The theatrical release of the film The Wrecking Crew has been nearly 20 years in the making. Director Denny Tedesco began by wanting to tell the story of his father, acclaimed guitarist Tommy Tedesco, and the group of studio musicians he was surrounded by who played on a seemingly endless string of hits in the 1960s and 1970s.
Tedesco began filming in 1996 and from the beginning he heard one thing over and over: "You’re not going to get this released. It’s just not going to happen. The music’s going to cost way too much.”
Tedesco had to tell the story of the musicians with the music they played—over 110 songs in the film alone. Despite winning awards at various festivals and picking up that all-important buzz on the festival circuit, Tedesco could not win distribution for the film or clear licensing on the songs. So, in 2010, he pulled the film from the festival circuit and focused solely on trying to raise the money necessary to pay for the music.
“That was probably the lowest point because it was, like, ‘We know the film. The reaction is great! It’s amazing’!” he says. “But no one would touch us, so we had to start going into donations and crowdfunding.”
Tedesco never resented having to pay for the music—it was a reality of the film and reality of the scope of the film. Releasing The Wrecking Crew without all that music would be akin to releasing a period drama without the costumes.
“We always knew that we had to pay for the licensing of the music,” he says. “You just can’t put music into a film. It’s a property. People own that. Record labels own it. Publishers own it. People would assume that because it was so expensive that they were basically holding us hostage. It wasn’t the case at all. It was just that we have 110 songs in there. So with all the music, all the photography that’s licensed—stock footage and photographs and everything else, the price was so high. So, you have to negotiate, and they came through. I mean, they were amazing.”
With licensing cleared the film is finally seeing theatrical release—and to even greater success than its creator could have anticipated.
“About two weeks ago I was in New York doing press, and I was walking to my next interview,” he says. “We’d just been out for a week and a half and the numbers were coming in and the theaters were flipping out, they were, instead of five theaters, we went to 105 theaters. It was, like, ‘Oh my God! It’s real now!’ It was finally a couple of weeks ago that I finally felt like, ‘OK. We finally did it.’"
Although the film has been released, the project is far from over. There’s the impending DVD release, which will require more licensing negotiations, and a four-CD soundtrack set. The work, in short, is far from over. Tedesco acknowledges that his family has been particularly helpful to him over the last two decades.
“In the movie, there’s something I ask everybody, I said, ‘You know, how did working all the time affect your personal lives?’ I remember asking this to Plas Johnson, the sax man, he said, he paused and said, ‘I’m a better grandfather than I am a father,’” Tedesco says.
“That meant everything because I know what that’s like. You don’t have to be a musician. You don’t have to be a filmmaker. Anyone of us, if we have kids we’re all trying to make it work. This film has taken a lot out of my family. My kids only know that Dad does Wrecking Crew, so it gets old. My wife? She went through a lot just being there,” he says. “Mom was always there just like she was there for my dad.
“But I know it took a lot of out of them. I know it took a lot out of my friends too,” he adds. “I know that, after a while, your friends think you’re nuts. I think a lot of people thought it was nuts. ‘This is not going to happen!’ But it did.”
The Wrecking Crew screens at the Orpheum Theatre on Thursday evening followed by a Q&A and gala with director Denny Tedesco.