He’s one of the top-25-selling musicians of all time in the U.S. His name arguably defines an entire genre of music for many listeners. He reportedly holds the record for the longest sustained note ever played on a saxophone. But it turns out that what Kenny G really wants to do is break into movies.
That’s in part the premise of Kenny: A Documentary in G, an in-the-works film by directors Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn about the smooth jazz icon, chronicling his attempt to launch a second career as a feature film composer. Fittingly, it was a surreptitious encounter with a movie star, Matt Damon, that helped bring the project together. McGinn was working on another documentary, American Teacher, that Damon had signed on to narrate. “We needed a [recording] studio near where Matt was shooting We Bought a Zoo,” says McGinn. “Kenny’s house, funnily enough, was the closest studio.”
McGinn and Kenny G got to talking, and the musician shared his desire to start writing movie scores. “I immediately thought, wow, that would be a really interesting documentary,” says McGinn.
So McGinn and frequent collaborator Blackhurst — they’re best known for their series of hilariously raunchy Funny or Die videos starring their childhood friend, actor Dave Franco — decided to make one. While neither of the twentysomething filmmakers had counted themselves as die-hard Kenny G fans, they were certainly familiar with his ubiquitous sound. “He’s a name you instantly know something about, whether you know anything about him or his music,” says Blackhurst. “We’d be lying if we said that we couldn’t sing you two of his songs right now from memory, because they are the catchiest songs on the planet.”
“I think a lot of people in our generation know him from our parents or our friends’ parents listening to him,” adds McGinn. “We all know of him regardless of whether we’re sitting around listening to him as 25-year-olds.”
They’re hoping the film will be a mix of the visually arresting style of Errol Morris and Werner Herzog with some of the warmth and wry humor of Christopher Guest’s comedies. And to be clear, McGinn and Blackhurst are not setting out to be snarky about the oft-maligned easy-listening chart-topper. “I think it’s cool that what we’re doing with Kenny is not only something that will appeal to fans of Kenny, but it’s also something where you can go, Oh, I recognize that guy, let me learn a little bit more about him,” says McGinn. “Let’s present it in a fun, quirky way where you’re going to get a couple of laughs out of it, but it’s coming from a place of affection — if that doesn’t sound too hokey.” Adds Blackhurst, “Part of the documentary is to get people to see Kenny in a fun, creative light outside of him being a saxophone player.”
Much of that humor, by the way, will likely come from Kenny G himself. “He’s really, really funny,” says McGinn. “I think because of his reputation coming from a smooth jazz background — it’s very calming music — no one would think that he’s funny. He’s got a really good wit.” As if to make their point, last week the two posted a Funny or Die video with Kenny G as a way to drum up interest in the project. Check out the clip below:
Blackhurst and McGinn are also working with Thrash Lab, a digital spin-off of Ashton Kutcher’s production company Katalyst, on their most recent project, the Dave Franco short film Would You. Along with a distribution deal for the film, which premiered at SXSW last month, they’re about to shoot a making-of doc that will explore how the duo’s friendship with Franco led to their frequent collaborations. “It’s not just ‘Here’s a five-minute short film’ that’s standing alone,” says McGinn. “It’s ‘Here’s a five-minute short film, and here’s the journey behind it.’”