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The Provocative “Poor Things” — Starring Emma Stone — has Racked up Multiple Award wins and Noms Due to a Great Script by Tony McNamara


Poor Things
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos 
Script: Tony McNamara 
Cast: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbott

It may have taken a while but director Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things” ultimately rose to the Awards season challenge, winning several Golden Globes and garnering 11 Oscar nominations and Emma Stone taking home Best Actress and the film also winning costumes, production design and makeup and hairstyling. In this fractured tale inspired by the Frankenstein creation story, actress/producer Emma Stone plays a re-animated Bella Baxter as a fully grown body woman with the brain of a rapidly maturing child. Bella doesn’t hold back as she discovers the joys of masturbation and, further on, energetic sex — which she calls “furious jumping” — with Mark Ruffalo’s domineering, and equally unclothed, paramour. Then she explores the inner-workings of a Paris whorehouse engaging with many men in many ways — but on her terms. The movie’s sexual candor is only some of the trappings to this extraordinary story of a woman — though born of men — comes into her own. In exposing herself aesthetically and physically, the seemingly fearless Stone is one of the rare A-list actresses willing to risk such exposure for her art.
“Poor Things” is a no-holds-barred re-imagining of female empowerment displayed in a thoroughly fantastical environment of striking colors, costumes and landscapes. As a result, the movie is rated R for strong and pervasive sexual content, graphic nudity, disturbing material, gore and language. 
Though the cinematic vision is Lanthimos, the essential story comes from veteran scriptwriter Tony McNamara, an Australian playwright, screenwriter, and television producer. Born in 1967, he’s known for his work on the scripts for “The Favourite” in 2018, the historical comedy-drama film directed by Lanthimos, also starring Stone. Originally a screenplay by Deborah Davis, written 20 years prior to the film’s release, Lanthimos and McNamara worked together to refashion it into a final script resulting in it winning, or being nominated for, many various awards at the time.
McNamara also created “The Great,” a series revolving around the life of Catherine the Great, starring Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult, which premiered on Hulu in May 2020. It’s based on his period play about Catherine, which premiered at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2008. McNamara also wrote a film adaptation of it as well.

This Q&A is based on an appearance by McNamara shortly before “Poor Things” began its run as an award nominee and cinematic phenomenon.

Q: Talk about the process of adapting this from the book by Alasdair Gray. That “Poor Things” is very much written from the male perspective in terms of people discussing and describing their experiences with Bella. The film switched that into [a story] from a female view of the world. What did it take to adapt and shift the perspective?

Tony McNamara: The book is a big Scottish classic — it’s wild and has hundreds of pages about Scottish nationalism which, you might notice, is not in the movie. Bella’s story was told by the men like Duncan and Max; they all tell you what happened to her. You never get her experience of it. Yorgos read it and we both felt the same — she was the character he was interested in. That’s an interesting story and it seemed like a great thing to do. The point of the novel was that the men controlled her narrative. While keeping that idea, I wanted to flip it so that film-wise, it was her story.

Q: This is the first time that you’ve done an adaptation from a book. What were the unique aspects of doing that?

Tony McNamaraTM: Yes, it was the first time and when I read it, I thought the first one should be the baby’s brain in the woman’s head [chuckles]. But Yorgos is amazing and we had such a good time on “The Favorite” that the biggest thing was to work out what to tell from the book. We could just depart from the book because I adapted material from history and stuff. I’m always a bit like, “Well, a book, that’s one thing and a movie is a whole other thing. How do we make a movie that has a relationship to the book but isn’t really about the book.”
That started with the Bella thing, which let me invent a lot because the men told her story [in the novel]. I could invent her story because we didn’t really know… There was nothing there when she went to Portugal, we knew she went, but we didn’t know what happened there. I was creating this sort of internal story when she went on her journey, Yorgos kept saying it was a fantasy. We’re both Fellini fans so we thought it should be a big European style, old school stage movie.
How do I create a language that’s going to be big enough for what he’s going to do? I had to create this sort of dialogue that felt baroque but was also contemporary enough that you could feel it emotionally. That was my main thing. You’ve got to feel her journey.

Q: You adapted from history before. What you do with language is take elements of period language, but then you really look at it from the perspective of a modern audience’s lens into it. You created this unique amalgamation. So for this one, in particular, how did you find the way in to make the language work in that regard?

TM: I knew the scale of this story and also I love language. Half the time, I’m not serving the audience, I’m serving myself [chuckles]. I think it’s fun to create a particular language for a movie, which is why I was really drawn to doing this. Bella had a particular language and it was a character where you had to evolve her language, which you never get to do. Usually the person just talks the way they talk. But with her, part of telling the story was changing the language throughout the narrative. So it’s how to do that and make it fun.

Q: It’s interesting how her language changed, even [if it’s] just with the grammar. It’s the same way when you learn another language, you learn the present tense first. She’s speaking specifically in the present tense in the beginning of the movie but that evolves. How did you find those different layers and textures of grammar and language for her?

TM: It was like knowing where to start. We had this geographic journey, so I used the geography to change her language through each geographic point. She would change a little bit through it and I knew where I wanted to start. She talked like my four-year-old. He was a real inspiration. He’s very proud now. When Yorgos and I were developing it, we were having lunch one day and I was telling Yorgos about my son and I said, “He’s kind of a sociopath and he’s only four years old. We were in a restaurant and it was really loud. This baby was crying and my son looked at me and went ‘punch that baby.'” I went to Yorgos, and he said that we should put that in! So when she’s in the restaurant, she goes, “I’m just gonna punch that baby.” My son feels like he should get a credit now.

Q: We should see if — in the DVD version — he’s given a credit. Bella changes so much throughout the script. You talked about thinking from different specifications. At the beginning, she started out pretty much a toddler and then we reached a point where this is when she’s 16. When she’s leaving home for the first time, she’s like in her early ‘20s at first, then her mid ’20s. How did you set about creating those different stages?

TM: In my head it was just to create. Basically at its core. In a way, this is a coming-of-age story. It was as simple as that. It’s like watching someone grow up and discover their sexuality and then their intellectual life and they come to terms with being mature and emotional. There’s a point — on the boat — where she’s so self-regarding and then realizes there’s a world out there and she has to be part of it.

I felt like there were certain points where — I think the contemporary thing for me was things like, “Oh, you go to college and discover books and you’re like “Oh books and ideas!” There were all these steps where you get a boyfriend and you think he’s great and then you realize at some point, “0h my God, he’s the worst.” There were simple things I was always thinking of but not to take it away from the bigness of it. I had to ask, what are the basics of it in terms of us, in terms of just a human experience?

Q: That idea for Bella was to be like, “Oh, I’ve got a boyfriend but he’s the worst.” That’s the arc of Duncan [Mark Ruffalo], where it’s so great because he’s such an audacious character. We understand that he’s full of shit from the get-go. But she takes everything quite literally. So when he says, “I bedded over 100 women,” she believes that to be true. What was it like writing the dynamic between those two characters with that in mind?

TM: It was really fun to write because he is such a classic trope and yet I felt sorry for him because she doesn’t have any of society’s ideas which he owns. He has them all in his head and it’s like a paradigm he lives through. She doesn’t have any of that. So he can’t even get the traction that he would normally get from a person. He sort of dissolves. I enjoyed writing it but I didn’t have as much fun as I did watching those two do it. They were so freakin’ right.

Q: How did you shape the tension that starts to fester in Duncan because the less that he succeeds with her, the more frustrated he becomes. He’s also watching her with the idea of who he wants to be in a world with no care.

TM: I think that was what the irony was. He sees himself as a free spirit and he’s outside society like all the men who have their view of themselves. Everyone in the movie had a view of society that she doesn’t ascribe to. Even when they try hard, she either resists it or is oblivious to it. It was constructing that, and some people understood that … like Max [Ramy Youssef] who went on a sort of positive journey in that respect. Duncan just dissolved more and more because he didn’t know what to do. I liked the idea of that.

Q: It’s great the way that you have other characters start to use elements of her language. Suddenly another character uses the phrase “serious jumping.” How did you find those moments when you wanted other characters to step into her world like that?

TM: She’s such a powerful character as she goes through life and gathers agency, I think she’s so charismatic because she doesn’t [back down]. Beat to beat [it’s] just a pure response that isn’t shaded by anything. How she feels in that moment without judgment of herself, I think that’s attractive. I felt like [with the] other characters, [it] starts to rub off on them a little bit. 

Q: What’s the difference in writing a character who is so innately reactionary but in such a positive way?

TM: I was talking to Emma about it. It’s great for you as a person. I think she felt the same, playing Bella. I think for her and me, and I’m sure for Yorgos, writing that character and her playing that character, you’re aware of how much you’re shaped by everything. For her, playing a character who is just shaped by a really pure response and we don’t get that. I think that’s why she’s a character people can respond to because it’s a bit of a wish fulfillment of like, “that would be good if you could just live life like that”

Q: We get an opportunity to watch her learning in real time and developing her back story as a character. How did you set about making sure that you are always cognizant of what she has already learned in the space of a scene to make sure that it comes into play here?

TM: I have a really strong process. I guess I’ve always thought about what she learns. Yorgos and I were very meticulous as it goes. We didn’t do that many drafts. But what we did at the end is, we just went line by line over three or four days separately. There’s always time between it and as there’s a three-week rehearsal. Then we tweak that a little bit if we hear things that aren’t quite right or Emma would say, “Oh, that word seems too sophisticated for her at that point.” We’re very meticulous about her verbal journey as well as Emma and Yorgos creating the physicality of that.

Q: It sounds like with that process as well in the way that you talk about the film previously that you really aren’t doing rewrites during production and that even during rehearsal, it’s right mental. 

TM: It’s joyful. I’d just hang out and drink coffee and watch them do their thing. No one sees the script for a long time. First person to see the script was Emma. I think the producers don’t see it for years and then when they see it, he’s ready to make it. I think his view of it is that we spent four years on this by making it because I think it’s right. He is a very strong individual about how he feels artistically. He’s like, “That’s what we decided; it is what it is!”  He never really made changes on “The Favorite.” He rang me once [to make a change] because they literally couldn’t do something physically. Through the couple of films we worked together, he’s never changed anything.

