David Chase
David Chase

I expected "Sopranos" creator David Chase to be scary and intimidating. He's a sweetheart. I first met him at an industry screening of "Not Fade Away," a look back at his days as a young musician in New Jersey. I followed up with Chase with a phone interview, below.

The movie opened December 21 after a New York Film Festival launch.  Is this movie commercial? No. But it's good. And it hits the Boomer demo head on. Did you listen to John Mayall and James Brown in high school? Remember when vinyl records were wrapped in plastic and people wore pea coats and grey suede Vegas boots? Then this movie is for you.

Chase knows that it's thanks to his ex-manager Brad Grey, who runs Paramount now, that the Stanford film studies grad got to make this delicious and personal slice of authentic 60s life with just one recognizable star, Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini. He's excellent and moving as the hard-nosed old-school Italian father of a counter-cultural high school/college kid (John Magaro, pictured) who starts a band, first as drummer and then as lead singer/songwriter. This is the kind of film Hollywood doesn't make anymore: idiosyncratic, not following any sense of pre-determined three-act structure or pacing, organic and real.

The movie cost $20 million (backed by Paramount Vantage and Indian Paintbrush) and at least $2.5 million of that went to the music rights. "Sopranos" star, "E Street Band" member and music guru Steve Van Zandt went first to Paul McCartney, lined up the Beatles at a favored nations rate, followed by the Rolling Stones and eventually Bob Dylan.  Everyone else came on board below the $50,000 per song Beatles/Stones deal, except The Who and Jimi Hendrix (whom no one can get). The music in the movie--Chase wrote into the script far more than the finally selected 50 songs--is foot-tapping good.

Van Zandt is crucial to making the young band work. Mostly they do covers (and he had to help determine which ones they could deliver), but there is one original song as well, written by Van Zandt. Chase insisted on casting good actors, not musicians, and they in turn went to boot camp with Zandt at his home studio to learn how to play. Van Zandt also worked with experts to make sure every guitar, mic and piece of equipment was true to the exact period. That's what the band used. And Van Zandt recorded live analog sound; he didn't even go digital until the final mix. Jack Huston ("Boardwalk Empire") had to play guitar and sing (badly), while Magaro ("Liberal Arts") learned drums and vocals. Bella Heathcote ("Dark Shadows") is another one to watch.

One thing that was added for the sake of audience understanding was an over-narration by the kid's younger sister, says Chase. She needed to explain, 'no, this is not a biopic, or about a band that we all recognize.' It's about that band that so many people were part of when they were young who did not make it. And it's about not losing that back beat.

Not Fade Away

Anne Thompson: Did you ever have to promote a TV series like 'The Sopranos' the way you did this movie?

David Chase: I did not to this extent, and not intensely like this. A show debuts once a year and you do interviews with a few people, and that's it. This keeps happening all through the year. The biggest surprise even thought I knew, was it was three years of work for two or three months of activity. It's the intensity of the activity, I can't believe it's over in two or three months, the movie comes out and it's on to the next.