Allen Hughes on Creating "Fun, but Brutal" Documentary on Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine

The Defiant Ones - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of HBO

Spending four years on the project, the documentary filmmaker juggled tensions between the moguls and urged them to open up about their pasts: "What we agreed to is, 'You don't have to love everything [in the film], but you have to respect it.'"

Allen Hughes' first solo foray into documentary filmmaking may have been a great success, but it's knocked ?10 years off his life, he jokes. "It's a year later and I'm still recovering," he says with a chuckle. "I thought it was just going to be fun because I've known the guys for 20-something years. And it was fun, but it also was brutal."

The Defiant Ones, the HBO documentary series about the professional partnership of ?Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine and their co-founding of Beats Electronics, which eventually resulted in the largest acquisition in Apple's history, was supposed to be a one-year project for the filmmaker. In reality it took four.

The project was initially delayed by Iovine's reluctance to participate once it had been greenlighted. "He didn't want to go into a lot of the stuff, especially the '90s with Time Warner and Death Row and Tupac," recalls Hughes, 46. "So he backed out. A year later, ?I called Dre and said, 'We've got to get Jimmy ?to do this.' Somehow we convinced him."

The series' subjects weren't the only ones delaying the schedule. With filming well underway and Hughes juggling four narratives — two origin stories, the duo joining forces and the tension of the Apple deal ?pulsating throughout — he succumbed to ?the pressure of his own expectations. "I was in an interesting space in my life and creative career where I was like, 'I can't afford for this to be mediocre,' " says Hughes. ?"It had to really say something and mean something. Artistically as well, I had to ?figure out new ways to innovate this medium. Trying to chase that high expectation ?and the nature of the narratives proved to ?be very difficult."

Working with two individuals who were used to getting their way didn't make the process run smoother. Hughes decided early on that he would show his interview subjects scenes he had already shot in order to capture their reactions. "That proved to be rewarding but also challenging when it came to Jimmy and Dre," says Hughes, revealing that he got into several altercations with Dre about uncomfortable silent moments that Hughes included in the series. "I knew that if people saw that vulnerability, they would connect to him in the most profound way. He didn't know that at the time. So we just had to give it time."

Regardless, Hughes had final cut. "There was no way it would work without that, as far as the legitimacy of the piece," he says. "What we agreed to is, 'You don't have to love everything, but you have to respect it.' Convincing them that they don't have to love everything was a negotiation."

Hughes credits his subjects with open­ing up about matters that were uncomfortable to discuss — for example, their early days. "Dre really hates all that early stuff, the DJ years and the World Class Wreckin' Cru and the purple satin suit," says Hughes. "It took some time for him to process why it's inspiring."

Hughes admits he likely would be at least as precious about his own origin story. "I have to tip my hat to them because they were pretty good, considering this is their life and legacy," he says. "It was me that was tripping a lot. I just wanted to do my thing."

What proved most challenging when creating the four-part documentary series, which aired on HBO in July 2017, was infusing the filmmaking with the same energy that the legacy of these two men had injected into the music industry. "These are some of the greatest artists, the greatest music, the greatest stories of our time. How do I get the filmmaking to match?" pondered Hughes.

It was his editor and producing partner Doug Pray who answered Hughes' question with the opening five minutes of the doc. "I had never seen anything like that," Hughes recalls. "I got these goose bumps that went right through my arms. It was about a business deal that has gone awry, but it felt like a shootout. ?It felt like a gangster film. When I saw that, that was the dragon that we chased the whole film."

The process of making The Defiant ?Ones has forever changed the Menace II Society co-director, whose mission is now to inject that same energy into his next project, an as-yet unnamed scripted feature film relating to the music industry.

"That's all I've been thinking about," he says. "How do I bring that spontaneity to it? How do I bring the urgency and the realness to it? I've learned a lot from failure, but with this success a light bulb went off: I did it my way. That's what The Defiant Ones changed for me."

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.