Like many aspiring filmmakers, cinematographer Roberto Schaefer spent his youth fermenting his imagination by creating his own backyard epics. But unlike your typical kid – who concentrates on, depending on the era, recreating Harryhausen or Spielberg or maybe just blowing up G.I. Joes with M-80s on camera – Schaefer crafted abstract, experimental 8mm films.
“I did do a couple of stop-motion things, but I was always more into art than movies growing up,” Schaefer said. “I liked going to the movies, but I wasn’t thinking about making movies like the ones I saw at the theater. I was thinking about film as art for art’s sake.”
When I heard that “Miles Ahead,” the bio-pic about Miles Davis starring and directed by Don Cheadle, would be set in the late nineteen-seventies, when Davis had stopped performing in public—and would be centered on the story of Davis’s friendship with a white journalist—I was excited, because I knew of such a real-life story, and it’s a good one.
The journalist Eric Nisenson (who died in 2003) was befriended by Davis in that period and wrote about the story of their friendship in his biography of Davis, “ ’Round About Midnight.” It’s the story of an earnest lover of jazz who spent lots of time in the combination apartment and music studio of the bassist Walter Booker. One night, Davis came to Booker’s place, met Nisenson, and, to the journalist’s surprise, became a pal. The resulting portrait of Davis by Nisenson was an unsparingly intimate, complex, and oddly whimsical view of the artist in retreat.
There’s a hopped-up scene in “Miles Ahead,” controlled yet frenzied, when you get why Don Cheadle decided to go for broke.
He’s playing Miles Davis (he also directed) and the time is the late 1970s — although it’s also the 1960s. Time and space tend to blur in this movie and while the setting is a ’70s boxing match, a couple of figures from Miles’s past — his wife, his younger self — soon swing in to shake things up. She’s running scared and the 1970s Miles is running amok, but the younger Miles, well, there he is, too, playing it cool in the ring. Music is fighting, at least for this pugilist.
Don Cheadle was not looking to play Miles Davis. He had done biopics before, starring as Sammy Davis Jr. in “The Rat Pack” (1998), which earned him a Golden Globe, and as the hotelier and accidental humanitarian Paul Rusesabagina in the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” for which he received an Academy Award nomination.
Mr. Cheadle had played the street hoops star Earl Manigault, a.k.a. the Goat, in “Rebound” and the radio D.J. Petey Greene in “Talk to Me”.
This weekend Mr. Cheadle arrives in “Miles Ahead,” a decidedly nonbiopic-like film about the towering jazz trumpeter and composer. Far from the typical linear film narrative, in which a great jazz voice is inevitably brought down, often for good, by drink or drugs (think “Bird,” “’Round Midnight,” “Let’s Get Lost” or “Lady Sings the Blues”), “Miles Ahead” focuses on a period in the late 1970s when Davis wasn’t performing at all. “I loved the incongruity,” Mr. Cheadle said. “The Miles ‘play what’s not there’ idea of it.”
Since its premiere at the New York Film Festival in October, the movie has earned praise for its unconventional portrait of the influential musician. David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter called it “an adventurous, music-saturated depiction of one of the genre’s undisputed greats,” while A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote that “anyone who wants to get a jump on possible Oscar nominees for 2017” should see the film.
“If you gunna tell a story… come with some attitude, man!” Sony Pictures Classics has unveiled the first official trailer for Don Cheadle’s new film Miles Ahead, which already played the New York Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival so far. Don Cheadle stars as legendary jazz musician Miles Davis, with a cast including Keith Stanfield, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emayatzy Corinealdi and Ewan McGregor. Reviews for the film say that Cheadle “buries himself in the character. His version of Davis is a creature of paranoia and understated frustration…” Continue reading “Watch: First Full Trailer for ‘Miles Ahead’ Biopic”→
You can look back over the years of this Miles Davis website and find plenty of blog posts about my desire to see a cradle-to-grave blueprint for the story of Miles Davis. With the talented Don Cheadle in the director’s chair, and in the starring role, this Hollywood-ized style of movie-making was not to be. To be honest, I was just happy something was going to make it to the big screen. I just felt that a traditional bio-pic might allow for a broader story, which might help appeal to a wider audience.
