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

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

Don 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
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
("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
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
("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
("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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Delano Glass

This is truly a film I’m looking forward to seeing. Everything I’ve heard or read about Miles Davis has been intriguing. Including his marriage to actress Cecily Tyson.

Jeremiah Ford

I have about sixty pages written for a screenplay on Miles Davis from last summer. I wrote it over about a month, but then ran out of muster (a.k.a writer's block). It was interesting to see that Cheadle and his writing partner chose the part of his life after he locked himself inside his house with a bad cocaine addiction for six years and his subsequent relationship with Francis Taylor Davis. To get to the point though, my writings were previous to that point including his childhood, him at Julliard, and most of his early career. I suppose it's just a rough draft, my writings that is, but as much as I am excited for Cheadle's film, I still would like to see the previous moments of his life created in a biopic.

Chris Banks

Don Cheadle is the Man and I can't wait to see what his team come out with!


So they hired Ewan McGregor for a part but they need to ask people 300.000 dollars? An actor can earn, at best, from 1 to 20 millions per film… something is off here.
My understanding of this kind of campaigns is that they will keep all the money even if the movie is not made.


bummed Zoe isn't in the project anymore. I wonder if it was just a rumor to begin with and she was never attached to it or if she just is too busy with avatar. I could see her playing Frances Taylor not only in the looks but because she is a dancer other than an actress. I wonder who they will cast now, I'm at loss of names that resemble Frances and can act and dance.


He needs Lupita as Cicely Tyson before he can't afford her.

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