Q: This was a project that Yorgos was trying to make since before “The Favourite.” What was the chronology of when you two started working on the script?

TM: He’d moved to London and started on “The Favourite” and knew he wasn’t… He’d only made “Dogtooth” and “Alps” so he was like, no one’s going to give me the money to make “The Favourite.” It’s going to cost a little bit because of the period. So he went off with his Greek co-writer, Efthimis Filippouand they wrote “The Lobster” so they could try and make something cheap.

While he was doing it, he rang me and said he’d read this book [“Poor Things”]. Even when he was making “The Lobster” no one would give him any money to develop “Poor Things.” Everyone was saying, “We like you” but we’re not doing the baby brain!  But once he made “The Lobster” — and there was some buzz — Film4 came in with some money and he was like, “Do you want to do it?” So we started it. We were in pre-production for “The Favourite” and I started writing “Poor Things.”

Q: Going back to Bella as well, one of the things that’s so refreshing about her as a character is she’s not necessarily carrying this internal dialogue. Everything that she thinks and feels throughout the movie is said out loud. How is that a totally different approach to writing a character for you?

TM: When I write, I’m just asking myself, “Where is she coming from? What does she want and what’s in her way?” I knew she didn’t question herself much and that was the joy of her as a character because she wasn’t super conflicted about anything. Except towards the end, when she has to confront her feelings for Godwin [Willem DaFoe], but even then she has clarity in the two different feelings she has.  I think that was why she was a really refreshing character to write. She manages to be very simple and very complex at the same time.

Q: How did you find what you wanted to be the essence of the relationship between her and Godwin? It’s such a fascinating dynamic. He’s had the experience of her being an experiment and now he’s kind of carrying it out with a lot of love and heart.

TM: Yeah, I think for us it was one of the most interesting relationships we explored in a way because he was an experiment as well. In the book, he’s not an experiment. I made that up so that we could understand him a bit better. His father made him an experiment so it makes sense. He thinks everything is science and everything’s an experiment. But deep down, he’s a guy who wants someone to see him and not think he’s ugly — someone to “get” him. He’s someone that’s never had that and he doesn’t quite know how to deal with feelings.
That’s why he rebels but it’s not in the book. There’s the Margaret Qualley character where they just make another one [like Bella] but not quite. That was our idea of how we can show him go through a journey. I was like, “Oh, he makes another one.” He’d go with his feelings; by the end of the movie, he realizes his feelings matter.

Q: What was the difference that you wanted to show with Godwin and Margaret Qualley’s character when that comes up? It’s such a different experience for him.

TM: I think because rather than replace [Bella], it was supposed to show the idiocy of what he did by trying to do that to himself. Then he understood it wasn’t the experiment he loved, but it was her.

Q: With the narrative up to where Bella goes back to her ex-husband to learn to visit her old life and learn about that. Initially the idea was that it was sort of a kidnapping and it was against her will. But then you realize that it was important for it to be her choice to go there. How did that change for you?

TM: Yeah, I think we’ve done it. We’ve done a couple of years and we were having lunch and everyone really liked the script at that point. We had long periods of silence. That’s our process. We just sit there not talking for long periods. We all thought there was something wrong with the third act so I said I’ll go think of something and then I’ll text Yorgos.

What if she chooses it because she’s choosing everything else? So why wouldn’t she? She’s fearless and that broke it open for us because the other way ­– when she was kidnapped, and then there was a shooting and that’s how it ended – he was kind of like, I think they shot him or something and he died. It didn’t feel totally right because it wasn’t weird enough for the rest of it. So we brought in Christopher Abbott’s character. I was always nervous about that because it’s hard to bring in a character in two hours and have them hold their own in a big crazy movie like this. But Chris was terrific [as a bad guy].

Q: How did you deal with the sexuality of the whole film? Decisions you made and didn’t make, where it would and wouldn’t be?

TM: It was always part of that coming of age thing. She’s at a certain age and starts to discover it. A man comes into her life and she’s like, “What adventure do I want to go on?” For me, it was all like, every beat wasn’t so much a sex scene. It was kind of the evolution of the character and of the general story. How it’s shot and how it’s managed was really Yorgos and Emma working together. For us, it was always going to be a movie that was like those ’70s European films where it’s very… Emma Stone was very unapologetic. It made no sense for it not to be very unapologetic. Yorgos was really devoted to that ’70s European aesthetic.

Q: The way you write with layers of comedy which stem from a place of truthfulness. There’s so much comedy and attention that’s created from Bella’s perspective in the world. The way that she refuses to be tied down to other people’s ideas of her — how did you write that in a way that feels so grounded — and then find the layers of comedy that can stem from that?

TM: I always go for whatever’s real, I think I read that someone famous once said, “To make it real, make it funny.” I always try to go from the emotional place of what they want, so I never just go for the joke. Yorgos and I love comedy but I think it’s all built from the ground up and it’s built into the structure — it’s a satire. She’s a fish out of water. Here’s the basics. They’re all trying to control her and can’t, the poor things. They’re idiots. There’s a certain element of comedy that I built into the whole structure. I love funny dialogue.

Legendary Cinematographer Ed Lachman Gets An Oscar Nomination for ”El Conde,” The Strangest Vampire Movie of All Time


When American cinematographer and director Ed Lachman joined the Oscar nom list, it was as a real outlier. All the other films nominated were expected — “Poor Things,” “Maestro,” “Killers of The Flower Moon,” and “Oppenheimer.” But “El Conde” was way out of left field, a satire about the life of late Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet. He's portrayed as a vampire who puts fresh hearts into a blender and drinks them like a smoothie.

Nonetheless, the film deserved recognition for its master director of photography. Born to a Jewish family in Morristown, New Jersey, Lachman attended Harvard and studied in a French University before pursuing a BFA in painting at Ohio U. Once he transitioned from painting to cinematography, however, the 75-year-old has primarily worked with independent filmmakers, winning accolades along the way. Serving as the cinematographer for Todd Haynes, including 2002’s “Far from Heaven” and “Carol” in 2015, Lachman earned Oscar nominations. He has served as DoP for other directors such as Wim Wenders, Steven Soderbergh, Paul Schrader, Werner Herzog, Sofia Coppola, and Todd Solondz. He also did Robert Altman's final film in 2006, “A Prairie Home Companion.” 

Besides working with others, Lachman co-directed a segment of the anthology film “Imagining America” in ’89. Then, in 2002, he co-directed the controversial “Ken Park” with Larry Clark. In 2013, Lachman produced a series of videos in collaboration with French electronic duo Daft Punk, for their album “Random Access Memories.” 

Most recently he did “El Conde” with the Chilean-born Pablo Larrain, who has built a career making quirky yet significant films such as “Spencer” (2021), “Jackie” (2016), “El Club” (2015), and “NO” (2012), among others. “El Conde” imagines the story of Claude Pinoche, a royalist French soldier, who’s discovered to be a vampire and survives an attempt to kill him. Witnessing the French Revolution and the execution of Marie Antoinette, Pinoche fakes his death and flees, participating in the suppression of revolutionary upheavals over the next centuries. Eventually, he ended up in Chile in 1935 and joined the Chilean Army under the name Augusto Pinochet. Rising to become a general, he overthrew the socialist government of Salvador Allende in 1973 and became the country's dictator. Quite a story laden with bizarre imagery and narrative, all shot black & white.

ed lachThis Q&A was conducted before a preview audience at the Paris Theater.

Q: It's an amazing movie and your collaboration [has produced] a timeless classic. How did your collaboration get started on this movie? You've been friends but haven't collaborated on something before. 

Ed Lachman: I like looking at films as much as working on them, maybe more. I first saw Pablo’s work, “Tony Manero,” at the New York Film Festival and from there we developed a friendship. He said, “One day, I'll bring you to Chile” but I never thought that was actually going to happen. We were always friendly. He came to New York and worked with Darius Khondji who is a friend. So I thought, “Wow, he comes all the way to New York and works with a French cameraman. Why does he need to bring me to Chile?” We did a commercial in Los Angeles and he called me about a month later and said, “Would you come to Chile?” Sure. But obviously, I don't speak much Spanish and I've worked with his whole crew.

Right from the beginning, Pablo said he wanted to work in black and white. Usually, today, you have to shoot in color, either in film or digitally and then transfer into a monochromatic image. But he convinced Netflix that it would be produced out of Mexico, and he was going to shoot in black & white. That opened up a whole door for me and I reached out to Arriflex, the camera manufacturer in Germany. I knew they had produced a large format camera for monochromatic but not a lighter weight camera.

Another conceit that Pablo wanted to do was to be on a crane for the whole time — a short 15 ft Technoscope telescopic crane. His idea was that we could move quicker and find angles. That set was built for the size of the crane so we could move in and not have to take out walls. We did once or twice. There were all those factors that came into it. Ari was just coming out with their own camera and I thought they'd never get there even if they were interested.  

Lo and behold, 10 days before we were to shoot, they said we have a camera for you. I went back to Pablo and said, “We have a camera. Can the production afford it?” Well, he's the production company, so he said yes. Another aspect of the filming was that I worked with lenses that were actually made in the ’30s for black & white. They were the primary lenses that shot black & white film. I just happened to remount those lenses for somebody who had told me about this glass that it was available in L.A. Now I have the black & white lenses, the black & white sensors. All these things contributed. Then there's an exposure system that I used for the first time.

Q; That's the system that you invented. 

Ed Lachman: Basically, I don't make it complicated. If you knew Ansel Adams, he developed a way of evaluating exposure. You could read shadow detail and highlights and place your negative where you would get the most detail, which is a way of analyzing where your exposure was. I worked on an idea about doing that for digital technology. I was, again, very lucky — all the forces came together when a monitor company, SmallHD, came out with this inner monitor and they licensed it to me. I was able to use it for the first time in this film. That's why you have this incredible shadow detail that you would lose if you didn't know where you were placing your eye light.

Sometimes, if you overexpose something, you have to print it down and then you don't get the shadow detail. I was thinking about looking at it today — what’s the difference? Matthew Libatique shot “Maestro” in color then converted to black & white. You don't get the subtlety of midrange that you can get when you shoot monochromatic. The other thing is you can use filters that they used 50 years ago, black and white filters that you can't use on color film. You can try to do it in post, but it's not the same thing. 

