The Story Behind 'The Wrecking Crew' Documentary About L.A. Session Musicians: 'The Most Expensive Home Movie Ever

Courtesy of Denny Tedesco/The Wrecking Crew

The Wrecking Crew at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles, circa 1962.

Ten years after Denny Tedesco shot the first frames of his film about Los Angeles session musicians of the 1960s, he hit the point of no return. The film had to be made.

"(Director) John Sayles told a friend of mine there is a line where you cross and there's no turning back," says Tedesco, whose long-awaited documentary The Wrecking Crew opens theatrically March 13. "That line was drawn in 2006. My wife said at the time 'we have made the most expensive home movie ever.' It was like I had the plans for a dream house, all of the appliances and the furniture, but none of it was together so I had to finally get an editor to make a film out of it."

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Filmmaking friends of Tedesco's told him the first cut lacked a personal touch, which inspired him to make I more about his family and he being the son of a guitarist who earned enough to send him to private high school and college from his session gigs. As much as it was a labor of love to tell his father Tommy's story, The Wrecking Crew also focuses on the economic downfall of Hal Blaine, the esteemed drummer who was hit by a storm of troubles as session work dried up in the 1970s.

"The interview with Hal has the cheapest look because I shot it," says Tedesco. "I didn't want to take a chance he wouldn't give the information if someone else was there. He wanted to talk about it."

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The film, which started in 1996 with a roundtable conversation featuring Tommy Tedesco, who died in 1997, Blaine, bassist Carol and saxophonist Plas Johnson, premiered at SXSW in 2008 and has played two dozen film festivals since. But the daunting task of clearing 110 songs – at least 90 of them being top 40 hits such as "Good Vibrations," "These Boots are Made for Walkin'" and "Mr. Tambourine Man" – and paying the session musicians their residuals kept the film in festival-only limbo.

"I had negotiated higher prices for the record companies by saying 'if I sell this, this is what I would like to pay you,'" says Tedesco, 53, who invested $500,000 of his own money into the film. "Well the film distributors looked at it and said we'll have to pay back a million dollars so there's no reason [to acquire the film]." 

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While his search for financing was finding no takers, numerous other films about sidemen and studios loaded with hit songs were cropping up: Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Muscle Shoals and Sound City chief among them. "I panicked," Tedesco says when documentary on Motown's Funk Brothers came out in 2002. "But a friend told me there's always another side to the story. I'm glad I didn't watch those movies until years later. I would have been intimidated."  

To solve his liscensing dilemma, he renegotiated a most-favored nations deal with publishers and labels, made attempts to get the film financed in sections rather than as a whole and eventually turned to Kickstarter. His idea of having musical instrument companies sponsor chapters of the film found no takers, but two car dealerships, the Musicians Institute and a lawyer pitched in a collective $50,000; the International Documentary Association became a fiscal sponsor, supplying him with donations.

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"Every time I got money from a donation, I'd pay off a label or a publisher," says Tedesco, who decided in 2007 to scrap an early edit of the film to make it more personal and focused on his father. 

Even with nearly every publisher paid, Tedesco still needed a deal with the local AFM. "I said 'as a director and producer -- and the son of a musician' -- I wanted to give you as much as possible. They came up with a price of $200,000. I was fine with that."

He turned to Kickstarter and raised $300,000, which allowed him to pay the 297 session musicians whose names were on contracts for the records used in the film. It also allowed him to work on a collection of outtakes for use on a DVD. (A soundtrack is being sold via PledgeMusic). 

"I want to do outtakes of every musician, a lot of whom aren't in the movie," says Tedesco. "Who are they? What did they do? I want to give everyone their say."

This story originally appeared in the Feb. 28 issue of Billboard.