5/1/2005


The following article appeared in the Volume 8 issue of Fade In Magazine





2/29/2005


Academy Award Winners

Sound mixing: 'Ray'

The team behind winner "Ray" was recognized for its deft blending of the life and music of Ray Charles.

Scott Millan, Bob Beemer, Greg Orloff, Steve Cantamessa

The team behind winner "Ray" was recognized for its deft blending of the life and music of Ray Charles. It was the third win for both Scott Millan and Bob Beemer, and the first nomination for Greg Orloff and Steve Catamessa.

Among the other nominees was Kevin O'Connell of the "Spider-Man 2" team; he lost for a record 16th time. His fellow nominees were Greg P. Russell, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Joseph Geisinger.

Tom Fleischman and Petur Hliddal were nominated for "The Aviator," and Randy Thom received nominations for his work on both "The Polar Express" and "The Incredibles." Sharing the nominations with him were Tom Johnson, Dennis Sands and William B. Kaplan for "The Polar Express" and Gary A. Rizzo and Doc Kane for "The Incredibles."



1/26/2005


Ray Charles finally gets due in Hollywood

‘Ray’ has been underdog every step of the way

From Reuters.com


LOS ANGELES - Ray Charles was an international star for five decades, but in Hollywood the complicated piano man was long considered box-office poison.

When director Taylor Hackford started pitching a project about the “genius of soul” more than 15 years ago, no studios were interested. Music-themed pictures are a tough sell, especially when the subject is an old, blind, black man.

“Ray” eventually got made and received an official seal of approval Tuesday with six Academy Award nominations, including best picture, director and actor.

Jamie Foxx’s eerie lead performance made him an Oscar front-runner long before the film was released to commercial and critical acclaim in late October, a few months after Charles died of liver disease.

The film has otherwise been an underdog every step of the way, since 1987 when Hackford met Charles and eventually acquired the rights to his life.

“I must say there’s a little bit of sweet revenge to all those people that turned us down,” Hackford told Reuters after the nominations were announced.

He was far from resentful, recognizing that if the picture had been made a while ago, it would not have starred Foxx, “and no one could have played this role like that.”

Hackford and fellow producer Stuart Benjamin spent more than a decade shopping the concept to uninterested Hollywood studios. Even though Hackford had produced the 1987 moneymaker ”La Bamba,” about the short life of Latino rocker Ritchie Valens, most music-based projects fall flat at the box office.

Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz eventually joined the project, with the intention of bringing a studio on board. There were still no bites. So Anschutz funded the production himself, with the budget coming in at about $35 million.


Full cooperation


Charles cooperated with the project every step of the way, even as it touched on his drug abuse and womanizing, Hackford said. That was a pleasant change, he said, from Chuck Berry, ”who did everything possible to inhibit us getting the real picture of the man” in the 1987 documentary “Hail! Hail! Rock ’N’ Roll.”

“With Ray ... there wasn’t anything that I couldn’t delve into,” Hackford said. “There were no limitations that he placed on me, which was an incredible gift.”

Foxx, a classically trained pianist, said the most instructive experience in preparing for the role was in observing Charles during unguarded moments from a distance.

“It was watching him when he was talking to other people, watching his mannerisms, watching how he orders his food, how he talks to his kids, how he conducts business,” Foxx said.

“He made me feel comfortable, but at the same time you feel anxious,” Foxx recounted. “The minute we met each other and started playing the piano to each other, it was a given that he was giving his blessing.”

It wasn’t until after the movie was completed in the middle of 2003 that producers elicited some interest.

Ron Meyer, president of Universal Studios, a unit of General Electric Co.-controlled NBC Universal, said he used to hitchhike across Los Angeles as a young teen to sneak into Charles’ concerts in Hollywood. As a studio boss, he snapped up the rights to the film early last year.

The film grossed $73 million at the North American box office and will come out on DVD Tuesday.

“I can’t tell you how many people said people will never buy tickets to see this movie, and they were wrong and the audience proved them wrong,” Hackford said. “And now this, where your peers -- the people who actually make movies and understand what goes in to making movies -- recognize this, it’s just another vindication.”



Oscar Nominations Give New Life to 'Ray'

By Nicole Sperling


PARK CITY, Utah (Hollywood Reporter) - Although the shrinking gap between a movie's release in theaters and on home video is a hot-button issue with theater owners, when it comes to Oscar nominations, a multinominated film can earn a pass.

That certainly is the case with Universal Pictures' "Ray," which picked up six nominations Tuesday, including one for best picture.