Q: It sounds like the perfect marriage of technique and intention to create this look that's both timeless and with a purposeful artificiality to it. You have worked in black & white before for some of Todd Haynes’ films like “Wonderstruck.”  Give us a taste of what's more appealing to you in shooting in black and white, something maybe you get when you're not working in color. 

Ed Lachman: When you shoot in color, you have a problem with the color temperature of the day. It changes. I realized that again with black & white, because I hadn’t shot black and white since “Wonderstruck.” However, that was with film and this is digital. What’s wonderful about black & white is that you can shoot from the beginning of the day to the end of the day and it's just contrast. It's light and dark. In color, the color temperature changes from cool to warm to cool to warm, and you have to modify what you're doing with color.

They always say black & white is harder because you don't see in black & white, so you have to imagine how it will look. But once your eye gets more trained and, especially, when you're looking at it on a monitor, you can affect how the black & white [works]. We tested different colors for blood and ended up with blue. All the blood is blue because we found it had more luminosity. When I was in the hospital with my broken hip, at the end of the show, I found out that in our body, that's why our veins look blue. Our blood is blue and it's only red when it hits the air.

Q: Let’s go back to the beginning when you first were presented with the concept of Augusto Pinochet as a 250-year-old vampire. What was your reaction and what pulled you into the story?

condeEd Lachman: Pablo was my education and the way he expressed it was that Chileans have never been able to heal because they never had the justice to heal. The individuals and their families paid the price. Even the church…. There was a part of the church that did fight what Pinochet was doing to the people. There was another part of the church that went along with him. When he explained it that way, I understood why he is forever. He died a multimillionaire and died free. Which is why the Chilean people will never be able to have any resolution to the crimes that were committed. Not like in Argentina where the [dictator] goes to jail.

Q: He’s embarrassed about being called a thief, but he's not embarrassed about the murders. He thinks of them as a necessity. what kind of [perhaps] hemophiliac conversations you and Pablo had watching this movie. Obviously, that recalls “Nosferatu,” “Vampyr.” What other movies have you visited?

Ed Lachman: I watched those films — “Vampyr,” “Nosferatu” by F.W. Murnau, and I did like Josef von Sternberg. In some ways, I liked working on films where I don't speak the language because then I can just look at it, in my own world. Things came together in abstract ways, there wasn't much of an intellectualization.

Q: What did you bring to the table to make plausible the scenes of Pinochet flying over Santiago.

All the night footage is against the blue screen or green screen. All the day scenes, they brought in — and I didn't even know about this — an acrobatic group from Colombia that worked on wires. One of our actresses, Paula [Luchsinger], had studied dance. So they put her on wires. We did have a stunt double and it was a 160-foot crane and in the middle of the crane was a seat on cable. The operator allowed us to show that double or Paula flying or moving around the landscape — it was a sheep farm in Patagonia. That's real air-to-air photography without the benefit of drones. We did use a drone for the point of view of when they're flying. The drone was the second unit and they went out to film in areas all over Chile. I was there on a vacation watching what was happening.

Q: What’s your process with the other departments like production and costume design, especially when you're shooting in black & white? What is the harmony among the other technical departments?

Ed Lachman: The production designer there didn't speak any English and they work a little differently. Generally, I have an on-set prop person moving things around through the frame. But there he came out of the theater. He had no compulsion but to be on the set all the time and move things around. But wait a minute, that's my set now. But we got along even though sometimes we had discussions through Pablo like, “Don't move this, or move that.”

When I'm working on a set, it's what's in the frame that's important to me: how you compose the frame, and how you move the image in the set. Your great production designer actually thinks about the frame when they design the set. He had a little different approach to it, more like theater. There's the stage and the set and you just work with it. We did all this testing with lighting which made the backgrounds always dark. I wanted that separation between the characters and the background so that there was a starkness to it.  

I did something different that I don't normally do. Even though there was an overhead bridge system for lighting, I mostly lit from the window and because we moved the camera around a lot, I couldn't have lights on in the set to help their eyes out. But I realized something that these people are hiding from themselves and hiding from each other. I let the eyes go darker than I ever normally would do and it worked. First, I thought it was a mistake, but here the eyes go in the shadow from cross light. That was important psychologically for the characters.

Q: What was something specifically difficult during the filming? What sequence was most challenging to get right?

Ed Lachman: There were these big lights that I like to use and nobody wanted to say no to me. So if I say I want eight 10Ks around the set. On pre-light day, I would be there and the lights would not be there. They always promise they’ll be available mañana but they never are. I finally had to adapt to work with the equipment that I had. That was an improvement. If I’d had everything I wanted to begin with, I wouldn't have had the benefit of the adaptation.

Q: Over your career, you’ve collaborated with so many and shot across genres. Do you have a filmmaker that you’d still love to work with? Who would that be? 

Ed Lachman: I went to art school and then ended up being a cinematographer, a cameraman for other people's films. I've always made some of my own films. There's always new people, I'm always inspired when I see other people's work, even other cinematographers. There's a reason why people create images the way they do because of the time period. That's something that Todd Haynes is very much into. He understands that the tools you use affect the look of the final image. 

On “Wonderstruck” he wanted to use the same apparatus of the periods (‘70s and the ‘20s) like the dollies used to get those long tracking shots in the street and not see the track. We used something called the Western dolly that has rubber wheels. That was not the best way to do it, but was the only way during that time period. I always find it interesting to go deeper into how it's done and why it's done. I studied painting, studio art and didn't like the idea that I'd be alone in a room. If someone brings me a story, I like the challenge of finding the visual language to tell that story.

Q: Speaking of different techniques and tools that are available, there's obviously so many changes in the way films are shot. Some people still swear by film and others love the flexibility and freedom that digital brings to the table. Where do you stand?

Ed Lachman: I used to always think it has to be a film. But the way I feel about it now, certain stories can be told in the film, some can be done digitally. The problem is, it has become more and more difficult for student films. The craft of filmmaking is being lost because during the process you need a film loader, someone who loads the film in the magazine. Younger and younger people aren't coming up in the industry learning how to load film anymore. 

Film labs don't have some of the equipment anymore that helps judge the treatment for the film negative. Footage gets mistreated during digital transfer. The old classic cameras don’t get repaired properly because of the lack of expertise and replacement parts.

To continue shooting on film, we're going against what the industry is pushing because that's the way they make more money. They come out with faster lenses and higher-resolution cameras. But actual image makers don't necessarily want everything to look photorealistic. Sometimes it’s essential for us to feel that we are actually watching a film and not being inside the storyline.

Master Mash-up Movie Maker Matthew Vaughn Kicks Out His Latest Wacky Comic Adventure, “Argylle,” Starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Alfie the Cat


Film: “Argylle
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Henry Cavill, John Cena, Dua Lipa, Bryan Cranston, Sofia Boutella, Ariana DeBose, Catherine O’Hara, Samuel L. Jackson

No matter what, British director Matthew Vaughn is having a good time making movies. Besides being married to former supermodel Claudia Schiffer, he’s just seen his mega-wacky, big-budget comic spy thriller, “Argylle,” get released. It’s appeared in theaters through Universal and soon will find its way online through Apple Original Films.

Starring Bryce Dallas Howard [the “Jurassic World” franchise] as author Elly Conway and Oscar-winning actor Sam Rockwell as agent Aidan, the film folds fictional characters created by the writer into a real-world scenario led by a battalion of killer arch-spies chasing them.

The plots of Elly’s fictional books — centered on the adventures of secret agent Argylle (Henry Cavill) and his efforts to unravel a global spy syndicate — prompt a real-life spy organization to try killing Elly through deadly covert actions. That’s when the quiet life of evenings at home with her cat Alfie ends. Though the evil agency is rebuffed by Aidan, the two fall into rabbit holes of wild train rides and a global mission in order to pass on illicit secrets to a CIA underboss (Samuel L. Jackson) who can save the day.

Now this isn't the 52-year-old creator's first rodeo. He's established quite a list of credits, some by adding to established franchises such as the “X-Men” or creating new ones such as "Kick-Ass" and "Kingsman." But whatever Vaughn does, he does it with a certain flash and panache. 

This Q&A is based on a discussion held at New York Comic Con last October. On stage in the Javits Center, subtitles may be needed for this Brit. 

Q: Meet the man who directed all these incredible movies: "Layer Cake," "Stardust," "Kick-Ass," "X-Men: First Class," "Kingsman: The Secret Service," "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" and now, "Argylle."

Matthew Vaughn: With “Snatch,” they wanted subtitles. I'm not joking. Seriously, the studio didn't understand that Brad Pitt was meant to not be understood at all.

Q: Anyway, you fought the good fight and won. That was back in the days when you were a producer alongside Guy Ritchie. Were you always keeping an eye on directing? Did you always plan to direct ultimately? 

Matthew Vaughn: Directors can be a pain in the arse and are incredibly egotistical. As a producer, it was exhausting and I thought it couldn't be that hard. So I gave it a go.

Q: Fair enough. That led you to “Layer Cake.” Was it always the intention that you direct it? 

Matthew Vaughn: Guy Ritchie was meant to direct “Layer Cake” and decided not to. So [J. J. Connolly], the author of the book, said, “Why don't you have a go?” Then my wife [Claudia Schiffer] –thank God for her – said, “You really should have a go.” Thank God I did because I feel like I'm playing and am going to get caught out very soon. But so far, so good.

Q: Here's the terrifying thing. Next year marks the 20th anniversary of “Layer Cake.”

Matthew Vaughn: Yeah, it's terrifying getting old.

Q: What was that experience on Layer Cake” switching from producing to directing?

Matthew Vaughn: Terrifying. On the first day, I made a big mistake. I looked through the camera and saw Daniel Craig and casually went, “My God, this is the first time I've ever done this, looking through a film camera.” I went back down and all I saw was horror on Daniel's face. But we got through it. It’s ultimately filmmaking. I don't want to sound like I'm belittling it, but at the end of the day it's a camera, a script and actors. If you do it and have passion about telling a story, it sort of looks after you.

Q: What were the films that got you into filmmaking in the first place?

Matthew Vaughn: I could list them -- talk about getting old. But the first three films in the cinema -- I was like, “Oh shit, I've got to continue watching. They were “Star Wars,” “Superman” and "Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I saw them in the cinema not knowing what any of them going to be! 

