Spinning Gold is writer-director Timothy Scott Bogart’s love letter to his father Neil Bogart, the music industry’s most colorful and brilliant music executive. “It’s taken me over twenty years, but I finally get to tell the impossible story of how he broke free from those humble beginnings to go on to define the music of a generation, ultimately becoming the visionary at the helm of legendary Casablanca Records.”
Casablanca Records is the most successful independent record company of all time. Along with a ragtag team of young music lovers, Neil and Casablanca Records would rewrite history and change the music industry forever. Their mix of creative insanity, a total belief in each other, and the music they were creating, shaped our culture and ultimately defined a generation.
“He was born Neil Bogatz in poverty in the Brooklyn projects, where he plotted his dreams and schemes to make his mark on the world, ” says Bogart.
Bogart says that every single bit of Spinning Gold is true – even the parts that aren’t. “All kids see their dads as larger than life, but my dad really was,” says Bogart. “As the ultimate showman, his gift was in creating the fantasies that everyone around him yearned to be real. Whether that was the fulfillment of their own dreams, or just taking the magic carpet ride that he was the ultimate conductor of, my father’s gift was to be able to make everyone’s dreams come true, and so for me – not just as a son, but as a filmmaker – the question was, how to express that? Did my dad really have Donna Summer stretch out on the floor when she recorded ‘Love to Love You’? Was he actually in the room at the piano with Gladys Knight, re-imagining ‘Midnight Plane to Houston’ into ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’? There’s truth in every single story we’ve told, but whose version of that truth? Well, everyone’s memories are true to them, and that’s the story we set out to tell.”
Narrated by Neil himself as he sips a drink amidst the gold records hanging in his home, the story takes place over the course of one tumultuous decade from 1966 to 1977.
Determined to make a name for himself but millions of dollars in debt, Neil turns his love of gambling into a superpower when he takes on artists that the world isn’t ready for, and risks everything to carve out a place for them in the music world.
“Going head-to-head with Motown’s Berry Gordy, my father decided to launch the biggest independent record label in history,” says Bogart. “He just had no idea that the biggest gamble of his life would blow up in his face so spectacularly.”
“Most people believe Kiss must have been an instant hit,” producer Jessica Martins explains. “Most assume Donna Summer’s music simply worked, right off the bat. None of that was true. Kiss was a disaster from the moment they were introduced, and ‘Love To Love You Baby,’ was released and instantly forgotten about. That could have been the end of Casablanca right there.”
“But my father believed in what he believed in completely, and refused to ever accept anything but success,” Bogart says. “When he was absolutely broke, instead of giving up, he borrowed from the mob and literally gambled in Vegas with house chips to make payroll. He just had this extraordinary gift of knowing what the audience wanted, and he saw where the music and culture were headed. He just needed to give himself enough time for the rest of the world to catch up! And the history my father created during that extraordinary period became the soundtrack of our lives.”
To Bogart, this film isn’t just about one person. It’s a love letter to an entire generation of ambitious, passionate artists. “This movie is about so many things,” he says, “but at its heart, it’s about the most important question we all face: what do we challenge ourselves to do with our lives?”
“For this group of dreamers, it’s about a moment in time, once upon a time, where they lived a fairy tale and made those dreams come true.”
“Spinning Gold is the story of an unsung hero,” says producer Laurence Mark. “People haven’t heard of Neil Bogart, and yet he was responsible for defining the soundtrack of a decade. This movie is going to be a lovely revelation for people.”
Bringing Neil Bogart To Life
Bringing Neil to life is Tony Award nominated actor and singer Jeremy Jordan (Newsies, Bonnie & Clyde). “I had to do some research to find out who Neil was, but there wasn’t a lot out there,” says Jordan. “Tim had all the resources, so he would send me clips from things he had compiled that you can’t find online, interviews with people who had known Neil. I felt like I got to know him that way.
“What I learned was that Neil very much treated the artists like family,” Jordan says. “That’s kind of his magic – he welcomes them in, he gets them exactly where they’re at in their musical journey, their personal journey, where they are in life, where they are creatively, and makes them feel like they’re part of his family. That’s how he got all these people on board. He had this magnetism that he could back up, because he was smart as a producer and a businessman.”
Jordan recalls how Bogart realized how to make “Love to Love You” a hit: “With Casablanca on the verge of bankruptcy, Neil was throwing an end of the world party at his huge LA house when someone arbitrarily put on “Love to Love You.” Now, the song was only 3 minutes long, but then someone asked him to play it again. And then again. And Neil looked around and saw that the song was having a very significant effect on people… let’s just say they were doing more than dancing, and the song was what was driving their bodies. So Neil did something unheard of and decided to make the song 17 minutes long, the perfect length to have sex to without having to restart the record.”
