CMT has greenlit and begun production on If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd (working title) set to premiere on CMT next year.
Thursday’s (Nov. 3) announcement was made following the critical and commercial success of CMT’s first five original documentaries.
The Lynyrd Skynyrd documentary from director Stephen Kijak (We Are X and Stones in Exile) and produced by Academy Award-winners Passion Pictures (Searching for Sugar Man and One Day in September) will take an innovative and cinematic approach to explore the music and rich backstory of the legendary American band.
“The Lynyrd Skynyrd story, with all of its enigmatic players, dizzying highs and brutal lows, has never been done justice by writers or filmmakers,” said CMT president Brian Philips. “Our documentaries have become critical and fan favorites because they reveal colorful, yet conflicted characters in modern context.
‘We’ll clear up some of the enduring myths about Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music, politics and thrill-a-minute backstory. We’ll fight to tell the truest story of this blockbuster American rock band, whose loving, loyal fans keep their spirit alive to this day.”
“I’m excited to work with Brian, CMT and Passion Pictures to tell the no-holds-barred Skynyrd story — things that have never been told before and the days of when we started and all the hard work we put in to the music and the band,” Lynyrd Skynyrd founding member Gary Rossington said.
“Gary will finally get a chance to tell his side of the story, being there since the beginning,” added current lead vocalist Johnny Van Zant, younger brother of the late Ronnie Van Zant. “Ronnie was a father figure to him, as much as a friend. I’m so happy that this is happening for him and the band. I’m also glad to share stories with my brother, Donnie growing up in the Van Zant family.”
With the songs from the first six Lynyrd Skynyrd albums driving the narration, the film weaves a complex portrait of the band. Above all, it’s a story of frontman Ronnie Van Zant, his upbringing, his roots, his work ethic and his contradictory persona as both as a mythic Southern Rock poet and notorious boozed-up brawler. The documentary also explores the relationships between Rossington and founding member Allen Collins, as well as Ed King and Artemus Pyle.
The legacy began more than 40 years ago in Jacksonville, Florida, where the band gained worldwide success with massive hits including “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Free Bird” and “What’s Your Name.” A plane crash in 1977 killed band members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and his sister, singer Cassie Gaines, halting the band for a decade.
Since reuniting in the ‘80s, the band tragically lost Allen Collins, Billy Powell, Leon Wilkeson and Hughie Thomasson, yet rocks on with original member Gary Rossington joined by Johnny Van Zant, Rickey Medlocke, Mark “Sparky” Matejka, Michael Cartellone, Johnny Colt, Peter Keys, Dale Krantz Rossington and Carol Chase.
If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrdis produced by Passion Pictures, with John Battsek and Diane Becker as producers, George Chignell as co-producer and Andrew Ruhemann as executive producer. Jayson Dinsmore, Lewis Bogach and John Miller-Monzon executive produce for CMT.
CMT documentaries tell authentic stories with unexpected points of view. The first four films, Urban Cowboy: The Rise and Fall of Gilley’s, Morgan Spurlock Presents Freedom! The Movie, Johnny Cash: American Rebel and The Bandit, have attracted an audience of more than 25 million. The next documentary, Chicken People, premieres Nov. 23 after a successful festival and theatrical run.