Q: “Layer Cake” is an amazing film, but it's also a bit of an outlier on your directorial CV. After that, you started moving into geek cinema, pursuing fantasy with “Stardust.” And before that, you made a couple of comic book movies: “X-Men: First Class” -- and "Kick-Ass."

Matthew Vaughn: I basically directed [“X-Men: First Class”], but the good stuff didn't make the cut. It was bizarre because I went from “Layer Cake,” a tiny £3 million movie and suddenly Hollywood was calling up saying, “Would you like to make an X-Men movie?” I was like, “Yes.” I thought “X2” was a masterpiece. I was worried [about] stepping into Bryan Singer’s shoes. But it was a dream come true and I storyboarded the movie.

argylle postThe movie ended up not being what I was going to make. I was naive and used to working in the way I produce films. “Here's a budget, here's a schedule, stick to it.” Hollywood doesn't work that way at all. They go, “Here's a budget, here's the schedule. We pretend we're going to do it and then we make it all up as we go along.” I didn't know that back then. I was naïve. I was given the speech, “You'll never work in this town again.” Yeah, and I sort of believed in that. If that’s not how Hollywood works, then I didn’t want “Stardust” to go that way. I read the book and met Neil Gaiman [its author]. I’d rather do it [my way] so I did that; [I didn’t want to disappoint Neil]. 

Q: You ended up making a very successful “X-Men” movie. But what’s amazing is that, by and large, you've worked independently. You finance your movies yourself, as well. Is that something that developed over time?Matthew Vaughn: Well, no, it was a habit that half came out of [producing] “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” this little movie that we made here. We knew nothing and were sort of naive, but in a good way of not realizing anything that should scare us. We made it with £900,000 which we begged, borrowed and literally stole to get the film made, but it made money. Then you get a reputation that you can make people money.

What I learned is that when you raise money, if somebody says, “Well, if it's so good, why are you not putting in?” I was like, “Yeah, fair enough.” With “Kick-Ass,” I literally bet the house. When we broke [out] "Kick-Ass," nobody in Hollywood wanted to make it so I took out a mortgage on the house and financed the movie. It was scary because we couldn't get any distribution. Then, when it was finished my agent at the time said, “It's not really intelligent.” If everybody in Hollywood says, “No, don't make it,” it doesn't mean they're not going to buy it -- and he was right.

They all said no. Well, they [were then] showed clips of the movie after “Avatar.” I really thought I was screwed but the fans went so crazy, Hollywood decided that maybe there was something in there that the fans might like. Then they went for it.

Q: Was "Kick-Ass" a reaction, in a way, to the trend of comic book movies? 

Matthew Vaughn: It was Mark Millar [the graphic story creator of "Kick-Ass."] He came to the premiere of "Stardust" and he pitched "Kick-Ass" to me over a martini. I’ll never forget it. He said, I've written a comic about a superhero with no powers. I thought, "Oh wow, that sounds cool." And then, off we went and did it and I like the story. 

Q: It was the first time that you properly harnessed your action leanings. There's some great action sequences. Everything that Hit Girl [Chloë Grace Moretz] does was pretty amazing. Was that a great opportunity for you to prove what you could do, as well?

Matthew Vaughn: I had no idea, but I was a big Jackie Chan fan. I was thinking action would be very gritty and thought, "No, let's do something a little bit more fun." It's not easy but it's rewarding.

Q: That movie has got this really glorious, punky, rebellious attitude. Was that something that was a part of you that wanted to express?

Matthew Vaughn: That wasn't in the script to be very clear.  It wasn't in the comic. But it wasn't an ad-lib either. Then little Chloe, read the comic at the time, and her mother came up and said, "Can we do one more take? She wants to try something?" Oh, no, but it happened. Thank God And it was in focus, one take.

Q: One take. Amazing. With Chloe Moretz, and Aaron Taylor Johnson in that film, as well. Daniel Craig and Sienna Miller are in "Layer Cake;" Charlie Cox is in "Stardust" and Taron Egerton is in pretty much everything you've done. You have this incredible eye for talent, for responding to someone just as they're about to go into the stratosphere. Tom Hardy's in “X-Men: First Class.” Where does that come from?

Matthew Vaughn: I just use my eyes when an actor comes in and starts reading the lines. You forget that they're auditioning, you just watch. Then I cast, simple as that. There's a lot of actors that can’t act. They come in and then you say, "Next" and then someone brilliant comes in and you say, "You got the job."

Q: Sometimes that happens and sometimes it takes a while for them to come around again. Take Bryce Dallas Howard. We’ll talk about "Argylle" but Bryce Dallas Howard is in "Argylle" and she was nearly in "Stardust." Is that right? 

Matthew Vaughn: Bryce was the first actress to audition for "Stardust." She did the best audition. I wanted to cast her immediately but the studio said "No, she's not famous enough. She's never going to pop." Then a month later, she was cast in "Spider-Man 3.” But Bryce is a statement! When an actor is great, I appreciate the art, [though] I have no interest in being an acting coach. I just like to watch great actors do their stuff and just tweak it a little bit.

Q: Moving on from "Kick-Ass" to "X-Men: First Class." How did that come about?

Matthew Vaughn: Well, the man who said you’ll never work in this town again, watched "Kick-Ass" and, to his credit, rang me up and said, “You know what, I didn't mean it when I said that. What I meant was that you will work in this town again.” Yeah, but one of the main reasons that I actually quit “X-Men 3” —  this is a true story and I don't care if I'm not meant to say it —  [is that] Hollywood is really political and odd. I went into one of the executive's offices and saw an “X-3” script and I immediately knew it was a lot fatter. I was like, “What the hell is this draft?” 

"But don't worry about it." 

I was like, "No, I'm the director and I’m worrying about this draft. Tell me what it is, please." 

I grabbed the script. It was like a crazy moment, but I opened the first page and it said, “Africa. Storm. Kids dying of no water. She creates a thunderstorm and saves all these children.”

That's a pretty cool idea. What is this? They went, "Oh, it's the Halle Berry script." I went, "OK. She hasn't signed up yet." But this is what she wants it to be and once she signs up, we'll throw it in the bin. 

mv2I was like, "Wow, are you going to do that to an Oscar-winning actress who plays Storm? I'm out of here.” I quit at that point. I thought, minced meat. That stayed with me and made me think Hollywood does some stuff well, but not in my style. But "First Class" was interesting because Singer wasn’t involved at first. He rang me up, "Well, Fox isn't going to work with me," and he went, "Don't worry about that. They've changed their minds." 

I knew that they threw money at problems, so I thought maybe it would be nice to make a movie where I can think of some stuff and it can actually happen. And we only had 10 months and there was no script. Singer had come up with the idea of the '60s and the Cuban missile crisis. I thought, "This is pretty cool. I always wanted to do a Bond." Another story didn't do it; it nearly got fucked. So I thought, "I'll do it." And it was fun, it was good. It was a challenge. I like challenges.

Q: You had this amazing cast and got Michael Fassbender as Magneto. You had the sense that you were making your own Bond movie essentially with him.

Matthew Vaughn: Yeah. He thought so as well.

Q: Precisely. What about your memories of shooting "X-Men: First Class" that stands out to you?

Matthew Vaughn: I think making blue people feel real and giving that emotion. It's not easy. You're on set and it's dripping and you are definitely taking fantasy and trying to make it a story that you believe and relate to. That's the thing I think about for all superheroes or fantasy: it's got to still have humanity in it. Then you can enjoy it. That's why I think sometimes people get it wrong because it goes so out there that you just can't relate to it.

Q: Weren't you going to direct "X-Men: Days of Future Past” which was going to be a follow-up to your prequel?” 

Matthew Vaughn: I was but Hollywood forgot to tell me after I wrote the damn thing that legally Bryan had directed it first. So I wasn’t mucking around Hollywood anymore. [I decided that] I’m going to go and do "Kingsman."

Q: Was "Kingsman" always bubbling away in the background? Where did it come from?

Matthew Vaughn: "Kingsman" literally came with Mark Millar and I in a pub and – I love you, Daniel Craig – but we were just thinking. Bond’s gotten a bit too serious. And, literally, over a few pints of Guinness in a pub called the Windsor Castle, we just came up with it and plotted the whole thing out.

We were talking about how Ian Fleming didn't want to cast Sean Connery. So the director of "Doctor No" was like, "Fleming, give me two weeks and I will transform the Scottish big bloke into an English gentleman." He took him to Saville Road and converted Connery into Bond. And we thought, "Well, let's take that idea and do our own version.” So that was the kernel of the idea.

Q: You mounted your own search for your Connery equivalent. You had Colin Firth? Did you always see Colin Firth as an action hero? He didn't.

Matthew Vaughn: Then you didn’t see "Bridget Jones?" I thought, "He rocks that sweater and that fight with Hugh." I've always really liked Colin Firth. He's one of the sweetest men and I needed someone to play that character with warmth and a non-snobbery attitude, which I knew he could do. You could turn to the wrong actor; then you’d think "Kingsman" was out of touch. But I think Colin was pitch perfect.

Q: How did you discover Taron Egerton? That was his first film?

Matthew Vaughn: He just walked through the door. Two other actors that I wanted to cast were Daniel Kaluuya and John Wade, they were both unknown as well. They did incredible auditions but then Taron came in and I knew he had it. All three of them actually did. But Taron was amazing and that's why I keep working with him. He'd never been on a movie set before. It was a pretty big risk. Literally, his first day on a movie set was his first day in "Kingsman." I had to explain to him what a boom was. But his audition was so good; he's an effortless actor, intelligent as well.

Q: With the insanity of “Kick-Ass” and then "Kingsman" you go for broke. You don't hold back. You want exploding heads, you have exploding heads. You want a church massacre, you have a church massacre. Was that something that you wanted to pursue?

Matthew Vaughn: Obviously Yes! I don't know how my mind got the idea but I remember ringing up Jane Goldman, my writing partner. We were writing the third act. So I said, “I’ve got a crazy idea. It would be really amazing if their heads exploded, but not in a ‘Scanners’ style. I'll make it look like a beautiful sort of fireworks." She said, "I don't know about this." But then I got it pre-visualized and showed it to her. She's like, "OK, let's go!"