But that doesn’t mean I am not on board with what Cheadle has delivered.
I have not seen the film, so all I can do is check the reviews that are trickling in following the premiere of “Miles Ahead” this past weekend in New York at the New York Film Festival.
Looking over seven or eight reviews online it seems the film is getting mostly (very) positive comments from the critics.
Miles Ahead is the rare biopic in need of Hollywood’s “cradle to grave” blueprints. By scrapping Davis’ origin story—picking up his first trumpet, finding his sound, abandoning the culture around him—the film simply insists upon importance. The music never speaks for itself.
I am very excited to see a film about Miles Davis make it to the big screen. It might not be what I had in mind as I put together in my mind the pieces of a biopic about the jazz legend. But kudos to Cheadle and his team for staying true to the vision they designed for the film. Nothing is perfect and not everyone is going to get on board with the ‘caper’ element built into the story, but it still looks very enjoyable.
Look, I still think a 4-part miniseries on PBS would do the trick by covering the trumpeter’s life and times from start to finish. But I am so pleased to see the final piece of a puzzle I started writing about way back in 2007 finally come together.
Sony Pictures Classics has acquired worldwide rights to Miles Ahead, the Miles Davis biopic starring Don Cheadle who makes his directorial debut on the movie. The pic tells the story of a few lost days in the life of the trumpet icon as he bursts out of his silent period, conspires with a Rolling Stone writer (Ewan McGregor) to steal back his music, and relives the years he had with his great love Frances Taylor.
The film is premiering October 11 as the closing-night selection at the New York Film Festival. SPC did not offer up a release date yet though it it certain to get a prime awards-season slot.
It’s official. The New York Film Festival has announced the film that will be playing as the Closing Night Feature at this year’s 53rd festival, beginning this fall. The film is Don Cheadle’s directorial debut, Miles Ahead, in which Cheadle plays legendary musician Miles Davis. We posted a first look photo last year, and have been waiting for an update ever since. The opening night film was selected as Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk, and the rest of the line-up will be revealed closer to the opening on September 25th.
Don Cheadle stated: “I am happy that the selection committee saw fit to invite us to the dance. It’s very gratifying that all the hard work that went into the making of this film, from every person on the team, has brought us here.”
Roberto Schaefer, ASC, AIC, checked in from New Orleans, where he is finishing up a project with the working title of Geostorm. He has three more weeks in New Orleans, then a week in Hong Kong, and then he will head to New York to digitally time the independent film Miles Ahead, a crowd-funded Miles Davis project directed and co-written by Don Cheadle, who also plays the famous performer. After that, he plans to return to Los Angeles.
Roberto says Miles Ahead, which was shot in Cincinnati, Ohio, was a tough but terrific experience. About two-thirds of the picture was shot with Arri Alexas. A few scenes in tight spaces, like car interiors, were done with a Canon C500. “We also had a chance to shoot some Super 16 for the scenes that take place in the Fifties and Sixties,” he says. “It was very low budget and very ambitious. We were trying to do some really cool things, and I hope we succeeded. Don and [co-star] Ewan McGregor and all the people there were great to work with. It was good to do some stretching.
Miles Ahead is not a standard biopic, but it incorporates some strange episodes drawn from real life. “It’s kind of like a fever dream,” says Roberto. “We weren’t going for a classic jazz-photography look. We just went for whatever we thought would look cool. It’s kind of a period feel, but not painfully so. It was a fun experiment.”
Don Cheadle has managed to accomplish something no one has been able to pull off in two decades: serve up a bigscreen tale of jazz great Miles Davis.
“Miles Ahead,” in which the versatile actor portrays the legendary trumpeter, marks the directorial debut of Cheadle, who co-wrote the script. The independently financed production, made for $8.5 million, wrapped a monthlong shoot in Cincinnati in mid-August, capping a lengthy gestation period for a project that began eight years ago with Davis’ posthumous induction into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
The picture, which has yet to score a U.S. distributor, is among a number of film endeavors centering on iconic black musicians — all of them divisive figures who were considered ahead of their time, with none of the films so far connecting with a wide audience.
