Grand Winner 2022: Best Documentary Feature
Thank you for having us Daniel D'Or. What was your process in deciding to make this film?
I was approached by first time producers who asked for my help in making a film about Prince. My first question was: “Do you have rights to his music and is the Estate on board?” After all, how do you make a documentary about Picasso without showing his paintings? They assured me they did arrange a deal for the rights. I believed them based on their associations within the music industry; they also were individuals very close to Prince and had already raised some of the money. Of course I got excited, because access to Prince’s library of music would be groundbreaking for an independent film. So I did my thing, got a distribution deal and raised all the money. Unfortunately, I was misled as they never really had any rights, nor would the Estate and their consultant license the music to us — at any cost.
I grew up listening to Prince, but I wasn’t a super fan. Sure, I liked his music but I didn’t connect to his uniqueness like so many others did. But when I first started my research for this film, I discovered something unexpected. It was this intense connection between Prince and his fans. It wasn’t like an Elvis or Michael Jackson kind of attraction, it was different, much, much deeper. The connection was profound. His sincere messaging of love and unity for all, black, white, gay, straight, old, young, had been life-changing and affirming for so many individuals. And if you’re a fan of his, you know what I’m talking about.
Some said that Prince gave them personal strength, guidance and a sense of self-worth. Others said he had literally saved their lives! WHAT! Now I was really curious as to who this guy really is… and the deeper I explored, the more I realized I was discovering something that did not compare with any fandom I had understood before.
Sure his fans knew everything about him, his incomparable talent, the many instruments he mastered, the brilliant music he produced and they could recite every lyric he wrote. But the stories kept coming, from all ages and even from the many famous name artists themselves who shared that he was their deep life and musical inspiration.
I felt compelled to make a film that defined this perspective. What and who were his inspirations? What drove and nurtured Prince to become this musical genius superstar? And by way of his extraordinary influence, who in turn did he inspire in becoming the best they could be?
In fact, after three years spent deep within Prince’s world, I am a profoundly changed person. Not like a cult follower, but in strange way Prince became a mentor. I always questioned, “How would Prince want me to handle a certain situation relative to his story?” The answers were clearly my perspectives, but I can tell you that this influence subconsciously changed me; I now look at my friends, family and life differently. I’m a much better person for having been on this wild journey.
This film is a celebration that I want to share with his “fams” around the world and to those that never really knew this true musical genius of our time… Mr. Prince Rogers Nelson.
How did you choose the panel of participants?
This was the hardest part of the journey. My team and I flew to Minneapolis during a huge snow storm that shut down the airport and city streets only an hour after landing. The first group of individuals I wanted to focus on were these select super fans that Prince invited to Paisley Park for intimate performances. They would be invited sometimes only hours before the concert he decided to put on that evening.
Sometimes there were only a handful of people there. This group of “super fans” were blessed having these invites. Some of them had experienced hundreds of those shows, and their insight into Prince is beyond what just about anyone’s that he came into contact with. He trusted them completely. He called them “fams”, as I mentioned earlier. Rules were no cell phones, no pictures, no drugs and no alcohol. One of them described his intention was for this select small audience to “enjoy and live in the moment”. He could not stop creating or performing, so these private concerts worked out perfectly for him and these super fans. That was the first selection of interviews.
Their love for Prince had them protecting their experiences from the outside world. They came to trust us and these incredible stories emerged. The community opened up to us and then, one magical door opened with a man named Harry “Spike” Moss. He is a civil rights activist, loved by his community and was a mentor to Prince in his early years. Spike paved the way into a big part of Prince’s life that very few knew about.
Was there a measure of "Purple Magic" involved in the making, are there some particular anecdotes that you would kindly share with the audience, regarding what is often referred to as "synchronicities?"
Then off to Hollywood to interview the stars. Disappointingly, they all turned us down. The Prince Estate was still in probate court and it scared anyone that wanted to talk about Prince. No agents would allow their clients to talk. The one I really wanted on camera was Chaka Khan, because she knew and worked with Prince longer than anyone else in his lifetime. Again, closed doors from her agent after months of pleading.
One night, I took my crew of two for a late night snack and drink to Dan Tana’s restaurant in West Hollywood. It has a lot of wonderful history and vibe in the star world. Throughout my career, I met so many Hollywood icons there, sharing meals and incredible stories. In walks a wonderful singer by the name of Miki Howard. I knew and loved her music. I told her I was a fan and honored to meet her and that I loved this particular song. I guess it was something she needed to hear at that moment because she gave me huge hug and big kiss on the lips!! Wow! I was so surprised, but of course delighted. She said she wanted to introduce me to her friend and to join them for a drink. We walked behind a column in this empty restaurant and sitting at a table was Chaka Khan!!!
Yes! OMG! Miki told Chaka that she wanted to introduce her to her new friend and what I had said to her. Chaka stood up and embraced me!!! OMG again! The last thing I could tell them was we were making a film about Prince and I’d been trying to get her, Chaka, for an interview these past few months. For sure she would have thought I had stalked her, as we were literally the only people in the place — with my two team mates. They had spent the evening next door at the famous Troubadour listening to music and just dropped in for bite. We left the restaurant and I invited them to dinner some time. They lost their keys and I found them, so they were very grateful. Miki gave me her number and said they owed us dinner (not knowing if it was real) and we parted ways that evening.
Weeks later and returning back to Los Angeles, I tried calling and texting her to invite her and Chaka out to dinner. As I expected, no reply from that number… A week later, she texted back saying they’d be delighted to have dinner. We offered to take them to their favorite restaurant or one of our choice, or… we could cook them dinner. They came over! We listened to them writing songs together in our Airbnb living room. Wow! What a magical experience hearing these beautiful voices live and up front. We became fast and close friends and they helped open those celebrity doors. However, we were on an uphill battle, understandably, because the Estate still hadn’t settled.
What is the core direction of the film, in other words, what was your overall vision during the writing process?
Since the Estate wasn’t on board and we were prevented from including his music in the film, a true biopic was out of the question. So the focus was to explore who and what influenced Prince, i.e. musical artists, the war, the civil rights uprising etc. In turn we wanted to explore those that were inspired by him. As time went on, both triggered shocking revelations. The focus became the Community center called “The Way”. The center took youths off the streets and taught them Black history, Spike taught the kids how to dress, walk and have respect for themselves and others. This gave youth a place of their own, to grow and learn from mentors.
So many wonderful life opportunities were nurtured there, spawning tremendous success stories of which Prince was one. Others like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Senator Bobby Joe Champion, Jelly Bean and Sonny Thompson are amongst a few. It’s now become a mission for me to somehow recreate this extraordinary environment in other such communities, through charities and this film’s story.