Q: What did you want to do with the sequel, "Kingsman: The Golden Circle?" 

Vaughn: Well, for some people, it's an acquired taste. For "Golden Circle," I wante— to dial up the fun, which I did. I think my teenage son may have influenced me a bit too much. But I was watching movies again, getting too serious and I really enjoyed working with Colin and Taron. I've always loved America and Americana. I grew up with '70s culture, which was coming from America, whether it was "Magnum," "A-Team," "Dukes of Hazzard" or "Miami Vice."

I thought I'd love to do a "Kingsman" version of that and that's where “The Statesman” came from – just to have a bit of fun. I don't like boring, serious films. I like entertaining escapism, so I only make what I want to watch. Sadly, I'm making big home videos in a weird way. Home movies are probably a better way of saying it now.

Q: There's a lot of ongoing debate about the greatest shots in cinema history. To nominate a possible contender, it’s that scene with Elton John kicking someone in the face in slow motion in the “Kingsman 2" [“Kingsman: The Golden Circle”] film. How the hell did that come about?

Matthew Vaughn: If you eat sausages and your guys like hot dogs, do you continue enjoying them and not know how they're actually made?

Q: That's why you're saying Elton John didn't actually kick someone in the face?

Matthew Vaughn: I think Elton's kicked many people in the face…

Q: Which led to "Rocketman" [the film based on Elton John’s life starring Taron Edgerton] of course.

Matthew Vaughn: "Rocketman" was surreal because it was literally one of the greatest days of my life, with Elton playing a piano in between takes. He didn't need any of me, or of everyone [but he asked], "What do you want to hear?" It was like having an Elton John jukebox and he was so sweet to the crew; it was pretty surreal. I mean, my whole life has been surreal, but that was one of those moments.

At the end of the day, he said to me, "I have a screenplay about my life and my music, but nobody wants to make it. Would you read it?" I was like, "Oh fuck, this has to be the world's worst if nobody wants to make an Elton John film with his music and he's been trying to make it for 15 years. Yeah, this is going to be a dogshit of a script." 

Welcome to Hollywood, by the way, that sums up Hollywood in all its glory, not universally of course. Everyone said “no” to it and then I read the script – literally going from the set to back home and couldn't put it down. I was like, "What am I missing?" 

Then I did some digging and [found out that] no one in Hollywood wanted to make it because they thought there was too much homosexuality and I'm like, "Whatever." Too much drugs and, it should be a PG 13? I was like, "You can't make an Elton John PG 13 movie." But we did it.

Q: You made it, but you didn't direct it because you were going to direct "Kingman 3" at one point?

Matthew Vaughn: I actually will be doing a musical next year. I can't talk about it. It's taking me so long to find a musical to do because, a musical.... It's like an action movie is only as good as the action. Or a comedy is only as good as the humor. A musical is only as good as the music. And Elton John's catalog is pretty hard to beat. So I'm trying to mash it, at least. And I think we've nearly got that.

Q: A Matthew Vaughn musical might be one hell of a thing! You were going to direct "Kingsman 3" as well. But then you ended up directing "The King's Man," which of course is the prequel. Why the switch? 

Matthew Vaughn: I think "The King’s Man" was meant to be a TV series with the anniversary of World War One and what was going on in the world. We found what "The Kingsman" was about — the sort of aristocratic, rich people losing their children and then founding The Kingsman and giving the money to an agency to make sure war would never happen again.

I always thought that was fascinating. I think history is really important. I wanted to do something where historical events go back to the masses, making people look up characters and learn that we've made mistakes in the past. Let's try and learn from them and not repeat them.

Q: There was a change of tone as well.

Matthew Vaughn: It's kind of a World War 1 action comedy. But the whole thing is, if you do a prequel, like you're going to do a prequel to “Bond” or “Superman,” you don't start with Bond being 007 or Superman flying with a cape on. They have to start somewhere different for the journey to begin. As I said, the death of Conrad is the birth of “Kingsman.” That's why the first half was a bit more serious. 

Q: Is the “Kingsman” journey done?

Matthew Vaughn: No, we’ve got to get on it. We are working on that [“Kingsman: The Blue Blood”] at the moment but it's a weird time to be in the movie business; we're not making movies. Well, we are, and I am, but that's another story. It's a tough time but next year we will be rebooting "Kick-Ass.”

Q: You can't just drop something like that and expect you not to follow it up.

Matthew Vaughn: The clues are the words "reboot" and "Kick-Ass." Imagine those two terms. “Kick-Ass” sort of changed people's perceptions of what a superhero film was at that time. So we're doing it again. It's none of the characters from the other "Kick-Ass.” We’re going off on a tangent but I can't really talk about that.

Q: "Argylle" started off as your little lockdown movie and then grew so much.

Matthew Vaughn: It was a combination of things. There was the lock down. I was with my daughters and showed them “Romancing The Stone.” They loved it. I was like, "Oh God, I really enjoyed it again, I forgot how much I liked it."

Then I also remembered my first successful date as a teenager was because of "Romancing the Stone." I wanted to make a movie where that might spawn many more successful dates for an audience which, I hope, this will do. I wish you all luck when you see it. It was an odd time because when the book of "Argylle" arrived in manuscript, all this weird shit was going online saying it's not real but underneath, it's a real book. I couldn't get book #1 breaking as new Intellectual Property but there aren't many people bothering to do it at the studios. They're learning now. This has taught me that maybe the audience does want original films. 

Anyway, I asked them to only do a trailer for the first 28 minutes of the footage in the film and they did. You'll see that even what you saw in the film isn't quite the same as in the trailer. But we wanted to do something sort of very meta because you can't just remake "Romancing the Stone." You've got to do things differently. 

I just so love the idea of what would happen if a wizard went to JK Rowling after book #3 and said, "You know what? Wizards are real. Hogwarts is real. I'm real and I’ll show you what it's really like going on an adventure." We thought we'd do that with spies. Elly Conway, in real life, will become the JK Rowling of spy novels. But in the film, we sort of fast-forwarded into the future.

Q In the film, you have Henry Cavill who plays Argylle with an amazing hairdo. But then there's a real world component as well with Bryce Dallas Howard and Sam Rockwell. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Elly Conway.

Matthew Vaughn: I haven't met Elly Conway. I would be emailed by her, because she actually doesn't know what to say. I love that. She speaks for herself but she actually doesn't like traveling and she's playing an Elly Conway that won't fly. She's having to go on a train. We took her love of cats just a little bit further.

Q: She takes a cat wherever she goes. So for a very eventful train journey, indeed. 

Matthew Vaughn: That's just the beginning. That's the tip of the iceberg. A real spy comes into her world and she's trying to understand why, how she thinks spies are. Sam Rockwell is not what she can imagine as what spies are. So she has to go and learn the hard way what real life spies do, compared to the cliche spies I was guilty of making up. 

Q: Was it tricky to shoot, matching up the action sequences – cutting between say, Cavill as the super agent and Rockwell, the "real" agent? 

Matthew Vaughn: We actually did the whole thing twice. There's a lot of scenes where we had to shoot everything twice and make sure it all matched so you just have to have patience.

Q: There's more mad, insane stuff. Where does that come from?

Matthew Vaughn: Well, yeah, as I said, when you see the trailer, we don't show that the whole movie is about switching off. You're going to go on a roller coaster ride. Hang on and by the end of what you went through, you'll actually feel good.

Q: Talk about the cat. Matthew, who is the cat?

Matthew Vaughn: We had a cat on the first day of filming but I fired the cat because it was very expensive. A pain in the arse. I went into my daughter's bedroom and said I'm borrowing your cat. I didn't quite think it through. I'd have to drive to work with the cat every day. With this film, I'm now a director and a cat handler. I didn't like cats to be very clear. I'm a dog person. but I'm a cat person for a while. The cat won me over. Chip is the real name of the cat, but he plays Alfie in the film.

Q: He was a natural, he took to it immediately.

Matthew Vaughn: He was a good cat. He behaved and, maybe, that's the trick -- to put your own animals in because they're relaxed and know you. They say don't work with kids and animals. If they're your own kid or animal, that might be the way to do it.

Q: Is it true that Bryce Dallas Howard now has a cat just like Chip?

Matthew Vaughn: He's got Chip's color. As a wrap gift, I got Chip's cousin who was just born and I gave it to her. I think the cat's called Moose. And yeah, maybe Moose and Chip will be in the sequel.

Q: We have this real book, "Argylle," by Elly Conway not being read by anyone apart from the crew. And we haven't even scratched the surface. Matthew, this film has the cat. But also, you've got an amazing cast. You've got Brian Cranston, who else is in there?

Matthew Vaughn: And Catherine O'Hara. We touched upon Henry Carville and Dua Lipa as well. Then there's John Cena, Ariana Dubose. They're all in there. Sam Jackson. I was like, who's on, who's off? Where's the great cast? And they all did bring it to me. They're all different. And yes, indeed. Chip is in "Argylle." The cat steals the show!

Coming Up on 50 Years, Veteran Record Promoter Brad LeBeau Has Survived the Fall of The American Music Business and Thrived


When it comes to contemporary pop music — from Beyonce to Miley Cyrus and far more — the independent dance music marketing company PRO MOTION has been the go-to place for remix curation and dance/pop marketing agency since the early ’80s.

They’ve handled contemporary pop stars such as Adele, Ariana Grande, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, Coldplay, Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran, Jennifer Lopez, Kelly Clarkson, Madonna, Mary J. Blige, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Sam Smith, Shakira, Taylor Swift, and The Weeknd. 

Launched in 1983, PRO MOTION is the oldest and largest in the world. The New York and Los Angeles-based firm has played an essential role in curating remixes and creating the ground swell for thousands of up-and-coming and established, domestic and international recording artists, helping jumpstart careers and propel pop culture status. 

PRO MOTION is the only independent dance/pop promotion agency of its kind to market the music they remix and represent it to both the industry and the consumer. Social media is a priority with all domestic and international PRO MOTION campaigns. With over 500,000 devoted online followers, the Manhattan office custom designs each initiative utilizing its clients’ visual and auditory assets. Such leaders as American Express, Cirque du Soleil, NBC/Universal, Pepsi, and Smirnoff have retained PRO MOTION’s expertise to help brand their products within the music consumer space.

