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After "The Sopranos," David Chase whacks rock 'n' roll in "Not Fade Away"
David Chase fans fully expected that his first feature film would rock.
They just didn't think it would be about rock 'n' roll.
The writer/director/producer's "Not Fade Away," which opens wide Friday, Jan. 4 (including in the Detroit area) after a limited Dec. 21 roll-out, is a coming-of-age tale about a group of New Jersey friends who form a band and follow a dreams that are bigger than just playing music. It's based partly on Chase's own youth, but it's been greeted as something of a surprise.
Many anticipated that Chase would enter the movie world with an adaptation of "The Sopranos," the award-winning HBO drama he created and helmed for six iconic seasons. From the moment the series ended with a jarring and controversial black screen on June 10, 2007, rumors proliferated about its imminent arrival on the big screen.
That, however, was news to Chase.
"It was never going to be the first thing," Chase, 67, said in a suite at Birmingham's Townshend Hotel during a December visit to screen and promote "Not Fade Away. "I didn't want to do that. I'd done 'The Sopranos' in totality; I think I wrote the pilot in 1995 then did the show to 2007, and that was enough for awhile. I didn't want to do that again."
The New Jersey-raised Chase -- who worked on "Kolchak: The Night Stalker," "The Rockford Files," "Northern Exposure" and "Almost Grown" prior to "The Sopranos" -- called moving from TV to film "exciting and exhausting, very tough, physically and mentally." But the greatest challenge, he added, "was bringing the movie into focus" and transitioning from the multiple episodes of "The Sopranos" into the more limited time frame of a feature film.
"There was much more story that had to be cut," Chase explained. "All of that's on the floor."
The story itself evolved from an idea "about two guys who had been in a garage band together who now were in their 30s." Instead, however, Chase opted to go back to those garage band days, inserting "a little biographical element" from his days as a teenage drummer and aspiring rock star himself.
"It all comes from the music," said Chase. "I love the music of that period on every level. I was lucky enough to be a kid when that music was happening, and it changed the whole way I thought and the way I envisioned things. And I still love that music -- I love all music, but I love that music more than anything else.
"I don't think it's a question of nostalgia for me; I objectively think it's great music. I think it's great movie music, too. It's fun for me to work with. I had a great time on 'The Sopranos' spotting music for that, and I wanted to repeat that experience.
To help make "Not Fade Away" authentic, Chase brought in "The Sopranos" alumnus Steven Van Zandt, guitarist in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and a rock musicologist with his own radio show and record label. Van Zandt put the mostly young cast -- led by John Magaro, looking spookily like Bob Dylan circa "Blonde on Blonde" -- through "rock 'n' roll boot camp," teaching them about the music and the look of the mid-60s and also how to look like they were really playing their instruments. (Van Zandt and some E Street cohorts did the actual recording of the songs played by the film's band, the Twylight [cq] Zones.)
"It was very hard to get them all to stop saying 'dude,' " Chase recalled with a laugh. "The line could've been, 'What did she say?' and it would come out, 'Dude, what did she say?' Any time it happened we'd have to cut. 'What?~!' You said 'dude.' ' 'I did?' 'Yeah, you said 'dude.' ' 'Oh. I'm sorry...' "
Chase also credits Van Zandt with landing rights to use rarely-leased 60s classics, including some from the Beatles and Rolling Stones catalogs, for the soundtrack.
"He would tell you he has a few friends who are Beatles, and he has connections with the Rolling Stones Publisher at that time (ABKCO)," Chase said. "He has these contacts and he was able to put them to use and negotiate some good deals for us.
"I'll put it to you this way; we didn't pay retail for all this."
Chase was more hesitant to tap another "Sopranos" cohort to be part of the film, however. Series star James Gandolfini plays the Magaro character's father, but he wasn't part of Chase's original plan for the film.
"What happened was I had written the script, and it really wasn't working for me," Chase recalled. "Most of the scenes with the dad weren't turning out the way I wanted them to be. Then I got this idea of thinking of (Gandolfini) as the dad. It re-energized me, and it made everything fall into place, not only the scenes with the dad but I began to see the tone of the movie and the scope of it."
Chase acknowledged he and Gandolfini "both were concerned about the fact that maybe this wasn't a good idea. It was too soon. Maybe it would appear too opportunistic, or people would think they're getting a Mafia story, and they're not. We talked about all that, but in the end, he was just the right guy for it."
As "Not Fade Away" rolls out, Chase is starting to think about his next film. There are ideas around, he said, including "some scripts that are kind of musical, but I think I should get out of that. Like 'The Sopranos,' I think I should try something new."
And...what about that "Sopranos" film?
"Y'know, it's a strange thing," Chase said with a sigh. "I don't think there ever will be a 'Sopranos' film. I have no interest in doing one. No one's working on one now. We don't have elves toiling away in the toy shop working on it, and I don't have an idea for it. At the same time, if I did get an idea for it, I might become interested.
"But every time I say that, what appears in the press is 'Chase raises possibility of 'Sopranos' movie, which is not the case. I don't raise anything."
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