The Miles Davis Movie(S): Two Movies, One Hope To Get It Right

In the world of All Things Miles Davis, it’s big news about producer Nick Davis Raynes and director George Tillman Jr. all set to film a biopic of Miles Davis. The news also puts Don Cheadle’s long-gestating project in the spotlight; with Cheadle’s commitment to the Miles Davis Estate-approved movie way back in 2007, his endeavor has held a nice, first-mover advantage with buzz and anticipation among film and jazz fans.

But now things are getting interesting.

What makes the competing projects so intriguing are the complete opposite approaches the filmmakers plan to tell the Miles Davis story. Raynes has said they are developing a traditional biopic, similar to “Ray.” This goes in total contrast to Cheadle’s plan, which is to construct an unconventional narrative that follows Davis over the course of one day.

‘Producer Nick Davis Raynes said they were aiming for a film in the same vein as the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line” and “Ray,” writes Andrew Pulver in The Guardian. Said Raynes: “We want to make a film that will do the same justice for Miles Davis.”

Safe to say the Tillman/Raynes biopic is in development with no start date for any kind of production. I doubt there’s even a script or screenwriter at this point. I also have no clue if any funds have been secured to pay for the movie endeavor. But they seem ready to make it happen.

My personal taste always leans towards a biopic like “Ray.” It tends to be an easy path to go down where following a story (especially a real-life story with lots to tell) is concerned, but most importantly the movie has to be good. And “Ray” is a good movie, so the biopic blueprint works.

I do want to add that I have been totally on board with whatever Cheadle has up his sleeve. It might not be traditional, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining, or serve Davis’ legacy properly – on film.

But for many Miles fans, no film of any kind could ever properly capture the life and music of Miles Davis.

I agree with that as well. But I will gladly watch a 2 1/2 hour movie about Miles Davis, even if I realize it’s almost impossible to tell the whole story, A to Z. A 6-hour, Ken Burn-style documentary is my vote.

The key connection for both biopics is the music. Without securing rights to the music, neither would be worth much at all. Becasue Cheadle has the backing of the Miles Davis Estate, they seemingly did not have much trouble securing rights with Sony Music, which owns just about all of Davis’ finest recordings.

An article in JazzTimes reports that Tillman Jr. and Raynes do have access ‘to much of Miles Davis’ music,’ but it’s primarily from 1963-1977.

That’s a key point, because that era does not include many of Davis’ most celebrated works. But we’ll see if their film will utilize work from Kind of Blue, Miles Ahead and so on.

The other key part here is the lead actor. Don Cheadle has been attached to star as Davis since 2007. And even though he has been busy playing War Machine in the “Iron Man” films, to go along with other acting and producing commitments, everyone still knows he is one day going to suit up as Miles Davis.

It will be interesting to see if Raynes/Tillman Jr. go the unknown actor way, or find an established name to play the jazz icon. My feeling is that a relative unknown might work best because Cheadle already fits the bill as Miles pretty darn well from the established Hollywood actor ranks. And I cannot even think of anyone else right now besides Cheadle who could work for the part.

There hasn’t been any comment from Cheadle or the Miles Davis Estate that I have seen regarding the other biopic, but it will be interesting to see how the news impacts Cheadle’s plans in getting his movie made.

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1. Miles Davis

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The Other Miles Davis Biopic Makes A Big Move

via cinemablend.com

Soul Food and Men of Honor director George Tillman Jr., who captured Notorious B.I.G.’s life story in the 2009 biopic Notorious, will take a swing at another musical icon when he tackles Miles Davis in a planned biopic. Tentatively titled Miles, the film is being developed by the late trumpeter’s son, Gregory, The Hollywood Reporter says.

The project is loosely based on the book “Dark Magus: The Jekyll and Hyde Life of Miles Davis”, written by Gregory Davis. Isaac Fergusson wrote the original draft of the screenplay, but the filmmakers are further developing the script.

I discussed this project back in 2008, when Nick Davis Raynes optioned the rights to “Dark Magus: The Jekyll and Hyde Life of Miles Davis.”

This is not the Miles Davis-estate backed project, which has Don Cheadle attached to star as the iconic jazz trumpeter.

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with two, competing Miles Davis films, but it definitely makes things interesting in terms of how fans will respond. What we have is one project (w/ Tillman) likely constructed as a more traditional biopic, whereas Cheadle’s endeavor is built on a more unique narrative that tells a story over the course of one day.

No word yet if Tillman and Raynes have an actor in mind to play Davis, but certainly there has been plenty of buzz for years about a respected and talented actor such as Don Cheadle playing the mega-role in his telling of the Miles Davis story. No doubt it will be key for Tillam to cast wisely when finding someone to play such a major, real-life figure. They could go the unknown route, or perhaps there is an actor already established who might want to take on the challenge.

It will be interesting to see how this news effects the Cheadle/Miles Davis Estate project, which up until now has leaked a few details via Cheadle about script content, but also has admitted to financial roadblocks in getting the film up and running.

I did just post an item about Antoine Fuqua being attached as the director for the Cheadle film, but there’s been no verification as far as I have seen.

The Miles Davis Movie: Is Antoine Fuqua Directing The Miles Davis Biopic?

Director Antoine Fuqua’s name has been associated for many years with the Miles Davis Biopic.

I have always figured Don Cheadle would direct the film, along with portraying the jazz legend. In March of 2007, news officially broke of Cheadle’s involvement with the project; a story in Variety noted that Cheadle would make his feature directing debut with the Miles Davis movie. A 2006 JazzTimes article pointed out that the estate had been in talks with Fuqua (along with Cheadle), but clearly Cheadle wanted to play Miles as well as direct the film, so out went the Fuqua connection.

Until now.

In an interview last month with Spain-based online newspaper ABC.es, Erin Davis, son of Miles, said that Antoine Fuqua is the director.

It’s not news the Miles Davis estate and Cheadle have been talking to Fuqua. But if he is, indeed, officially set to direct, the news has yet to be confirmed across mainstream airwaves – as far as I know.

I’ve written in the past about Cheadle possibly relinquishing directing duties and just focusing solely on portraying Miles. I even offered up some director names to get the conversation started about who people would like to see direct the Miles Davis Biopic should Cheadle exit the position.

If the comment from Davis about Fuqua is true, then looks like Cheadle is comfortable with just starring, producing and – undoubtedly – orchestrating the film’s style and narrative.

Fuqua’s IMDB page does not list the Untitled Miles Davis Biopic as a future project. However, Cheadle’s page does not list the film in his Actor file, just off to the side under Projects In Development.

It could be that without the financing set up yet – although it might be, I have no idea -, everyone wants to keep any high-profile news on the back burner. Aside from news about Herbie Hancock scoring the film and whatever inside info Cheadle reveals, it’s mostly radio silence.

I like many of Fuqua’s films, so his involvement works for me. It’s Don Cheadle’s vision, as far as I can tell, so far, so it appears if the Fuqua news is true, then the director is also comfortable with Cheadle’s unique vision for the movie.

I’d be curious to know why, in the end, Cheadle decided to relinquish the director’s chair, but with a busy schedule, perhaps concentrating on portraying a jazz icon and getting the project into production mode is quite enough.

The article with Erin Davis mentioned the film will start production next year, just as an album of Miles Davis tunes re-worked by hip-hop artists is put together. No firm details on either points, but the hip-hop angle is an interesting one and demands further examination down the road.

But it’s definitely a good thing if we are, indeed, a few steps closer to a start date for the biopic.