Director helps shape Shatner's vision

Thursday, April 16, 2009 at 6:58pm

The documentary 'William Shatner's Gonzo Ballet' will debut at the Nashville Film Festival Friday.

Director and editor Kevin Layne has worked with his share of famous people, done productions for both network and cable shows, and been on projects with the likes of Gloria Estefan and Deep Purple.

But he admits sitting across from celebrated actor William Shatner was a daunting experience.

“I mean you’re sitting there talking with someone whose life experience extends more than 50 years in this business,” Layne said. “He’s incredibly smart and perceptive, and once you really get into the interview you see that he’s not interested in just doing what you might expect. That’s the thing that’s made him so great over the years — that willingness to go past the ordinary, to experiment and really try to change things and excite audiences.”

Layne is one of the directors for William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet, the world premiere film featuring the music from Has Been, a CD project produced by Ben Folds. He's also directing its transformation into the ballet Common People, a work, featuring the Milwaukee Ballet and the choreography of Margo Sappington. Layne will be attending the Friday premiere along with Shatner, Folds and several other celebrities.

“It’s been quite a journey making the film and it did have its challenges,” Layne said. “But it’s been one of these situations where things keep coming together. Margo happened to be listening to an NPR show in her car and heard a song from Has Been. She gets on the phone, calls William Shatner’s office, gets him, pitches the idea and he loves it. Later, I come along and do the interview with him, and we kind of expand upon what had previously been done by Patrick Buckley and the previous production company. The interview that Bill and I did, along with his beautiful wife Elizabeth, also helped change the direction of the film.”

Layne remembers that Shatner (whom he refers to as “Bill”) had plenty of input into the creative process, and had some definite things in mind that he wanted to see in the film.

“Bill had plenty of his own ideas about what he wanted to see in the film, and I think that people have underestimated him in terms of the musical component of this work as well. He has many great things that he wants to say, and he didn’t want this to turn out like what happened the last time he got involved in a music project. He saw this as a second chance to do something both entertaining and also with some social commentary and protest components. What he did with Henry Rollins for example is wonderful. Ben Folds captured the spirit that Bill wanted perfectly in the production and then the ballet sequences also are wonderful.”

Despite Shatner's multiple awards as an actor and larger-than-life persona, Layne adds there’s another quality which came out in their conversation that resonates throughout the movie.

“Bill showed a vulnerability in our interview, which, in turn, comes across at times in the film,” Layne said. “It’s something that not only is part of what makes him great, but is part of the reason why he’s maintained his popularity so long in the public eye. If you look at the work he did all those years in Boston Legal, he was constantly changing things up, exploring different areas and doing provocative things on the screen.”

Lastly, he feels that even those who’ve been Shatner fans since his days in the original Star Trek will see some different things in this latest project.

“If you think you really know William Shatner, you can’t afford to miss William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet,” Layne said. “You will see aspects of his character and personality that haven’t been shown before in any of his past work. That ability to keep progressing, keep finding new layers and continue growing is amazing for anyone, and it’s something that many people are afraid to even try as they get older. Bill doesn’t worry about that, he’s always up to the challenge, and that’s one of the many things that makes William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet so memorable."