2007-11-16 07:09:54 UTC
Behind the scenes at Michael Jackson/Ebony Magazine cover shoot
Nearly a year in the making, Ebony magazine debuted this week the special
collector's edition featuring Michael Jackson, celebrating the 25 th
anniversary of Thriller. Early response in America and around the world has
been tremendous, with copies of the magazine flying off shelves and requests
for additional copies coming in from as far as Italy, Finland, Australia and
As a bonus for readers online, the editors of Ebony have agreed to answer a
few of your questions and offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of
the cover. Here are their thoughts:
Ebony magazine had been working with Michael and his staff for the past
eight months on the details of the shoot and interview. Originally, we had
tried to get together in early August, but schedules collided. The final
date, Monday, September 24, 2007, was set and the teams were mobilized.
The night before, Sunday, Michael and his son Prince Michael, II, fondly
known as "Blanket," arrived at the hotel suite-turned dressing room to look
at the clothes selected by renowned stylist Phillip Bloch. Italian designer
Roberto Cavalli provided clothing, as well as such designers as Valentino,
Yohji Yamamoto, Hugo Boss, Cesare Paciotti, and more. Plus we had more than
$2 million worth of diamond jewelry on set from the likes of Jacob the
Jeweler, H. Stern and Lorraine Schwartz.
The next morning, we arrived around 9 a.m. at the Brooklyn Museum. Normally,
the museum is closed to the public on Mondays, but the staff allowed us to
use the location for the historic shoot. Celebrity photographer Matthew
Rolston, Ebony creative director Harriette Cole and Ebony photo director
Dudley Brooks had already scouted several locations including the grand
Beaux-Arts Court, Egyptian gallery and sculpture garden. Then, around 3
p.m., the shoot began.
During the session, a relaxed Michael grooved to his own music - PYT, Billie
Jean, Human Nature - booming from a sound system and even showed off a few
of his trademark dance moves. After five wardrobe changes and six hours of
memorable photography, he thanked the crew and was on his way back to the
hotel, just in time to put the kids to bed.
The next day, we arrived at his hotel around noon for what would be Michael
Jackson's first sit down interview in years. For the next hour and a half,
Jackson shared his thoughts and passions on the making of Thriller , MTV and
music videos, God, fatherhood and the state of the music industry today. You
will find that interview and more in the pages of the December issue of
Meanwhile, more than 200 readers from around the world have already written
in over the past few days with questions about the shoot, the interview and
the star. Here are a few of those questions, along with comments from the
Ebony team -- vice president and editorial director Bryan Monroe, creative
director Cole and senior editor Joy Bennett -- who were with him over those
Q: How did you get the interview with Michael? Was it easy?
-- Marni in Australia
A. (Bryan Monroe) | Because of the nearly 40-year relationship between
Johnson Publishing Company -- the owner of Ebony and Jet magazines in
Chicago -- and the Jackson family, a relationship that began when Michael
was part of the Jackson Five, we knew that, when and if Michael was ready to
re-emerge back onto the world stage, who better to do it with than Ebony. We
had been talking with his team in Washington, D.C. for the past eight months
and Michael himself requested that it be Ebony and Jet magazines to have his
first U.S. cover and interview in years.
Q: Will Michael Jackson do another world tour?
-- Dusty in Dublin, Ireland
A. (Bryan Monroe) | Michael didn't say specifically when or if he would
tour, but was hesitant about taking on another global concert series. " I
don't care about long tours," he told us in the interview. He doesn't want
to grow old doing concert after concert, flying from one mega-stadium to the
next. "Not the way James Brown did and or Jackie Wilson did," he said in the
article. "They just kept going, running, killing themselves. In my
opinion, I wish [Brown] could have slowed down and relaxed and enjoyed his
Q: What was one of the more memorable moments during the interview?
-- Carl in Florida
A. (Bryan Monroe) | It was very interesting to watch him react when we
played a digital video of the famous Motown 25 performance for him on my
MacBook Pro, and later when he listened to and talked about an early demo
version of Billie Jean on my iPhone. He was both excited to be back in the
moment and equally uncomfortable talking about his performances. (And he is
clearly fascinated by new technology.)
Q: Can he still dance as amazingly as he did before?
-- Gabriella in England
A. (Bryan Monroe) | For a man nearly 50, he was still incredibly limber. He
showed of a few of his classic moves during the photo shoot - the leg
twist/kick move in particular. Yes, he's still got it.
Q: When is a new CD coming out?
-- K. Hall in Alabama
A. (Joy Bennett) | Not sure. Michael told us repeatedly that he was writing
every day and recording in the studio. He also says that he thinks he's
got more blockbuster hits coming out (see the story for more on his writing
process). Neither he nor his staff will confirm a date but we'll be on the
lookout for an early 2008 new release.
Q: Is he very shy in person?