Universal is planning to boost the movie's presence to 503 from 293 theaters Friday -- just four days before the film is released on home video.

The AMC, National Amusements and Regal Entertainment Group chains have stepped up to offer their theaters for the biopic, said Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of distribution.

"We want to give audiences an opportunity to see it in their local theater in a large format prior to being afforded the opportunity to get the DVD," Rocco said. "It's all about giving consumers the choice."

Normally, theater owners view that choice as a threat -- especially when an impending home video release threatens to overshadow a film's theatrical bookings. The assumption is that if consumers can see a film on DVD for less money, they won't venture to the movie theater.

Complained one top exhibitor, who declined to be named, "It's short-sighted to set a (home video) release window that close to Academy Award nominations, when the thinking around town was that 'Ray' was going to be nominated. Even moving the release window back by 3-4 weeks wouldn't have made a big difference to them, and it could have earned the film a lot more theatrically. We think they are leaving money on the table."

Of course, the size of the ticket sales that "Ray" can still command is an unknown -- the movie has been in theaters for 13 weeks. "Ray" opened the weekend of Oct. 29 to $20 million in 2,006 theaters, and has earned about $76 million to date.

According to the National Association of Theatre Owners, Universal's video windows exceeded five months last year, a particularly high average, compared with Sony Pictures, whose average window is in the three-month range. For "Ray," Universal narrowed its window to slightly more than three months.

The other best picture nominees look to have more life in theaters.

For Miramax's two big Oscar nominees, "The Aviator" and "Finding Neverland," the New York-based company has big expansion plans.

The Howard Hughes biopic is in 2,250 locations and will expand to 2,600 theaters Friday. According to Miramax distribution head Mike Rudnitsky, the company will watch the grosses for the upcoming weekend before deciding if the film can expand beyond the 2,600-screen mark. It has earned $58 million since its release. "We've been wide since Christmas, so we'll have to see how it goes," Rudnitsky said. As for "Finding Neverland," the Johnny Depp-starrer will widen to 1,200 locations from 870 theaters. It has grossed $32.5 million to date. "The film has been playing well with upscale audiences. We're hoping that the Oscar nominations will allow the film to catch fire in the smaller towns," Rudnitsky said.

Warner Bros. Pictures' "Million Dollar Baby," which garnered seven Oscar nominations, will expand its run to 2,010 locations from 147 playdates. It has earned $8.3 million to date. According to Warner Bros. president of distribution Dan Fellman, "This was the release plan from Day 1."

Fox Searchlight's "Sideways" will expand to 1,700 theaters from 696. The film had earned $32.4 million as of Monday, and Searchlight distribution president Stephen Gilula expects to reach the $40 million mark after the weekend.

Although it did not earn a best picture nomination, "Hotel Rwanda" hopes to develop box office momentum thanks to its three nominations, including a best actor mention for Don Cheadle. United Artists will double its playdates by Feb. 4. The film, currently in 319 theaters, has earned $5.6 million to date.



11/30/2004


The following article appeared in the November 1, 2004 issue of Jet Magazine





10/29/2004


Taylor Hackford's Unchained Art

By Sean Daly
Washington Post Staff Writer


One room, two pianos, three men: It all came down to that.

After 15 years of researching, writing and wrangling enough money to finance his dream project, director Taylor Hackford knew that this was the moment -- an extremely tense moment in spring 2003 -- that could make or break "Ray," his $30 million biopic on the turbulent life and beautiful music of Ray Charles. The 59-year-old Hollywood veteran had already chosen Jamie Foxx, the comic-turned-actor who had gone to college on a piano scholarship, to play the American icon. Now it was time for the icon himself to give his blessing -- or not -- to an actor whose most popular movie just may be "Booty Call."

"Believe me, Ray's not easy," Hackford says in a suite in Georgetown's Ritz-Carlton hotel. "If he wanted to stop this project at any moment, he could have."

A tall, handsome man with a windswept gray mane and the beard to match, Hackford takes a dramatic sip of water and smiles. "Ray really tested Jamie. Sometimes unpleasantly. Ray had Jamie sit down at one of the pianos and said, 'Let's play a little bit.' So Ray played a little funk and Jamie matched that. Ray played a little blues; Jamie matched that. I mean, Jamie took the bait.

