TIFF ’18: “Quincy” co-director on keeping it in the family

The team behind feature-length documentary Quincy, about the life and career of music icon Quincy Jones, appears to be having a “thriller” of a time at TIFF. The doc, set to launch ...
September 12, 2018

The team behind feature-length documentary Quincy, about the life and career of music icon Quincy Jones, appears to be having a “thriller” of a time at TIFF.

The doc, set to launch globally via Netflix on September 21, premiered at TIFF on Sept. 9, and screens again at the fest on September 15. Given the legendary status of the renowned producer, the premiere was a suitably star-studded and musical affair, attended by co-directors Alan Hicks (pictured, left) and Rashida Jones (second from left), as well as the film’s star (center). It was followed by a live performance by Mark Ronson (right), Chaka Khan (second from right) and YEBBA, performing an original song by Jones and Ronson featuring Khan, which is included in the film.

Quincy provides an intimate portrait of the musician, record producer and film and TV producer. The unprecedented access to Jones himself and rare archival footage is no surprise, as Rashida Jones is his daughter, while he and Hicks are good friends, having worked together on Hicks’ last film Keep On Keepin’ On.

The trust between filmmakers and subject no doubt played a huge role in what made it into the final cut, including never-before seen interviews and private family moments.

The film is produced by Paula DuPré Pesmen and executive produced by Jane Rosenthal and Berry Welsh from Tribeca Productions, as well as Adam Fell from Quincy Jones Productions.

Realscreen caught up with Hicks soon after the premiere of Quincy at TIFF.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

How did Quincy come into being?

The genesis started with Jane Rosenthal, the executive producer, talking to Rashida at a party, saying “I think it’s time to do a film about your dad.” And Rashida said, “I think you’re right.”

Rashida, with a litle 5D camera, started filming him a bit, and then Rashida and I ran into each other at the Monterey Jazz Festival, when I was finishing filming my last film. While we were there, we connected and were talking about the film that she was trying to make, and I had to finish my film, but we stayed in touch. Eventually she called up and asked if I’d direct it with her. We engaged the same team from Keep On Keepin’ On – same cinematographer, same producer, Paula DuPré Pesmen, and we just dived in.

With Keep On Keepin’ On, you seem to have gotten quite close to Quincy himself, and obviously Rashida’s quite close with him. What was it like documenting someone in those kinds of conditions?

I was fortunate. I’d traveled with Quincy for a year, with Keep On Keepin’ On, before jumping onto this film with Rashida, and so Quincy and I were good buddies by that point, and he was really familiar with myself and with the crew too, because we were just around. So the transition from traveling and promoting a film to now filming him was pretty seamless.

How would you describe your partnership with Rashida as co-directors?

It’s been beautiful. I’ve never been so creatively aligned with somebody. This is my second film. My first one, I directed by myself. This one was a partnership, and it was a pleasure. We both bring different things to the table, but because we’re creatively aligned, it only adds to the process.

Did you split the responsibilities down the middle?

No, we’re just all in. It’s not like, “You do this, I’ll do that.” It doesn’t work like that, because it’s such a huge project to undertake, so you just dive in, and you just go for it.

When did Netflix come on board?

They were early on in the process. You need support, because you’re doing so much travel. We traveled to 25 countries and shot 800 hours of footage, and as a crew, you need support to pull something like that off.

The project wasn’t fully financed before Netflix?

No. Netflix came on board, and it became a Netflix Original in the middle of the process.

I know you relied, at least in part, on a Kickstarter campaign for your last film. How did this production differ from that?

My first film started out with me and a friend, with a Kickstarter campaign, doing whatever we could to film, and going broke. It’s a miracle that we finished that movie.

You can’t really compare the two. It’s Quincy Jones. There’s music licencing. There’s lots of footage to be licensed. The traveling is unprecedented. He’s led a huge life. To try to capture that is… I can’t do it with just me and a mate. You do need good support and people that really believe in what you’re doing, to be able to pull it off.

You mentioned some of the challenges with travel and licensing. What are some of the other challenges that you encountered while making the film?

Getting through the footage was a challenge. We reviewed footage for a year before even going to the edit. And then we edited for a year and a half.

Was that the footage from following him around, or the archival material?

All of it.

We watched everything. You never know what you’re going to find. It’s like mining for precious minerals. Maybe you watch a VHS tape, and it’s three hours long, and in the last two minutes of the tape, you find something that’s so special, that you know is going to make it into the movie. And then once you find something like that, you’ll watch every VHS tape there is, to make sure that you don’t miss anything. And so you end up watching everything. And that’s really time consuming, but we did it as a team. We all took turns, and we all worked together to get through the material.

You mentioned these gems that you found in there. Are there particular moments or scenes that really stand out for you?

There’s some never-before-seen stuff in there. In particular, there’s a Frank Sinatra interview and a Ray Charles interview that’s never been heard, and when Quincy first watched the movie, he was totally blown away and very emotional. Because those are his old friends, and they’re essentially talking to him. And they’ve been gone for a long time. So there’s a lot of stuff in the movie that the world has just not seen, because it’s all been locked away in vaults.

Did you have access to those through Quincy himself?

Yeah, he had an archive in his house that we worked in for six months. And then once we got to the end, we were having a conversation with him, saying, “We got through the archive,” and he said, “Great, but you should see the vault.” We were like, “What vault?” and we went down there and there was more. It was larger. That’s where the 8mm and the 16mm film and all the very important stuff was kept, and we were able to find a lot of that stuff that’s in the movie in there.

(Photo courtesy of Netflix)

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