Its founder, Brad LeBeau, has quite the story. “As a child I was never interested in rock music. It was groups like the O’Jays, the Spinners and the Jackson 5 that got my attention. Growing up in the ‘70s, I was more interested in watching “Soul Train” with Don Cornelius than Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.” It was considered odd for a boy like me to be tuned into black music, but I didn’t care. I was guided by instinct then and now.”

Now 66 years old, LeBeau started deejaying in clubs while attending Brandeis University in 1976. After graduating, LeBeau returned to NYC where he deejayed at Manhattan’s Xenon (Studio 54’s biggest competitor at the time.) While playing music during the early ‘80s, LeBeau was approached by major labels interested in him spinning their 12″ singles. Realizing that his support mattered, the 26-year-old opened PRO MOTION on his father’s birthday, July 5th, an homage to the man that “encouraged his son to follow his dream.”

Since then, LeBeau and his team has not only promoted the latest and greatest but also legendary artists such as Billie Holiday, Bob Marley, Cher, Curtis Mayfield, Diana Ross, Donna Summer, Shirley Bassey and Whitney Houston, among others. They’ve worked with iconic rockers AC/DC, Billy Idol, Blondie, David Bowie, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, INXS, Lenny Kravitz, Rolling Stones, Queen, The Doors, and U2 as well as superstar DJ/producers Calvin Harris, Chainsmokers, David Guetta, Deadmau5, Diplo, Kygo, Marshmello, and Tiësto.

As a career highlight, LeBeau proudly cites his executive producer role with Diana Ross. There he oversaw the remix of four classic Ross tracks (by Eric Kupper). Each secured #1 Billboard chart status to the #1 spot again, making her the only artist ever to have her charted songs reach #1 twice, as a career highlight.

Due to his commitment to club culture, LeBeau is the idea man and independent producer (along with Ian Bonhôte and Scout Productions) behind the forthcoming “Teardrops On The Dance Floor” documentary that will deal with the never-before-addressed Herculean popularity of dance music and the work of some of today’s most successful DJs. The series will look at the cultural and historical context in which dance music was born and subsequently grew over the last 50 years.

BRAD3Deadline said: “Teardrops On the Dance Floor will offer a deep dive into the work of some of today’s most successful DJs and an exploration of their influences over 50 years of music, dancing and raving.”

In order to get a handle on LeBeau’s celebration of his 50 years surviving in a very arduous business, I had to make a pilgrimage to his uptown Harlem HQ — which doubles as an archive and museum of pop culture mementos and collectibles. Though I could spend an entire day interviewing him over his vast and fascinating collection, I ended up discussing his history and how it relates to the general story of pop music.

Q: Your first record was Freda Payne?

Brad LeBeau: My first favorite record was “Band of Gold” by Freda Payne on Invictus Records. I remember that because I was at a sleep-away camp. I hated it. I was the kid who cried when he got on the bus. I couldn’t sleep one night and was walking around. I had heard this song come out of some kind of bunk and it was “Band of Gold.” I was not raised in a rock-and-roll space when my contemporaries in grammar school and high school were listening to rock-and-roll, the Beatles, the Stones. I was listening to Black records. My whole thing was R&B. It was The O’Jays and The Spinners. I did like Elton John because he had a bit of soul in his music. He, by the way, was one of the first white artists to perform on “Soul Train.” I always watched Soul Train with its dance line, the jumble board and Don Cornelius who became a client of mine later in life. He really had that low voice, a really nice guy. I was about nine and watching Channel 13 in my room. There was a group performing and the MC called them The Main Ingredient. I didn’t know who they were but I watched them sing this song and was just locked in. As soon as it was over, I literally ran to the fucking record store and said, “Do you have the new Main Ingredient record?” The guy behind the counter says there is no new Main Ingredient single, because back then it was 45s. I said to him, “Do you have the album?” He said, “We have their last album. I said, “Can I listen to it before I buy it? He said no, but I bought it anyway. I ran home, put the needle on the record player but the song that I heard on television wasn’t there. I ran back to the store and asked him, “do you have the record album before that?” He said, “Yeah.” I asked, “Can I listen to it before I buy it?” He said, no, but I bought it anyway. It wasn’t there either. It was a new song. “Just Don’t Wanna Be Lonely”.

I wasn’t raised to be in the music business. Most people who are in the business knew early. We didn’t discuss that in my house. Jewish pre-med was the thing. I remember coming home from high school in my junior year and I said to my mother, “This whole college thing, I’m not really feeling it. She said, “Is that right?” I said, “Yeah” But she goes, “Good because here’s the list of schools we’re going to apply to. If you get into Brandeis, that’s where you’ll go.”

My mother ruled with an iron microphone. I didn’t test well, I got very nervous. I suffered from anxiety. When you’re a kid, they say if you can’t get the first question right, just go on. They did that for people like me because I would get paralyzed. My SAT scores were very low. I knew early on, I wasn’t going to get into a good school. I tried to set it up so that I don’t have to go to college. My mom died when I was 19, at the beginning of my sophomore year. I called my father from the pay phone at the cafeteria. “Now that Mommy’s passed away, I don’t think I’m cut out for this.” I wasn’t; they were so smart at Brandeis and I wasn’t prepared. I said, “Do you mind if I drop out of the program?” 

My father said something that changed my life. “As men, we have to work more during our waking hours in this society than anything else. If you’re truly blessed, you’ll love what you do for a living. do whatever you want to do.” If my mother was alive, she’d have me stay in the program. That conversation changed my life. “I appreciate that, Dad. Can I have a larger allowance?” I was getting 25 bucks a week in 1976. He said, “No, I’m paying for your college. You want more money, get a job.” I said, “I’m a full-time student.” Then he said, “Get a job at night or on the weekend.” Every semester at Brandeis then was $6,000.

We didn’t discuss the music thing. I only found music because  he then said, “Get a job at night or on the weekend if you’re a full-time student.” This is 1976. I used to go out dancing with my girlfriend from the Five Towns in Whitmere. We used to go to these clubs in Boston on the weekends and I fucking loved the whole disco scene. I would go to these clubs where I would dance all night long and see the DJ doing his thing with the records. What is the thing with the 45s? I’m looking, but it was too intimidating to ask.

Q: You knew early on that it was called a pole — what motivated you.

BL: There’s a pole, something that attracts you. That Main Ingredient experience had attracted me but we didn’t talk about it in my house. With my mother, I listened to Broadway show tunes, Mamas and Papas, the Beatles, Nat Cole, Judy Garland, a collection of everything. My father was a jewelry designer on Madison Avenue for like a million years. When I was in my 20s, my father said, “Come into the store, I want to talk to you. Do you want to get in on the business? Don’t you want to be known as LeBeau and Son for the rest of your life?” I didn’t want to be in the business. He asked me why and I said, “If I ever work for you, they’ll never find your fucking body.” I love my father, but I treated him like my father.

Q: How old are you?

LeBeau: I’m going to be 67 in January. We’re close.

Q: In 1951, “Rocket 88” came out. That was the beginning of the word rock-and-roll. I was born in 1953. I started with rock.

BL: And Alan Freed. That’s “Rocket 88.” Was that a Black record? It was a Black record. The original singer was not credited. It was re-recorded.

Q: You found club music and knew that’s where you wanted to build your career out of that?

LeBeau: It was an intuitive thing. I would say that the greatest things that have happened in my life, more often than not, have happened against my better judgment.  I’m dancing with Elise Broadsky during the weekends and I thought, “If I’m dancing at these clubs anyway, I could probably do something with the records.” I went back home that summer between sophomore and junior year. There was a club on the Upper East Side called Court Street. I go to the deejay and say, “I’m a deejay. Do you need someone?” “No problem,” he said. I had never done it before. He said, “OK, come and audition.” I auditioned and cleared the floor. I didn’t get the job so I went back to college. In my junior year, I started to meet people in the music business in Boston — it was a hub for disco records — such as John Luongo, all those guys, the Boston Record Pool. They took me under their wing. I began my deejay education in a Black club called Kicks in Boston. That’s when I started to really figure out how to do this whole 12 inches thing.

LEBEAUGEORGEMICHAELI’m queuing up a Grace Jones record. What do you do when you queue? You read the label. I noticed on the bottom of the label, the name of the original record label for Grace Jones was Beam Junction Records. I look at the address — 360 East 72nd street, New York City. That’s where I was raised. I said no way. I went back during my break and knocked on the apartment door of Cy and Eileen Berlin/Beam Junction Records. They had signed Grace Jones as a model in France and that’s how I met a lot of these deejays — these big New York deejays — a lot of them since Jim Burgess died from AIDS. All of those guys used to come and pick up records.I met Judy Weinstein before her record pool. Then I got into the pool. That’s when I came back to New York. People thought I was from Boston but I wasn’t. I graduated early from Brandeis. I stayed in school but I dropped out of pre-med. It was going fucking end badly. I knew it and told  my father that probably I’m not smart enough because I wasn’t. So I deejayed during college at these clubs in Boston. Fast forward, I came back to New York after college and there was a club that was opening up in New York called Magique.

Q: You must have known the late Tony Smith — he was a deejay there. I’m good friends with his husband, so I got to know Tony. Sad about his sudden death

BL: Yes. I recently met Mike at Tony’s funeral. In fact, I was supposed to interview Tony for a series that I do, I’ll show you that. A week before he died — he kept putting it off and he called me one day. I said, “We’re on for the interview tomorrow.” He said, “I’m not feeling so well.”

Q: He went into the hospital and never came out. I worked with Mike to get the bulk of Tony’s collection sold because Mike eventually moved out of the place that they lived in.

BL: As I was saying, I heard that this club Magique had opened up right on East 60th Street. Oh, really? Big room. I auditioned, and got the job, Wednesday and Saturday. Drug addiction started right around that time in a big way. I drank alcohol during my senior year of high school and throughout college. I always went to class, never skipped one. First semester of my senior year, I’m at Brandeis’s library which I went to every night. My friend Evan Shyer taps me on the shoulder and says, “Brad, I got something in my room. You wanna try it?” I said, “Sure.” I didn’t say, “What is it?” I go up to his room and he puts two lines out. It started a 25-year addiction. Hang on. I go back to Brandeis, to the library, open my book and I read the same paragraph for 30 minutes. I tap Evan on the shoulder and say, “Can we do more?” That killed so many people.