"All of sudden, Ray breaks into Thelonious Monk," Hackford says with a laugh. "There's no rhyme or reason to Thelonious Monk. People thought Monk was mad. Jamie's background wasn't jazz; all Ray cared about was jazz. So Jamie's not playing, and Ray's like, 'Come on, man! It's like this!' And Jamie's not getting it. And Ray shouts, 'Come on, man, it's right under your fingers!' "

Hackford sits back in his chair and opens his arms wide. "And then, finally, Jamie got it. He stood his ground. He wasn't humiliated. He stayed with it, and he got Thelonious Monk. And at that moment, Ray stood up and started hugging himself and said: 'That's it. The kid's got it. He's the one.' Jamie grew to about 10 feet tall. He was anointed by the master."

For Hackford, "Ray," which opens nationwide today, is the culmination of a career spent blending music and cinema. Perhaps more than any other Tinseltown stalwart, Hackford understands the enduring power of a pop song. His biggest box-office successes -- 1982's "An Officer and a Gentleman," 1984's "Against All Odds" and 1985's "White Nights" -- were seemingly built around such enduring make-out classics as "Up Where We Belong," "Against All Odds" and "Separate Lives." He also directed the 1987 concert film "Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll," and he produced 1987's "La Bamba," the Ritchie Valens biopic and the highest-grossing Latino movie of all time.

But although he had one of the greatest American songbooks -- Charles changed music as we knew it by merging R&B, pop, secularized gospel and even country-western -- to work with on "Ray," Hackford faced resistance from major studios.

"Hollywood is not exactly bold and brave when it comes to biopics," he says. "They think biopics should go to television. Black biopics they like even less. No one would finance the movie."

He had proved financially successful with "La Bamba," but the differences in scope and budget were obvious when it came to "Ray." "Ritchie Valens's career was 18 months long," he says. "That film didn't cost very much money. It's about a 17-year-old boy struggling out of the ghetto in California and getting a couple of quick hits and then dying before he could make that legend a reality."

By contrast, "Ray Charles was born in the segregated South, in the Depression, in all that poverty," says Hackford, who first met Charles in 1988 and remained friends with him until the musician's death from liver disease this June at 73. "His poverty was about as low as you could possibly imagine. He didn't wear shoes until he was 7 years old. [But later in his life] he performed for kings and queens, ran a multimillion-dollar corporation, owned his own jet. Presidents invited him to the White House. That is a huge story to tell."

Hackford eventually garnered funding from Phil Anschutz, who owns a stake in, among other things, the Los Angeles Lakers. The $30 million budget -- while hardly lavish by current Hollywood standards -- allowed the director to paint a full portrait of Ray Charles Robinson (he dropped his surname after boxer Sugar Ray Robinson became famous): as a young boy in Albany, Ga., who was raised by a tough but loving mother, who saw his younger brother drown in a wash basin, who was blind from glaucoma by the time he was 7. As a young man traveling by bus to Chicago and Seattle and New Orleans, blowing the roof off the juke joints, sparring with Jim Crow and becoming addicted to heroin along the way.

"I wanted the stink of those clubs," Hackford says of the movie's exceptional "live" scenes. "Before 'American Bandstand,' every city in America had its own dance style. They hadn't been homogenized by television. And I wanted that." (Hackford was a stickler for details, down to the way Charles demanded to be paid for gigs: in dollar bills, so he could count each one and make sure he wasn't being cheated.)

And now the director had the cash to take his time (the movie is 2 1/2 hours long) and finely detail Charles's path from Atlantic Records in the 1950s -- the true beginning of his musical mastery -- all the way to that day in 1979 when the Georgia legislature, in a groundbreaking display of racial reparations, voted to make his version of "Georgia on My Mind" the state song.

"Biopics have to have a compelling story," says Hackford, who shot the sprawling film in just 60 days. "But if you have the story, then the music can drive the story forward, provide relief after the drama."

He certainly had the music. In fact, Hackford had the original music, including master copies of Charles's earliest work, overseen by Atlantic engineering pioneer Tom Dowd. "These are masterpieces," the director says. "I enhanced them a bit. I wanted to make them vibrant. I wanted the authenticity that comes with creation."

Foxx, who can be heard singing on hip-hop star Kanye West's hit "Slow Jamz," has a fine voice. But "never for an instant" did Hackford consider having anyone besides Ray Charles sing Ray Charles's songs. "Jamie's a good singer," he says, "but is he going to sing as well as Ray Charles? No one sings as well as Ray Charles."

When it came to accurately portraying Charles, lip-syncing wasn't really the big problem. After all, he's one of the most recognizable faces in the world, and convincing audiences that they were watching the real deal and not an impostor was a major hurdle.

So Hackford's first step in helping Foxx become Charles was a logical one: The director asked his star to go blind.

