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View Full Version : Q&A with Steve Binder, Producer of the '68 Special



presley31
12-03-2008, 02:07 AM
December 3 marks the 40th anniversary of the first airing of Elvis' 1968 television special. Below is an Q&A that Steve did with Elvis Insiders.

Steve Binder, a writer, producer, director, and editor, is widely known as the producer of the '68 Special. He is the man responsible for moving the '68 Special away from its intended holiday spcial and turning it into the iconic performance it is known as today, including the famous "jam session" performance.

Posted by TCBMelissa:
“What was your reaction as soon as Elvis stepped up onto the stage for the 68 Special?”
We actually started taping without an audience and shooting film style with a lot of stop and go's. I had no idea how the opening guitar-man sequence would turn out until I finished editing the pieces together. I will say that when I first met Elvis at my office on Sunset Blvd., I definitely felt I was in the presence of someone 'special'. When we actually did the concert portions of the special with an audience, my reaction was that Elvis was finding his way home and realizing he really was the reason his fans loved him and respected his talent and it was not because of RCA and the Colonel and their publicity machines.

Posted by CarolineLovesElvis:
“How were you approached to do the ‘68 Special with Elvis?” I was asked to produce and direct the special by NBC and our executive producer Bob Finkel. At the time, I was partners with record producer Bones Howe who was producing music artists The Fifth Dimension and The Association, and he told me he had engineered one of Elvis's albums early on. He thought that Elvis and I would 'hit-it-off' and I'd love working with him and that definitely turned out to be the case. Mr. Finkel thought that the special would never get made unless he found someone young that Elvis could relate too. The truth is that Elvis was afraid of doing television even though the Colonel and NBC had made an agreement for him to star in a Christmas special. When I say Elvis was afraid of television, I mean that he told me he was very relaxed while making records but television just wasn't his 'turf'. I told him, "Then you make an album and I'll put pictures to it." He told me later that when I said that it took a weight off of his shoulders.

Posted by LOVERDOLL:
“Did you get the impression that Elvis knew deep down that he still had it, in spite of the bad case of stage fright and nerves?”
I think at the time that Elvis wasn't sure he still 'had it.' He told me that he hadn't appeared before a live audience in years and wasn't sure the audience in 1968 would accept him. That was the most important thing to me about the special. Seeing Elvis rediscovering himself!

Posted by Gigi:
“Since the 68 Special has so many special moments, is there any particular segment of the ‘68 Special that is your personal favorite?”
Yes, the sit-down segments of the special. I actually taped two full hours of improvisation with two different audiences. Those segments were my goal from the very beginning. To show the public the real Elvis. For years the Colonel thought he was protecting Elvis's career by keeping him away from the public. Elvis made a lot of movies that he didn't particularly enjoy making and never in front of a live audience. Nobody ever got to hear Elvis talk without a script written by other people and I wanted the world to see what Elvis was like when no one was telling him what to do or say. When I first met the Colonel at his office at MGM studios, he told me that all he wanted Elvis to do was sing "Hello" at the beginning and "Merry Christmas" at the end. When I told him that I wanted to bring cameras backstage in Elvis' dressing room and record the improvised jam sessions, I was told for days that I couldn't do it by the Colonel. He told me he hated the idea and didn't want Elvis seen by his fans that way. Finally, after enough pestering, he told me I could re-create what was going on in the dressing room every night IF I did it on stage with the caveat that if he didn't like what he saw, he would destroy the tapes. It's a good thing for all of us that he liked what he saw.

Posted by elvisnybakke:
“Mr Binder, I talked with you once before and you had a beautiful description of Elvis on center stage with the audience all around him. You said, "Elvis was like a tiger in a cage." Was it a collaboration of ideas to put Elvis out there on such a small stage or was it an idea you came up with?” It was a real collaboration with my art director Gene McAvoy and myself. We actually built the stage for only one segment with the orchestra playing live behind him. That was when Elvis sang a medley of his hit records. I don't think either Gene or myself thought at the time that the small stage would force Elvis to move around like a caged animal. It had the feeling to me of two fighters in a boxing ring. Instead of having Elvis stand in one place and sing, I told him to feel free to move around and I would photograph him wherever he was. I even loved the shots behind his back. When I finally convinced the Colonel to let me tape the improvisational segments, we didn't have time to build a new set and we had run out of money in our budget. Gene and I decided to use the same set we used earlier but surround it with his fans. A few years later, Frank Sinatra did a special and used the same idea.

