Interview: A Conversation w/ Don Cheadle About His Miles Davis Film (Story, Style, Structure, Cast, Crew, Music, more)
Photo Credit: S & A

Interview: A Conversation w/ Don Cheadle About His Miles Davis Film (Story, Style, Structure, Cast, Crew, Music, more)

Don CheadleDon Cheadle is

roughly a week into the Indiegogo campaign for his long-in-development Miles Davis biopic, "Miles Ahead," seeking to raise $325,000

towards the film’s overall budget of under $10 million by July 6 to support the principal photography for the feature length film when it goes into production later this summer. Among the pledge prizes are rare Miles Davis posters, limited edition Miles Davis artwork, a coffee table book of Miles’ artwork signed by Don Cheadle, as well as set visits and access to screenings.

Thus far, the project’s Indiegogo campaign has raised over $130,000 of its $325,000 goal, with 28 days left until it ends. To contribute, click here.

Cheadle is producing the film through his Crescendo Productions banner, along with Bifrost’s Daniel Wagner, and Robert Ogden Barnum. Also producing are Darryl Porter and Vince Wilburn on behalf of the Davis estate, Lenore Zerman and Pam Hirsch.  

While promoting the

campaign, Cheadle spoke with Shadow And

Act about starring, producing, co-writing, and making his feature directorial

debut with the film including several new details about the casting and creative choices.

SHADOW AND ACT: Can you talk about the journey you’ve had over the

years trying to get the film made. What kind of response have you gotten as

you’ve met with studios and financiers? Are there any concessions you’ve been

asked to make creatively, or has the hold up largely been due to funding?

DON CHEADLE: It’s been all of it. The project first

had traction in 2008 when Miles was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his nephew told reporters that I was

going to be playing him in the movie, which was the first I’d heard of it. People

started calling to try and put the movie together because the family had given

their blessing for me to be in it. I started working with writers and at that

point it became clear that the take on the story that I wanted to do was going

to have to be controlled by me. I couldn’t really translate it to someone else

and have it come off in the way that I wanted and needed it to.

So we had a script very early that we went out

with, and a lot of people bid on it and several studios had optioned it. And

then the world collapsed – the financial crisis hit and a lot of those mini-majors

went out of business. We were kind of left without a home at that point, which turned

out to be, for us, a good period of time because we pulled the movie back and

restructured it and brought on Steven

Baigelman ("Get On Up", "Feeling Minnesota") who I co-wrote the movie with, and

created a different story.

At that point we went out again with it, and

again had a lot of bites and a lot of places that were trying to put it

together. And we just finally settled on making it with the financier that we

have now, and are again in earnest targeting a start date and casting it, and

now we’re four weeks out.

S&A: What

are some of the changes that the project went through during that time?

DC: Many, many changes. I think it moved from

being something that was a little more of a traditional biopic, which I was

never totally enamored of, toward something that I think is a lot more dynamic

and interesting and creative and Miles.

S&A: You’ve

called the film unconventional. What can you share about the story or style of


DC: It looks at Miles’ silent period, him sort

of coming out of that silent period and joining up with this Rolling

Stone reporter and a young trumpet player to steal back his music. And

it runs parallel with the storyline of Frances

Taylor Davis, who he was in a relationship with for 10 years and was sort

of his muse and the love of his life.


We’ve heard that Ewan McGregor will co-star as the reporter, Dave Brill. Is Zoe

Saldana still attached to the project?

DC: She’s not. She’s not in the film.


Has anyone else been cast that you can tell us about?

DC: Michael

Stuhlbarg ("A Serious Man", "Boardwalk Empire", "Lincoln") plays a character

named Harper. And we’re casting a couple of the other parts right now. The ink

isn’t dry, so I can’t speak on it before it actually happens.

S&A: You’ve

directed an episode of "House of Lies," but this will be your feature film

directorial debut. Are there any directors you’ll be drawing on for


DC: I’m trying to steal from everybody. So yeah,

there’s cats that I’m personally affiliated with – Carl Franklin, Paul Thomas Anderson – and others that I don’t know

personally but their work I’m a big admirer of, like Martin Scorsese. But I’m hoping to come up with a language that is

mine, that’s specific to my take on this material.

S&A: Can

you share the names of anyone you’re working with, or considering, for key

creative positions?

DC: Roberto

Schaefer ("The Paperboy", "Machine Gun Preacher") is our DP, and Hannah Beachler ("Fruitvale Station") is

our Production Designer.

S&A: Can

you tell us about what you’re going for stylistically, with the look and feel

of the film?

DC: Those are a lot of the decisions that are

being made right now as we prep it – which medium are we going to use, film

versus digital. Those are the discussions that we’re having right now. We’re

shooting the film in Cincinnati, which is advantageous for several different

reasons. Given the architecture of the city, it’s New York without dealing with

the expense and the hurdles that New York presents. So all of that stuff is

being cobbled together now, from design to wardrobe to music.

S&A: What can you tell us about using Miles Davis’ music in the

film? What particular albums are you looking at, and how will it be


DC: It’s almost all of Miles Davis’ music, from

stuff off of the Kind of Blue album, some stuff off of Circle in the Round, Jack

Johnson, Bitches Brew, the Porgy and Bess album that he did

with Gil Evans. There’s a lot of his

music that we’re using, almost exclusively his music. Although the soundtrack, which will be done in post,

will feature other musicians from other disciplines as well, because that was

Miles too.

S&A: We

recently saw an announcement looking for vehicles from the ’40s to the ’70s for

the film, even though the synopsis says it takes place over a few days. Can we

expect to see flashbacks and perhaps, a younger actor cast to play a younger

Miles Davis?

DC: "Flashback" would be the general

term, but they don’t feel like that and they’re not dealt with like that in the

movie. It’s not sort of a ripple fade, go back and see why and how he got there.

It’s more of a parallel journey that’s happening that’s looking at Miles’

10-year relationship with Frances Taylor Davis, from ’56 to ’66. So the

flashbacks aren’t used to paint a cradle-to-grave depiction. We don’t meet

Miles when he’s eight years old and see the first time he picked up a trumpet; we’re

not doing that. It’s centered around his relationship with Frances.

S&A: You’re working to raise $325,000 on Indiegogo. Assuming that

the campaign is a success, will production forge ahead? Is there anything left

to do in terms of fundraising, or any other hurdles?

DC: Other than the logistical hurdles of

making the movie, we’re going forward. We have high hopes for the campaign and

it’s doing well. If it’s very successful it will give us the ability to do a

lot of the things necessary to pull this movie off. We don’t want to have to

cut corners, skimp on design or things like the music, which costs money

obviously, and creating different time periods. All of these things are not

cheap and we want to be able to execute them appropriately.

S&A: Will

this be a social media-friendly production? Can we look forward to photos being

shared, clips, or a production diary of some sort, to keep fans updated?

DC: That’s one of the components of our

Indiegogo campaign, through the updates and the perks that are offered too – set

visits and exclusive material. I’ll do some of that on social media. I’m only

on Twitter and I’m also pulling 16-hour days, but I’ll be doing it when I can.

But a lot of that stuff is happening through the Indiegogo campaign, so that’s

a good place to go check out all that stuff.

S&A: When

can we expect to eventually see the finished film?

DC: On that, I have no idea. It all depends on

who buys the film and how they put it into their release cycle, which we never

know until the thing is done.


Find the "Miles Ahead" campaign HERE.

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