Following their successful collaboration on the The Beatles: Eight Days A Week, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment and Nigel Sinclair and Guy East’s White Horse Pictures will follow with a feature docu on the famed tenor and opera icon Luciano Pavarotti. Howard will direct the feature documentary. Much the way that The Beatles film greatly benefited from rare early footage, the Pavarotti pic will be bolstered with full access to the singer’s family archives, interviews and live music footage. The film will be made in collaboration with Universal Music Group partner Polygram Entertainment. Studiocanal will co-finance and will oversee international sales with White Horse Pictures. Latter will handle the North American distribution deal. Howard, Sinclair and Grazer will produce with Michael Rosenberg and Jeanne Elfant Festa. The goal is for the film to be ready for release next year.
“When we did The Beatles docu, or for that matter Jay-Z’s Made In America, the amazing music was a big benefit, but I’m always more fascinated in the human interest side and the stories behind the music,” Howard told Deadline. “As with The Beatles, Nigel Sinclair brought the idea to me of working on a docu about Pavarotti, and along with Nigel comes the same team of editor Paul Crowder and the executive producer and writer Mark Monroe. I didn’t know that much about opera, but always found Pavarotti a charismatic figure, whom I’d met in the 80s. Like with many people, he was my introduction to opera as something that was accessible, moving and emotional. Probably the only opera albums I bought were by Pavarotti. One of the pleasing things about The Beatles documentary was the opportunity to tell a compelling single viewing experience that honored and respected in an authentic way those who really knew their story and understood the nuances of the music and individuals, while heightening the curiosity of people who thought they knew The Beatles but really didn’t have any idea of the depth and power of their story. I hope to do the same here.”
Howard said while it was only possible to re-edit early archived Beatles footage because so many films had come before, Pavarotti’s own story is largely untouched, especially in the U.S., even though there is no shortage of resources. Pavarotti died in 2007 at age 71.
“He has been vastly documented and recorded enough that even though he’s not with us, we’re going to be able to allow Pavarotti to tell his own story,” Howard said. “I am now going to school on this. For instance, I had no idea what a physical feat it is to generate those sounds, especially night in and night out. It is the function of years of dedicated training and a commitment to turn your body into that kind of instrument. It’s not just a matter of some people having a good set of pipes and others don’t.”
Much the way that The Beatles film demonstrated how hours of playing dive clubs steeled the musicianship of the Mop Tops to the point they could play their songs in Shea Stadium without being able to hear the instruments, Pavarotti’s origins show the same kind of slow build. “He lived through the ravages of WWII, the son of a local baker who had a great voice and dreams of performing, and a mother who rolled cigars in a factory in Northern Italy where he grew up,” Howard said. “He struggled well into his twenties and was not any kind of prodigy. He emerged slowly but surely gained his acclaim and maintained it with a kind of athleticism I don’t think most of us understand is required to sing and perform at that level. He didn’t care much for money, but used his fame to become this ambassador for humanity because of the hardship he’d seen as a young man, and to expand the reach of opera. He took the unprecedented step of performing with the greatest pop stars of his era. It was controversial among opera purists but he took the chance because what was most important to him was that more people understood the power of opera and what it could mean to the heart and the mind. I hope the film can continue that effort. And when he led the Three Tenors, the popularity was unprecedented; for a few years, they were as big an act and sold as many or more records as Prince, Elton John or The Rolling Stones.”
Grazer met Pavarotti when he performed with James Brown at a time Imagine was developing the movie about the Godfather of Soul. “It’s gratifying to have an opportunity similar to The Beatles, who were different than people thought, these four genius musical savants living together with equal votes on their band. There are similar depths to the story of Pavarotti, even though he was the Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, The Beatles of his art form.”
It was Sinclair who was first approached about the documentary, during the making of The Beatles by Universal Music Group on behalf of its opera label Decca Records. Producer Jeanne Elfant Festa then went to Italy and tied down the cooperation of the late singer’s families, which was no small feat. “The producers are delighted that the family of Adua Veroni and their daughters Lorenza, Cristina and Giuliana, and the family of Nicoletta Mantovani and their daughter Alice, are lending their support to the project,” Sinclair said. “The estate wanted his whole story told, and they trusted Ron.”
White Horse’s Guy East and Nicholas Ferrall will be exec producers with Crowder and Monroe. Cassidy Hartmann will serve as a consulting writer and co-exec producer and Mark McCune is supervising producer. Also exec producing are Dickon Stainer, President and CEO of Global Classics, UMG, and David Blackman, Head of Polygram Entertainment, along with Didier Lupfer and Ron Halpern for Studiocanal.
EXCLUSIVE: 12 Years A Slave helmer Steve McQueen will direct a full length feature documentary on the life of iconic hip hop star Tupac Shakur. A deal has come together between Estate trustee Tom Whalley and Amaru Entertainment, the company created by Afeni Shakur to release her son’s posthumous projects. They are teaming with Nigel Sinclair’s White Horse Pictures and Jayson Jackson to produce a fully authorized documentary with Amaru on the life of late hip-hop artist, writer and poet. McQueen, who won the Oscar for the Best Picture winner 12 Years A Slave will direct and Jayson Jackson (What Happened, Miss Simone?) will produce with Sinclair, the man behind a slew of musical documentaries including the most recent, The Beatles: Eight Days A Week–The Touring Years, along with Nicholas Ferrall and Whalley. Gloria Cox, Tupac Shakur’s aunt and Afeni Shakur’s only sister, will executive produce along with White Horse’s Jeanne Elfant Festa. White Horse Pictures will be the worldwide sales agent on the film.
