18 Things You Didn’t Know About Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”
1. MTV And Showtime Helped Pay For It
An executive at Sony freaked out and rejected a $900,000 budget Jackson proposed for the video, and talked him down to $500,000. (An expensive video at the time would top out around $100,000.) To balance the budget, a behind the scenes documentary was sold to MTV for $250,000 and Showtime for $300,000.
2. Jackson Lived With His Parents When The Video Was Made
He was the best-selling pop star in the world, but was living with his folks in Encino, California. This is part of the reason why Landis and the producers rejected Jackson’s offer to pay for the entire video out of his own pocket.
3. Jackson Was Almost Excommunicated For Making The Video
When the Jehovah’s Witnesses found out he was making a werewolf video, they threatened to excommunicate him because it violated their strict rules about occult imagery.
4. Jackson Almost Had The Footage Destroyed
Michael ordered the film to be destroyed when he found out that he was in trouble with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the editor and director hid the film canisters until the singer changed his mind.
5. Jackson Made Out With His Co-Star Ola Ray
“He was shy, she tried not to scare him by coming on too strong,” Ray told Vanity Fair. “What we had was such like a little kindergarten thing going on.” In the same interview, Ray confirmed that she and Jackson had “kissing and puppy-love make-out sessions,” and teased that there was “a little more than that.”
6. Ola Ray Was A “Playboy” Model
She appeared in the June 1980 issue.
7. Jane Fonda Gave Ola Ray Advice On The Set
Fonda was filming a workout video near the “Thriller” studio and ended up giving Ray some tips on wooing Jackson while they got their makeup done.
8. “Thriller” Was The Seventh Single From “Thriller”
It was the final single and video from the record, and came out over a year after the album was released. Thriller was already the best-selling album ever before the video for the title track was released, and the sales doubled once the clip was in heavy rotation on MTV.
9. The Zombie Costumes Were Made From Clothes Picked Up At A Salvation Army
They had to cut corners on the budget somewhere!
10. “Thriller” Was Screened In Theaters So It Would Be Eligible For An Oscar
“Thriller” never received an Academy Award nomination, but the video was screened before Fantasia for a week in Westwood, California just so it could be eligible for a short film nod.
11. “Thriller” Basically Created The Home Video Market
The Making of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which includes the video in full, was the best-selling musical on VHS ever, worldwide. It was sold at a lower price point than most VHS tapes at the time, which helped boost sales.
12. It Lost The Top Prize At The MTV Video Music Awards
“Thriller” was nominated for Video of the Year at the first-ever VMAs in 1984, but it lost to The Cars’ surreal clip for “You Might Think.” MTV later declared it the Greatest Music Video Ever Made.
13. It’s The First Music Video Ever Inducted Into The National Film Registry
The Library of Congress deemed the short film “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” in 2009.
14. Director John Landis Had Previous Experience With Werewolves
Jackson hired Landis on the strength of his work on An American Werewolf In London, which came out in 1981.
15. Landis Recycled This Disclaimer
It appeared in An American Werewolf In London too.
16. Jackson’s Dad Scared Him With Monster Masks As A Kid
Part of the inspiration for the video came from his father’s attempt to frighten him as a child. According to Jackson biographer J. Randy Tabmorrelli, Joe Jackson once “put on a fright mask and crawled into Michael’s bedroom through a window at night, screaming” to teach his young son that he should keep the window closed when he slept. It’s just like when George Sr. hired the one-armed guy to teach his kids “lessons” on Arrested Development.
17. Michael’s Red Jacket Sold For $1.8 Million
The iconic jacket, designed by Deborah Nadoolman, sold for an absurd amount of money at an auction in 2011.
18. This Is How You Do The “Thriller” Zombie Dance
So, go on, make your own video.