The real hero behind the reality of a feature film finally getting made about James Brown is producer Brian Grazer.
You know him from his production successes that have included the movies Splash, 8 Mile, Parenthood, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon, Backdraft, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, J. Edgar and The Da Vinci Code.
He and award-winning director Ron Howard (Opie on The Andy Griffith Show) founded the Imagine Entertainment production company in 1986. Grazer’s films and TV shows have been nominated for more than 40 Academy Awards and more than 130 Emmy Awards.
He definitely knows what he is doing, and what he wanted to do for more than a decade was to make a great film about James Brown.
That quest comes to a realization with the Augusta premiere at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Regal Augusta Exchange 20 Cinemas of Get On Up.
Tickets have sold out for the movie and for an after-premiere party at the Augusta Museum of History where the second floor boasts the largest collection of James Brown memorabilia on display anywhere. The tickets benefit the James Brown Family Foundation.
Theaters nationwide will begin showing the movie on Aug. 1.
Grazer, who was born and reared in Los Angeles, began talking with Brown about making a movie biography of his life a couple of years before the singer’s death on Christmas Day 2006.
For an article published in Rolling Stone magazine in January 2013, Grazer told writer David Browne, “He (Brown) wanted to work with someone who understood how he impacted music at the time and on the planet and saw him as a person who wasn’t political but had a political impact.
“He recognized he had hard times. But I think he wanted someone who recognized and celebrated his accomplishments.”
With Brown’s death, the making of the movie became more and more in jeopardy as legal battles began over who controlled Brown’s estate and creative rights.
JUST TWO DAYS AFTER Brown died in Atlanta and before any of his three funerals, Paramount Pictures announced that Spike Lee had been signed to direct a feature film about Brown that would be produced by Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment.
Even though he was producer, though, Grazer later would say that he was no longer in control of who would be the director.
“I had the rights for a very long time, from about 12 years ago. I was really determined to do it for a variety of reasons,” he told Rolling Stone writer Browne in 2013. “I had Al Sharpton as a consultant for a minute. I put a lot of effort into it and a substantial amount of my own money into it, $2 million. And when James Brown died, the rights became more complicated, and I lost them.”
Even Brown’s attorney, Buddy Dallas, said that with Brown’s death and his estate and music in limbo, the deal with Paramount and Lee as director was dead.
“(The) film is not ‘dead,’ ” Lee responded through his publicist, Jackie Bazan. “I will still make this film.”
But that wasn’t to be.
In November 2012 the Web site slate.com reported that Grazer had “fired” Lee as director and replaced him with director Tate Taylor, who had scored a major success with the 2011 movie The Help.
Grazer would tell Rolling Stone magazine, “He (Lee) was the choice when I had the rights. I had just produced Inside Man with him.
“When the rights left me, I didn’t have any control, and I couldn’t make director choices. So when it came later with new people and new rights holders, we weren’t doing it with Spike Lee anymore. The world was different then. Now you have to make movies for less money.”
With Taylor on board, the next major questions were: Who was going to portray Brown, and where would the movie be filmed?
Possibilities mentioned in the media for the key role included actors Samuel L. Jackson, Usher, Chris Brown, Wesley Snipes and Eddie Murphy, who had portrayed Brown on Saturday Night Live and portrayed a very similar James Brown character in the movie musical Dreamgirls.
But the role went to a younger, virtually unknown actor, Chadwick Boseman, who in 2013 achieved fame playing baseball player Jackie Robinson in the movie 42. His TV roles had included being in episodes of All My Children, ER and Law & Order.
Boseman told The Huffington Post Web site in June that he almost turned down the role of James Brown even though both are South Carolina natives: Brown in rural Barnwell County, near Snelling, in 1933, and Boseman in Anderson in 1982.
“It was actually something that I thought might not be a good idea to take on another person we revere as an icon,” Boseman said. “I was against it at first. But at the same time, when it rains it pours, and sometimes you gotta ride the wave of what’s happening.
“And I meditated on it when it came to me, and asked people what they thought about it. And I just came to that decision that it was the best thing for me to do.”
THOSE WHO HAVE watched the theatrical trailer for Get On Up say Boseman has replicated Brown’s speech patterns, unique physical movements and spirit of life.
Many wouldn’t be surprised if Boseman wins an Oscar just as Jamie Foxx won one for his portrayal of another Georgia music legend, Ray Charles, in Ray.
Interestingly, most of the central characters in Get On Up are Southerners.
Director Tate Taylor was born in Jackson, Miss.; Octavia Spencer, who plays Brown’s Aunt Honey, was born in Montgomery, Ala.; and Viola Davis, who plays Brown’s mother, Susie Brown, was born on her grandmother’s farm on the former Singleton Plantation in St. Matthews, S.C.
Nelsan Ellis, who plays Brown’s musical sidekick Bobby Byrd, was born in Harvey, Ill.; and Jill Scott, who plays Brown’s second wife, Dee Dee, was born in Philadelphia.
Filming of Get On Up took place in November and December 2013 and in January 2014, with the entire movie filmed in and around Jackson and Natchez, Miss.
Scenes filmed around Jackson included a car chase with police, a 1971 concert in Paris and a 1993 “comeback” (pay-per-view) concert after Brown’s prison time that actually took place in 1991 at the Wiltern theater in Los Angeles.
Those scenes filmed around Natchez included Brown performing in Vietnam, which was filmed at the Natchez-Adams County Airport, his appearance at the T.A.M.I. show that took place in 1964 in California, a neighborhood street party and his 1962 Apollo Theater concert filmed at the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center.
It’s not for sure at this writing whether producer Grazer will be at the premiere in Augusta.
But no matter where he is, he should be proud of his major role in pulling off this great film about a music legend and repeat what James Brown himself often was prompted to say by the media in both his good and bad times: “I feel good!”