Susan Lacy; David Tedeschi
American Masters Series Creator and Executive Producer; Film Editor
Wednesday, September 28, 2005 1:30 PM
Featuring the life and career of Bob Dylan, the world broadcast premiere of the American Masters documentary "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan" aired on PBS on Monday, Sept. 26, and Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 9 p.m. ET. (Check local listings.)
American Masters series creator and executive producer Susan Lacy and film editor David Tedeschi were online Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 1:30 p.m. ET to discuss Bob Dylan's life and work and the American Masters film that features the artist.
Dylan agreed to make an appearance in his own story. Directed by Martin Scorsese, this film includes an archive of never-before-seen footage from childhood, from the road, from backstage, as well as unreleased interviews conducted over the past 15 years with other seminal figures from those times. Dylan brings the rights to his legendary music with him -- "Blowin' in the Wind," "Like a Rolling Stone," "Don't Think Twice," "Mr. Tambourine Man," "It Ain't Me Babe," "Just Like a Woman," "Positively 4th Street," "The Times They Are A-Changin'" -- and so on.
Lacy has been an award-winning producer of prime-time public television programs for almost two decades. She has been responsible for the production and national broadcast of 130 documentary biographies on artists who have made a significant impact on American culture. Lacy was the recipient of the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2004.
In addition to "No Direction Home," Tedeschi's documentary work includes "The Blues: Feel Like Going Home" -- also a Scorsese film -- "My Friend Paul," "America's Challenge" and "8A." His television work includes "The Shield" (2003), "The Osbournes" (2002-2003), "American High" (2000-2001), "The Awful Truth" (1999-2000) and "TV Nation" (1995-1996). Tedeschi's feature work includes "Pinero," "Free of Eden," Azucar Amarga" and "El Silencio De Neto."
The transcript follows.
David Tedeschi: Hi everybody. Welcome to the chat!
Ashland, Ore.: For David Tedeschi: Your juxtaposition of different pieces of footage is masterful. What principles or ideas did you use in deciding which shot to choose at each point, when to cut, how to put the pieces together?
David Tedeschi: The editing is all intuitive. The editing is emotional. That is, I think, draws Marty to the material, on all his films. Not so much rational, but going for the emotional heart of a story, even in the cutting, cut by cut.
Susan Lacy: This is Susan Lacy, the series creator and executive producer of American Masters, and one of the producers of the Bob Dylan program. I'm delighted to be here!
Ashburn, Va.: Susan, David,
Hats off to you both and to Mr. Scorsese for an excellent, in-depth look at an amazing "song and dance man" and the era from which he sprung (and which he helped define, a claim few artists can make).
No question -- just a lot of thanks! It must have been fun!
Susan Lacy: Oh! It was fun! It was exhilarating, intense, complex, nail-biting, all those things. And we appreciate that you liked it so much!
Alexandria, VA: First off the documentary was outstanding! I easily put it up there with Ken Burn's various series as being one of the best documentaries that PBS has ever shown. Programs like these are one of the reasons why I'm always so willing to donate in the annual pledge drives.
Are there plans to do a follow-up documentary on Dylan that will focus on the later years in his life?
Susan Lacy: We are having preliminary discussions about that.
Washington, DC: Why do you think Dylan has re-emerged for another generation of listeners? Even though he really never went away, he still wasn't omnipresent, as he is now, for most of the last 30 years. What happened?
Susan Lacy: I can't really speak for Bob Dylan. He did a book, Chronicles Volume 1 which was on the best seller list, he did that 60 Minutes interview. He's been out there more than he had been. He's a very private man. But I think that Dylan will always find a new generation. Because his music is timeless. That's one of the whole points of the American Masters series, to bring to new generations the work of these timeless masters. Because in an age of 800 cable channels and people walking around with their Ipods and this that and the other, the work of the great masters can get lost. And that's what I see our job at American Masters as, to make sure we're keeping the work out there for each new generation.
Hillsborough, N.C.: I thoroughly enjoyed the show. So much, in fact, that I'll be adding a copy to my collection. Thank you. Question: There was a short clip of John Henry Nile during the first evenings airing. I was quite taken by this performer and would like to hear more. I have attempted search with no success. Can you assist?
