Director Alex Gibney, Producer Victoria Pearman, Producer Peter Afterman, Producer Blair Foster attended a special screening of their latest film “Mr Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown,” which will premiere on HBO on October 27.
The film chronicles the musical ascension of the “hardest working man in show business” who forever changed the face of American music. The documentary was made with the unique cooperation of the Brown Estate, featuring rare and never-before seen archival footage and photographs along with current interviews.
We had the opportunity to cover the red carpet. Read our exclusive interviews below:
Alex Gibney (Director)
Q: Talk about what it was like working with producer Mick Jagger.
A: It was great. He was very supportive, he had a lot of really good ideas, great comments on the cut, but what impressed me the most was not only his knowledge on the subject and his determination to get this story told, which was tremendous, but also his ability to support the creative team and to give important notes when appropriate, so he was kind of the ideal producer.
Q: What about James Brown resonates most with you?
A: To me, what resonates most; here is a guy who changed American culture musically, also in terms of the way we think about Civil Rights and African Americans, so I think he is a very powerful and important figure. He took music – he is a musical figure that takes music from the big band era all the way to hip hop and you can’t say that about many artists.
Q: You had access to never before seen photos and videos of James Brown from the Brown Estate. What was it like having access to those materials and seeing it all?
A: It was just fantastic because it filled in a lot of important gaps in Mr. Brown’s career. And you can particularly see some of the performance material which was just fantastic. And also some candid photographs as well as some key historical moments like the March Against Fear in Mississippi, a lost reel of his famous concert in Boston right after Martin Luther King Jr. died, so all sorts of wonderful material.
Q: What are some new things that you have learned about James Brown from this documentary?
A: I think what I learned about him was his role as sort of a band leader. You know about him as a performer, you know about him as a singer, but the idea that he was this guy who drove this tremendously creative band – I mean that was another thing I learned, was how talented his band was. Most people don’t really focus on that, but his band was just an extraordinary group of musicians and he was kind of the leader. He was kind of directing them in a way, but they had the kind of skill, power, and expertise, and I think you kind of knew that he had to surround himself with these extraordinarily talented people. It takes more than one person to make music like that and that is what I really learned.
Martha High (Singer/Subject)
Q: What can you tell me about your friend James Brown?
A: Well, what everyone else knows about him, that he was a hardworking – one of the best entertainers in the world. He set a pace for everyone as far as funk is concerned and knowing that it was a blessing to be able to work with him.
Q: What is something about James Brown that you would say resonates the most with you?
A: Knowing how to entertain. He was definitely an entertainer and I learned a lot from him just working with him and watching him – how to be a true entertainer.
Q: What about James Brown’s infamous legacy has affected you in your life?
A: It has affected me a lot because I want to continue to do what I am doing. I think that I have a little bit of him in me, working with him for 30 some years. I think I have a little bit of him when I perform so yeah, I think his legacy is continuing not only with me but with Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, and all of the other singers and musicians that worked with him.
Q: Have you learned anything new about James Brown from this documentary experience?
A: I knew him very well so the things that are being said I can only just agree with because I know him that well.
Fred Wesley (Trombonist/Band Leader/Subject)
Q: What was it like working with James Brown?
A: It was an educational experience. He was the hardest working man in show business and I had to work hard too.
Q: What about James Brown resonates the most within you?
A: His ability to rehearse all day long.
Q: How has the legacy of James Brown affected you now?
A: It has definitely affected me now. I am a musician in my own right, I have my own band, but all people want to know about is James Brown, so the legacy lingers on.
Q: Is there anything new about James Brown that you have learned from this documentary?
A: There are a lot of things I didn’t know about him. I didn’t know how he started and how he ended up – I was only with him for five years in the middle of his career, from ’71-’75 so there are a lot of things I didn’t know.
Q: If you could speak to James now, what would you say?
A: I would say, ‘Brother! What’s happening?’
Peter Afterman (Producer)
Q: What was it like working on this James Brown documentary?
A: Well, it is pretty awe inspiring. I have been managing the Estate five years from now and when I first got involved I had to sort of pinch myself – I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe it, James!’ I idolized him. I had night clubs when I was in college and I booked him in clubs twenty five years ago and to think I would be working with his music and his name and image is pretty incredible.
Q: And how was it like working with the Brown Estate?
A: It was great. They basically brought me in and said, ‘Look, we are going to give you a lot of authority. We control the estate but we need help, we don’t really know what we are doing and come and follow what we are doing and we are going to let you figure out what to do.’ And they have, they have been extremely supportive of me and everybody – the whole group. I’m sure you have heard there are a lot of different actors but I get along with everybody.
Q: And they let you see unreleased photos and videos. How was that like?
A: I got to see the archive. Going in and seeing the archive is incredible. His old videos and seeing all the original tapes and stuff was sort of – seeing the personal effects of his was just amazing.
Q: And what about James Brown resonates the most in you?
A: I’d say the funk music because I have always been a fan of funk music and also just that he cared so much to try and do the right thing. Sometimes he didn’t, sometimes he was a little bit crazy but he did it out of this whole need of ‘I want to make it right for everybody. I want to take care of everybody.’ Sometimes he might have not done it as much as he thought. And also it was his professionalism, the fact that he was a complete pro about everything. It’s like, ‘I’m going to go record. I am going to organize it. I am always going to dress well.’ Plus one other thing is that all these musicians that I just completely idolize and grew up with like Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, The Beatles, all these artists just talk about him being the guy.
Q: What are some things that you have learned about James Brown from doing this documentary?
A: I learned how each of the musicians interacted with each other in making the music. There is one scene where you see Pee Wee Ellis where he co-writes “Cold Sweat” with James Brown and he talks about getting this little melody together so it was really amazing to hear how the music got made and the creative process.
Q: If you could talk to James Brown right now, what would you say to him?
A: I would probably say to him that I am proud to take the handle of your music and to make sure that your image is out there and I think we are doing a pretty good job of it with the documentary and the movie.
Christian McBride (Bassist/Composer/Band Leader/Subject)
Q: Who is James Brown to you?
A: James Brown is one of probably five or six major innovators of American culture and definitely my number one biggest musical hero.
Q: What about him resonates most within you?
A: A lot of things. James Brown’s music, his business, his vision, his bold political stance, which in many ways was paradoxical. I appreciate his boldness. He wrote his own book, wrote his own rules. There was only one James Brown. No one did anything like he did.
Q: And how has he influenced you throughout your life?
A: In many, many ways. Even though I am known as a jazz musician, even when I am playing the swing rhythm, I still want to have the same drive and intensity of James Brown’s funk.
Q: What’s something new that you have learned about James Brown from making this documentary?
A: I’m not sure that I learned anything new because I was very honored to work with James Brown and know James Brown, but what I am extremely happy about is that Alex and Jigsaw Productions did a magnificent job on focusing why James Brown was such a musical innovator. This documentary really focuses on James Brown the musician. There’s not a whole lot of fluff, there’s no car chases, no stories about the typical sex, drugs, and rock and roll. None of that, and this is why he is an innovator.
Q: What’s your favorite memory with him?
A: I have a lot. I think my favorite with him is working with him at the Hollywood Bowl. Just a couple of months before he died and my big band was set up on one side of the stage and his band was set up on the other side of the stage and he just went back and forth between both bands; singing jazz with my big band and singing his songs with his band. It was a big thrill.