Fifteen years ago, producer Brian Grazer started to put together a biopic of James Brown.
Grazer produced Splash with Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah (Hanks’ character falls in love with Hannah’s mermaid) and Mile with Eminem (about a rapper in Detroit). Grazer became friends with Brown around the time that Splash premiered, 1984.
Grazer recalls Brown explicating about his work ethic:
“You wanna know how hardworking I am?” Mr. Grazer remembers Brown saying. “Then he told me a story about how once he was dancing and he stepped on a nail on stage. The nail went right through his foot, bled through his shoe and he kept on going.”
That fired Mr. Grazer’s determination to make his film. “Look, my first movie in my life was about a mermaid, so I’ve dealt with people saying ‘No’ and I know that `No’ is surmountable.”
In the late 90’s, Grazer approached Brown about making the biopic. Brown agreed to it, however:
….he remained skeptical, telling the producer [Grazer]: You’ll never find somebody to play me.” He was right. And though Wesley Snipes and Eddie Murphy reportedly were considered for the role, the part had not been cast by 2006 when, following Brown’s death that year, rights to his story were returned to the Brown family estate.
The Brown Estate did not agree to let Grazer do the movie. After 15 years, Grazer hit a stone wall.
But in comes Superman to save the day.
Through a somewhat circuitous route, Jagger came to co-produce Get On Up with Brian Grazer:
Peter Afterman, who had been an archivist for the Rolling Stones, became a representative of Brown’s estate. The Estate asked him to make a documentary about James Brown. Afterman approached Jagger about producing the documentary. (The resulting documentary, Mr. Dynamite, comes out in the fall.)
Then Jagger learned of Glazer’s film project–
….Mr. Jagger says a friend “slipped me a copy of the script. It was all very clandestine.” Impressed, he met with the Butterworths [the screenwriters] in London and, through Mr. Afterman, secured the rights to Brown’s life story.
Jagger and Glazer became co-producers. Together they hired director Tate Taylor (The Help) and actor Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson in 42), tightened the manuscript, and substantially lowered the budget.
After the movie was completed, they had one more challenge—marketing the movie.
While test screenings have shown that Get On Up currently appeals to “a 40-plus audience,” Mr. Grazer says, “I want kids to see it.” To get them into theaters he has tapped into friends in the hip-hop community whom he met during the production of his 2002 film “8 Mile.”
“Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, ODB from the Wu-Tang Clan, Kanye, those guys worship James Brown, who really is the progenitor of hip-hop. They were all influenced by him and they all feel that some of their funk has come from James Brown. I want kids to see where the music comes from.”
To help get the word out, Mr. Grazer says he hopes to enlist his friends Jay Z and Justin Timberlake to help promote the movie.
“A lot of my friends, and Brian’s friends as well, said it was impossible to make a film about James Brown,” says Mr. Jagger.
By the end of the week, the critics’ will have weighed in. Although the music of James Brown is enough to carry any movie.