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Interview: '20 Feet' director Morgan Neville at National Board Of Review Gala

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Last night on Jan. 7, Examiner.com was on the red carpet at the 2014 National Board Of Review Awards Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street. We had the opportunity to exclusively interview "20 Feet from Stardom" director Morgan Neville. The film was listed as one of the "Top 5 Documentaries" of the years.

How did you get involved with the film?

My producer Gil Friesen, had gone to a Leonard Cohen concert, while under the influence of marijuana, if you really want to know the real story and kept staring at the backup singers and said what’s their story that’s the question he kept asking. I met him and he said let’s find out what the story is. We interviewed over 80 backup singers and spent a couple of years making the film and we premiered it a year ago next week. So it’s been amazing!

The film has had such a warm reception. Can you reflect on that?

It’s the number one documentary of the year in the box office which is incredible. You make a film like this kind of isolated for a couple of years and you don’t know if people are gonna like it. We hadn’t shown it to an audience until the premiere opening night at Sundance. There were 1200 people there clapping and the singers were there in attendance they hadn’t seen the film before, and from that moment on it’s just been that kind of warm reception from the audience. I think people see something of themselves in these stories.

Can you speak about wrangling all the talent? There are a lot of rock stars featured.

We did, but when you’re trying to get a Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger or Sting or whomever to be in your film, they’re talking about people they know and love and have worked with for years. For them they’re talking about people, they understand more than anybody what the backup singer does. So it was important to get their points of views in and they were all really happy to do it.

How did you get your start in filmmaking?

I used to be a journalist. I wrote for the Bay Guardian in San Francisco. I had an idea for a documentary started making it and never looked back. I been doing it ever since.

What is your latest project?

I’m doing a film with YoYo Ma right now, it’s a little different, but we’re shooting all over the Middle East. I was just in China with him. So it will be interesting. It’s a music film but a very different music film.

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