In an exclusive piece for Revive, actor/director Don Cheadle put pen to paper to discuss his forthcoming Miles Davis biopic, “Miles Ahead,” and the experience of working to bring the film to screen. His love letter to the film arrives as donations from musicians, film buffs, and fans of the jazz icon continue to push the “Miles Ahead” fundraising campaign forward in its final hours. Don Cheadle’s passion for the project– a palpable mash of reverence and genuine enthusiasm that has been brewing since his childhood– has spread to fans eager to see the story of Miles Davis spring to life under the guidance of someone whose devotion to the subject surpasses the simplistic attitude sometimes found in big budget studios projects that ignore the minute but very important details that can make or break a retelling of creative genius.
While the minds behind “Miles Ahead” would undoubtedly like to see the film do well, it is clear that turning a profit comes second to getting it right. Working with the family of Miles Davis as well as a great team of filmmaking professionals and musicians, Cheadle is crafting a nuanced ode to a master horn player that threatens to become a clinic in character acting, as he polishes his horn chops and puts the final touches on a role he has been preparing for since 2006. Recent photos of Cheadle in character as Davis have only fed the buzz. The images suggest that he has left no stone unturned in his quest to bring back the cool. This film, much like music made in the jazz tradition, eschews the palate of the fast food consumer and goes straight for the heart of the connoisseur with a portrayal and soundtrack crafted to make the subject proud. As if that weren’t enough, Cheadle has graciously stepped away from his busy production schedule to break down his plans for the film and his personal stake in the story of Miles Davis. Allow Don Cheadle to take you miles ahead.
From a very young age I was into Miles Davis’s music. His was the music that I grew up listening to, that my parents listened to; it was something that was central in my music life always.
So I was paying attention in 2006 when Miles was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I heard that they were interviewing his nephew and they asked him would they ever be doing something about his life in a film and he said, “Yes, and Don Cheadle’s going to play him,” which was news to me. I’m not surprised very often. But in 2006 I got a big surprise and I started digging in.
This is the type of project that I had dreamed of. It was clear to me very early on that I would need to play an active role in the development of this film. There are a lot of ways a project like this could go very wrong, if placed in the wrong hands. This film has to stay true to the person and the music at the core, and avoid the pitfalls of the current climate in the movie business. A film for Miles Davis has to exist in a different ecosystem where there are no rules. It’s not a biopic, it’s an adventure, it’s a drama, it’s a love story; it’s about the core of human experience. Who decides what an artist should make? Who decides when an artist should create?
I really wanted to make a movie that Miles would have wanted to see. I knew that we had to find a new way of telling a story that was different from what people expected, just like Miles kept changing his music.
As we got into budgeting and prepping the movie, stuff would come up and we’d be like “wouldn’t it be cool if we could shoot that at a real club” or “what if we could make that chase scene have all the period cars we imagined when we wrote it?” And we are covering several time periods in the film. So instead of cutting things from the script we thought Indiegogo was an opportunity to just bolster our small, independent budget AND get the word out that this musical icon was finally going to be brought to life in a film. Kind of create a community around us of people who could be with us throughout the process and be talking about MILES AHEAD until it hits theatres. Seems like how Miles would have thought if he was still around. He called jazz “social music” so it seemed fitting to hit the “social media” path.
It’s been great hearing from people who have contributed to the campaign so far how excited they are to help because they love Miles, or their parents loved Miles or Miles influenced their art or their music. Other people are just coming forth because they are supporting my dream, which is so cool and humbling. I can’t wait to see it come to fruition and share it with an audience that has been so supportive and has been a part of the project from the beginning. And then there are so many people are out there in the jazz community, and the music world in general, asking to participate in any way they can. We’ll have a great opportunity to bring them in on our soundtrack. People like Nas and Robert Glasper, who is composing for the film, have been throwing concert tickets onto our Indiegogo campaign. And that’s just the beginning. All this support has just echoed what I already knew about MILES AHEAD back in 2006 when this all sprung on me. A film about Miles Davis is long overdue. It’s cool, it’s exciting. It’s time.