From Bob Dylan to Bono: 5 Music Documentary Filmmakers Reveal Their Big "Get"

6:30 AM 12/9/2019

by Katie Campione

It's not easy to make a nonfiction film about a renowned artist. Those who pulled it off weigh in on the toughest person or story to land.

'Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story'; Producer Margaret Bodde
'Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story'; Producer Margaret Bodde
Courtesy of Netflix; Jim Spellman/Getty Images
  • 'Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story'

    Margaret Bodde, producer

    'Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story,' Margaret Bodde
    'Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story,' Margaret Bodde
    Courtesy of Netflix; Jim Spellman/Getty Images

    "Everybody who had been on the tour was really happy to participate, so there was no one who was really hard to get. It seemed like everyone who had performed on that tour felt like it was a magical, special time and a highlight in their lives. They were very gracious about the interviews. But, because there were so many people on the tour, we couldn’t use all the interviews that people had graciously done. In fact, the biggest issue, of course, is always the main subject and his schedule. He was on tour so much, so it was a matter of when was the right time to interview Dylan himself."

  • 'The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash'

    Thom Zimny, director

    'The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash,' Thom Zimny
    'The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash,' Thom Zimny
    Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

    "The biggest ‘get’ for this film was the discovery of [Johnny Cash] audio tapes that were held in a box for many, many years and nobody knew existed. Suddenly, Johnny Cash was in the edit room telling the most intimate details of his musical journey. It changed the course of the editing but also gave the film its spiritual, emotional core. We suddenly discovered unreleased Johnny Cash recordings that he had made with Patrick Carr while Carr was writing an autobiography of him in the ’90s and recorded Johnny’s phone calls. Suddenly, I found the dream archival material — Johnny Cash telling his life story."

  • 'Miles Davis, Birth of Cool'

    Stanley Nelson Jr., director

    'Miles Davis, Birth of Cool,' Stanley Nelson Jr.
    'Miles Davis, Birth of Cool,' Stanley Nelson Jr.
    Courtesy of Sundance; David Livingston/Getty Images

    "I think the surprise of the film is Miles’ first wife, Frances Davis, who just kind of steals the show of these larger-than-life characters. It was one of those lucky things that happens when you’re making a film. You meet somebody and think, 'Holy crap, this person is just incredible.' She’s not somebody that we looked at when we were first trying to line people up — we didn’t know she was going to be this incredible character. Frances [who was married to Davis for five years] was one of those people who just was a great storyteller, really funny, really beautiful, and it was a pleasure to sit down with her."

  • 'Pavarotti: Genius Is Forever'

    Ron Howard, director

    'Pavarotti: Genius is Forever,' Ron Howard
    'Pavarotti: Genius is Forever,' Ron Howard
    Courtesy of CBS Films; Mike Coppola/Getty Images

    "Bono. We desperately tried to get him to participate in our [2016] Beatles documentary, Eight Days a Week. This is the same group, including [producer] Nigel Sinclair. Bono was incredibly kind, gracious and polite about it but very respectfully declined just based on his schedule. While he’s full of admiration for the Beatles and really liked that movie, his friendship with Luciano [Pavarotti] — I had no idea how deep that relationship actually was. So, he made [this film] work in his schedule. I think he really gave the family and audiences a gift through his interview."

  • 'The Black Godfather'

    Reginald Hudlin, director

    Courtesy of Netflix

    "It had to be doing interviews with Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Clarence [Avant] is very close to both men which made the interviews possible. The Bill Clinton interview was particularly striking because he was so emotionally revealing when he talked about Clarence’s advice in the face of impeachment. I don’t think he’s ever said those things in an interview before."

  • 'Western Stars'

    Thom Zimny, director

    'Western Stars,' Thom Zimny
    'Western Stars,' Thom Zimny
    Courtesy of Warner Bros.; Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

    "It was the search for finding the ideal location to film Bruce [Springsteen] performing the music. We discovered on Bruce’s property a barn that had been used for parties and family events. We realized this was the perfect addition to capturing the music and the sound quality we were trying to get across. That to me was the big “get” of the production, because we put the orchestra and Bruce in an environment that made sense for the narrative and also [was] very different than the other films we had recently worked on, like Springsteen on Broadway. It was a stage environment but very, very intimate."

    This story first appeared in the Dec. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.