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

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July 7th 2017

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?

AT: I'm in New York City.

AH: I've never seen a documentary marketed like this.

Dr. Dre & Jimmy Iovine Dr. Dre & Jimmy Iovine

AT: It's fantastic. What did you learn about yourself as a director during this process? You've done incredible work, with Menace II Society and Dead Presidents and with all these different films you've done over the course of your career.

AH: Oh, a lot. I learned who I am as a filmmaker, completely 100 percent, and what my potential is. Because I don't think I've ever maximized my full potential. Through this process, and learning, as you see in parts one and two and you'll see in three and four, there's a lot of life lessons in there. The number one things I learned as a filmmaker is to focus ... What Jimmy and Dre taught me is they operate purely for what they're creating. I've done that, but I've been distracted by bullshit a lot. People's emotions and people's bullshit. It's just noise! This process taught me because it was so intense, especially this last six months to a year, that I had no choice. I had to tune everything ... except for my family, my loved ones, who were supportive of me. My mother. I don't tune my mother, or people that are nurturing me but tune out all the bullshit and focus on what you're creating. And also try to maintain a balance and just be healthy. Mentally, spiritually, and physically maintain some optimal health while you're doing that, which can be impossible. Making a documentary isn't like making a feature film. It became seven days a week, all-consuming. It's like a jigsaw puzzle in your head the whole time. It's real people, so there's emotional math to do. Emotional math is not clean and simple like physical math or literal math. I think I became a better filmmaker, and I know how to work ... I've always been really good with performers and talent, but these were real people. The number one thing I learned the number one thing I walked away with, especially because it was HBO, was I'm only gonna do signature pieces from now on. I only want to do things where people support me, that back me 100 percent, and know that it's gonna be great if they give me what I need and I'll deliver the goods.

AT: One of the things that really stuck out to me was in the second part when Dr. Dre addressed the Dee Barnes assault. I'd never heard him address it, ever. Was this something you had to convince him to talk about? Were there other aspects in the documentary where you had to, as a filmmaker, really push either Iovine or Dre to really talk about an aspect of their lives?

AH: There were definitely times where you had to push either one of them because that's just the nature of it. You discover things that you didn't know going in. But the Dee Barnes thing, in particular, Dre wanted to deal with that going in. That was the number one thing he brought up first, like, "No, I'm gonna open up about everything, and that as well." So that was nothing like, "Is he gonna do this?" It was something we had agreed to before we started shooting. There we definitely moments and times throughout the process that, especially personal stuff with Jimmy and Dre. You're pushing, pushing, pushing, and sometimes you get your hand bit because you're pushing too much.

AT: What was the most difficult aspect for you in creating The Defiant Ones?

AH: The most difficult aspect was working through a tremendous amount, and the most pain I've very worked through. I don't work well with pain. Emotional pain, psychological pain, physical pain. We're having a premiere in LA and New York, and I'm still editing the movie I'm still editing part four. I'm still figuring this thing out. We're doing press, this is all last week and the week before, and everyone is celebrating and having a good time, and I'm in this dark place 'cause I'm not. I'm working through a tremendous amount of pain. A lot of it was really personal for me, and I wanted to get it right. And it wasn't done! I think that seven days a week thing where you don't have a life... for over a year I haven't had a life. It's just been this. There's no dating; there's no having lunches or dinners, or going to the museum...it became quite lonely. It got dark. I didn't know it would be that awful...say a film like The Book Of Eli. ,I went home on the weekends. And everyone went home at night after we were done shooting. There weren't calls, dealing with a bunch of stuff, bullshit, emotional stuff, logistical stuff. That's what happened.

AT: What do you want people, music lovers, fans of Dre and Jimmy Iovine, those who've shaped so much of our music industry, in the past, present, and of course the future ... What do you want your viewers to take away from this comprehensive, massive, gorgeous project?

AH: I really want them to let it speak to them. I'd hate to taint their experience. However, I will say that you look at these guys, and because of the current culture and how we live, and everyone's becoming this narcissistic ... Everyone's just "selfie, selfie, selfie, selfie, me, me, me, me, me, I, I, I, I, I." You look at Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine, and you'll see what made them a success was collaborating with great artists and great people in the business side, too. They always married up. They always worked with great rock stars. And they're rock stars themselves. My point is, the number one thing that they understood, which it would be great as a culture if we can get back to, everyone playing a position. We can't all be chiefs.

AT: The D.O.C. talks about that in the doc as well.

AH: Exactly. That's the greatest thing about those years at Interscope with Dre and Jimmy. It felt like it was a gangster party and everyone was invited. Everyone can be who they were, whether you were rock, pop, alternative, or hip-hop. You look at Tupac, and you go, "Shit, he's doing his thing." And at the other end of the spectrum, you got Marilyn Manson at the same time. They couldn't be more opposite but more alike. The last thing I would say which is discussed in the first part; the American dream being a myth. I would say what I learned on this project; my takeaway is that it's not a myth. If you look at it this way, Jimmy and Dre achieved the American dream ten, twelve times over on paper. Success, fortune, power, fame. But until you reconcile your demons, it's an American nightmare. Doesn't matter how much money you have.



'The Defiant Ones airs nightly Sunday, July 9 through Wednesday, July 12 at 10 PM ET on HBO.

Aramide A Tinubu has her Master’s in Film Studies from Columbia University. She wrote her thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger, and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami

by Aramide A. Tinubu on July 7th 2017
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