David Tedeschi: John Jacob Niles was a real revelation for me too. There is so much amazing music by artists like John Jacob Niles and Richard Dyer Bennet which is very hard to get today, because it is out of print.
This is one of the reasons that Marty wanted to do a documentary like this - to get out material which is otherwise inaccessible, even today with the Internet, etc.
Chicago, Ill.: When Dylan was talking about Baez on the "Don't Look Back" tour, he said, "Looking back on it, it was pretty stupid." Then, he said something like, "When you're in love, you're not wise. I hope she realizes that by now." Was he talking about Baez or himself?
David Tedeschi: When Dylan said that, I always believed that he was talking about himself. It wasn't until we were completely done that someone pointed out to me that he could have been talking about Joan Baez. It think it is part of his genius - that his words, like his writing, can have more than one meaning.
Rome, Italy: Three questions: First, how were the overnight ratings? How do they compare to other American Masters programs? Was there a significant audience for this program? Second, the Wall Street Journal reviewer and some others have succeeded in creating the impression that Martin Scorsese, PBS and the BBC were all taken advantage of by Bob Dylan and his management, who assembled the pieces, including filming the interviews, and then presented them as a fait accompli to be used to burnish the Dylan legacy. Can you discuss the editorial independence of Scorsese in this project, the role of PBS and the BBC, and the role of Dylan and Dylan's management? Third, any idea what Dylan has been up to the past couple of nights?
Susan Lacy: It's complete and utter nonsense that we, any of us in any way, were manipulated by Dylan or his management. Martin Scorsese had total editorial independence. One has to look at this project as an archival project, and the interviews that have been beautifully and intelligently done over the last 15 years were a part of that archive. We can only be grateful that they were intelligent enough to create this archive for us. There is no difference between this program and any other program that AM or I'm sure the BBC does, where we go to great pains to acquire and get our hands on the archive that makes it possible for us to make these films. Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi sifted through thousands of hours and Marty came up with his take on the story with total independence. And the ratings were fabulous.
Brooklyn, NY: What state was the documentary in when you approached Martin Scorsese. Was there a rough cut?
Susan Lacy: There was no documentary before we approached Martin Scorsese. There was simply a massive archive which needed to be organized and screened.
David Tedeschi: I wanted to add to Susan's response, that Marty felt complete freedom to do the kind of the film he wanted to do, without pressure from PBS or from Bob Dylan's management. It is why Marty likes working with a non commercial entity, like PBS.
Susan Lacy: In addition to the archive, Marty and David directed a significant amount of original and additional research for this film. This film is not just from Dylan's management's archive. A significant amount of additional research was done under the guidance of David and Marty.
Takoma Park, Md.: Thanks for a great film.
Did you meet Dylan? After all these years, are you convinced that he really would have preferred to avoid all the public attention and adulation?
Susan Lacy: No, none of us ever met him, except for Marty, who has known him for a long time. Because of the work they did together on the Last Waltz.
Susan Lacy: But Marty, and he has made a point of us, did not discuss this film with Bob Dylan. At all.
Cleveland, Tenn.: Really enjoyed the show. It seems to me that Bob Dylan was not just showing up and singing as he said. Me thinks he doth protest too much.
As much as I love his music, I think that he was very much aware of what was going on and not only tolerated but embraced the commercial side of the business.
Don't you think he knew which songs would sell and how to sell them?
David Tedeschi: I'm not sure that Bob embraced the commercial side of the music. I can only state my opinion about this, and I think you can draw your own conclusions from the documentary . I think Bob wanted his music to be on the radio and to reach a wide audience. That's just my opinion, though.
Oceanside, NY: Is there enough material that spans the years from 1966 to the present to consider creating a follow-up film to "No Direction Home", and would you want to be involved in doing something like that again?
Susan Lacy: We are researching that right now. There's not as much material and it's not as dense as the material we had from the sixties. There are big gaps in it.
Atlanta, Ga.: What is the name of the song that Dylan is playing/singing at the end of the film when the credits are rolling? Where can I legally obtain a copy of the song?
