Jackson caused uproar, showing Jackson holding
hands with young cancer patient Gavin Arvizo and admitting to
sharing his bed with other people's children. It was at this
point that Jackson's camp decided enough was enough. Damage
The concern amongst Jackson's advisors was that the singer's
name had become little more than a punchline; an easy target
for relentless mockery and abuse. His image was in desperate
need of repair. The effort began with damage control. Jackson's
camp released a rebuttal to Bashir's documentary, featuring
footage of the presenter contradicting the views expressed in
his own film and proving that he had omitted vital answers from
the star. After exposing Bashir's duplicity Jackson's camp followed
up with a second documentary, Michael Jackson's Private Home
Movies, in which the star presented funny and interesting clips
from his archives.
An appearance at the BET Awards in June 2003 to present his
idol and mentor James Brown with a Lifetime Achievement Award
contributed to the wave of good PR Jackson was receiving. The
star's brief appearance on the show saw audience members burst
into tears and it served Jackson well to be seen presenting
an award rather than receiving one for once. Things were beginning
to look up for the singer and now his elaborate comeback plans
could really be put into effect.
Reinventing Michael Jackson
"Michael was regaining much of his self-esteem and self-confidence
after dwelling in the shadows of public scandal and scorn,"
says publicist Stuart Backerman, hired by Jackson in 2002. "In
the language of marketing, Michael was about to be re-branded.
"The comeback plan was called the MJ Universe project and
it was all about 'the People's Michael', if you want to think
of it in political terms. That's what was underpinning this
whole scheme. It was about being accessible. After all the years
of living as a partial recluse and a tabloid target he wanted
to reach out and be seen in an objective way."
The first step towards making Michael Jackson more accessible
would be to create a link between the star and his fans. In
Vancouver a web design company called Blast Radius was secretly
working on a brand new official Michael Jackson website (his
old one was owned and controlled by Sony). The website would
contain what Stuart Backerman describes as 'the most unbelievable
interactive videos' and would serve as a medium for Jackson
to stay in touch with his fans.
The next step was to open up Jackson's Neverland Ranch. After
the Bashir documentary his sanctuary was seen as a sinister
place. In order that people could experience Neverland themselves
and enjoy a brief glimpse into Jackson's world, the star planned
to launch the ranch as a resort for short breaks, generating
income as well as improving his image.
Jackson's merchandising had 'dried up' in recent years, says
Backerman, and loose plans were in place to launch several new
products, beginning with a Michael Jackson clothing line. He
was also in talks with a Japanese investor to design a theme
From Music to Movies
But the jewel in the crown of Jackson's comeback plans was a
deal he and his camp had recently struck with a motion picture
company in Montreal. For years it had been Jackson's desire
to move away from the music business and into the movie industry.
In 1993 he had a deal in place with Sony to begin making movies
but the plans were scrapped after Santa Barbara DA Tom Sneddon
raided Jackson's home and the star found himself accused of
child molestation. In recent years Jackson had made baby steps
towards launching himself as a player in the movie world, first
making a cameo appearance in Men In Black II and then guest
starring in low budget comedy Miss Castaway. Now he was ready
to make the leap.
"He didn't want to really start again with the music,"
says Dieter Wiesner, Jackson's manager from 1997 until 2003.
"After he was done with Sony, he had a whole other plan.
His focus was just not that much on the music part anymore.
His feeling was that he had really made the best in his life
for the music part. He created everything. He made Thriller
and things like that and he knew it could be very hard to top
these things. For him it was very important to be successful
as a director and an actor, directing movies, making short films,
things like that. He was really into it.
"He knew he had to do something for the fans but it was
very clear that he couldn't go back on tour because he was mentally
not into it anymore. He wanted to do big concerts, say, at the
pyramids in Egypt - big places - over two or three years. He
agreed to do something like that because the fans really wanted
to see him, but he felt his real future should be in the film
After months of negotiations, Jackson's camp had managed to
secure financing so the star could purchase Cinegroupe, a Canadian
animated features company, which Stuart Backerman says Jackson
wanted to turn into 'a whole Pixar type thing'. In anticipation
of the takeover, the company had invited Jackson to begin contributing
ideas to an upcoming picture, Pinocchio 3000. A decade after
his film-making dreams had been squashed, Jackson was finally
about to begin making the transition from music to movies. But
before that he had one burning priority, and that was to release
himself from his Sony contract.
"He wasn't ever really right back on good terms with Sony,"
says Stuart Backerman. "The Beatles Catalogue is one thing
but after the whole Tommy Mottola business, it was over. It
was not gonna really be happening with Sony again."
According to Dieter Wiesner, Jackson had no plans to move to
another label after he fulfilled his contract with Sony. The
focus was squarely on movie-making and all signs pointed to
the fact that Jackson was serious about achieving his goal.
One morning at Neverland Ranch, during the comeback discussions,
Jackson presented Stuart Backerman with a signed fedora as a
thank you for all his hard work. Inside Jackson had written
the inscription, "Dear Stuart, many thanks for your kind
help and please don't make plans for the next decade."
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