'Purple Rain' Director Talks Meeting Prince for 1st Time and Working Together

Last weekend marked the 35th anniversary of “Purple Rain,” the almost-autobiographical film that drove Prince to worldwide fame.

To celebrate, the film’s director recalled how it was working with one of the most iconic musical figures of the ‘80s.

After the mild success of Prince’s “1999” album, the star embarked on a national tour that took him around more than 50 cities.

During that time, he came up with the concept for his next album, which he pitched to his label as the soundtrack for a movie where he would be the star.

View this post on Instagram

Of all the instruments that Prince played throughout his career, the iconic Cloud Guitar has one of the most alluring and mysterious backstories. 🔸 The Cloud first entered the public’s consciousness as the object of The Kid’s affection in Purple Rain, and the way Prince’s character in the film pines after the distinctive satin curves of the guitar as it sits in a display window speaks to just how mesmerized he was by this instrument. 🔸 Prince first came across the model for the Cloud while browsing in a guitar shop with his childhood friend and first bassist, André Cymone, in the late 1970s when Prince was at the very beginning of his solo career. The two musicians were intrigued by the custom bass guitar with hand-carved curves and swirls, which resembled a classical instrument more than one you would see in the hands of a rock or funk musician. 🔸 In 1983, when it came time for Prince to choose an instrument to play in his first film, he brought the Cloud bass to a young Minneapolis luthier named Dave Rusan, who worked at Prince’s favorite local guitar shop, Knut Koupee Music. Recreating the bass as a prop to use in the film took months, and only four copies of the original white Cloud Guitar were made by Rusan — but his Cloud Guitars laid the groundwork for one of the most intriguing stage instruments of the 1980s. 🔸 Dave Rusan understood the significance of a well-crafted guitar to an artist like Prince. “It’s so much more than just part of a costume. It’s a means of expression, power, identity,” he told Premier Guitar. 🔸 Prince had the Cloud Guitar remade many times throughout his career in different colors and finishes, and the instrument re-emerged at several key points in his artistic evolution. Prince would call on the company @schecterguitarsofficial to repair his Clouds and manufacture new replicas for his use, including a run that was sold to fans on Prince’s HitnRun Tour. 🔸 In recent years, the Schecter replicas of the iconic Cloud Guitar have only been available to purchase in-person at Paisley Park. But starting today, players around the world can purchase these exclusive, authentic Cloud Guitars from the Official Prince Store.

A post shared by Prince (@prince) on

Prince, who was under Warner Brothers at the time, gave the label an ultimatum: either they found him a movie deal, or he would find another label that would.

It was a hard choice for the executives, considering that at the time Prince’s popularity was still on average numbers. But they agreed to invest in the film.

FINDING THE RIGHT SCREENPLAY

The original screenplay, titled “Dreams,” was written by William Blinn. Prince’s then manager, Bob Cavallo, was searching for a director that would bring the project to life when he met Albert Magnoli, a 30-year-old USC college graduate that only had one student film under his belt.

"How is it that you just told me my life story in the last 10 minutes?" - Prince.

View this post on Instagram

Prince will forever be remembered as a commanding live performer, chart-topping recording artist, and music business revolutionary. Yet for all the time he spent in the spotlight over his four-decade-long career, Prince also worked tirelessly behind the scenes to nurture talent and pen songs for the rising artists he respected. • By the mid-1980s, Prince was dominating the charts with songs that he had either recorded, produced for proteges like Vanity 6 and Sheila E., or passed along to other artists like the Bangles and Kenny Rogers. The effect was a complete saturation and transformation of the pop music landscape, with Prince both leading and subverting mainstream culture. • This June, The Prince Estate, in partnership with Warner Bros. Records and TIDAL, will release Originals, a 15-track album featuring 14 previously unreleased recordings that illuminate the vital role Prince played in other artists’ careers. The tracks were selected collaboratively by Troy Carter, on behalf of The Prince Estate, and JAY-Z. • Starting June 7, Originals will stream exclusively on TIDAL for fourteen days. In the spirit of sharing Prince’s music with his fans as he wanted, the album will be available to stream in Master quality via TIDAL’s HiFi subscription tier. Members will be able to hear the recordings just as the Artist intended the tracks to sound. • On June 21st, Warner Bros. Records will release this extraordinary body of work, sourced directly from Prince’s vast archive of Vault recordings, via all download and streaming partners and physically on CD, while 180 gram 2LP and limited edition Deluxe CD+2LP formats will follow on July 19th. Pre-order the album through the link in our Story or https://lnk.to/OriginalsMP • @wbr @tidal @sheilaedrummer @_kennyrogers @officialthebangles @troycarterofficial #prince #originalsrecord #princeoriginals #vinylrecords #tidal