"An actor's greatest weapon are the eyes, the vision into the soul," he says. "But you can't use the eyes in this film." Foxx agreed to wear prosthetics over his eyes. He "hyperventilated, panicked" at first, says Hackford. But temporary blindness was just the beginning of the physical demands: "Ray Charles is totally unique: his movements, his style of speech . . . plus you have to play the piano like Ray does."

Long story short: The 36-year-old Foxx gives a performance that is earning him widespread Oscar buzz. He's constantly in motion as Charles -- the head swivel, the self-hugs and, on top of all that, the herky-jerky spasms of a heroin junkie. "It wasn't an impression," Hackford says. "It wasn't an impersonation. He channeled this guy."

Foxx portrays Charles as a cold, manipulative womanizer -- a man who worshiped his wife, Della Bea Robinson (played by Kerry Washington) but who had numerous affairs, most notably with backup singer and head "Raelette" Margie Hendricks (an explosive Regina King).

Charles was given a Braille copy of the script and had only two objections to it, neither of which involved his infidelities. Hackford originally wrote a scene showing Charles taking up piano grudgingly; Charles, however, was adamant that the minute his younger self heard the instrument being played in a Georgia juke joint, he knew he wanted to do that for the rest of his life. The other correction involved Hendricks, who eventually died of a drug overdose. In an earlier version of the script, Hackford had implied that Charles had shown Hendricks how to shoot heroin. "Ray told me, 'I did heroin for 20 years, but I never turned anyone else onto it,' " Hackford says.

A few months before Charles's death, Hackford put together a rough cut of "Ray." "At that point, he was starting to show signs of being sick," the director says. "We went into someone's office and there was, like, a 1985 television with a little tinny speaker. I put the videotape on and said, 'Ray, this is not the way you should see the movie.' He said, 'Hey, man, just relax.'

"The first thing he wanted to hear was his mama's voice, who I had cast. Talk about pressure. He was like a stone. He just sat there, frown on his face, quiet, not moving. He listened to three scenes, and I'm thinking, 'This is a disaster.' And then he started going, 'That's right. That's the truth.' And finally he said, 'Taylor, I'm really pleased. I'm very happy.' "



10/26/2004


The following article appears in the November 2004 issue of Essence Magazine





10/25/2004


Ray's Ladies

Source: Edward Douglas


A week before almost anyone has seen the movie, most people already know about Jamie Foxx's amazing portrayal of singer Ray Charles in the upcoming biopic Ray, and the early buzz that Foxx is a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination. His ability to perfectly mimic Charles on stage and in the studio makes the movie a must-see, but one can't neglect the importance that women played in Ray's life and career. In the movie, Kerry Washington, last seen in Spike Lee's She Hate Me, plays Ray's wife Della Bea, while Regina King plays Margie Hendricks, one of Ray's backup singers in the Raelettes who Charles has an affair with while on the road. The two actresses portray two women who had to deal with Ray Charles' darker side of womanizing and drug use, both coming at it from different sides, and their scenes with Foxx play a large part in the movie working as well as it does.

While both actresses did research for their roles, Ms. Washington had the benefits of being able to spend time with the real Della Bea Robinson. "We literally talked about everything from cooking to love to raising kids to wearing long sleeves in church. We talked about it all," she told us. "I spent quite a bit of time with her, and she's one of my favorite people. She's just really a lovely woman, and the time I spent with her was like a little jewel that I carried with me on set all the time. I didn't talk to her while I was shooting, because I like her so much that I didn't want my fear of wanting to make her happy with the film get in the way of me playing a person with vulnerability and humility. The most important to me in my portrayal of Della, was her sense of spirituality, and her sense of divine good."

Regina King didn't have a lot of pictures of videos of back-up singer Marjie Hendrix to work from. "I had to rely on the information that Ray and the band members had given Taylor [Hackford-director of Ray]. You hear her voice, and it's so strong and powerful. Ray said that there's no other Marjie Hendrix, so I just went on that and I just hoped that the power was there, as well as the submission that she had for Ray. In my mind, that was the one man that she would bow down to."

In most of her movies, King has played the wife, so we wondered how it felt to play the vixen or the bad girl for once. "It was so much fun," she exclaimed. "When I auditioned for the role, they thought I was reading for Della, so Taylor sat down and began talking about Della, and I was like "Do I have to read for Della?" For me to just have the opportunity to not be the wife was great. I guess it's kind of a compliment in a way that people think you're really good at the role, but I'm trying to have a long career here. It was such an awesome opportunity and every day, I couldn't wait to go to work, to do certain scenes and to just be the bad girl."

