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Interview: Filmmaker Allen Hughes reflects on HBO’s ‘The Defiant Ones’

July 7, 2017
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How do two very different men — one Black, and the other Italian — from opposite ends of the country shift and bend the trajectory of the modern day music business?

In his new comprehensive 4-part documentary, master filmmaker Allen Hughes explores the lives and careers of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine — both veteran music producers, executives and co-founders of Beats by Dre. The Defiant Ones is a gorgeously done work, which weaves in personal interviews and rchival footage, opening with Iovine’s entry into the music world during the’70s through our current times.

Ahead of The Defiant Ones premiere, Shadow and Act’s Aramide Tinubu sat down to chat with Hughes about the docu-series, why it was such an emotional project for him and why he’s now a better director as a result.

Aramide Tinubu: I know you got the idea for the title of the series from the 1958 Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis film from ’58. How did you decide you wanted to tell this story, from Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre’s perspective and in this manner?

Allen Hughes: Dre and I were gonna do on his life. This was way before Straight Outta Compton. Then, I found out that Jimmy had just talked to HBO about an Interscope documentary, and a light bulb went off. I went, “You know what? I think the better, more original, most dynamic way to tell this story is to tell both their stories and get a glimpse into the partnership. Especially in these days and times, too, with how racially charged things are. A white Italian man from Brooklyn, a Black man from Compton, and they’ve been together for over 25 years, and they went on to build this massive company called Beats. They still are just as affectionate and fun-loving with one another, and trust each other, as the day they began.

AT: You said that the process started before Straight Outta Compton was even being filmed. So, when did you actually start putting this all together?

AH: Four years ago was the beginning of the process, but the physical process started a little over three years ago. Four total, three physical.

AT: As a director, how did you decide which components of Iovine and Dr. Dre’s personal and professional lives that you were going to include?

AH: It’s interesting. Once you get to part three, which I think is all so interesting and special and dynamic, and people have their favorites, but part three is the feature-length one, and it’s when things get … They start off fun and then it gets out of control, and it becomes dangerous. You’ll see when you get to that part and four, but particularly part three, where you go, “Oh, wow, this is a massive canvas. This is just not about Jimmy and Dre, this is about something that went down in the ’90s that was so explosive and so positive, and then it took a left turn at a certain point. How do we get the train back on the tracks?”

AT: Why was HBO the right platform to tell this story?

AH: I have an emotional attachment to HBO, just as a fan. They’re just class. I’ve also heard throughout the years, and I’ve worked with them on things that didn’t end up on the air, but the way they deal with the talent, filmmakers, and artists, they really support you. This process was supposed to take a year, and here were are. They weren’t bugging out. They were very supportive of me. I always knew that about them. I’ll tell you something that’s hilarious. This project was my Trojan Horse into HBO ’cause I’ve always wanted to work with HBO. So I’m like, “If I can get this done…” The landscape is changing. The one thing that hasn’t changed is HBO is always trying to do something different, noisy, but they have a tremendous amount of class to what they do, how they roll something out. You look at this documentary … I don’t know how what city you live in; what city do you live in?

Continue reading at Shadow and Act.