Director David Chase guided by memories and music
Director David Chase on the set of "Not Fade Away."
Executive producer/music supervisor Steven Van Zandt, center, works with Will Brill, left, and Jack Huston on the set of "Not Fade Away."
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It sounds like something David Chase heard, more than once, from his father and it was. "You look like you just got off the boat."
It was not a compliment. Neither was: "You and me are gonna tangle, my friend."
Mr. Chase, 67 and best known as creator of "The Sopranos," put the words into the mouth of the father in his big screen movie, "Not Fade Away," a valentine to 1960s music starring John Magaro as an aspiring rocker and James Gandolfini of "The Sopranos" as his father, Molly Price as his mother and Bella Heathcote as the girl of his dreams.
The movie opens today at AMC-Loews at the Waterfront, Carmike 15 in Greensburg and Cinemark near Tarentum.
The dad in "Not Fade Away," just like Mr. Chase's real-life father once did, runs a hardware store. Mr. Chase's mother worked for the telephone company.
"She proofread the phone book. She was one of many for each edition. She had Su through Sz. No, I don't know what her turf was," he said, although she was that rare working woman at a time when most moms had their hands full as housewives.
The parallels between Mr. Chase's younger life and "Not Fade Away" may lead people to assume the movie is autobiographical, but it's not, at least in a conventional sense.
"At first, I said it was not autobiographical at all because I was thinking in a very sort of documentary sense and it isn't that," he said in a phone call from a Philadelphia publicity stop.
"And the timeline didn't happen exactly that way and events didn't roll out the way it was depicted in the movie. In fact, the band was different from any kind of musical group that I was really in, but it's biographical in terms of my feelings at the time."
Born in 1945 in Mount Vernon, N.Y., and raised in New Jersey, Mr. Chase associates that time with a "generalized, romantic longing. I also spent a lot of those years afraid of being busted, even though I didn't really buy a lot of drugs, my friends all did, and I was always nervous about that."
At the time of the phone call, his friends had yet to see "Not Fade Away."
"One of them went on to have a record album, I don't know how much it sold, but it did sell. Another one became a producer for Elektra Records for a time. Another one was a guitar accompanist for a folk singer in New York state. So, they stayed close to it, more so than I did."
Like the lead character in his movie, Mr. Chase played the drums, but it probably has been a year since he picked up the sticks.
He inherited the drums that once belonged to the character of A.J. on the set of "The Sopranos" and said, "I sat down and played them. They're really loud, I had to stop. Because we live in the country, it just seemed to disturb the birds."
Although he ultimately wanted to play bass guitar, he got into drums when he was 13 or 14. "It seemed really exciting then. My cousin told my mother that I had a good sense of rhythm, that I could keep time and that I should be a drummer."
His idea for the movie dates to a "long, long time ago," but that was about two former bandmates who, as adults in their 30s, meet up again and discover the differences between them. "That one went back into the past, but this one is completely in the past and not about that relationship."
When "The Sopranos" ended in June 2007 with a finale that viewers either loved or hated, Mr. Chase wanted to write a suspense movie such as a psychological thriller.
"But I wasn't happy with the ideas that I was coming up with. This kept coming into my head, for God knows what reason. It just kept coming in, and so I just finally surrendered to it."
Steven Van Zandt, the Bruce Springsteen guitarist who also played Silvio on "The Sopranos," served as an executive producer and music supervisor on "Not Fade Away," which takes its name from a Buddy Holly recording that the Rolling Stones covered.
When it came time to cast the movie, the filmmakers started looking for musicians who could act but ended up switching to Plan B, meaning actors who could play -- or, in this case, learn to play.
None of the three young leads -- Mr. Magaro, Jack Huston or Carnegie Mellon University graduate Will Brill -- played any instruments. It took about 21/2 months to get up to speed, thanks to Mr. Van Zandt, who set them up with "teachers and instruction and spiritual guidance, you name it."
The Twylight Zones, one of the names used by the band in the movie, contribute some of the songs to the soundtrack, which is a diverse, delightful collection. It has songs by James Brown, the Rolling Stones, Elmore James, Robert Johnson, Sex Pistols, Bob Dylan and others.
Mr. Van Zandt had packaged some music for the young cast to help them sink into the 1960s. As with "Super 8," set in the 1970s, the actors had a hard time not inserting "Dude" into their conversation.
Although "Not Fade Away" is Mr. Chase's feature-film directing debut, he has directed TV episodes and movies.
"I had to learn a lot about camera and blocking while working on 'The Sopranos,' I used that. The main lesson I learned is try to avoid compromise at all costs. You need to, but it shouldn't happen easily," he said.
"There's always somebody wanting to change it or say we don't need it or, for reasons of money, let's not do it or let's do it in the daytime. You're constantly having to fight for the original vision. Constantly."
First Published January 4, 2013 12:00 am