I went back to New York, got hired at Xenon and Magique. I had been playing at Magique for a year, and got a call from Jellybean who said, “Hey Brad…” I knew him because I used to be a record reviewer for a small magazine called Disco Tech. When I came back from the summer after I didn’t get the job at that small club because I cleared the floor. I auditioned again and got the job five nights a week, 25 bucks a night. The deejay who gave it to me was moving on — can’t remember his name — but the guy who was leaving Court Street, gave me his job after I auditioned and said, “I know somebody who went to high school with you, but they were in a class older than you. They now work for a magazine called Disco Tech. Would you like to meet?” I said, “Sure.” They hired me as an intern for $125 a week. That’s when I started to meet record people in New York versus Boston. At the same time, Magique opens up, and I’m a deejay there. During that time, I got a job at Ze Records.

Q: Ze was a European French label with a rich guy, Michael Zilkha, as the owner.

BL: I’m deejaying at Magique at night and I got a job at Ze. I did all of them. It was Cristina, August Darnell and Kid Creole. The first number one record I had on the Billboard chart was Don Armando’s Second Avenue Rhumba Band’s “Deputy of Love”. It was b side of the record. The A side was “I’m an Indian Too.” My first Number One. Working at Ze records during the day. Jellybean calls me. Says he’s leaving Xenon and going to the Fun House. Do I want to audition for Xenon? Well, Howard Stein was a whole other thing. His father was a gangster who was murdered by the Westies. They dismembered him and left a body part in each borough just to send him out.

I auditioned at Xenon and got the job. My alcoholism and cocaine addiction was on fire. I’m on fucking fire every night before I played on Wednesday and Saturday. I would go to the bar before I started because I would be nervous about playing. I had anxiety. I didn’t want anyone to know. I would say to the bartender, “Can you make me a Greyhound? It’s grapefruit juice and vodka. Send it up to the DJ booth and keep them coming all night.”

They would do that. On one Wednesday night, I said that to the bartender, Kenya. He said, “I can’t.” I said, “Do know my name?” He said, “Yeah, you’re Brad.” I said, “You know what I do with this club?” He said, “You’re the DJ, right?” I said, “Exactly.” He said, “Brad, let me tell you how I know who you are.” He said, “Thirty minutes before you came to the club tonight, the manager had a meeting and it was about you. He said the first person who serves Brad one cocktail will be fired on the spot.”

Q: You were that bad?

BL: “What do I do?” So I said, “Can you send fruit juice and ice up to the booth? I’ll be right back.” Where did I go? Exactly. That’s how I carried on about 10 years ago. I’m sober now, like 22 years.About 10 years ago, I was thinking about that manager. I found him online. Patrick McBride. I called him and said, “Patrick, it’s Brad.” He said, “How are you doing? I said, “I’m doing really well. I have to tell you something. I don’t think I ever thanked you.”I told him this story, I don’t think he ever knew. And yes, I didn’t get sober. I got sober years later but that was the first time I heard the message, but I didn’t listen. I just want to thank you because I survived me. And he said, “Brad, you’re more than right.” Now he’s involved in religious books. It’s wild. This is the guy who’d take people out the back, but if you don’t do the right thing, the club will fucking hurt you. These people always liked me, but they felt, I think, not sorry for me. I was never this aggressive guy. Anyway, I’m deejaying at Xenon and record people are now calling me at home, saying, “Brad, can you put us on the guest list? We want to bring you records.” I said, “Do I have to pay for the records?” They said, “No, we’re going to bring them to you. I didn’t know about any of that stuff. What do you? I did it just to meet girls and make cash. I thought there was no future in this thing. unexpectedly, Xenon closed in 1983. When Howard sold the club, he sold all my records that were locked in the bin.

Q: He sold your records away? What gave him the right to do that?

BL: That was Howard Stein. Then he opened the O bar. Anyhow, When I’m in the deejay booth and these record people would come to me and give me records and they said, would you play them? I said not right now. They said, what do you mean? I said, I haven’t even heard of them. I may not like them. If I don’t like them, I won’t play them. Apparently he didn’t tell people that. There was one intern who used to call me constantly. He used to say, “Can you put me on the guest list?” I said, “Sure.” He was a really nice guy — Jason Flom.

Q: Oh, really? Jason Flom who went on to run Atlantic and Virgin Records.

BL: We all go back a million years. After these promotions people would talk to me and try to cajole me into playing records. I remember thinking to myself, “You have no idea how to talk to people like me, to get people excited about music. I could probably do that.” I was working at Xenon and at Ze promoting Don Armando, Second Avenue Rhumba band. I was getting a feel for it. I got fired from Ze because of Audrey Joseph.  She was threatened by me. She told him to fire me and I was. I then went to work for Genya Ravan at Polish Records, which was a great experience. I sat with [the late R&B singer] Ronnie Spector — they were very close. We got along and I love the music. If I like music, I’ll promote her. Whatever, this was right around the time that Ronnie wrote the book about leaving Phil [Spector, her husband and brilliant producer]. That was a great experience. I then went to work for a small independent promotion company. I was the head of promotion and now I really got involved with the Billboard Show. His name was Jim Knapp. It was called Music. It was very small but he got a lot of good records. He did a lot of cocaine and gave clients cocaine. It was a mess but I really learned how to promote records to Billboard. 

brad disco 1That’s when my career started. I was there for about six months and then got a call from Gerald Busby, the first Black man to run a pop department at a major label. We did a lot of his records. He was at A&M and went to MCA semi-recently.He said, “I heard about you. You should start your own company. If you do, MCA will support you.” 

Then I’m at Studio 54 doing cocaine on the balcony with my boss’s best friend, Jack Hopke. Jack says to me, “You need to leave Jim and start your own company.” Between Gerald and Jim, I opened my company in 1983. And this is how I did it. I was working for a really nasty guy. He gave me a great opportunity, but I would hear how he talked badly about people on the phone and then talk nicely to them to their face. I didn’t trust him. I knew that when I left, he was good. He would badmouth me. My mother didn’t raise an idiot child. When I decided to start the company, one hour every day during lunch, I did something else to start it. I rented an office, watched the carpet go in and rented furniture since I couldn’t afford to buy it. I saw the phones come in. I didn’t tell anybody about my starting the company because I knew I would get back to my boss Jim.

I remember saying to [journalist] Stephanie Sheppard, “Can we have coffee one day?” This was about two weeks before I was going to launch the company. I started it, July 5, the Monday of that year’s new music seminar at the New York Hilton. I said, “I know you’re a writer. Maybe when I start my own company, you can write something about it. I would really appreciate that.” Anyway, it’s now the Friday before the Monday that I’m going to launch the company on July 5th. I have to get out of my job. I have to leave the company. I have to leave my employer. How am I going to do this? I figured if I quit, he’s really going to be pissed off.

Q: If you asked him for more salary, then he’ll fire you.

BL: So I did and said, “If you can’t afford it, I understand.” He said, “I really can’t afford that.” I said, “Then I have to go and find something else.” I go home and as soon as I get home, the phone rings. I found somebody who we both knew who said, “Jim is already badmouthing you. He said he fired you.” Now, this is Friday night. Monday, first day of the New Music seminar in 1983. Disco News was a free magazine in everybody’s bag. Right on the front page: “Brad Lebeau starts New Promotion Company.” God bless Stephanie Shepherd! Who are they going to believe? They’re not going to believe Jim now. How did I start my company in two days? I had no expectation of this thing ever fucking lasting.

Q: You never have any idea. I’ve read every kind of book on the entertainment business, whether it’s the professional guide or a memoir, and you’ve got to tell them a story. But OK, 40th anniversary, you’ve been doing this for all these years. You must have 1,000 million insights.

BL: David Salidor is the first person who approached me and said, “Maybe we should do this after 40 years.” I said, “I don’t know.” I have never hired a publicist, ever. David and I worked here when I started the company. I rented office space to David in my office at 8th Avenue and 57th. He had a small office and when I started the company, a block away, he rented an office. Anyway, he did some press for us in a barter deal because we had to get up and running. I had never done press before that. I just never found the right guy. Now I’m thinking my story is important after 40 years. I thought, especially in a business that’s gone through many trials and tribulations, almost nobody’s around from when I started. Either they’re dead or they’re just not relevant or they’re not in the business anymore. And my business is flourishing. I said, “I’m thinking about this. What do you think?” He said, “You really should do it.” We went back and forth for months on this, I couldn’t commit because it’s just like, how relevant, how self-involved? Yes, I have a lot of stories.

Q: It’s mid ‘80s. Talk about the pivotal changes that have occurred in your experience and what you consider, let’s say the five to 10 touch points in your career.

BL: When I started the company, it was mailing finished vinyl. The big thing then was overnight mail. Then people were talking about cell phones. They were talking about personal computers. We ended up getting one. A couple of years later, there was no internet. 12 inch vinyl reminds me of those times of the fax machine. Big. No more big fax machines. We got one, I was hip. We did that and it went from vinyl to cassettes. Then, remember the DAT, that lasted for about 20 seconds. Then it went to CDs and now it’s digital.  

My company has always ridden this wave of formats. At the end of the day, it’s not how you consume music. It’s how good the music you’re consuming is. When I started, the first record I still had was, “Meet The Beatles.” On that album, of the 12 tracks, there were six number one pop records, and reasonably priced. Now there were 14 tracks on an album before they were digital and the price was ridiculous. You might get one single. Somewhere along the lines, as the British say, somebody lost the plot. Prices went up, quality went down. Now with digital, it’s a singles market and who’s going to buy? You’re not buying for $9.99. You can listen to the same fucking record all day long and you have to buy anything and you could choose the song. The record business created its own extinction. It’s like yellow cabs bitching and moaning about how Uber stole their business. Uber didn’t steal your business. You didn’t look after your business. Uber came in and took advantage of the marketplace. The way I’ve operated this business, all I care about is quality. I’m not taking the money if I think the record is a piece of shit. Now, if I do — if I get involved in a record and you hire me to remix it and we do it but if you don’t like it — I still fucking love it.

Q: There were lots of changes in promotion.

