Landis was in Venice to present the 3D version of the video, which was made 35 years after the original, screened as a special event in the out-of-competition section.
“(Thriller) was nobody’s good idea, it was no brilliant business plan,” John Landis told journalists. “It was a vanity video because Michael wanted to be a monster. And everything that came, evolved from that, was spectacularly successful and I was totally surprised.”
Landis said Jackson first approached him about making the video because he liked his work on An American Werewolf in London and the two, along with make-up artist Rick Baker, met to look at photographs from old monster movies.
“Turns out he hasn’t seen many horror films, they were too scary. I found him great,” Landis said, laughing. “He wanted zombies, but the big thing for Mike was turning into a monster.”
Asked about his first meeting with Jackson, the child star turned King of Pop who set the world dancing but died in 2009 at the age of 50, Landis said he was “joyful” and “childlike” and quickly became a close family friend.
“Michael was very determined that everything had to be the best, the greatest,” he said. “He had a spectacular work ethic, but he was an old pro, the guy has been performing since he was eight years old.”
While making Thriller, Jackson was happy to “show up and do whatever I wanted”, Landis said.
It was different when they met again to produce Black or White in 1991.
“On Black or White I was working for Michael. It was different. We were still fine, but ... he was much more guarded,” Landis said. “I know it’s not easy being a celeb, but to be the most famous person in the world, to have that kind of celebrity is bizarre.”
“And here’s someone who was already working from a young age ... he never had a childhood. That’s one of the reasons he was so interested in pursuing one as a grown up.”
Landis, an American film director, screenwriter, actor and producer, jumped at the idea of converting Thriller into 3D, because “I really wanted you to experience it the way Michael wanted you to experience it”.
“We went through the whole movie frame by frame, and it was not intended to be in 3D, so we are not throwing anything at you or anything like that, but it does enhance certain parts of it tremendously ... the dance is much improved,” he said.
“My only disappointment is that Michael is not here to see it and hear it because I think he would love that,” he said.