You’re still working as a film director, though you’re a television executive.
I’ve been making films all along. I didn’t come here to just be an executive, I came here to be a documentary filmmaker, and I’ve always been able to make films while supervising other films and growing the department. Two years ago I took a leave of absence from my job at MTV to direct Tupac: Resurrection, which is a feature film for MTV Films, which then got picked up by Paramount.
Why did you produce it for theaters first instead of for television?
Because creatively I was ready. Ready to make a long film, with no commercials, a film that could go deep. It was our first feature-length documentary, released through MTV Films. It was released to 800 screens. It was a really big release for a documentary feature. It was interesting, because at the first marketing meetings with Paramount they made the decision, let’s never talk about it as a documentary. You don’t use that word, documentary.
“Tupac’s a brilliant speaker, there are lots and lots of interviews with him telling his story. So I said, ‘He can do it. Let’s just let him do it. Let’s trust him to do it.’”
Photos courtesy of Paramount.
Why was that?
Because at the test screenings, it was testing off the roof, and none of these people had ever gone to a theater to see a documentary. This is pre-Fahrenheit 9/11. But to these kids, it wouldn’t even occur to them to go see a documentary, they just saw a good movie. So part of me was really torn. Part of me was saying, “I’ve been this advocate for documentary all these years. How could you not call it a documentary?” But then part of me said, “You know what? It’s going to reach a wider audience. It’s still the film it is. Obviously, it’s a documentary.”
Why were you interested in making this film?
I had a concept to tell Tupac’s story in his own words. And his mother, Afeni Shakur, had that same vision. A lot of people had wanted to make his life story.
How did you know that approach would work—an autobiography of a rap star, told in his own words, posthumously?
He’s a brilliant speaker, there are lots and lots of interviews with him telling his story. So I said, “He can do it. Let’s just let him do it. Let’s trust him to do it.” It took a lot of editing, a lot of shaping. There are a lot of interviews from a lot of different sources. So it was a year of doing that research, and gathering archival material. We had a lot of stuff in-house at MTV. His mom had his photos and his poetry and his albums. I got access to the vault, stacks of phone numbers from girls, all kinds of great things. Put together, it’s a pretty traditional documentary film other than the whole concept of him telling his own story in his own words. Then, I had to shape it so it had a dramatic flow, an arc, so that it felt like a movie. But certainly the story was there, and he really held it, he held the story.
How did it do?
It did well, seven-seven in box office [$7.7 million total domestic box office gross]. And it did extremely well on DVD. It’s still selling very, very well. We had a big hit, platinum soundtrack, and a book. The book did really well. I’d like to do more films like that.