Save the Children [aka Brothers and Sisters in Concert] (1973) - Made originally as a documentary film based on the 1972 PUSH Expo theme. The 123-minute version goes into depth on the theme of black self-determination; contains footage of Reverend Jesse Jackson and Black Expo; shorter version places emphasis on the various artists' performances.
STAN LATHAN...THE DIRECTOR OF SAVE THE CHILDREN
Stan Lathan, who was already a veteran of directing multiple camera variety shows on network television in the early '70s, approached his landmark concert film, Save the Children, with the precision of a military campaign.
"Operation Push, which was a Jesse Jackson organization, was giving a huge exposition in Chicago in 1972 to encourage black-owned businesses," Lathan recalled. "It was always planned to have this gathering of black talent, and myself and a few other people including Quincy Jones and Matt Robbins, got together about six months before and came up with the idea of doing this film to help support the Black Expo. We raised $750,000 from the Ford Foundation as a grant and put it together."
At the time of Save the Children, Lathan was a director on Sesame Street and had done both dance and music specials for PBS, as well as multi-camera musical variety shows. "The big challenge for me was that we were shooting on film," Lathan noted, "and we were in this massive convention center with terrible acoustics. We used eight cameras, all shooting 16mm film, and I devised an elaborate communications setup with each camera. I took a bird's-eye position and directed as if it were a live TV show. The difference, of course, is that I had no video feed, so I tried to keep the coverage varied from camera-to-camera, and keep track of who was shooting what."
Lathan said that despite the technical challenges involved, shooting in the days before video assist, his team had the advantage of shooting for three days straight.
"We shot 28 groups," Lathan explained. "Everybody from Marvin Gaye to Gladys Knight and the Pips, to the Jackson 5, to the Rev. James Cleveland and a 100-boy choir. We spent a lot of time before the event with a chalkboard discussing camera coverage the way you'd talk about defenses for a football game. We knew which groups were going to be moving around a lot — Gladys Knight and the Pips were known for their dancing for example — so the key was to make sure each camera had assignments beforehand. What happens if you don't give assignments in a multiple camera concert shoot is that five cameras will shoot the same guy because he's the most interesting one on the stage at the time."
"Most of the cameramen I used for Save the Children were documentary filmmakers who were comfortable with just roving around and getting the stories beyond the music," he recalled. "I remember going to see Gimme Shelter and recognizing the advantage those filmmakers had because they essentially lived with the Rolling Stones and could come back with very personal stories. If there's anything that would distinguish a musical documentary it's the relationship between the audience and the artist and what's really going on inside the artist's head. With things like MTV, MP3, DVD, etc., we can already deliver musical recordings at a very high level. So, today's documentary filmmaker should bridge the gap between the artist's life and the music. I think you have to do that to stand apart."