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HomeIndustry SectorFilmDirector Chris Perkel Presents the Inside Story on Clive Davis

Director Chris Perkel Presents the Inside Story on Clive Davis


clive_davis_documentary.poster.1Based on renowned music executive Clive Davis’s autobiography, the recent film Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives had been long in the planning stages. Finally, through executive producer Mary Lisio, a non-fiction overseer at Scott Free Entertainment, director Chris Perkel was brought on board to helm the project.  Hailing from Riverdale in Bronx, New York City, Perkel had previously edited Pearl Jam Twenty, a massive archival project. “This was going to be something similar,” said Perkel. “[Mary] knew that what was most important to Clive was someone with a certain sensitivity—someone comfortable around music.”

With Los Angeles as his hub, Perkel endeavored to set up myriad interviews, including, foremost, Clive Davis himself, at his offices in Manhattan, New York and in his home in Pound Ridge, Westchester. Titans of the music business were also sought out for interviews, including Barry Manilow, located in Palm Springs, California, Carlos Santana in Las Vegas, and David Geffen in New York.

Barry Manilow & Clive Davis
Barry Manilow & Clive Davis

Using the autobiography as, not only a reference point, but also as the source of a rigorous understanding of Davis’s perspective on his own career, Perkel’s interviews offered him a chance to speak to characters from Davis’s life and immortalize their points-of-view on Davis’s role in their musical lives. “A blueprint for where the story would likely go,” Perkel explained of the book and his first interviews. “Not blindly poking to see what’s out there; [I needed] a better understanding of the breadth and scope of Clive’s career.”

To actuate the colossal task of retrieving photos and footage from throughout Davis’ profession, now spanning 55 years, Perkel’s team recruited archival producers Susan Ricketts and Samantha Kerzner. “They had a daunting task of digging up archive for a wide array of artists over 50 years of popular music,” Perkel described. “You are diving into other parts of the culture, trying to understand what this music means to the people who love it. It’s fun when it really resonates with you.”

Clive Davis & Carlos Santana at a Film Premiere
Clive Davis & Carlos Santana at a Film Premiere

With extensive effort, Ricketts and Kerzner rummaged through a variety of sources to find relevant materials related to Davis’ legendary livelihood. “They ended up becoming the umbrella for the three companies that Clive was involved with: Columbia Records, Arista Records, and J Records,” Perkel said. “The last source was Clive’s close friend Jim Bunton: home movie footage. His stuff is so great.”

In Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, viewers will see footage from an Alicia Keys album release party, Davis dancing to Whitney Houston’s music in his New York office, and archival material from Davis’s yearly Grammy party where one can witness Natalie Cole singing with Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin singing with Alicia Keys. “What makes Clive so exceptional is that [the public] really knows everything—these are not obscure artists,” Perkel conveyed. “Davis had the ability to discover and incubate and help promote talent that spans so many artists and decades. It reminds you of a time and place and recollection. You cannot have lived in this culture and not experienced this music.”

Clive Davis signing a teenaged Whitney Houston to a record contract
Clive Davis signing a teenaged Whitney Houston to a record contract

In the end, Perkel’s film tallied 135 music cues. “It has to be some kind of record,” Perkel quipped of the music he was able to license in the film, most of which fell under the overall guise of Sony Music. “I can’t think of a single feature that could possibly have that much music in it. We always knew that would be one of the biggest ticket items. The film is about the music—you will end up seeing commonalities in music that you might have missed. You can appreciate all of it, and wouldn’t the experience be better if you did?”

Undoubtedly, the late Whitney Houston was one of the greatest discoveries of Davis’s career at Arista Records, but the film takes a different approach to that aspect of Davis’s story. “A lot of films which have come out in the wake of ours spend a lot of time on Whitney’s downfall,” Perkel claimed. “For our film, why we wanted to discuss that difficult period is we wanted to remind people just how exceptional she was. Clive was always trying to bring her back to the studio because he believed that if he could get her working again, he could get her engaged in positive behavior. The music industry and fame can be tough on people.”

In a testament to Davis, Perkel stated that the artists with whom he spoke have genuine affection for Davis as a person and the role he played in their careers. “He will leave no stone unturned to make sure that that work would be appreciated by people,” Perkel noted. “Who doesn’t want that kind of wind in your sails? I didn’t know what the artist perspective was going to be on Clive, [but] everyone we spoke to said the same thing. I didn’t know if it was going to align with [Davis’s] perception on his role, but it really aligned.”

Clive Davis & David Geffen
Clive Davis & David Geffen

During his two-year creation of Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Perkel gained ultimate respect for Davis as a model for other creative souls in the arts and entertainment. “To stay engaged and excited about the world and the culture around you,” said Perkel of Davis, now 88. “Clive never got narrow—I see in him an openness and an appreciation. It’s something to aspire to. In terms of scope and longevity, nobody beats Clive.”

In 2017, Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives premiered on opening night of the TriBeca Film Festival. “It was happening at Radio City Music Hall where my grandmother was a Rockette,” Perkel detailed. “This is going to be tough to beat for the rest of my career.”

To view the film, please link to:

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