David Tedeschi: Lay Down Your Weary Tune on "Biograph"
Worms, Germany: Bob Dylan has remained very reclusive not only (and rightly so) about his private life, but also about his past contributions to music and popular culture. People have suggested that he did not want to be seen as an icon of the past but an artist still relevant to the current times. However in recent years, he seems to have opened up considerably, not only writing his autobiography, but also allowing his most important albums to be re-mastered and so on. Now he is appearing in film about his past, something that was inconceivable ten years ago. What do you think changed his mind? Or am I wrong and he has not changed his mind at all, he just got the opportunity?
Susan Lacy: These kinds of questions are like trying to read Bob Dylan's mind, and I'm not in the position to do that.
Susan Lacy: I'd like to think that he does recognize that he is a really important part of American cultural history.
Rochester, N.Y.: Why was Dylan's most important song, "The Times They Are A Changin'," not played or even discussed?
David Tedeschi: We cut in this song a few times, and were never able to make it work, oddly enough, because it is one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs. But it never felt right, based on where it fell in the chronology - September 1963. It just didn't move the story forward.
Beltway, Washington, D.C.: Can you share what other big documentaries we can expect on PBS in the next year or two?
Susan Lacy: Well, hmm. Let's see we've got shows coming up on the Grateful Dead, the John Ford/John Wayne story, Woody Guthrie, Andy Warhol, Frank Gehry, Audubon, Marilyn Monroe for her 80th birthday, Annie Leibowitz, Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye ...
New York, N.Y.: This is for David. First of all thanks for a great documentary. Were you a fan of Dylan's music before you started working on this project? If yes, how did that influence the editing process?
David Tedeschi: I was a big Bob Dylan fan and I was also a big fan of Ginsberg and Kerouac. I'm not sure it affected the editing process except that I know we all felt like it was important to do a good job on the film because of how great an artist Bob Dylan is.
Harlingen, Tex.: I watched Part II with my 14-year-old daughter and I mentioned to her that without Dylan there would be no Coldplay. That before Dylan there were only love songs like Peggy Sue, I love you whoop dee doo ... That Dylan was the first to put poetry to music in the form she knows it today. Thanks for helping me educate!!
David Tedeschi: That's great to hear. I also think that artists like Robert Johnson and Hank Williams wrote great poetry in song.
Washington, D.C.: Loved the two shows. There was little really spent discussing his upbringing -- and really nothing about his family other than passing reference. I wonder to what extent his growing up a Jew in a small Minnesota town - where he presumably was in the minority - might have shaped his identity as an outsider -- which, perhaps, in his case, led to the role as a kind of commentator on society. Your thoughts?
Susan Lacy: I think that Bob says in the film that he always felt that he was a bit of an outsider, and that he never really belonged where he was born. I think he says that sometimes he felt like he was in the wrong shoes, and someone else in the film alludes to the fact that he may have changed his name because in Minnesota there was a fair amount of anti-Semitism. But I can't say for sure that was a big element, cause I don't know! But Marty and Bob focused on just as much as we needed to know about his childhood for us to understand where Bob was coming from.
Atlanta, Ga.: During the film there were many instances of Dylan becoming fed up with interviewers and the constant questioning that he received. Did any of this sort of irritation come out of him during the process of making the film, and if so how did you deal with it?
Susan Lacy: He had nothing to do with the making of the film, so we didn't have to deal with it.
New York, N.Y.: I felt that much of the power of your documentary came from the manner in which you provided a profound insight -- not only into Dylan -- but also into the nature of genius. I was especially moved by the pain which comes with the richness of such a gift. Was this a deliberate goal, or a marvelous byproduct?
Susan Lacy: I would say that I think that the arc of the film that Marty found is the journey of an artist. And as someone who is involved with a lot of these films because of American Masters, I can tell you that almost universally pain goes with the territory.
Moorestown, NJ: David, how did you get involved in this project? What kind of discussions did you and Marty have about narrative sequence? What do you bring away from this experience that will inform your future work as an editor?
David Tedeschi: I worked with Marty on the PBS series "The Blues". Of course there are a million things I learned working with such a great director on both documentaries. More than anything else though, it is how important it is to have a truly emotional story and how to cut for emotion.
