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August 2006
IDLEWILD: An Interview with Producer Charles Roven

IDLEWILD: An Interview with Producer Charles Roven
By Wilson Morales

As a producer of many films since the 80s, Charles Roven has seen his share of ups and down. That’s how the business is. No one can hit a home run all the time. You just got to be at the plate and keep swinging to you get on base. From “Cadillac Man”, “Final Analysis”, “Twelve Monkeys”, to “Batman Begins”, Roven has turned out some big blockbusters, but there are some drawbacks as well. Last year’s The Brothers Grimm had a disappointing turn at the box office after being delayed for quite a while. Hopefully, Roven’s next film, “Idlewild”, will prove the opposite after sitting on the shelf for some time. Starring the Grammy award winning artists, OutKast, the film is mixed with music, dancing, drama, and suspense. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Roven spoke about the long-awaited film and its delay as well as his production, the sequel to Batman Begin, The Dark Knight.

Can you talk about the evolution of this film from being possibly released on HBO last year to being released in theaters now?

Charles Rovin: Mosaic, which is the company that I’m a partner in, for some time has been trying to work with HBO and we had come up with a concept. Where we were going to try to do a multiple anthology of first time feature directors for premieres on HBO. And Erica Conner who was VP of our company at the time, had a relationship with Bryan Barber who had done a lot for music videos for OutKast and he came up with the concept for this movie and it was before Speakerboxx/Love below had broken out and even of those music videos had come out. And that project evolved into this feature. And as that album got more and more prominent with its MTV Awards and  Grammys the movie was  on and off  and on and off until we finally made it, I think,  in the 3rd Quarter of 2004 and we finished shooting it just before the end of that year. But we knew back then that because we had the green light and you do what you always do and you rush these movies because once you have the money, you don’t want to lose the money. Anyway, we always knew that we would have to come back and shoot a few of the musical numbers because not all of the music was finished. Not all of the on camera music or off camera music was finished.  It took quite a bit of time to get everyone back together again. I mean Andre went off and did some movies. He did “Four Brothers”, and “Be Cool”, and I think he did “Revolver” and we finally ended up shooting the rest of the musical sequences about a year or 10 months later. Then we were hoping to get the rest of the music delivered for the record later and then he reason we were delayed twice was because all the music wasn’t finished until two months ago. In fact the record wasn’t even mastered until about 3 weeks ago.

Can you talk about the strategy and planning for blending to distinct styles? The 1930s and OutKast’s music?

CR: That was the big idea that was originally pitched to us. This purposely anachronistic movie that was kind of a period fantasy and I have to say that was the original brilliant idea of Bryan and OutKast. It came to Erica and myself and Rob Guralnick, who’s my producing partner, it came to us that way. And then it was up to the individual artists who were working on the movie. From Hinton Battle, of course,  who came up with that unique blend of dancing who is really just amazing to the DJ’s who scratched the period  music with the music of today. Every individual technician and artist who took that big idea of that blend and made it every part of the movie that way.

This is not your typical Hollywood blockbuster, why did you take on this film?

CR: I think it was the unique vision. I think we started developing this movie in 2003. I had first worked with Bryan Barber and OutKast in 2000 or  2001. I had produced a movie called Scooby Doo and they actually did the first single from that soundtrack album. From that, I knew how inventive they were and I knew how brilliant they were. I like doing things that are different as a producer, I’ve made all kinds of different movies. Some of them have completely fallen off the cliff and have been terrible. And I’ve made some very good films that I’m very, very proud of.  And I think part of the reason is I’m always looking to take a risk.

Given the anticipation of for this movie over the years, everyone is really excited about it. But in the event the movie doesn’t do well, who gets to say,”Boy, we should have stayed on HBO”?

CR: I guess we *all* have to say that, but I guess I would have to say that I would take the biggest fall for that, in the sense that all of the creative team wanted to get the movie into the theaters when we started project and HBO just was not willing to take that leap, but as we progressed and got further and further into the production of the movie; they got more and more excited. As we went into the post production period and we had a lengthy one as I described it, I was able to show an early cut of the film to a number of distributors and they all liked it. But Universal just loved it and I think it is a real compliment to them that they also like to make interesting choices and go out there and take changes with their product.

How do you sale this movie to young hip-hop fans of OutKast who may not get the many references to 30s and 40s and vice verse, the older audience who appreciated the 30s and 40, but may not even know who OutKast is?