A post shared by Prince (@prince) on

Unconvinced by Blinn’s script, Magnoli gave Cavallo a few pointers to make the story better, as he recalled in a recent interview with Variety:

“I said, ‘What you need to do is hire a writer-director to go to Minneapolis and sit with everybody and really understand what it is they’re doing, and find if there’s any dramatic narrative that then can become a motion picture. You’d have to start from the inside-out, instead of from the outside-in.”

At Cavallo’s insistence, Magnoli pitched him a new story that he crafted in the spurge of the moment.

View this post on Instagram

New musical ideas were pouring out of Prince at a feverish rate in 1986, and he was clearly restless and hungry for a fresh approach to making art. Within the span of a few months he began working on a new album with the Revolution, Dream Factory; disbanded that influential group; recorded tracks for an unrelated album under his alter-ego, Camille, and a triple album, Crystal Ball; and started dabbling with a jazz side project known as Madhouse. • It’s no wonder that Sign o’ the Times, released on Warner Bros. in 1987, ended up as a double album with 16 radically different tracks; it captured Prince in a moment of peak productivity, his creative tap flowing at full blast. • As the title suggests, Sign o’ the Times is deeply rooted in a cultural and social moment, and the lyrics on the album veer into apocalyptic territory, contemplating the ongoing threat of AIDS, nuclear war, poverty, and the drug epidemic on a country that seemed to be living under an ominous cloud. • And yet the dark undertones are balanced with moments of levity — the irresistible hooks of “Housequake,” the pure innocence of “Starfish and Coffee” — reminding listeners that even the most oppressive times should be confronted with dancing and laughter.

A post shared by Prince (@prince) on

The manager was impressed, and he flew Magnoli to Minnesota to meet with Prince,

MEETING THE STAR

However, at his arrival, Prince’s co-manager Steven Fargnoli told Magnoli that they would be working on the original screenplay, the one that William Blinn wrote.

“But when the elevator doors opened, and Prince emerged, I was struck by how vulnerable he was and how uncertain he [seemed],” Magnoli recalled. And continued:

“So these three guys are staring at me, and Prince says, ‘Tell me why you like my screenplay’ — which is a tacit way of saying that he endorsed the [original] screenplay. And I said, ‘I’m not here to talk about that story. I’m here to talk about the story that I told Bob Cavallo two days ago.”

View this post on Instagram

In the mid-2000s, Prince was renting a home in Los Angeles that he referred to as “the 3121 house,” and it was the site of many legendary parties and recording sessions. Located at 3121 Antelo Drive, off Mulholland Drive in Beverly Hills, the home was owned by NBA star Carlos Boozer @mrcbooz. While he was staying there, Prince had the mansion transformed to suit his own style – complete with purple pillars, a new hair salon and massage room, and a home gym-turned-nightclub where Prince's guests could enjoy all-night dance parties. As Prince would later tell Carlos Boozer, the 3121 house was an “inspiration for my album, inspiration for my band.” In addition to writing and recording portions of the album at the house, Prince also hosted some downright legendary parties, including star-studded Grammy and Oscar afterparties that would begin after midnight and last until dawn. "I think these parties were some of the happiest times for Prince: They brought together like-minded people in a very easy-going unpretentious setting and people really let their hair down, relaxed, and had an incredible time," Prince's longtime photographer, @afshinashahidi, would later remark.
#prince #3121 #carlosboozer #afterparty #grammy

A post shared by Prince (@prince) on

After hearing the new story, which described the life of a talented but struggling musician who grew up in a home with domestic violence and had issues with his bandmates, Prince replied:

“How is it that you just told me my life story in the last 10 minutes?’”

A JOINT EFFORT

From there on, Magnoli and Prince worked together to make sure the music matched the story and served as a compliment through the plotline.

