UCLA alumnus Frank Marshall’s ‘The Bee Gees’ receives 6 Emmy nominations
Director of Emmy-nominated documentary “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” and executive board member of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Frank Marshall said he was inspired by both the trio’s musical career and brotherly bond when creating the film. (Photo courtesy of Frank Marshall. Photo Illustration by Katelyn Dang/Illustrations director)
By Kari Lau
Aug. 21, 2021 4:34 p.m.
Frank Marshall’s documentary proves the Bee Gees’ legacy is “Stayin’ Alive” to this day.
The alumnus and executive board member of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing For A Documentary/Non-Fiction Program and Outstanding Documentary Or Nonfiction Special for his work on the documentary “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” Following the career of the family act, their personal lives and the sociopolitical context that the Bee Gees worked in, the film is also a contender for four other Emmy awards for its writing, editing and sound design. In terms of directing, Marshall said he focused the film’s message on the brothers’ musical career and their relationship.
“You have to find the heart of the story you’re trying to tell (the audience)” Marshall said. “For me, it was was really the family and the songwriting.”
As a longtime Bee Gees fan and someone who is part of a musical family himself, Marshall said he felt compelled to direct the documentary and was able to do so from a deeper perspective than someone uninterested in music. His connection to music – such as forming a band with his two younger brothers in high school – also helped cultivate his relationship with Barry Gibb, the oldest brother and the sole living band member, Marshall said.
Going into the film, Marshall already carried great respect for the band’s music, which encouraged him to communicate the film’s impact, said supervising producer Aly Parker. Although the general public may perceive the Bee Gees as nominal, Marshall said many music industry insiders understood their talent and musical impact. For instance, the Bee Gees wrote many hits for other artists, such as Barbra Streisand’s “Woman In Love,” and their relevance lasted multiple decades, according to the documentary.
While contacting potential interviewees, Marshall said he witnessed the influence of the Bee Gees, as artists like Chris Martin of Coldplay, Nick Jonas and Justin Timberlake all expressed willingness to speak about the trio’s career. In the documentary, Martin shares the Bee Gees may have struggled more than contemporary celebrities to maintain favor with the public. This increased challenge may have come from the fact they were a part of the first generation of global superstars, Martin said.
When the Bee Gees dabbled in disco for the film “Saturday Night Fever,” they received huge success and became associated with the genre, which has its origins in the Black, Latino and gay communities. According to the documentary, the beloved genre later became widely hated. Many began to dislike disco’s dominance in the music industry, its association with ridding racial segregation and how the genre embraced femininity within men, according to The Guardian. With the change, the Bee Gees were swept up in the public backlash. Radio stations stopped playing their songs and the trio received bomb threats while on tour, according to The New York Times.
The contempt for the genre culminated into the Disco Demolition Night, an event organized by DJ Steve Dahl to burn disco records where many burned music from Black artists even if they weren’t involved with disco, according to The Guardian. Producer Jeanne Elfant Festa said the documentary covers these sociopolitical circumstances because if the team was to overlook this part of history, they would produce an incomplete Bee Gees’ story.
“We have to tell what really happened,” Elfant Festa said. “… And you can’t ignore it even if it’s something that’s pop culture.”
Aside from their music’s impact, Marshall said the Bee Gees’ family dynamic also struck a chord with him. Their brotherhood also became a core tenant in the film, Parker said, because almost everybody can relate to their family dynamic. Although not everyone knows about the Bee Gees or may like them, many can empathize with the documentary’s depiction of their family conflict and the sweet moments in between, she said.
In an archive interview with Maurice Gibb, which was included in the film, he said the brothers dreamed of purchasing neighboring houses with their own swimming pools – a fantasy that Elfant Festa said came to fruition. Thinking about how they were able to live out their dream, Elfant Festa said she cried and missed her own brother and sister, both of whom she doesn’t live near.
“When you do these films it makes you, and I think the viewing public … feel like ‘God, I got to call my sibling and tell them life’s too short. I love you,’” she said.
The overall theme of the film is reflected in its ending line, “I’d rather have ’em all back here, no hits at all,” in which Gibb tells Marshall he would trade their fame if he could have his brothers back, Parker said. Whether they are fans of the band or not, Parker said she hopes the film reaches and moves a wider audience through the brothers’ story.
“It’s just so true to what the story is,” Parker said. “You can have all the success and all these accomplishments, but what really matters at the end of the day is the people that you share it with.”