Allen Hughes Interview: ‘The Defiant Ones’ director
“For a week I thought my film was done,” declares director Allen Hughes about the chaos that erupted several weeks after he began filming “The Defiant Ones” for HBO (watch the exclusive video above) back in 2014. Word had leaked that Beats by Dr. Dre, the audio electronics company founded by Dr. Dre and Interscope Records co-founder Jimmy Iovine, was about to be acquired by Apple for $3.2 billion. The impending deal was then indirectly confirmed by both Dre and Tyrese Gibson, who posted a video of both them bragging about Dre becoming the first billionaire in hip hop. Things ended up working out and Hughes was able to continue filming the doc but still refers to that period of time as a “nightmare.”
“The Defiant Ones” showcases the journeys of both Dre and Iovine as they came up through the ranks of the music business beginning with Dre as a DJ and a member of N.W.A. and Iovine as an engineer and producer for artists such as John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen. The two eventually end up together when Death Row Records, co-founded by Dre, had their distribution switched from Time Warner to Interscope in 1995. Since they’re professional lives became intertwined the pair have risen to the very top of the music industry despite several high profile personal and professional obstacles.
One of, if not the biggest obstacle, that affected both of them was feud that erupted between rappers from the East Coast and West Coast. This was an event that Hughes has a deep connection to as he had shot several music videos for the artists involved including N.W.A. and Tupac Shakur. Working on this documentary allowed Hughes to recognize and deal with emotions that he had not examined. “It was strange and painful to chronicle,” he said. “I had never really processed the deaths of Eazy-E and Tupac and usually this kind of project doesn’t work when it’s so personal.” Hughes gives a lot of credit to his executive producer Doug Pray, who helped him find the right tone for the series since he hadn’t been personally involved. “I brought Doug in to keep me honest.” Another obstacle that Pray helped Hughes get through was making sure that the series would be interesting to people whose musical tastes were different than a particular person being chronicled. “I couldn’t take for granted that people that were interested in Tom Petty would be interested in The D.O.C. from N.W.A.” This lead to Hughes showing parts of the show to different crowds, including teenagers, millennials and even some of his mother’s friends, in order to gauge their interest.
The effort that Hughes put into the film has definitely paid off. In addition to the critical praise that Hughes has already garnered for the series, the show picked up a Grammy Award back in February for Best Music Film. When I brought up the possibility of making it on stage again at this year’s Emmys, I asked what music he thought would be best to play as he makes his way up to the stage. Hughes replied almost immediately that he would want to hear “The Strength of the Righteous” from Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to “The Untouchables,” which Hughes used as the theme from the film. However, Hughes did say that there were other pieces that he would like to hear should he make his way to the stage of the Microsoft Theater. “If I was to go hip hop, I would go with ‘Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang’ [by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg]. That’s my sh** right there! But if I were to go rock, I would go with ‘Closer’ by Nine Inch Nails.”