Monthly Archives: June 2013

20 Feet from Stardom — Movies for Lawyers — The Act Of Communication Point Of View

21 June 2013



Morgan Neville’s brilliant documentary, 20 Feet from Stardom is now at a theater near you – I HOPE – so that you can run right out and see it. I found it absolutely inspiring.

The “20 Feet” refers to the distance between the back up singer – or group of back up singers – and the lead vocalist in a band. David Letterman got a little emotional the other night as he was talking about the film. Imagine him getting a little choked up (I swear he did, if you can imagine Letterman a little choked up!) and saying, “If you love music, go and see it. And if you hate music, go and see it because it will make you love music.” You can only imagine how the film affected me if it made Letterman choke up.

What does it take to be a back up singer? A lack of ego. A lack of a dream. An ability to blend in rather than to stand out. A love of making one voice out of many. Does anyone possess all those qualities? Hmmmm…I think not. The hopeful stories of these amazing women (okay, there are a couple of men but mostly women) will rock your world. There are so many – but I especially found  Darlene Love, whose voice you’ve heard a billion times, has a story to tell of getting ripped off by Phil Spector that will rip your heart right out. How about Merry Clayton who wanted so much more than just to back up others so outrageously? The stories are as varied and breathtaking as any you’ve ever seen. And the heartache is as real as singing The Blues.

I think my favorite line from the film goes something like this, “When you sing along to your favorite song, it is us you are singing with, not the lead singer.” Isn’t that so very, very true – sha-la-la? My favorite moment is the soulful rendition of Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me”. Definitely the film’s anthem. Just thinking about it gives me chills.

What can you learn from seeing this film if you are an attorney? You may be the lead singer in your band. You may be rocking out as a big headliner and making all the major decisions and fronting your group. But…make sure…in perfect harmony…your back up singers are seamlessly bringing the jurors the themes, the transitions in your trial story, the full round compliment you need to present your case. Witnesses, Paralegals, Trial Techs, and, dare I say it, Trial Consultants need to be allowed to be a team with you. Listen for the blend behind you more than you listen to the sound of your own voice in front. You will be amazed at a difference it can make.


Tip: Lean on us.