December 2009

Michael JacksonOff the Wall

You only think you’ve seen it all. The Official Michael Jackson Opus—a leather-bound 400-page tribute sanctioned by the star—contains never before published images from the King of Pop’s own collection, tributes by those who saw his genius at work and access to a Web card that makes the photos animate ( Here, our exclusive first look.


Michael often told me that “Smile” was one of his favorite recordings. I remember we were in the studio, and I came up with the idea at the end of the song to have the piano sound old, like in an old movie theater, with the sound slowly disappearing. Michael told me it would work magically with the short film he had planned for the song. He would walk away from the camera just like Charlie Chaplin did at the end of his movies. He loved Chaplin, said he saw a lot of himself in him. —David Foster


During the summer of 2008, I received an email from Michael’s assistant asking if I could come to Las Vegas to talk about a new project...Michael and I sat down. “I’m back working,” he said. He looked around the room and waved his arms: “This is just temporary. I’m building this new place not too far from here. And I want you to do these huge paintings of me and the kids that will hang on all the walls.”

“Well, how big?” I asked. He pointed to a wall about 20 feet away. “You can come here and set your stuff up and paint. I want to see you work on the art as you go. I want to document the entire thing.”

He told me how this new place was going to have all his awards and memorabilia for everyone to visit. All the walls he wanted covered in huge oil paintings and murals...He wanted me to think of themes that had a touch of history and sketches that would include him and his children in different settings...Hanging above our heads were a few very large oil paintings, and I said, “Michael, we’ll do them this big, maybe bigger. I’ll see you soon.” —Nate Giorgio


I’d been asked—as Sony Pictures CEO—to visit with Michael to talk about his passion for film and his desire to get into movies...At this point in his career, Michael was a gigantic force in pop music.

“With a song,” I said, “it seems to me that the emphasis is on sound over story. In music videos, the story has to serve the sound. And in films, the sound has to serve the story. No?”

“You have to get your audience’s attention,” Michael said. “In both films and music. You have to know where the drama is and how to pre­sent it...Let me show you.” He took me upstairs, where we stopped in front of a glass terrarium. Inside it, a snake was camouflaged, coiled around a tree branch. Its head was tracking something in the opposite corner. Michael pointed at the object of his snake’s obsession. A little white mouse was trying to hide behind a pile of wood shavings.

I said hopefully, “Are they friends?”

“Do they look it?”

“No. The mouse is trembling.”

“We have to feed my pet snake live mice,” Michael said. “Dead ones don’t get his attention.”

“So why doesn’t he just go ahead and eat it?”

“Because he enjoys the game. First he uses fear to get the mouse’s attention, then he waits, building tension. And when the mouse is so terrified it can’t move, our snake will close in.”

That snake had the attention of that mouse, and that mouse had the attention of that snake—and Michael Jackson had my attention. “That’s drama,” he said.

“It sure is,” I said. “This story has everything—stakes, suspense, power, death, good and evil, innocence and danger. I can’t stand it. And I can’t stop watching.”

“Exactly,” he said. “What’s going to happen next? Even if you know what it is, you don’t know how or when.” —Peter Guber