“Sopranos” Creator Talks Film Writing

David Chase, right, and James Gandolfini confer on the set of "The Sopranos." Gandolfini stars in Chase's new film, "Not Fade Away."

David Chase was once some Italian-American kid from New Jersey playing drums and bass in a mediocre rock group in the mid-’60s. That band went nowhere.

But in mid-December the failed rocker spoke to LMU’s School of Film and Television students about “Not Fade Away,” his new film depicting a so-so band trying to make it as rock music exploded across America some 50 years ago.

A coming of age story about a teen-ager looking for love and rock ’n ’roll superstardom, “Not Fade Away” draws on Chase’s boyhood experiences. Chase played drums and bass, both mediocrely he says, and his band wasn’t successful. “For all those guys who started a band and didn’t make it, I wanted to make a movie for them,” he says.

Chase had thought about making the film for two decades, but he knew the idea would be a tough sell. After the huge success of “The Sopranos,” which he created and wrote, Chase realized he had the green light he would need. “I knew I had a lot of capital,” he said.

Raised on the era’s music, Chase went against grain with his soundtrack and footage. To help choose the music, he pulled in “Little” Steven Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist who played Silvio Dante in “The Sopranos.” Van Zandt even contributed an original song to the film, “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” They intentionally avoided sprinkling the film with the biggest, most-heard hits of the ’60s. An L.A. party scene, for example, is overlaid with a song by the Los Angeles band The Chambers Brothers. But Chase didn't select the iconic “Time Has Come Today.” Instead he chose their lesser-known “I Can't Stand It,” a song that particularly reveals the group's gospel-soul roots.

Neither did they insert footage of the 1969 Woodstock music festival or Vietnam War protests. “Many people did not have long hair in the ’60s,” Chase explained, “only 500,000 people went to Woodstock — not everybody — and many people didn’t go to protests. I wanted this to be about the ‘many.’ ”

Chase uses television clips, though, because people spent a lot of time watching television. The movie includes a 1962 clip of Joey Dee and the Starlighters performing “Peppermint Twist.” That was a way to show the integration that rock ’n’ roll demonstrated in a decade of Civil Rights advances, Chase said. And wartime tensions that divided families plays a part in the story as well, as Douglas (John Magaro), the main character, argues heatedly with his father, Pat (James Gandolfini).

Family, in fact, is a major theme of the film. After one student noted that families are crucial in both “The Sopranos” and “Not Fade Away,” Chase said, “Both are family stories about Italian-American families, and both stories take place in New Jersey. There is a certain amount of psychological violence in both. I don’t feel that ‘Not Fade Away’ is ‘The Sopranos,’ but they’re cousins.”

Both creations are about the “dichotomy between security and freedom,” Chase said.

“We want independence, but we come from families and want to stay part of families. There’s a constant struggle between wanting to be held and wanting to be by yourself.”


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