Rex Fowler and Susan Graham
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January 2004 sees the release of an important new DVD
documentary and soundtrack CD about Elvis Presley. 200 Cadillacs is the
brainchild of Rex Fowler and is important because it distinguishes itself by
focusing on one aspect of Elvis' legendary generosity - the giving away of
cadillacs to friends and complete strangers. EIN recently caught up with
Rex Fowler and Executive Producer,
EIN: Rex, what gave you the inspiration for 200 Cadillacs?
RF: I had read somewhere that Elvis had given away 200 Cadillacs and thought it would make a great title and theme for a documentary by chasing down some of the recipients to get their stories.
EIN: Elvis' generosity is legendary. How difficult was it to produce a documentary solely devoted to one aspect of that generosity?
RF: Extremely difficult! Having never made a documentary film before, the temptation was to run helter-skelter in different directions. I was reined in many times by Dan and Susan during the filming and later by our co-producer and editor Mike Balabuch.
We actually branched out from the cars to other facets of Elvis' generosity, but
even with that we hardly scratched the surface of stories.
EIN: What were some of the highlights for you both in making 200 Cadillacs?
RF: The whole aspect of it - researching then lining up the interviews. Filming, especially the first interview at the NH State Prison and then following it up right away in Memphis during Elvis week. Last but not least, writing and recording my original songs about Elvis. I also came away with so much more respect and admiration for Elvis Presley, the person.
SG: For me it was meeting so many of Elvis' closest friends and colleagues.
Also the satisfaction of finishing the project and getting it out the door. It
was fun to go to some film festivals where we were well received.
EIN: You must have come
across some funny stories while talking to people during production. Can you
share some of these with us.
RF: There is a lot of material that didn’t make it in this film that was quite hilarious, especially some of the Elvis impersonators interviewed in Memphis. Suffice it to say they all owe their post show social life almost exclusively to The King.
SG: We sure had fun with the interviewees, but
the sessions seem so long ago that I can't think of anything off the top of my
EIN: 200 Cadillacs goes beyond Elvis's material generosity. It includes stories of Elvis the humanitarian, Elvis the emotionally concerned friend. Please tell us about some of these.
RF: I think all of the interviewees spoke most eloquently with regard to this question, especially Linda Thompson.
SG: You can see in the movie how -one after the other - they all talked about the joy they saw in Elvis' face and eyes when he was giving things away. He loved to see the recipient's surprised reaction.
How long did it take from inception of the concept to finished product and
SG: Well I'm not sure when Rex started his research and wrote some of his songs. I got involved in May of 2002. The filming started at the 25th Anniversary Elvis week. We all went. Filming continued sporadically for another year, although we started to edit before it was all filmed. Another song or two came during this time period, too. Finding a distributor took about a year. We preferred this to a "self-release" - and we've been very happy working with Image Entertainment.
EIN: Producing a documentary such as 200 Cadillacs cannot be a cheap thing to do. How was it funded?
SG: It was funded with personal funds from me and some friends of mine. And you are correct - it wasn't cheap. As Rex says, we learned as we went along, making mistakes, moving on.
EIN: The soundtrack to the documentary is particularly impressive. How was the soundtrack concept devised and put together?
RF: We started with the songs in the film and then branched out to favorites of all of ours by other artists having to do with or about Elvis. This could easily have been a double CD.
EIN: Rex, the title track is written and sung by you. Your voice reminded me very much of the lead singer of Wall of Voodoo, a group who coincidentally released the single, Elvis Bought Dora A Cadillac in the late 1980s. Is there any connection?
RF: Hmmm, never heard this song or was aware of the group. It would be fun to check them out though. I’m a big fan of songs about Elvis and am amazed at how many great ones there are floating around out there.
EIN: Rex, tell us about Aztec Two-Step and your earlier music career.
RF: Hmmmm, this is harder than it sounds. We’re a pretty good acoustic duo that’s been kicking around for over 30 years now. My partner Neal Shulman and I debuted on Elektra Records in 1972 then recorded three more on RCA to finish out the 70’s. Somehow we’ve managed to hang together all these years and have just finished what is perhaps our best recording yet entitled “Days of Horses” that hopefully will be coming out in Spring ' 04. One of my songs, “Scotty Moore, Bill Black & Elvis” that didn’t make the soundtrack is featured on this recording. Anyone interested can check our website, www.aztectwostep.com
EIN: The soundtrack album features many highlights. What are some of your favorites?
RF: First and foremost I think all the songs and performances on this CD are fantastic, really! If I had to choose one absolute favorite it would be “Too Tired To Be Elvis Tonight” by Heather Eatman. Personally, recording at Sun Studio where Elvis first began his career was a major highlight. Performing live, in the studio versions of “Shine a Little Light on Elvis” and “Velvet Elvis” with my dear friends Devonsquare in Portland, Maine was huge for me. They’re such amazing singers. Also, recording the title track "200 Cadillacs" and “Tough & Tender” with those great studio musicians in NYC was a gas too.
SG: Ditto on Rex's songs (including "Runnin' with the King"). Recording at Sun Studios was definitely a highlight of the entire project. I really like The Cucumbers' songs "Blue Cadillac" and their version of "All Shook Up". Actually, I really like ALL of the songs chosen for the CD. :-)
EIN: Your use of appropriate songs at particular points in the narrative really enhances the impact of the documentary. For instance, Shine A Little Light on Elvis, a track penned by you is a poignant tribute. How did the song come about?