Posted by ShainaQ:
“Why do you think Elvis never sang "If I Can Dream" again after the '68 special?” I don't know the answer. Maybe "If I Can Dream" was so special to him that he didn't want to ruin it by singing it over and over again.

Posted by JACKIE:
“Was there anything at all during the making of the 68 Special that you wish you had captured of Elvis on sound and or video. For example: the 68 Special dressing room jam session was so amazing to listen to if only there had been video of it.”
You nailed it! I regret to this day that I was not able to shoot the actual dressing room jam sessions when they were actually happening. My original idea was to bring in cameras and hide them so Elvis and the other guys never knew they were being taped. Like candid camera. I do feel really fortunate though that we did tape the sessions on stage though we never planned it when our 'team' created the special, wrote the script and chose the songs for Elvis to sing. When I was privileged to be in the dressing room while the jam sessions were going on I said to myself, "This is better than anything we have in my script book. I've got to capture this on tape!"

Posted by EPCRAZY:
“How did you win the power struggle between you and the colonel where others had failed? In the end we know you won out!”
The answer is that I was young and pretty naive at the time. All I wanted to do was a great special for Elvis. The Colonel had nothing to bribe me with to control me and get me to do what he wanted and he knew that right away. When anyone asks me who the Colonel was, I always told them he was the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz. He was hiding behind curtains with a lot of flashing lights going on and off but were attached to nothing. I have no animosity for the Colonel but I knew all he wanted was to be the only one to control Elvis. I wish I was a fly on the wall during the making of the special and heard the conversations between the Colonel and Elvis. I'm sure Elvis in no uncertain terms told the Colonel he loved what I was doing and not to interfere....though at times he tried too.

Posted by Russ 99:
“We all know how much of a perfectionist Elvis was when it came to his music and performances. Was it at all difficult being a young producer directing such an unbelievable talent as Elvis Presley?”
Truthfully, Elvis was one of the easiest stars that I have ever worked with in my entire career. I have always believed that a director and a star should be egoless and aim for the best performance possible. I can't remember one confrontation we had during the entire production. I think the reason was that I respected his talent and he respected mine. I think speaking the truth goes a long way in gaining another persons trust and Elvis knew I would never B.S. him.

Posted by EP FAN:
“I was wondering what was yours and Elvis' reaction when you and Elvis walked up and down the street and no one recognized Elvis?”
Going out on Sunset Boulevard was triggered by my asking him one day what he thought would happen to him if he did. He said smiling that he didn't know. He asked me what I thought and I told him that I thought nothing would happen. It was 1968 and I felt the era of hysterical fans trying to tear his clothes off was a thing of the past. A few days later, he came to my office to rehearse with our music director, Billy Goldenberg and the first thing he did was to ask me to go outside with him in front of our building. When we went out there as you know, nothing happened. Nobody yelled Elvis or tried to approach him. After about five minutes he told me I was right and he had enough. What I never told him was that I thought nobody even realized he was the real Elvis. In Hollywood, Las Vegas, Graceland or other parts of the world, your see guys trying to dress and look like Elvis all the time. I'm sure if there was a sign saying "Elvis is here" or a publicity campaign that advertised that he was going to be on Sunset Boulevard at such and such a time, it probably would have been a lot different. Maybe there would have been a small riot. But what worked for me in those early days of pre-production was that day by day, Elvis was gaining trust in me and what I said to him. And that is so essential when working with any artist.

Source:EPE

Diane
12-03-2008, 02:32 AM
This was a really great article Jen. This Steve Binder sounds like the kind of person who Elvis should have replaced the Colonel with.

Diane

franny
12-03-2008, 06:29 PM
Thanks, for sharing Jen. I enjoyed reading this interview.

I really like the answer he gave about the Colonel...:lol:

Posted by EPCRAZY:
“How did you win the power struggle between you and the colonel where others had failed? In the end we know you won out!”

The answer is that I was young and pretty naive at the time. All I wanted to do was a great special for Elvis. The Colonel had nothing to bribe me with to control me and get me to do what he wanted and he knew that right away. When anyone asks me who the Colonel was, I always told them he was the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz. He was hiding behind curtains with a lot of flashing lights going on and off but were attached to nothing. I have no animosity for the Colonel but I knew all he wanted was to be the only one to control Elvis. I wish I was a fly on the wall during the making of the special and heard the conversations between the Colonel and Elvis. I'm sure Elvis in no uncertain terms told the Colonel he loved what I was doing and not to interfere....though at times he tried too.