Though his recording career only lasted five years, Shakur has sold over 75 million records worldwide and he recently became the first solo hip-hop artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the April 7 ceremony where he was posthumously inducted with a musical tribute from Snoop Dogg, Alicia Keys and T.I. He also starred in such films as Juice, Poetic Justice, Above the Rim, Gridlock’d and Gang Related. He was murdered in a drive by shooting in 1996.
Said McQueen: “I am extremely moved and excited to be exploring the life and times of this legendary artist. I attended NYU film school in 1993 and can remember the unfolding hip-hop world and mine overlapping with Tupac’s through a mutual friend in a small way. Few, if any shined brighter than Tupac Shakur. I look forward to working closely with his family to tell the unvarnished story of this talented man.”
Beyond the support of Shakur’s estate, the film will also have the support of Interscope Records, which release most of Shakur’s catalog, and Universal Music Publishing Group. Which means access to songs that have not lost their resonance over time.
Maturity seems to be in short supply in many areas of the world today, but there’s one awards show that celebrates that virtue above all others: the AARP’s Movies for Grownups Awards.
Now in its 16th year, the annual kudos, held Feb. 6 at the Beverly Wilshire this year, recognizes achievements of those in the entertainment industry age 50 and over, and the films that speak to that vast audience.
AARP The Magazine presents the awards and West Coast editor and celebrity liaison Meg Grant says this year’s honorees share a common interest in the “interconnections between human beings,” beginning with best picture winner “Loving.” It’s the moving true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple who became unwitting civil-rights heroes at the center of a landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing interracial marriages nationwide.
“So many of our members remember that time and may have even experienced it,” Grant says of the film’s ’60s setting. “We love how restrained Jeff [Nichols, the writer-director] was in his filmmaking. And we believe that there’s a right time for certain movies.”
Indeed, while “Loving” bowed to strong reviews at May’s Cannes Film Festival, its release during the height of a contentious and divisive American election season was a reminder how much progress has been made on issues of equality in recent years, and how much work there still is to do.
“Of course the movie was made before we knew where we’d be at this moment in time,” Grant says. “But the timing was perfect for this movie and the message it sends.”
And “Loving” also proves the AARP is happy to reward films no matter the age of those behind and in front of the camera. Nichols and stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are all under 50.
“It goes to show grownup movies are a state of mind rather than a matter of chronology,” says Bill Newcott, film critic for AARP The Magazine.
In the performance categories, however, actors are required to be 50-plus, and the four acclaimed honorees this year make the most of their richly layered grownup roles. “Fences” duo Denzel Washington and Viola Davis claim lead actor and supporting actress, respectively, while “20th Century Women” star Annette Bening is lead actress, and “Hell or High Water” scene-stealer Jeff Bridges is supporting actor winner.
For the first time ever the org is giving directing and screenplay honors to the same individual: “Manchester by the Sea” auteur Kenneth Lonergan.
“This is such a personal project, you can’t separate the script from the direction — it’s one piece,” says Newcott. “It’s about a younger guy, but who in their life, the older you get, has not had terrible things happen to them that they have to get over, and maybe they can’t get over? It’s maybe one of the most grownup lessons life can ever teach us — sometimes things happen that are not going to pass and yet life goes on.”
Fellow awards season darling “La La Land” was named top comedy/musical. The film, with its focus on young dreamers in Los Angeles and wunderkind creator Damien Chazelle, is emblematic of the season’s generational skew.
“There’s a lot of young people in the awards mix this year,” Grant notes. “For films that are quite young in terms of talent, I’m appreciative they still speak to a grownup audience, but I wish filmmakers would find more of a balance [of younger and older characters]. I would wish for films that don’t just go one way or the other.”
Looking beyond Hollywood and the indie scene, the org will also honor Paul Verhoeven’s French sensation “Elle,” with its tour de force performance from Isabelle Huppert, for foreign film, and Ron Howard’s “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” for documentary.
When it comes to the show itself, all eyes will be on the first-time host: Emmy-winning character actress Margo Martindale.
Also an honoree in one of the awards’ quirkier categories, best grownup love story for her work opposite Richard Jenkins in “The Hollars,” the gig marks Martindale’s kudos hosting debut.
“That’s part of the reason she’s taken on the challenge,” Grant says. “One of the reasons we love her is when she won her first Emmy [for ‘Justified’] her speech was about how it took a long time but sometimes that’s what it takes, and experience matters. It’s never too late. She’s taken on this challenge, she’s delighted to do it, and I think her message is going to be perfect for us.”
Grant notes Martindale has attended the ceremony in the past, and makes an ideal fit with the collegial vibe.
“I think she’ll be funny but not poking fun, if you know what I mean. We’re an easy target [for jokes], and I think she’ll poke gentle fun, but she’s one of us.”
The Movies for Grownups Awards also benefit a good cause: the AARP Foundation. All the proceeds support the org dedicated to help ease the struggles of people aged 50 and older nationwide.
Foundation president Lisa Marsh Ryerson says, “We’re especially excited about our collaboration with the Motion Picture & Television Fund to fight social isolation among older members of the entertainment industry, many of whom can no longer get around easily or have lost loved ones and friends who once formed their social support.”
While this year’s kudos promise to be as star-studded as ever, the ultimate goal is to honor the AARP’s mission statement that life only gets better with age, and that results in one of the most laid-back and welcoming events of the awards season.
“I think [the honorees] feel like they’re with their people. They let their hair down and really have a good time,” Grant says. “It’s a very relaxed setting and we try to get a mix of generations within the presenters and honorees themselves. The younger talent are awed by these legends.”