Susan Lacy: I think it's one of the best portraits I've ever seen of an artist in the state of becoming. And the pressures that come with that kind of success and recognition. But more importantly, most true artists, while they want recognition, don't want to be shaped by it or pressured by it. Or feel boxed in by it in terms of their work.
Washington, D.C.: Whoa! The program was righteous.
Did the subjects of the modern interviews (Liam Clancy, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, etc...) know the nature of the film when they did the interviews?
Susan Lacy: These interviews were conducted of a long period of time for archival purposes. And certainly no one knew how they were going to be used or in whose hands they would be. Certainly no one knew that Scorsese would ultimately be the film maker.
Arlington, Va.: I grew up in Newport, R.I., but alas was only 9 years old when Dylan went electric at the Folk Festival. I had always been steeped in the legend of that magical night, but never knew there was footage of it. How and where did you find the footage? That was the high point for me in the entire film.
David Tedeschi: This footage was shot by a filmmaker named Murray Lerner and was part of the materials that were given to Marty at the beginning of this process. Some of it is in "Festival" - movie Murray made about the Newport Folk Festival. Of course, to see that legendary performance on film was amazing.
Houston, Tex.: It was a great documentary, I loved it. I did read somewhere, and I noticed it myself, that there were some conspicuous areas that were glossed over, whether inadvertent or otherwise. Specifically, near the end I got a distinct impression that Bob was taking cocaine. I could be wrong about that, but it sure had all the markings. I guess Scorsese's approach was to show it and let the viewer draw his/her own conclusions? Also, not much going into his love life, other than the telltale shot where Joan Baez grabs his hand, or when she talks about being snubbed/crushed by Bob. A case can be made that this is not central to the music and much commented on elsewhere such as in a lot of the biographies ...
Susan Lacy: Bravo! It is known that American Masters, while a biography series, is one that focuses primarily on the work.
St. Louis, Mo.: What are each of your favorite, let's say, three Dylan songs?
Susan Lacy: That's really hard, I love so many of them! One of my favorites, written later so it's not in the film, is All Along The Watchtower. The hour that The Ship Comes In. Don't Think Twice, It's Alright. Masters of War.
N.Y., N.Y.: Did either of you listen to Bob in the 60's or currently?
David Tedeschi: I was a little kid in the 60's. My older sister was obsessed with Blonde on Blonde - and I would hear it 24 hours a day.
Susan Lacy: I'm sorry folks, but I am afraid I have to sign off. I wish I could continue, because there are so many great questions. I am thrilled at the response to the film, and proud that we've put something out onto this planet that needed to be there. Adios!!
Arlington, Va.: Absolutely masterful. From the amount and use of archival footage and photos, to the exhaustive interviews and careful selection of bites to tell the story. Congratulations.
One question - the story is not strictly chronological, as the 1966 "judas" concert is cut to from the early '60s, then we keep going back to it. What went into the decision to not go strictly chronologically?
David Tedeschi: I'm not sure we ever made the decision not to make a chronological film. The performances from 1966 and the story of that tour were so compelling, that I think Marty was just naturally drawn to them as central to the story he wanted to tell.
Annandale, Va.: What a great film! One of the things I enjoyed most was the commentary by Dylan's contemporaries. How great to see Dave Van Ronk. Is there any chance of a film about the whole folk movement -- while some of those people are still around?
Also, I don't recall any mention of Richard Farina -- and only a passing reference to Phil Ochs. Were they not as significant to Dylan's career as he was to theirs?
David Tedeschi: There isn't a film about the whole folk movement. Wouldn't that be a great film to make.
I think that both Farina and Phil Ochs were a part of Bob Dylan's life during our period, and of course fantastic artists in their own right, but whenever we tried to weave them into the story it didn't feel central to the story we were telling.
For instance, in the case of Phil Ochs, it felt like the POV of the topical song movement or political motivated folk songs were better represented by Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, who were so articulate about their music and their politics. Because we were able to interview them they were central to the story.
David Tedeschi: Thanks everybody for joining us for this question and answer session. I have to sign out now, but we really appreciate everyone's interest in the film.
For more information on rebroadcast information, check your local listings.
washingtonpost.com: Stay tuned for the return of the American Masters series in May, 2006.
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