Jess Wu Calder, Keith Calder interview: ‘One Night in Miami’ producers
The Amazon drama “One Night in Miami” is based on a play by Kemp Powers, and when producers Jess Wu Calder and Keith Calder saw it on stage they “fell in love with the play really as it was going,” Keith remembers. “We were in tears by the end and reached out to Kemp, the playwright, the next day.” We spoke to the Calders as part of our “Meet the Experts” film producers panel. Watch our interview above.
The film tells a fictionalized story of a gathering between four prominent figures in the Civil Rights Movement: Nation of Islam spokesman Malcolm X (played by Kingsley Ben-Adir), boxer Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), football player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.). Powers adapted his own play for the screen, and he drew on his “treasure trove” of knowledge to flesh out “that deep friendship that they all had with each other, and how that friendship helped to challenge them to become the best versions of who they are,” Jess says.
Regina King directed the film, which is her feature debut behind the camera after years spent directing for television. “We sent the script to her agent because we had heard that Regina was looking for a project to direct, and we had always been a fan of her work in television and obviously a huge fan of her work as an actress,” Keith recalls. “She came in and just had the most amazing way into the material” and perspectives on “the process of filmmaking on set, how we liked a set to run.”
King also brought an added level of humanity to the story. “All four of those men are such icons that I think it’s hard sometimes to look at them and realize that they’re just men,” Jess adds. The director “was able to bring out in the script and even with the actors” that down-to-Earth quality. That’s a testament to the producers too: as Keith points out, “A lot of what we do as producers, we help create the environment in which the director, actors and department heads can do their best work.”