The Defiant Ones director Allen Hughes reflects on making the HBO film
When The Defiant Ones aired on HBO in July, music moguls and fans alike watched in droves to learn more (or for the first time) about the rise of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine and their eventual partnership, which later led to the massive success of Interscope Records, the founding of Beats Electronics, and a historic $3 billion dollar deal with Apple. The roughly eight-minute clip depicting their discovery of Eminem went viral shortly after the final part of the documentary film premiered on July 12. The home footage shown throughout the series offered a new perspective and revealed backstories that had never been previously public.
Despite its widespread success and critical-acclaim, the three-and-a-half year project directed and executive produced by Allen Hughes (Menace II Society, The Book of Eli) was missing one key viewer during its four-night, four-part stint over the summer: director and executive producer Allen Hughes. Though he attended a party with it playing in the background, he says he really didn’t sit down and watch it until just before Halloween. “Quite frankly, the last three weeks is the first time I’ve been actually able to appreciate any of this,” he tells EW. “It took a while to get that cloud off of me. You’re not processing it because your head is just crazy.”
Struggling to watch his own creative works isn’t anything new for Hughes, either. Even at the forefront of many major motion pictures, the director doesn’t enjoy showing off his feature films — but for some reason, documentaries are a whole different ballgame for him. “One thing about documentaries that is different than feature films for me, is when I watch a Book of Eli or From Hell, I just cringe. I can’t watch it. I can’t show people. Something about the documentaries is that it’s personal, but there’s a disconnect where I can watch it. It’s not a problem because it’s about other people. I don’t know what it is. They’re just real.”
Whatever the explanation, it’s comforting to know that Hughes can finally appreciate the documentary film that took several years of his life to complete. It comes just in time, too – The Defiant Ones will be available digitally on Monday, Nov. 2o and on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, Nov. 28. Ahead of its release, EW can reveal three deleted scenes from the film. Above and directly below, you’ll find scenes further discussing Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. The third is a quick clip of Alonzo Williams talking about Dr. Dre and headphones. Further, Hughes discusses the clips as well as his current relationship with Iovine and Dr. Dre, his feelings about the reactions to the documentary, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why didn’t these scenes make the final cut?
ALLEN HUGHES: One thing from working on this film I’ve learned is when we figure out what the greater narrative is, I don’t have any regrets. There’s actually some great quotes, stories, and scenes we just didn’t even get around to — some of them are even better than [those] in the movie, but they weren’t better for the narrative, if that makes sense. Usually when you do films, there are a handful of scenes where you’re like, “Damn, I wish I could’ve got that in there.” I don’t feel that way. Working with HBO, they really supported me. It wasn’t like, “Oh man, they made me cut this s–t out?”
One of these deleted scenes depicts Bruce Springsteen throwing Born to Run in the pool. Were there any other stories of conflict that you uncovered during your filming that didn’t make the final cut?
Yeah, sure. The Bruce Springsteen story is one I regret we couldn’t find a way to put that in. It really is a pretty powerful statement on an artist’s journey and what they go through and where their head is. That’s actually one I totally forgot about. By the time we got to that story in the film, the audience was already so beat down by the process of making this record with Bruce. It was definitely a flow thing more than anything.
How did you get all of home footage used in the film? How did it add another element to the final product?
All these artists and people participating in the film either had a private collection, or we had to research and find stuff that was just out there. The fact that we went from a one-year production to three-and-a-half-years gave us time to find all that stuff. With Stevie Nicks in particular, all that footage of her and Tom Petty in the studio, and her in the studio making Bella Donna, was stuff she filmed back then and just sat on. She gave us a bunch of personal polaroids and personal footage, and a lot of the subjects in the film were just as giving.
How important was it to get more controversial figures in the story (i.e., Dee Barnes, Steve Gottlieb, Michael Fuchs) telling their experiences firsthand?
