The Wrecking Crew: So much music
Nearly two decades in the making, The Wrecking Crew, a documentary about the musicians who played on records by the likes of Nancy Sinatra, Bobby Vee, The Partridge Family, The Mamas & the Papas, The Carpenters, The 5th Dimension, John Denver, The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, The Grass Roots and Nat King Cole, has finally hit the big screen with a theatrical release. We talked to producer and director Denny Tedesco, son of late Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco, about the challenge of pulling this off given music licensing fees and the sheer scope of the story about this talented group of musicians with a long list of hits to their name.
Talk about the process you’ve been through to make this film?
I started the film in 1996. My dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After he passed away, I made a 14-minute teaser hoping that someone would come in and do it. We kept going until 2006. We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. We didn’t even have a film. I just had footage. It’s like having a property that overlooks this gorgeous place. I had the plans but I couldn’t sell it. So I had to cut a film. I had an idea about how much the music would cost. No one would touch it, even with the awards. We had awards all around the world and the reviews were extraordinary. We were this hot coal that no one wanted to touch. If they had to pay for the licensing, they felt like they would never make their money back. I had to go back and pull the money down by nickel and dime. I had to bring it down by donations.
How’d you put the music in for the festival screener?
We had film festival rights. That was minimal. It’s still a lot when you have 110 songs.
The music is so crucial.
You said what I said. After it was cut, people would say, “Why don’t you just do 20 songs?” I said, “You can’t with this story.” If I give you the names like Jackson Five and the Supremes, you know it’s Motown. But what if you have Frank Sinatra, the Byrds, Fifth Dimension, Beach Boys and Chipmunks? It was about quantity.
How’d your father become such a good guitarist?
He really knew how to read music. When he got to L.A., that’s when he really went for it. He would take trumpet parts and transpose them. He used to do that to practice. If it was a standard, he knew it inside out so he would put it upside down. He had something in his mind. It was a mathematical type of thing.
You had a good interview with Brian Wilson.
I’m glad you appreciate that. That is one great editor. I finally got that chance to do it with Brian. It was difficult, but he’s very sweet.
What about Jimmy Webb?
That guy was gold. Everything is so articulate with his phrases. It’s beautiful.
What was it like putting together a narrative?
It was difficult. Someone turned me on to Claire Scanlon, who ended up cutting it. She totally got it. You have to be able to read my mind. I know this shit inside and out, but how was she going to interpret what I was thinking? We knew we had the beginning and middle and end. When we started, she wanted me to stop interviewing people. I did it for historical reasons and just in case something stood out. We stayed true to the story. We cut like 30 minutes off it in 2007. A friend of ours said, “Why are cutting it like anyone else? You have a history doc right now. You don’t tell us why you are making this film. You have insight that’s more reachable.” That’s when we tried the narration at the beginning. It was the best thing that ever happened. Audiences can relate to it instantly. They know the music. Now, they’re relating to the narrator. And many of them have lost their parents or husbands or wives.
It’s more than a music film.
Exactly. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell people. You try to spin it every which way. The hardest part for me was this frustration. Someone asked me about the lowest point. I had to keep going because I didn’t want to be the quitter. I quit enough things and this can’t be the next thing. I had to keep going. The hardest part was after all those awards and reviews and seeing audiences flip out. I had people crying because it touched them. The movie touched them, partly because of the music. I wanted to know why we couldn’t get picked up. When we started doing donations in 2010, I was trying to get the music community to help out. I wanted Fender and Gibson to help out. No one would. This guy said he would give me 1000. That was a 1000 and then there was 20 dollars. If you donated under 100 you’re a groupie and over a 100 you’re a roadie. You could be an engineer or this or that. We created some fun things and all of a sudden, we were getting money in. it gave me hope. It went to a fiscal sponsor and went to a publisher. I would go with the worst case scenarios. [I just] wrote the last of the checks.
You working on something else?
Somebody asked me if I would do another musical film. I said, “Only if it’s a kazoo player who plays solo and plays Beethoven’s Fifth, which doesn’t need any licensing rights.” I’ll go back to producing. I love talking to real people. Someone asked me if [members of The Wrecking Crew] were upset that they weren’t stars. They were stars for the stars. The stars were appreciative. Nancy Sinatra would hold up the dates so she could get them to tour with her. My father did the Batman theme and other things but when they asked my father what he wanted to be remembered for he told me there were 10 guitar players who could have done that. John Williams once told him to hold off for two weeks. That’s when you know you made it. He wasn’t asking for a guitar player. Williams was asking for my father. There’s nothing better than someone of that stature respecting you. That was the coolest thing for him.