Monday, April 29, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Acclaimed Young Filmmaker Turns Cameras Toward Legendary American Rock Band Chicago

Peter Pardini (center) with Chicago's Keith Howland (left) & Walt Parazaider
Peter Pardini was bitten by the cinema bug early. The 26-year-old filmmaking wunderkind, whose magnificent obsession with movies started back in kindergarten, has already directed three features, four feature documentaries, and several short films, music videos and commercials

Despite all this early success, the amiable director and screenwriter, whose work is sampled here, never dreamed he'd get a chance at this stage of his career to get total and unprecedented access to a legendary American rock band like Chicago - despite the fact that Peter's uncle, Lou Pardini, a Grammy-nominated songwriter, vocalist and keyboardist, is the band's newest member.

Peter didn't land this coveted gig because of his uncle. In fact, he says he probably had to work even harder to prove to the band that he was worthy. "It was really a year-long process of proving myself incrementally to the guys," says Peter, who graduated from Cal State Northridge's screenwriting department at the top of his class and was the only undergraduate selected for the department's 2010 annual screenwriting competition for his short film The Benders

In his very first media interview, Peter told me that his working relationship with Chicago began inauspiciously when the band asked him to shoot some video of the group recording its Christmas album in Nashville. It wasn't a paying gig, Peter notes, "but I obviously hoped that if the band liked what I did it could lead to more work."

Filmmaker Peter Pardini
Peter worked on the project for 10 days, and the band was evidently pleased with the results. Because two months later, Peter got a call from Lee Loughnane, Chicago's trumpet player and co-founder, who asked Peter, "What are you doing next year? Do you want to bring your cameras and come out on the road with us?" 

It didn't take long for Peter to answer. He hit the road with the band beginning in April 2011 and started filming every show, all over the world. "Out of the band's 110 shows that year," he says, "I was at 100 of them, shooting every night from all different angles."

The result of all of his work is Chicago World Tour 2011: Backstage Pass, an expertly crafted, entertaining new documentary now available on DVD. Fast-paced and painstakingly edited, Peter's film, which documents the group's travels from Germany to Italy to France to Spain, and more, features funny, candid and at times touching interviews with each of the nine current members. There's also plenty of concert footage, including some remarkable shots directly from the stage. 

It didn't start out as a full-length feature film project. When he began, Peter was assigned to produce five-minute vidoes for Chicago's website. But eventually he was asked to put together a feature for theaters. 

"I had edited a lot of stuff, but basically I had to make it all into a full story, which was very time consuming," he says. "I went back to Fresno (California), my hometown, to edit it. I did it all in my grandmother’s basement. I lived there for two months and just worked night and day. There was a pool table. It was my world for those two months. It was Lou's childhood home." 

The hard work shows. Watching the film, you'd think Peter had assembled a large and seasoned crew. But, he says understatedly, "No, it was just me. I shot it all myself. The thing about Chicago is, they're so professional, so good at what they do, you can just film their performances night after night and they always get it right, they just don't make mistakes. It made the editing process so much easier."

The film, which captures both the energy that has always defined Chicago in concert with the humor and human touch that this band has always possessed, is a fitting tribute to an eternally underrated group. Chicago, which has been around for 46 years, is arguably the most popular American rock band of all time. The group still sells lots of records and plays to sellout crowds worldwide. And the guys are evidently very happy to have this young filmmaker chronicling their work.

Chicago's Loughnane tells The Reno Dispatch, "It was exciting to be working with someone who's young and hungry to create just like we were when we started. That process has never stopped for us and I think it will never stop for Peter, either."

Peter, who's also the director, writer and co-star of an inspired short film titled Ordinary Man about a superhero who loses his powers and seeks to find meaning in his life as an ordinary man, has an obvious affection for Chicago. But is he really old enough to appreciate the music, so much of which was made before he was even born? 

"Oh yeah, absolutely. I was a huge Chicago fan growing up," says Peter, who particularly loved the songs from Chicago VI and Chicago VII, which both represent the band at its creative peak. In seventh grade, Peter made a movie with his friends and they put Saturday in the Park in the film. He also owned the band's original Greatest Hits album. 

"I know and love all those songs," says Peter, who while out on tour remembers suddenly finding himself standing on stage beside Chicago co-founder Robert Lamm as Lamm sang Saturday in the Park. "It was surreal, it was this weird full-circle thing," Peter recalls. "Here was the real guy singing the song I loved and had used in one of my early movies. I tend to think cinematically; I look at life like a movie. It was a pinch-yourself moment."

In Peter's film, which is largely about personal relationships, Chicago founder Walt Parazaider, who plays sax and flute, talks about the enduring friendship of the band's immortal three-piece horn section, which unbelievably has remained intact since 1967.

Parazaider says in the film that when the band performs, "A spiritual wire passes through all three of us. It is one of most wonderful relationships I have in my life. We are like brothers.  There is an unspoken thing that is so spiritual. If I pinpointed it to you, we would lose it. Jimmy (Pankow) and Lee (Loughnane) make me a better musician.We've gone through so much together, there is a surprise every day. I wake up every day and learn something. I'm so grateful that I can do this. We don't ever go to work, we go to play."

Peter, whose career goal is to make movies for the masses while maintaining a level of artistic integrity, says that while most people his age don’t know the band Chicago by name, "they have all heard the music. It is ingrained in popular culture. They're the only band in history to have top 40 albums in six different decades, it's incredible. Anything I can do with my work to give them more recognition with people my age, I'm happy to do that. Not that they need more recognition, but I get frustrated when I talk to people who don’t know the band."

Peter says he really didn't know what to expect when he started this collaboration, which he hopes will continue as long as the band will have him. 

"You hear about the egos and different personalities in rock bands," he says. "You know, things like 'you should stay away from this guy or that guy.' But with Chicago, everyone is open and friendly and accessible. There is none of that drama. They genuinely love what they are doing and like each other. And they also care deeply about their own legacy and living up to that legacy, every night they perform."

And the love out there for Chicago's iconic songs, Peter says, is "so incredibly strong, no matter what part of the world you're in. I've never seen anything like it."

Tris Imboden, Chicago's drummer, told Peter something while they were in Europe that stuck with him. "Tris said that it was amazing how you can be in Des Moines, Iowa, then in Berlin, Germany, and the audience reacts exactly the same way to the songs," Peter says. "And it's so true. Working with the band has been an incredible experience for me, both professionally and personally."

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