'Quincy' Co-Director Alan Hicks on Telling Quincy Jones' Epic Story [Interview]
Alan Hicks and Rashida Jones‘ Quincy get so close and intimate with the great and powerful Quincy Jones you feel like you’re watching a hangout movie. From his youth playing music with Ray Charles, his unforgettable and award-winning film scores, his collaborations with Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson, and far more, the Netflix documentary goes deep into Jones’ work and accomplishments. However, it also gives any fan of the legend the pleasure of watching him at work and out and about in the world. This doc is probably the closest you’ll ever get to being in Quincy Jones’ company, which is a joyful feeling.
Quincy‘s co-writer and co-director, Alan Hicks, who previously worked with Jones on his directorial debut, Keep on Keeping’ On, first discovered Jones’ music when he was 13 years old and listening to Frank Sinatra Live at the Sands with Count Basie on a loop, which he followed with “Quintessence,” “Quincy Plays Hip Hits,” “This Is How I Feel About Jazz,” and Quincy Jones’ work with Dinah Washington. Hicks recently told us about the opportunity to further explore Jones’ epic body-of-work, telling a sprawling story in two hours, shooting 800 hours of footage, and more.
So much has been written and said about Quincy Jones. Was there anything you and Rashida Jones felt was unsaid that you wanted to express in the doc?
Like you say, he’s very well-covered. His career is really well-covered, but people really don’t know what he’s like in the person. And when Rashida and I were first talking about doing this film together, the biggest thing was we want people to know what he’s like as a man, because his personality is a big part of his success. To get to the bottom of that, I think is giving people a bit more of a clue of how all this amazing stuff came about over his career.
Any challenges that come with following him around with a crew given his schedule?
The process with being able to film somebody like Quincy Jones without any restrictions, it’s more complicated than just having the crew turn up and film. I had done another film called Keep On Keepin’ On about this gentleman called Clark Terry who was my music teacher and also happened to be Quincy’s music teacher. So Quincy and I had some common ground there. He was actually Quincy’s first ever teacher in 1947. When I finished that movie, Quincy came on the road with me, and so I spent a year traveling, promoting the movie with Quincy.
Then when Rashida asked if I would co-direct this with her, Quincy was already familiar with the crew, and he’s familiar with me, and obviously with his daughter. The access was very, very open. He would call up and say, “Hey man, we’re going to China. You guys would love it there, you have to come.” And he’d be like, “I’m going in two days.” And then you’re just like, “Oh, my God.” And then you have to engage the crew and get everything off and running and then go and do this hardcore traveling. We’d shoot ten, twelve hours a day on the road. Getting access to somebody like that, you can’t just decide that, “Hey, we’re gonna do this documentary about you and here we go.” It just doesn’t work like that.
In his writing, interviews, and in this movie, Quincy Jones is very candid. Him being as honest and open as he is, was that a major advantage telling his story?
He’s one of those guys that is just real straight up and down like, “Yeah, this is what happened.” His stories are crazy, because his life’s been crazy. He’s got the most amazing stories about the greatest of greats. And Quincy was there. Every day while we were filming, there’d be something that you’re like, “Oh, my God, is that for real? Was he really in the room with Miles Davis when they recorded Kind of Blue?” And it turns out, yes he was. He was right there. You find out all these amazing things. As far as the character study, it’s been a trip.
Telling Quincy Jones’s story in two hours must’ve been a challenge. His relationship with Ray Charles could be a movie itself. How difficult was it condensing his life into two hours?
Well, it was tough, but it’s good to have creative restraints. Just like in a song, there’s a verse, a chorus, if you put choice and limitations on yourself, it actually helps with the creativity. We decided, “Let’s get this into two hours so that it’s digestible.” You could make a ten-part series easily, but what we really wanted to do was for people to get that feeling of what it’s like to hang out with Quincy and to be in his inner circle. Because right now, he’s just turned 85. Now’s the time for us to be able to document him. Not his accolades, not his career. To make the main focus be to document him and what he’s passionate about.
What other parameters were there?
We did set these parameters when we started. The first one was in the two hour timeframe. Second one was we didn’t want any talking heads. It’s actually a harder route to go, is to not have talking heads, but we wanted it to be from Quincy’s perspective. And if we could find audio or video soundbites or visuals from each era, we would try and use that in place of talking heads, so it could be Quincy telling his own story. So that’s what we set out at the beginning, and luckily, that’s what we were able to stick with. The things that are surprises, the things that you discover along the way, like him walking through the African-American Museum and looking at the cabinets that got all of the names of all of the people that he’s worked with that have all gone except for him, you can’t plan that, those things that just happen. And discovering the footage of Ray Charles singing “My Buddy” to Quincy.
That is such a beautiful moment in the movie.
Thanks, man. Those things, when you discover them you’re like, “Oh, my God.” You just pray that it’ll fit into the story, because after a while, you just let the story dictate which twist and turn you’re gonna take.
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