-- Stacie in New York
A. (Joy Bennett) | No, surprisingly he was not very shy. He wasn't shrouded,
masked or gloved and he answered questions directly, and at great length.
Q: There has been talk about his skin color. Is he the whitest person to
be on the cover of Ebony?
-- Mae in Southeast Asia
A. (Joy Bennett) | Not at all, the actor Carroll O'Connor was on Ebony's
cover as his character, Archie Bunker in June 1972. But make no mistake,
despite his unusually light skin, he has said it is due to a skin condition
called vitiligo, Michael is still 100 percent African American.
Q: I think America still has yet to grasp the influence and position Michael
has internationally. You can ask a woman who grew up in a small community in
Norway, and a woman who grew up in Africa, and they will know his name, and
his music. I have some questions: Who decided on the clothing? Was it picked
by the stylist, and approved by Michael Jackson beforehand? Why this
particular museum? Was the location picked by Michael Jackson?
-- Annette in Norway
A: (Harriette Cole) | Michael wanted to be photographed in an artistic
setting and the Brooklyn Museum gladly accommodated us all. We shot in the
midst of ancient and contemporary history, and it was powerful to be in that
space. Regarding the wardrobe, we worked with celebrity fashion stylist
Phillip Bloch to develop concepts for wardrobe and then he and his team went
shopping. We really wanted him to look elegant and timeless on the cover.
We found a number of looks that would achieve that and presented them to
Michael. He ultimately chose what he would be happy to wear--which turned
out to be far more outfits than we had time to shoot! Michael Jackson was
the perfect fit for everything we put on him. It was a lot of fun to work
with someone who looks great in clothes, who knows how to move his body and
who understands the camera. It was magic!
Q: Could you give us some insights on what went into the thought process of
Michael's choice of fashion accessories that complemented each outfit?
A: (Harriette Cole) We learned before the shoot that Michael loves jewelry,
especially diamonds, more particularly diamond brooches. So Phillip and his
team went diamond shopping, calling upon some of the most well known
jewelers in the world. And sure enough we ended up with more than $2
million worth of jewelry at the shoot for Michael's consideration.
Q: Did most of the people who worked with Michael, during the interview or
photo shoot feel intimated by him? How did he interact with the crew?
-- Samantha and Michele
A: (Harriette Cole) What I loved the most about working with Michael Jackson
is how kind he was to everyone. He was gracious to the elevator operator,
the guard and the executives in the museum. He made sure to thank each
person who was in ear shot when the shoot was over. He was generous and
kind. Did some people feel intimidated by him? I don't know if that's the
right word. More, I think some people were mesmerized. Some were pinching
themselves wondering if they actually were in the presence of the King of
Q: Michael looks healthier and happier than he's been in years (not just in
the photo shoot but in paparazzi pictures even). In your time spent with
Michael, did you get a sense that he really wants to make a comeback and
reinvent the music industry again? The world is awaiting his next move,
but I get the feeling he doesn't even realize how much he is missed in the
A: (Harriette Cole) Michael certainly seemed healthy and happy--and more,
content. He had a peace about him that was palpable. He seemed
comfortable in his own skin. Never mind, he's got the body that any woman or
man would die for! At 49 years old, he's got a slim dancer's body, evidence
of consistent, disciplined exercise. So, could he make a comeback? He
certainly seems strong enough. We also know that he is actively in the
studio creating. He told us that he travels with a tape recorder so that
whenever he gets the inspiration to make music he can capture it for later
reflection. He also noted that many artists today are not reaching inside
to create their own unique music. He thinks it's breakthrough time. That
certainly could include a Michael Jackson breakthrough--or should I say
Q: Tell us about BLANKET! That little mysterious baby! How did you find the
little boy? Was he a well-behaved kid? How are both father and son to each
other? Do you get a real sense of how Michael is as a father to his children
from what you've seen so far?
-- Melissa in Manila, Philippines
A: (Harriette Cole) | We didn't meet Michael's two other children. His
daughter, Paris, is 9 and he has another son, Michael Joseph, 10. Blanket
was incredibly well-behaved while he was in our company, which is saying a
lot for a 5-year-old. He is obviously very close to his dad. They walked
into the fitting holding hands and only separated when both of them became
at ease. Michael's parenting skills were to be commended. Without many
words, with very subtle gestures he offered discipline, guidance and
support. Michael also obviously wants Blanket to learn good manners, so
when the Ebony team came into the room for the interview, Michael coached
Blanket on the proper way to shake hands and say hello. Small things, but
isn't it the small things that show the measure of one's true self?
Q: Are there plans for another Ebony/Jet/Michael Jackson collaboration in
the near future?
A. (Bryan Monroe) | As they say, "stay tuned." We are planning one more
cover, this time on our sister publication, Jet magazine, to come out in
mid-December. It is a weekly magazine, so keep an eye out for it on your
newsstand. We may even have some breaking news in it, too!
Watch video of Michael back in the day and check more EbonyJet.com