I don’t think you have a film if you don’t have adversarial voices or perceived nemesis, good or bad. It occurred to me during the making that I wouldn’t release if we didn’t have that vantage point. Those perspectives were fully realized too, not just a quote or two. You watch most of these documentaries, and someone gets a quote or two. You look at that Steve Gottlieb story, and you look at the way it’s buttoned and the last thing he says, and literally, he is the longest shot of a subject we have in the movie where he’s talking about empathy. With Dee Barnes in particular, she just wasn’t like a quote about the incident. She was in the fabric of the narrative, even in the part of celebrating the culture, which she was a part of. That was most meaningful to me.
How difficult was it to get all of them to agree to partake in the film?
I won’t be specific here, but I will say that it did take time for some of them as far as sitting down for lunch or whatever it may be. It wasn’t about talking them into it – it was about getting them into the nature of the film of what I was trying to do. Then they got it, and they were completely with it. It wasn’t like they were saying, “I don’t want to do this.” It was like, “What is this? What are you trying to do? Why?” That type of thing.
You seem to be similar with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine in that you won’t release your work unless you feel like it’s perfect, no matter how long it takes. Did you ever draw comparisons between yourself and those two in that sense?
There was – and I hate this word – a “meta” aspect to making the film because I’m quite obsessive. My partner Doug Pray, who also cut the film with another gentleman named Lasse Järvi, they’re crazy obsessive. And then you’ve got Jimmy and Dre, too. It felt like we were making Born to Run. It literally felt like that. It was painful and it was joyful, but it was the layers of details. I knew going in that I love the documentary medium. I prefer to watch documentaries over film, but I know not everyone has that feeling. I know a lot of people look at documentaries like it’s eating their vegetables. For me, I was like, “How do I serve a full-course, festive Italian meal? How do I push this medium?” and that was the thinking going in. You have all these masterpieces that were made. All this great music, some of the greatest stories of all-time, the greatest rock stars of all-time – what are we going to do, just sit here and shoot it? Like we have to step up. The nature of it has to meet these great stories and great artists. That was torturous.
How have you felt about the reactions to the project?
I was shocked at how overwhelmingly positive it was, whether it’s the critics, op-ed pieces, or just fans on social media. I was blown away by it. The thing that was unbelievable to me, because I did not do this on purpose, is how many people used the word “inspired” or “motivated.” I was like, “Really?” I still get it daily, whether it’s emails or people running up to me. I was blindsided by that. It gets stronger every week and every month with that one. I had no idea it was that inspiring. The other thing that really touched me is how personally people take the film. They feel like it’s their journey. Whether they’re 60 or 16, there’s something very interesting happening that people feel a serious personal connection to. So many people see their journey in that film, and I’ve never experienced that before.”
Is there anything you would change with the film now?
I’ve never been more proud of something I’ve done. Ever. In particular, part three is the one where I just go “wow.” That is something interesting happening there. Throughout the whole film there is, but it all just kind of erupts in part three. All the hard work really paid off as far as the technique, approach, and storytelling. It just explodes. If anyone can sit down and actually process and tell me what the thesis is in one sitting to part three, God bless you.
You had already known Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre for a long time before this. How has your relationship changed since The Defiant Ones aired?
[Laughs] I’ve known Jimmy and Dre for over 25 years, independent of one another and before they both met each other. The relationship over that 25 years plus is always evolving. At the end of the day, Dre has always been like a bit of a big brother to me, and Jimmy has always been a godfather. That’s what was so difficult about making that movie because the tables have to turn when you’re making the film. You’re not necessarily the little brother or the godson.
They changed through this process as I did. My editor told me one day, “These documentaries, if you do them right, they change you as a person.” And I went, “Wow,” because fiction films don’t change you as a person. I definitely was changing big-time during the process of making this movie, and Jimmy and Dre were changing as well. There’s a lot in that film that they didn’t know about each other, or they didn’t know about themselves because they’re not nostalgic. Our relationship now is deeper than it’s ever been because there’s a tremendous amount of trust. Those guys are still active. They haven’t retired. That’s what is unusual about the film. You make these films when people are dead or done, and those guys are far from that. In the end, when they see the results, there’s kind of a twinkle we all have in our eyes because it worked out and it could’ve been a disaster.
The Defiant Ones will be available for digital download on Nov. 20 and on Blu-ray and DVD on Nov. 28.