Washington gets to play the loving wife this time around, something that spending time with Della helped her understand. "Having talked to Miss Robinson about her relationship with Ray, I understood that the key element in making this character and this relationship work was love. She loved him so thoroughly, and so whole heartedly that every choice that she makes--to tell him the truth, to not tell him the truth, to be hard on him, to comfort him--comes from her absolute love of Ray."

Washington was tentative about saying too much about their relationship and Della's ultimate break-up with Ray. "It's really delicate answering these questions, because Ms. Robinson herself never did an interview with the press. It was really important to her that her private life remains private. When she met with the writers on the film, it was the first time that she had ever done an interview. She was like the black Jackie O. Everybody wanted to talk to her. Ebony and Jet wanted her on the cover, and she never did it. I have to be careful about what I share and don't share. I will tell you though that to this day she calls Ray Charles her soul mate."

The relationship between Ray and his backup singer was a bit more volatile King told us. "The Raelettes sang on so many Atlantic records that they were kind of in- house stars in a way. Ray was great to her, but she was very strong and then once they got together, they had this passion and she just melted whenever she was around him. And I did feel like her drinking was a result of not being able to be the one. I did read where she had a relationship with another one of the members in the band, and I feel that part of that was probably to get at Ray. Every thing that she did was anything to get this man's attention." As seen in the movie, Della was also a singer before meeting Ray but Washington told us how that changed. "Her singing career did not exist when she started dating Ray. Like many women of her time and still today, she really wanted to place her family as a priority so her career was no longer really important. She certainly didn't have to work once Ray became the huge success that he was."

On the other hand, Della Bea seemed to be able to control Ray a lot better than Margie. Washington explained the situation. "She was the wife, and she had the ring. I think that was part of it. I think the other part was her relationship with God. When she felt she could no longer be doing God's will by standing by and watching [Ray] destroy his life…when she felt like his relationship with drugs was getting in the way of her ability to raise her children, that was when she did something about it. She wanted to love Ray in a way that Ray needed to be loved for as long as she could, and she basically did that until it meant not loving herself and not loving her kids. In reality, there was more than just Margie in Ray's life, but she was the wife and she had her home and she had a husband and the road was the road."

As the other woman in Ray's life, King had to show the true pain that Margie felt, something that truly affected her, as she told us. "Just the idea that you're pregnant with this man's child and she knew that he was not going to be accepting of this, but she still hoped he would want to make more of them than just being an on-the- road couple. It was just heart-wrenching to me to know that a woman would be in this position."

They both had really nice things to say about the star of the movie and his amazing performance, though. "Jamie is literally magical," Washington gushed. "If you spend five minutes in a conversation with Jamie, he will do you better than you do yourself. It's really scary and sometimes very embarrassing actually. He's just like a sponge and he soaks it up. He has this magical gift to just embody characters. I don't say that to take away from his craft, because he also takes his craft very seriously and he works very hard at it."

King told us how Jamie went above and beyond while on the set, even beyond his performance. "No one had to work harder than him, and there would be times when we would be shooting scenes where there would be a lot of extras during the performance scenes. We don't really have that much money or time, so Taylor can be a bit short, which I understood, but Jamie would literally be entertaining the extras. To have the job that he had and to still think that we want our extras to be relaxed and not be frustrated, that's huge for a person to be thinking about that and playing Ray Charles with prosthetics on your eyes."

"I thought it was incredible," King told us about the first time she saw the completed film. "The first time I saw it was in Atlanta, because it was regular people and I wanted to see their reaction. I was too busy looking at people and seeing how they were reacting. We then saw it in Toronto and it was so emotional. Kerry and I just broke down crying at the end of the screening. When we were shooting it, we knew that we were doing something special but after seeing it, I'm just blessed just to be a part of this experience." Washington was also very honored and proud to be a part of a film that had so much Oscar buzz.

Unfortunately, neither woman got a chance to meet with the real Ray Charles but they both thought that he would be pleased with it. King told us that she hoped to meet Charles on the red carpet at the premiere and ask if he enjoyed it, but she never got that chance. They were both happy that Charles was able to experience some of the film and give his seal of approval. "When you watch it, you learn about Ray," King told us. "It shows the rawness of Ray. It doesn't show just the good stuff. It's great to see a piece where you see someone as a real person, not as what we see, just because we hear his music. I think it really captured Ray, and from what I understand, that's all that Ray asked, was to just tell the truth."

Ray opens this Friday nationwide.