BL: You asked me about touch points. I started promoting vinyl billboard charts. Numbers are great. We get involved in retail promotion. Remember dance music? When I started, it was gay. A couple of people liked it, but really pop departments were not getting involved. We’re going straight to the Pop charts, we’re going to the Black charts, whatever the moment. If those records don’t hit, they come back to Club culture. Club culture has always been the back door. We’ll always let you in but you’d prefer to go through the front door — the Pop department. You’re desperate enough to come through the back door as a dance record.Now, every pop artist wants their record remixed. Let’s get a hip executive producing Reba McEntyre’s Greatest Hits, and Diana Ross — her Greatest Hits. We must have A&R’d over 1,000 remixes here. The biggest in the world like Beyonce. And new ones, domestic and international people. They trust me with their repertoire. 

Take The O’Jays… I got a call from Chuck Gamble — Kenny Gamble’s nephew — who says, “Did you executive produce the Boss remix by Diana Ross? I’ve been looking for you.” I said, “How can I help?” He goes, “Look, it will be the 50th anniversary of Philly International. We would like you to remix a record for our next 50 years. We’ll send you the catalog.” I said, “You don’t have to. I already have it. That’s the musical fabric of my youth.” He sat here for six hours. I said, “I’ll tell you what the record is — ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now’ by McFadden and Whitehead. That’s the record we have to remix.” We did that one during COVID for Philly International. It’s been this way since the remix thing started — again, not my idea. I used to recommend remixes. I knew if I recommended them to record companies, I would get the project to promote.I got a call about 25 years ago from Hillary Shave, who was then the head of promotion for Virgin Records. “Brad, we just signed Depeche Mode from Mute over to Virgin. Part of the deal is that Dave Gahan has his own solo record on Virgin. Do you know who Dave Gahan is? I said, “Yeah. Do you?” She goes, “We have no one here to A&R the remix because we let go of the remix department. Can you help?” I was right there. We remixed the record and it went number one on Billboard. 

About six months later, I got a call on Christmas Eve Day from a  guy with a deep British voice, “I just want to say ‘thank you’ for remixing and promoting the Dave Gahan single. I said, “It’s my pleasure but the record is six months old. Who are you?” He said, “My name is Daniel Miller.” I said, “Oh, Daniel of Mute.” He said, “Would you like to executive produce the Depeche Mode Greatest Hits package?” That’s how it started. I did the Spice Girls remix package and it became this thing again. Hillary called me, not because I woke up one morning and said, “Oh, great idea. Let me do this. This is my life.” It’s not like I’m that bright. It’s not like I need to do that or need to do social media.

Q: Why didn’t you develop a music supervisor division?

BL: I don’t know… I haven’t but I’m at a point in my life right now where, I feel so blessed. I tell you, I was close to losing this company because of the cocaine and the alcohol. I had, as my father would say, one foot in the grave, the other on a banana peel. I was ready to meet a girl. She wanted me to quit using it. I said I would but I didn’t. She left me and I was destroyed. I got sober to get the girl back. I did not, but I had the chance to get her back 10 years later and then she started drinking. That’s life; it ebbs and flows. I got sober to get the girl back and got a call. I was left with no staff. Now, everybody who works with me was working remotely because of COVID. I had no staff left. I’m sitting in my office one day. I’d just gotten sober or started to stop drinking. 

I got a call from the woman who used to manage INXS. I had never spoken to her before she went, “I heard about your company. INXS just did a record with Ray Charles and we have a remix. Would you be interested in promoting it?” Now? I had basically no business. Then I said, “My pleasure. Let me listen to it. If I like it, I’ll do it.” I always kept quality in front of me. I listened to it. It did very well. She said, “If it goes top 10, I’ll give you a bonus.” It went top 10. I got a bonus and then I realized, OK, I was sober. Yeah. if I don’t drink, this happens. But if I drink, that happens. And you know, in the program I was in — which I don’t really want to talk about — they say, “Hang around for the miracle.” I don’t have just one cookie; I have to have the box. I don’t have one slice of pizza; I eat the whole pie. I go to the gym so I have to go every day. That’s how I am and I understand that now.

Q: You’ve had quite a journey…

BL: I’ve lived two lives in one lifetime. I fucked up half my life. But it was the first half. Now I have this opportunity which, when you’re sober, the decisions are a lot better. You’re not as impulsive as you think about things. I’m grateful to be alive today. I used to walk around with a fucking chip on my shoulder. You need to know who I am and it’s very, very different now. I didn’t intend it to be this way. It just happened. I’m a reasonable guy. I’m open to things. I was never open to things when I drank. It was contempt prior to investigation. If it wasn’t my idea, it sucked. And now, I asked for help. The fact that I’m alive is a miracle for what I did to myself. I thank you for coming here. But here’s the thing today — I listen more than I talk. I’ll talk to you if you want. I’m an open book about it. I’m ok talking about my addiction.

Q: Your history is very important. What’s most important is that you’ve addressed the state of the business. But what’s happened now is a variety of things. I love alternative music. I just love rock-and-roll. I appreciate hip hop as an alternative offshoot of rock-and-roll. There are still rock bands and a huge audience for them and rock-and-roll. We don’t have it because radio doesn’t function in the same way it used to function. Clubs don’t function in the same way they used to function. It’s all changed. Give me five minutes on the state of things now.

BL: The music business created whatever extinction it’s experiencing. Where major labels are giving the biggest pop artists a smaller window for their music to secure the kinds of streams and numbers that they need to support and spend more money. A lot of it is because of this machine — your cell phone. Back in the day, the only music show you’d ever see was the Grammys. Now, you have a music award show on television every 10 minutes. Whether it’s country, urban, pop or whatever. Everybody now has this vehicle. This device is moving so quickly that the consumption of music is a nanosecond. When I got involved in the music business, I would go to radio station program directors and say, “OK. What are the stations in the marketplace playing the record if it’s new? What are the local sales? What similar stations around the country are playing it?” But now, forget about local. It’s all digital. Local doesn’t count anymore. What are the social media numbers? Nobody wants to make a commitment to new music. They’re waiting for the last nine guys to tell them what’s been happening with the record. I call it the “American Idol” model, which is, they’re going on the numbers. They’re not going on the quality of the music.

Q: I used to say “American Idol” damaged the music business. The problem with “American Idol” is that it’s basically a show of singers doing lounge music on TV. Everybody’s playing songs everyone knows — there’s no art or innovation.

BL: My point with American Idol” is this: even if you’re voted off of “American Idol” in the first round, you can still get a record deal. Why? Because the number of views and impressions you get is enough to impress a record company to say, “We’ll sign you. You have a built-in audience.” Radio stations now are not interested in the quality of a record even if it’s a major label. They go, “Tell us Brad, what are the numbers, the streaming numbers, YouTube numbers, social media numbers on the new John Legend record? It’s not enough in a week. We need more.”How much more do you need? “We’ll let you know what we’re talking about — millions upon millions of streams before someone wants to take a look at it.” Now they’re looking at the numbers, they’re not listening to the music and therefore, when they sign records, they’re not listening to the music. It’s based on who’s involved. Take a look at the number of collaborations now, it’s a fucking running joke. You have SNL skits where the rapper has 16 collaborators. No one’s trusting acts that are going out on their own anymore. In concerts, it’s Enrique Iglesias with Ricky Martin. Two superstars have to go together. They can’t sell tickets otherwise.

Q: With what they’re doing now, they can be an unknown artist as long as they get a sneaker deal.

BL: That’s right. But who discovered the artist? This guy basically grandfathers this act in; they can’t fucking sing to save their fucking life but they look fucking hip. They’re slick and appeal to that 18 to 24 sweet spot demographic that every advertiser wants for cars, for credit cards, as does everybody else and with that comes TikTok. Now it’s all sound bites. It’s not a full song. somebody doing the 22nd dance routine and that’s your song. Can the artist sing? It doesn’t matter. Look at TikTok. There’s no career. They’re signing singles. There’s no career left. I’ll tell you something: you and I could dress weird and do a 20-secon video. I’m telling you we can get a fucking record deal.

Q: Even me….?

LeBeau: What we don’t sell is records. We will sell some big chain or you get McDonald’s to give you a deal like they did. You’re not in the music business anymore. You’re in the advertising business. You’re in the business of selling video. You want to sell sneakers, booze, cars. You want to endorse a credit card. You want to do fashion, whatever you want. It’s Ben Affleck for Dunkin Donuts with the Bronx rapper, Ice Spice, and her “Munchkins” fanbase. Did you see the commercial? It’s fucking brilliant. He’s like an executive at Dunkin Donuts with a real Boston accent. He doesn’t really get the whole souI thing. I don’t get it. Duncan Munchkin, that’s what it is basically. The music business has clawed their way to mediocrity. You have no argument with me. Why is that? Somewhere along the lines, it happened right after the age of Mo Austin [the late head of WarnerBros.], all you need is one great guy to hire somebody who’s not really good. They assume it’s the Peter Principle gone amok and they hire someone else who doesn’t know and they hire someone else who doesn’t know.

By the way, it’s not just the music business. I went to the post office the other day and I’m waiting in line and the woman behind the post office is looking at her phone and doesn’t say that it’s closed. I said, “Excuse me, I’m waiting. She goes, “Okay.” What the fuck is that?” I don’t run this company that way. I’m not interested in mediocrity. I don’t want bonuses on my work. You hire me to excel. I shouldn’t get a bonus because I excel. What? If you hire me to do a mediocre job and I do a good job, I get more money. If I do a great job, I get more money. You hire me to do the best job I can do. That’s why I’m in business for 40 fucking years. That’s why I only do one new record a week for 40 years. We just released the Martin Garrix with Lloyiso on RCA; superstar deejays now compete against rock stars. That’s my life.

Q: We just have to have a handle on what’s going on and you can get something in through these new ways as long as you understand the technology.

BL: Remember when we started with music, it wasn’t visual; it was only auditory. Then MTV happened, which by the way, they never thought that would last. They thought it was a fad like rap music. They never thought rap music would be more than a fad. the internet. It’s not going to last. Napster, it won’t last. Let the kids share. It will go away. It was ignorance that created their extinction. It was the perfect storm, bad quality, ignorance and sticking heads in the sand like an ostrich when new things were coming. The record business has always been run by older men who didn’t want to change. They change when they are forced to change. Not when they saw the light but only when they felt the heat was still on.

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