Prince had already written over 100 songs that he handed to Magnoli, including “Darling Nikki” and “Let’s Go Crazy.”

View this post on Instagram

Before he was the global icon, Prince Rogers Nelson was an 18-year-old musical prodigy eager to break out of Minneapolis's North Side and find the wider recognition he deserved. In this 1977 photograph by Larry Falk for the University of Minnesota's school newspaper, The Minnesota Daily, Prince is pictured at the historic Sound 80 studio in south Minneapolis crafting the demo tapes that would land him his three-album deal with Warner Bros. Records. "Right now, Prince is probably the best-kept musical secret in Minneapolis," the article stated. In addition to admiring his wide-ranging musical talent, the Daily's reporter Lisa Hendricksson predicted that the young artist would appeal to fellow teenagers, noting "he’s the kind of cute that drives the boppers crazy." http://www.mndaily.com/article/2016/04/his-purple-reign Photos by Larry Falk, The Minnesota Daily #prince #minneapolis

A post shared by Prince (@prince) on

Prince was surprised by Magnoli’s request of filming in Minnesota, but despite the poor weather conditions they had to face that autumn, Magnoli recalls saying: “This is where you’re from. We’re making the movie here.”

Magnoli first heard “Purple Rain” in a concert at First Avenue, the Minneapolis night club that became a central piece of the film. He described that night and how the movie title was born:

“One of the songs he played that night, as soon as the concert was over, I ran downstairs and said, ‘What’s that song? It sounds like a Bob Dylan anthem.’ He said, ‘It’s called ‘Purple Rain.’ I said, ‘That’s the song I’m missing!’ He said, ‘That’s great — can we call the movie that?’ And that’s how fast the title came into being.”

HARD WORK PAYS OFF

Prince and his band, The Revolution, were fully committed to the project. They had acting coaches and were fully responsive to any criticism that came from Magnoli or his team. Everyone wanted the movie to be a success.

The buzz around the movie started one month before its release, with “Purple Rain” the album selling over 2.5 million copies.

View this post on Instagram

On this day in 1984, Prince and the Revolution appeared at Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood for the premiere of Purple Rain, the film that would catapult them to global fame. ••• The star-studded premiere was broadcast on @mtv and attended by big names from across music, comedy, and film, including Eddie Murphy, @davidbyrneofficial, Christopher Reeve, @johnmellencamp, and Fleetwood Mac's @stevienicks and @lindseybuckingham. But few stars garnered the same level of hysteria on the red carpet as Prince, who emerged from a purple limousine and walked quietly through the mayhem holding a single purple rose. ••• “His royal badness, Prince!" shouted MTV's @goodymade. ••• Inside the theater, Prince took his seat next to members of the Revolution — Bobby Z., @wendyandlisa, Dr. Fink, and Brownmark — and his co-star @apollonia_kotero to watch his new film in the theater for the first time. The film's soundtrack had already been released the month prior, and the single "When Doves Cry" had shot to number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, with "Let's Go Crazy" soon to follow. ••• The day after the Mann's Chinese Theater premiere, Purple Rain would open nationwide to wild success, grossing over $68 million at the box office in the U.S.

A post shared by Prince (@prince) on

On its opening weekend, the movie grossed $7.7 million and replaced “Ghostbusters” as the top film in the US. It eventually pulled in $68 million.

“Purple Rain” gave Prince the final push he needed to become one of the most representative figures of music in the ‘80s. He gained worldwide fame after that, and also an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score.

Magnoli believes that the success of “Purple Rain” was born from telling an authentic story.

“I think the most important part of all this is to make something that rings true,” he said. “And that has proven to be the right path as time has gone on, because the film constantly gets revisited and there’s a fan base that protects and cherishes it. And that starts at the very beginning with authenticity.”

Related posts
Stories Apr 25, 2019
Remembering Prince: 11 Great Songs the Legend Wrote That Were Sang by Other Artists
GettyImages
Stories Jul 02, 2019
LA Reid on the Time He Got Caught up in Michael Jackson & Brother Jermaine's Feud
Celebs Apr 15, 2019
Remember Morris E. Day of 'The Time'? He's Now 61 & Continues to Make Music with the Band
twitter.com/KensingtonRoyal
Royal Jun 21, 2019
Prince William Turns 37: Long Live the Future King