'Spinning Gold': From Donna Summer to KISS, Timothy Scott Bogart on his father's music legacy
"He happened to be my dad, but it's a great story," Timothy Scott Bogart said about writing/directing a film on the star-studded history of Casablanca Records
Tapping into iconic music magic, Timothy Scott Bogart wrote and directed the movie Spinning Gold (now in theatres), revealing the relatively unknown story of the development of Casablanca Records, founded by his father Neil Bogart and home to artists like Donna Summer, Gladys Knight, The Village People and KISS.
“I just got lucky he happened to be my dad, but it's a great story,” Bogart told Yahoo Canada. “People were trying to make it and people did keep coming to the family to try to acquire the rights, and we just kept saying no because I don't think we knew what we wanted to do with it yet.”
“Then as I started becoming a professional in the business, it became something that I took on as both an obligation and an opportunity. … It really was, regardless of the relationship, just an extraordinary story that I thought was incredibly universal. I thought if I could crack it, it would matter to people."
'I really wanted people to look different, to sound different'
Originally, it was reported that Justin Timberlake would star in the film but Spinning Gold, narrated by the character of Neil, stars Tony Award nominee Jeremy Jordan, who guides us through the story of how a misfit group of music lovers made their mark in history.
While Bogart is intimately invested in the narrative, he also loved giving his cast room to add their own elements to the characters.
“Something that I've always loved to do as a writer, and I’m as precious as any other writer, I agonize over every comma and ellipses, because I think cadence and the poetry of the language is so important,” Bogart said. “But as a director, I really toss all that out.”
“I love ad libbing. I love giving everyone so much information to start with that we can then get rid of it all, because I truly am a director who believes that honesty occurs sometimes through accidental inspiration."
Impressively, along with Jordan, the Spinning Gold cast also includes Casey Likes as Gene Simmons, Ledisi as Gladys Knight, Wiz Khalifa as George Clinton and Tayla Parx as Donna Summer. Having the burden of casting so many pop culture icons that we know and love, in addition to directing performances of some of the most popular songs in history, is no small feat. But Bogart approached the task with a clear goal, to portray the essence of that artist at that specific point in time.
“I knew and know still, some people won't appreciate it. Some people will say that's a terrible idea and that’s OK, I was telling a very specific story," Bogart said. “I wasn't telling the story of Donna Summer I was telling the story of LaDonna Gaines who created a character named Donna Summer with my father. I was telling the story of a guy named Chaim Witz who created a character named Gene Simmons."
"So the idea of casting someone who looked exactly like Gene Simmons, talked like him, that was casting the product, not the person. In order to kind of break us from that expectation I really wanted people to look different, to sound different. … That was a decision early on about stripping down to the essence of who these people were, and casting quite different in many regards.”
'I couldn't polish down the edges'
When it comes to the character of Neil, he had his own faults that Bogart had to address in Spinning Gold, including a gambling addiction and having an affair with Joyce Biawitz, co-manager of KISS, while he was married to Beth Weiss.
“I couldn't polish down the edges. You shouldn't do that as a filmmaker, but as a son, ... I also didn't want to do that,” Bogart said. “To me the mission was to just not judge it as a filmmaker, because I think so many of these stories become cautionary tales, and we feel we have to judge the character for their actions."
"He was a gambling addict, a true gambling addict, but if he wasn't, there's no Casablanca. So is that his flaw? Is it his superpower? It's really both ultimately. So I embraced all that. Now, more dangerous and delicate, perhaps, is a son telling the story about his father's affair and what that sort of looks like. It wasn't just a quick affair, it was a long, sustained, dual relationship but it also happened to be true. He was in love with these two people and I thought that was messy and complicated, and I thought it was fascinating.”
In Spinning Gold Neil says, "we were in the business of making dreams come true," and in Bogart's assessment of his father, that was very much something he sought to achieve throughout his life.
“He loved [my grandfather], … but I think he saw him as a failure, as someone who had dreams that were completely unfulfilled," Bogart said. "I think that became something that really drove him to fulfill his own."
“He kind of found all these other people who also had these shared dreams and I think it was only because of the collective nature of that particular group of people, at that particular moment in time, that this fairytale just so happened to be true. … It's the lesson that I think he gave me because he did achieve some extraordinary things, and then he left us far too early, which meant you don't really have time for tomorrow. So you better embrace it today.”