Most recently, “Jimi: All Is by My Side,” starring Andre Benjamin aka Outkast’s Andre 3000 as Jimi Hendrix, bowed quietly Sept. 26, and has grossed less than $300,000 to date. “Get On Up,” the $30 million James Brown biopic, received a similarly chilly reception, despite major studio support Universal, grossing little more than its budget since its Aug. 1 debut. Alex Gibney’s low-earning documentary “Finding Fela!” about Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, opened in limited release in early August.
The first image of Don Cheadle as Miles Davis appears via EW.
In an EW exclusive of the actor in character, Cheadle gave fans a first look at his interpretation of the icon during in the period leading up to his 1969 jazz-rock fusion recording In a Silent Way. “It’s surreal,” says the 49-year-old House of Lies actor, who in the photograph totes a trumpet and sports Davis’ trademark jheri-curled mullet.
I’ve been following the ‘making of’ the Miles Davis Biopic since 2008. Along the way I have written about all types of topics associated with Miles Davis, but the centerpiece of Miles Davis Online has always been the movie.
It’s funny to think that in 2008 I wrote in a post about the film being a ‘deconstructed biopic’ that, “the wheels are in motion” in regards to the film getting made.
Well, I was off six or seven years!!
“You could make a strong argument that this Blog about the Miles Davis biopic is a bit early to the party.”
I wrote that in a post on November 10, 2008. Wow! That’s a lot of writing about a film project that was years from actually getting produced.
There is a wealth of excellent conjecture about the movie scattered across Miles Davis Online, but I had a terrific time writing about possible movie scenes, casting ideas, the movie poster, the music, specific scenes, and so on.
I was writing about the Miles Davis Biopic when no one was remotely interested, back when Don Cheadle hadn’t even suited up for Iron Man 2 yet.
It has been a lot of fun diving into the story of the film – with all its twists and turns -, and now it’s here. It’s actually being made.
So the wheels are definitely in motion – in June 2014 – and that’s a good thing.
The big news today is that Don Cheadle has hooked up with Indigogo to help raise $325,000 in funds by July 6 to enable him to make Miles Ahead, his forever-in-development movie about jazz legend Miles Davis.
I honestly cannot decide if I like the title Miles Ahead or not. For awhile there the film was called Kill the Trumpet Player, which was totally off the wall crazy, but now in retrospect wasn’t so bad.
The long (long) saga of the Miles Davis Movie/Biopic has taken an interesting turn: Cheadle has aligned with Indiegogo to raise $325,000 in funds by July 6 to enable him to make Miles Ahead, a movie about jazz legend Miles Davis.
Now, the knee-jerk temptation will be to sound a sour note about a famous star of screen (Iron Man 3) and TV (House Of Lies) for going the crowdfunding route, as was done when Spike Lee and especially Zach Braff did it. I don’t expect much blowback here. It’s not a lot of money he’s chasing, and Cheadle says that he in fact has put a lot of his own money at stake on a project he’s been trying to get made for years (I first wrote about it back in 2007). He’s also got the jazz man’s estate behind him. And frankly, there should be a movie made about Miles Davis, one of the pioneers of an inherently American art form. It would be hard to find someone more passionate about that than Cheadle.
“Most studios don’t make these kinds of movies anymore, so we are doing it independently,” Cheadle said in a statement. “I’m personally putting a big chunk of money into our budget as well as putting all my fees back in. But the extra money we hope to raise on Indiegogo will help us re-create the multiple time periods we’re dealing with and with the logistics of incorporating all the music.
We are excited to get people talking about the movie early, raise awareness, and set into motion the groundswell of support we hope will continue through to the film’s release.”
Here’s hoping he gets enough folks to chip in. Then maybe we can do something about the movie title. I’m almost missing “Kill the Trumpet Player” at this point.
I’ve been covering this movie project since 2008, so I think I will just go ahead and donate $15,000 to be a co-producer. It just feels right.