Thursday, January 17, 2013

Watch: PTA Directed Pilot For 'The Jon Brion Show' (2000) Featuring Elliott Smith & Brad Mehldau

This morning we woke up with a little surprise in our inbox as PTA sent along another little video under his YouTube channel Al Rose Promotions (named after the "There Will Be Blood" character). But it's not a new teaser for "The Master," instead it appears to be the pilot episode of "The Jon Brion Show," the long lost variety show that PTA directed way back in 2000. The basic history is that back around 1999/2000, Jon Brion shot a pilot with VH1 for a variety show that would feature music & comedy of the various performers hanging around LA club Largo at the time (Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, etc.) but the network turned it down. So PTA decided to step in and shot his own version of "The Jon Brion Show" via 3 test episodes which he shot and paid for himself, but as far as we know never presented it to the network (or any network) for possibility to air. When we last spoke to him about the project he said he was still trying to figure out what sort of venue would be best to present them.
OK. What about The Jon Brion Variety Show? I heard that he originally shot a pilot for VH1 & they didn’t like it. So you went back & directed a few episodes with Jon, Aimee, Fiona, etc.?

Yeah. Jon tried to do a thing with VH1, but I never even saw what they did. He didn’t like it. I said there’s a way we can do something & we should experiment. So, we just basically shot tests for about three episodes. I paid for it myself & we just did it.

At Largo?

No. At this recording studio called Ocean Way. I rented it, got a few cameras & threw up a couple of lights. No big deal. I had Fiona sing. I had Jon sing. Elliott Smith came by. Bette Midler happened to be recording at the studio next door & was like “I want to sing!” It was insane! Next thing I know, Bette Midler is doing ‘50's cover tunes. We’re like, “Wow”! So this was all just a test to see the possibility for a music venue or a way to capture what Jon does. I’m still convinced there’s a way to do it. I don’t exactly know how right now. The test showed me all these good things & some bad things.

So, you haven’t presented this to a cable channel or music video channel to air?

No. We’ll sort of revisit it & it will be this ever burning thing. It’s been my own personal pet thing. Once we figure how we want to do it, then we’ll figure out where we want to do it & what sort of venue is best.
The 43 minute video -- featuring the late Elliott Smith backed by Jon Brion and Brad Mehldau performing Smith's material as well as covers of The Kinks "Waterloo Sunset,"John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" and Big Star's "Nighttime" -- was uploaded with the following description:
Music Variety and More From Archives Of Al Rose Promotions

I tore up the floorboards at H.Q. the other day
and came up with this little number on VHS.
She holds up well. Love, Al.
God, I miss Elliott Smith. Thanks Paul. With any luck someday the other two episodes may come to light...

Update 2:20pm: Former Largo regular Chris Yasko who was there during the shoot sent along some details about the day.
I was a bit of a Largo regular back then and [owner Mark] Flanagan being the f-ing cool person he his came up to me one Friday and handed me a flier to go to it. I wish I had kept it. I wish I could go there now.

It was one night 13 years ago so my memory is foggy.  It would have been Tuesday, April 18, 2000 if it was the release date of [Elliott's album] Figure 8 which I'm almost positive it was. They were all done the same day and there were probably about 15-20 of us there maybe [in the audience]. 

I'm pretty sure Elliott's parents were sitting by us.  He was obviously healthy and doing well.

Fiona [Apple] sat next to us during Elliott's set and watched.  It was super low-key. We were all sitting on fold out chairs.  There was a cooler with Guinness.

Bette Midler and [producer] Don Was were like in the next studio recording or something and then all of sudden they came in and did a song.  It was kind of a weird development but seemed like they were trying to capture the "Largo" thing.

I remember at the time thinking while the performances were amazing it wasn't exactly the "Largo" thing or the "Jon Brion" thing.  It was much more subdued than seeing JB at Largo. 

The spontaneousness that was a Jon Brion show back then was amazing and I'm sure difficult to capture especially anywhere but that tiny little bar on Fairfax [Avenue].  I've seen them try to recapture the vibe in a bunch of different

I think that was a really special time for music for the people that were there and I'm very lucky to have been a part of the audience back then.

I recall PT running around a few times but mostly staying pretty lowkey.  As far as watching him "direct" there really wasn't much to see. 
It was like maybe a three camera set up with one being on a big jib arm and I'm pretty sure sound was done in the booth.  Outside of those operators I don't remember seeing a crew and PT seemed pretty focused on shooting.  
We didn't even know he was involved until we saw him running around.  Your post has more background than I've ever known about what they were doing and PT financing it.
Stay tuned to Twitter and Facebook for the latest news and updates.

Pre-order "The Master" on Blu-ray or DVD now! 


  1. I would kill to see the other two episodes. Literally, kill. Who do you want offed PTA?

  2. oh my god! fiona apple and elliott smith on the very same room, they should have played together!!!!

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