Jordan will never forget filming the scene in which Neil helps Donna Summer record this new version of “Love to Love You Baby.” “There are so many stories about how far things went in that recording session, but the only thing we really know is how the song turned out. In the film, Neil is in there with her, and he knows the song has to sell sex to be successful, so he really gets into it with Donna, and it gets a little inappropriate for sure, but you can’t not watch. And feel free to judge him for his methods, but he got Donna to a place with that song that got the rest of the world to see what he had known from the start. The record made her an overnight sensation and launched Donna into the stratosphere.”
Even as it celebrates his victories, Spinning Gold doesn’t shy away from Neil’s flaws, especially as he navigates the complications of love. “The emotional heart of the movie is centered around his love for two different women, his first wife Beth and his second wife Joyce – played incredibly by Michelle Monaghan and Lyndsy Fonseca, ” Jordan says. “With Beth there was this deep love, and with Joyce there was a slow burn, a kind of fire. In the movie, Neil falls for these two women in completely different ways. There’s the person who’s with you and adores you, and there’s the person who loves your mind and wants to peel your clothes off.
“In the end, Neil had three loves in his life,” says Jordan. “Beth, Joyce, and Donna Summer. He had a third kind of love for Donna – a paternal love, in a way.”
“Jeremy was the perfect actor to bring my father to life on the screen,” says Bogart. “Neil had this incredible, dynamic energy that could light up a room, and Jeremy was able to evoke that energy in the way he lights up the stage. Jeremy’s magnetic passion and connection to music, in so many ways reminded me of my father’s. This movie doesn’t pull any punches in showing my father’s flaws, including the ones he used to his advantage, and Jeremy was really able to capture all of those contradictions.”
Artists Portraying Artists
For Executive Music Producer Evan Bogart, a Grammy award-winning songwriter, music producer and publisher, who has worked with such artists as Beyonce (a collaboration that resulted in the GRAMMY-winning “Halo”), Jennifer Lopez, Jason Derulo, Rihanna, and Lizzo, to name a few, Spinning Gold is a way to see legendary musicians through his father’s eyes. “We wanted that moment of discovery to come across in this film,” he says. “The moment Neil saw that magic in these artists, that lightning in a bottle. My Dad was able to see something in people that they weren’t always able to see in themselves, and then amplify that quality and elevate it.”
Producer Brad Bogart also wanted to tease out the hidden histories of the Casablanca days. “I hear these stories about my father, and everyone has two or three different versions of the story. No one knows quite what really happened. It was the seventies – there was sex, drugs, and rock and roll. That’s what the era was all about.”
To do justice to the artists who saw Neil as family, Tim Bogart brought in some of the hottest musicians of today to play them on screen. In these roles, Bogart cast Grammy and Golden Globe nominee Wiz Khalifa as George Clinton, multi-Grammy Award winner Ledisi as Gladys Knight, Jason Derulo as Ron Isley, Pink Sweat$ as Bill Withers, and Grammy Award nominee Tayla Parx as Donna Summer. Playing the band KISS are musicians/actors Sam Harris as Paul Stanley, Casey Likes as Gene Simmons, and Alex Gaskarth as Peter Criss.
Acclaimed rapper Wiz Khalifa steps into the role of the legendary George Clinton.
“Parliament is the DNA of funk – the band, the thought process, the way they mix genres. With the live experience from Parliament, they were beyond their years…..their music was and still is futuristic, and I hella respect them for that. You see everybody on stage like it was a real groove – that and the music go hand in hand because you’re bringing the music to life. ” commented Khalifa.
“Wiz was right on it,” says George Clinton himself. “I thought I heard me in there! I thought they sampled my voice! He did some homework.”
Portraying Donna Summer is vocalist Tayla Parx, a highly respected songwriter who has co-written several of Ariana Grande’s biggest hits, alongside songs for Panic! At the Disco and Khalid, and has recently begun her own path to singing stardom. “LaDonna Gaines had the voice, but Neil Bogart made Donna Summer a star,” says Parx. “I was fascinated by that – the give and take as those two things combine to create a legend.”
“The first act of Donna Summer’s story is the most exciting act,” says producer Mark, “and that’s the act we’re doing. People think Donna Summer just popped out fully formed, but that’s not the case at all. She was this religious girl who wasn’t very brash, but Neil worked the dials, and she turned into Donna Summer.”
“Neil Bogart was a visionary,” says Bruce Sudano, Donna Summer’s husband. “If he believed in an artist, and the record, there was no stopping him. He would find a way. He didn’t take no for an answer, he thought outside the box. So much is made of the excesses that went on during this period and at Casablanca, but it was always about the music, and it was driven by the passion and brilliance of Neil.”
Channeling Gladys Knight as she takes her fans on a Midnight Train to Georgia is Grammy-winning R&B and jazz artist Ledisi. “How do you play a legend like Gladys Knight? You have to capture both her incredibly sophisticated musicianship and her business sense. Being a girl from Georgia – a southern girl like me – really helped. We southern girls love to take songs and make them personal. When Gladys Knight sings, you believe that she is ready to give up the world she knows for another person.”