CR: I think the answer to that is truly the brilliance of OutKast because their music, even before the film, has had the ability to crossover and interest people from a lot of different demographics and age groups. I mean Speakerboxx/Love Below had a lot of different type music on it.  It wasn’t just a rap album or just a hip hop album. If it wasn’t for those guys we wouldn’t have had the idea to do the movie in the first place. But once you have them as the center, you have the opportunity  to bring a lot of people that you wouldn’t normally think would be interested and you have the ability blend those genres. They break down the walls.

There was an item in the New York Times that sometimes you and Bryan and weren’t seeing eye to eye. Was there a cultural a difference as reported? Can you respond to that?

CR: Personally, I think Bryan used that phrase and you’ll have to talk to him as to why he felt it was a difference in culture. I think it was more of a difference in working methodology and our approach to film making is slightly different. He’s an extremely  creative guy and there is no question that we wouldn’t have this movie without him. He is quite brilliant visually and many other ways. But I’ve had the benefit of making 20-25 feature films; I’ve worked with many different directors. I’ve had directors love me and directors who disliked me so much they wanted wiretap me. That had nothing to do with culture. I assure you.

There are elements of the movie that unless you were inside of Bryan’s head, you probably would not understand what he was trying to do. As the producer, could you visualize what he was trying to do?

CR: Here’s the thing. If I didn’t not artistically buy in to what he was trying to do in the first place, we wouldn’t have gotten the movie off the ground, so obviously there must have been a certain amount of his vision that I embraced because you know it was abut OutKast in a certain kind of way, but the script development came from his idea and came through our development and HBO’s. The casting of the movie, besides OutKast, we had to do that together. We had to approve the artists together; we had approved Hinton Battle as the choreographer together; and the D.P. and the Production Designer; we went through a couple of Production Designers. So there must have been a certain amount of what he was trying to do that I embraced otherwise the movie would have never gotten made.

Was this an under 10 million dollar movie when it was for HBO?

CR: No, it was never supposed to be under 10.

Was it under 20?

CR: No, we aren’t going to talk about the budget. This movie was under union contract the entire way and HBO has a special deal with the unions where that if initially it made for HBO and then you end up going theatrically, then there is a whole financial kick up that has happens and you can’t go theatrically unless you do that. So that is obviously all part of the budget. But there wasn’t even a script when it was part of that theory at that point it was going to be extremely modest ? a single digit.  And when we actually got the green light to make the film, the budget was in the high teens.

Chuck you have another little budgeted movie coming out, The Batman Sequel-

CR: The Dark Knight

Is that about $150 million or something?

CR: I won’t tell you that budget either.

Can you tell us about the casting of Heath Ledger as the Joker  and is it true that Philip Seymour Hoffman is coming on board?

CR: One of the things we’ve always done, going back to the first film, is that we don’t comment on rumors because it takes all the fun away.  We are really thrilled with  Heath Ledger coming on to the play the Joker. As Chris Nola said Heath commits himself fully and totally in everything he does. He is just a brilliant, brilliant actor and this Joker is a really interesting and dark fellow.

What does that mean?

CR: You’ll have to wait on that!

Can you comment on any of the possible returning characters?

CR: Certainly, Christian Bale is going to play Batman and Bruce Wayne. We are hoping, depending on everyobody's schedule and other aspects on what it is that they want to do with their careers, that we are going to get most of them if not all of them, back in the movie. That is the characters that are alive. Also, the script is in the process of being written. There isn't a screenplay that exist right now so I can't really tell you much more than that.

Are you filming next year?

CR: We are supposed to start shooting what is called a pre-shoot in January and the main body of the movie is going to start in March.

OutKast has so many younger fans, did you ever consider making it PG-13?

CR: We thought about it for a longer time, but lyrically OutKast will always be an R and we didn’t want to change their music. As you can tell by the lyrics from the songs that are in there, those lyrics are not only, again, purposely anachronistic, but they’re also OutKast lyrics and we didn’t want to change them and the movie would have been R just from that standpoint.

In most superhero films and in previous Batman films, the love interest tends to change, will you follow the same suit?

CR: The script is not written yet, so I can't tell you who's coming back. I know that there is a desire to bring back as many characters as possible. I know Chris is working. I don't think that he'll do it in a way where it's hamfisted. It's got to be naturally progressive in the movie or not. There are of course availability issues and contractual issues. It's not just a "Yes, I'm coming back".

What was the reason to go with the "Dark Knight" title?

CR: It was a title that Chris (Nolan) suggested and everybody really embraced. We thought it was a really good natural progression from "Batman Begins".

Was The Joker cast in the film from the beginning?

CR: I think from the time that Chris ended the first film and it had that Joker card until the time that he came up with the concept of what the next chapter was going to be that he was thinking about the Joker. That's why we were able to know that there's going to be a significant part for that character in this film.




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