RF: I think reading the Peter Guralnick books inspired me the most, especially “Last Train To Memphis”. Brilliant, inspirational writing! Both books gave such poignant insights to Elvis the human being, that’s what touched me the most. I wanted to strip away all the BS you hear on all the talk shows and what is written about him in the tabloids and just write a song about this guy named Elvis Presley, his family and his contributions before he passed on.
EIN: The soundtrack album contains additional tracks not featured on the DVD. Does this mean there is additional footage and if yes, could we expect an 'extended edition' at some time in the future?
RF: I would love to extend this film or even make another one to follow it up, especially knowing a bit more about the film making process and some of the leads acquired while researching this one. There's lots more stories and some interesting side bars that would make for a very intriguing follow up footage.
SG: I see the potential for using some of the additional footage we have if we ever re-release the project. We wanted an "extras" feature on the DVD for this release, but we ran out of time and money.
EIN: In addition to great use of music, the documentary obtains significant effect from its tight editing. A lot of care must have gone into that part of the production process. How important was the editing in the final analysis?
SG: The editing was critical because we needed creative integration of the "talking heads" and the music. We were very fortunate to have the editors we had (Mike Balabuch and Ron Patane). They really put it together for us. I think they did a brilliant job on the music videos.
EIN: 200 Cadillacs features many faces and names that will be familiar to Elvis fans. How difficult was it in tracking down the interviewees?
RF: It was usually just a few degrees of separation to actually track down most of the interviewees that took place in Memphis. I met Myrna Smith in the airplane leaving Memphis and asked her for an interview which later took place in California. Gordan Stoker came about by just being tenacious once we were there, literally following him outside of a hotel to get a that quote. After trying to contact the Denver guys - Mr’s Kinny, Pietrafuso and Kennedy for days on end and to no avail by contacting various news media and the local police department, I simply called information and got their information in the phone book! To me, getting these guys really made the difference for this film.
SG: Dan Griffin, our director, worked with Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana for a number of years, so he was our first contact with the "Elvis world". And in the small-world department, Dan was having dinner with some friends of his in Connecticut one day. Coincidentally, their daughter's boyfriend worked with David Foster in California. We got the daughter to ask her friend to ask Linda for the interview. We were thrilled that she thought the concept was a great idea.
EIN: What were the major obstacles you faced in putting the documentary together?
RF: It took years of pitching the idea before finally meeting Dan. After that things went relatively fast thanks to Susan’s involvement. The hardest part for me was getting the three of us on the same page creatively. None of us had much, if any real experience in making a film before, so we were all flying by the seat of our pants. It was the most difficult and frustrating project I’ve ever worked on but now that it’s done, I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been involved.
SG: My sentiments precisely. I'm very grateful, too, and I have to thank Dan for getting me involved. One of the first obstacles was geographical. Rex lives in Connecticut, Dan an hour or so away from New York City, I live near Seattle, Washington, and our editors were in NY city. We needed lots of conference calls and I made a number of trips to NY. The editors would FedEx pieces of edited footage to us so we could give notes. Also, I had to deal with all the business side of things (licenses, accounting, contracts, etc) which presented their own set of frustrations. It seemed to take me forever to understand the differences between Master Use, Mechanical Use and Synch licenses and what I needed for the DVD vs the soundtrack. :-)
EIN: The documentary also features more than 200 photos of Elvis, including many never before seen candids. Who provided the photos?
SG: Sandi Miller was my first contact. What fun it was to sit in her living room and go through her boxes of pictures! She put me in touch with Russ Howe and Tom Salva. Seeing their collections in person was also a mind-boggling experience. When Mike and Ron would ask for more pictures, Russ, Tom, and Sandi would provide additional stunning shots. When the guys came back with the Denver interviews - with the story of Elvis and the bandages he'd use to prevent fans from pulling the rings off his fingers at concerts - Russ had the photo of Elvis' hand with Band-Aids on his fingers in my email box the next day!
EIN: Given the never-before-seen candids featured in 200 Cadillacs, it begs the questions of how many more unreleased photos exist and of any plans to release them. Can you comment please.
SG: I have no idea how many more unreleased photos there are out there. But Sandi and Russ have been working with Bud Glass on the Behind the Image books and Russ just released a book with his photos of a New York concert.
EIN: With release of the DVD imminent, what has been the reaction from the Elvis world so far?
It's been all
positive, for both the DVD and the soundtrack. We are thrilled!
EIN: Will 200 Cadillacs also be available in home video format? And if yes, will it be available in both PAL and NTSC format?
SG: Sorry, no. That was Image Entertainment's decision. The DVD and CD will both be available in Europe, Australia and Japan at the same time as the US/Canadian release.
EIN: Are there any plans for a follow-up documentary focusing on another aspect of the Elvis Presley legend?
RF: No plans yet but if EIN wants to back it, I’d love to write and direct it.
I can talk about yet. ;-}
Rex and Susan, thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedules to talk to us today. We wish you great success with 200 Cadillacs. It is a great DVD and CD release that is sure to capture the imagination of Elvis Presley fans around the world.
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