He may be an Oscar nominee but actor, Don Cheadle hasn't lost touch with what he's passionate about or the people who helped him get there. Son of an educator and a psychologist, Cheadle has always been inspired by the greats. From fellow actors to musicians, Cheadle has used that inspiration to forge ahead of his career.
Now, Cheadle is about to embark on a new path, his directorial debut in the film, Miles Ahead, featuring a glimpse into the life of jazz musician or social musician as he liked to be called, Miles Davis.
Cheadle intends to not only direct this film but also star in it and has already lined up such stars as Ewan McGregor and Zoe Saldana to star along with him but he needs your help. Along with investing his own funds, he is requesting the help and support of his fans along with Miles Davis's fans before the cameras roll through his Indiegogo campaign.
In my interview with Cheadle, he explains why he's asking for public support instead of asking one of his famous friends to do so, why after even being an Oscar nominated actor good roles are still hard to come by and the misconceptions that go along with being part of Hollywood's in-crowd.
How did the Miles Ahead opportunity come to you?
Cheadle: Well, I've been into Miles Davis's music since I was very young, before I was a teenager. It was the music that I grew up, listening to, that my parents listened to, so it was something that was sort of central in my music life always. Then in 2008 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. Then a bunch of calls came in from people saying, "Well, when is this movie going to happen?" Eventually I met with the family, and they had been pitched some concepts that had come to them over the years -- you know, people had been trying to make this for a while -- and they were just, from my perspective, kind of traditional and a little right up the middle, and I thought with his life it has to be creative and adventurous and spontaneous and crazy or it's just not Miles Davis, you know?
They agreed, and we went about just trying to make that movie. And lo these many years later -- which is kind of how long it takes to do movies, really -- we're in preproduction and going to be beginning in July.
What made you stick with this project?
Cheadle: It wasn't as if I was just focusing on this movie and nothing else. But it's an idea that had never left my head. Like I said, he's a figure in music that I've been a fan of, and his life has been fascinating to me since I became aware of him, so having the opportunity to tell a story centered around his life was really an interesting prospect for me and something that if it were to come together in the way that I thought it should, I would always want to show up for.
Why should people donate to Miles Ahead?
Cheadle: I wouldn't use the 's' word, meaning should. I would hope that people would want to donate...and not just donate, because that sounds like you give something up and then just kind of wait. Things that are being offered, the are perks that people are getting, I think they are interesting: set visits, original artwork from Miles Davis possibly, outings, dinners, being able to be part of the postproduction and getting to be in the editing room, things like that. You know, you're part of the filmmaking in a way that you don't get to be on a movie that Warner Brothers or Universal or Sony or anybody else is making, so I think it's cool for the audience to be a part of it and feel also that they are a part of putting something on the screen that they personally have an interest in seeing. I used to think many years ago about doing kind of a whistle-stop tour like a politician would do and literally going from town to town and preselling the movie and preselling your theater and doing it that way, and now with social media the way it is you can just click a button and one-stop shop and go online and have a similar experience. With Miles Davis, someone who sort of eschewed the idea of being a jazz musician and really thought of himself as someone who played social music and was into the social experience, I think it makes sense to have this campaign live in that frame too.
Some people may say, "Don Cheadle's an Oscar nominee. He has a lot of very wealthy and famous friends. Why not just ask one of them to write you a check?"
Cheadle: I think a lot of people don't know how movies get put together and how movies get made, so I would assume that is what they would think. A lot of those "wealthy people" do write checks, but because those wealthy people also have lives and families and mortgages and car payments and everything else it's not easy. Everybody who's an actor isn't wealthy. That's another misconception about what we do. And movies are incredibly expensive, and with a movie like this, when we're trying to achieve time periods and buy music and pull off looks and deal with the kind of construction that is consistent with re-creating things, it's expensive. We're not making this with a studio; we're doing this outside of that system, so we're cobbling it together. I'm not getting paid to do it; I've put all of my fees back in the movie, and I'm spending a big chunk of my own money on it, which is, you know, what you're not supposed to do per Moviemaking 101. But I believe in the film and I'm passionate about it, and I believe in putting my money where my mouth is, so I'm assuming as much risk as I am asking others to do -- more, in a way.
Why did you choose Indiegogo over, let's say, Kickstarter or Gofundme or one of the other platforms?
Cheadle: Indiegogo is international, and Miles was an international artist, so it makes sense in that regard. Indiegogo is more attractive also for me because you get everything that you raise. You have to pay the higher fee, rather, if you don't hit your target number, but you get to keep your funds and they still go toward making your movie -- which at this point, everything goes on the screen, and anything that we can make helps us to do it in the way that we're trying to do. And, I just liked the people behind Indiegogo when I met with them; I liked the team and liked their philosophy and liked their approach. Not that there's anything wrong with those other platforms; I just don't know them as intimately as these guys.
Are you overwhelmed with the roles that are being thrown at you by Hollywood? What do you look for in a role when someone approaches you?
Cheadle: I think that's another misconception that there's just tons and tons of work and we just pass projects up left and right. That is the way for probably 1% of actors that are in the position where they get to sit back and pick and choose and have a stack of scripts. My experience, more often than not, is that there are not that many good scripts, A. B, the ones that are good are very difficult to put together; and sometimes even when they are put together, they fall apart. When I did Hotel Rwanda, the first day on set I was at lunch and was talking to my agent, and he said, "You know, there's no money in escrow for this movie, so you're there for free right now. Do you want to come home or do you want to sit there and hope that things all work out?" And miraculously -- not even miraculously, because our producer got into his own bank account and started cutting checks until the money started flowing -- the movie ultimately came together, but that was a sweaty week for everybody. We're on set, in costume, have already shot film and the movie could fall apart. That happens a lot, and I don't think people really are aware of that, this is a very tenuous job that we have a lot of times, and things don't work out many more times than they do. When you see a script and you see a story, when there's an idea that is really intriguing, you try to figure out any way that you can to have it happen. A movie like this is one such movie where...the studios aren't breaking down their doors to tell stories like this. You know that because just look at what's out. These movies are often put together through independent means and people who are passionate about the subject matter and trying to figure it out; that's how these movies get made.
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