When Steve Jobs came out last year many people took issues with the number of artistic liberties the story took with what they were apparently expecting to be a straight biography of the Apple founder, particularly since it was based on a book that *was* an actual biography. But the movie invented lots of scenarios and situations in the interest of breaking some new ground and not treading the same ground as other 78 Jobs features and documentaries that have come out since he passed away. Still, the structure of the movie and that it wasn’t “true” seemed to rub some critics and audiences the wrong way.
Which is why it will be interesting to see what the reactions are to Miles Ahead. The movie is a biopic of the famed jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, he of “Sketches in Spain,” “Birth of the Cool” and other iconic records that pushed the boundaries of the instrument and the musical form. Davis is played by Don Cheadle, who also wrote and directed the movie. But instead of following the usual format for a movie like this it instead creates a fictional situation where Davis has to track down recordings he feels have been stolen with the help of a journalist (Ewan McGregor) who’s on assignment to interview him. The experiences of Davis’ life are then presented within that framework.
The official theatrical poster shows Cheadle as Davis about to get into a car, which isn’t all that exciting. The image is a bit blurry but there’s nothing all that engaging about it. A couple of critics’ quotes appear at the top praising the movie and Cheadle’s performance and above the title treatment we see the badges of the festivals it’s appeared at. Below that title is the copy “If you gonna tell a story, come with some attitude,” which is pulled from the movie itself.
We’re immediately shown Cheadle as Davis in the first trailer as he tells people to tell the story right if they’re going to do it. We cut to him meeting McGregor’s journalist, something he does not take kindly to. Then we jump back Davis’ earlier days as he starts out in the business and meets his future wife. There’s a story about how someone has stolen a recording he’s working on and works to get it back but mostly the rest of the trailer cuts back and forth between time periods in Davis’ life to show how uncompromising the musician is in his pursuit of whatever sound he’s working on.
It’s kind of a great trailer that, true to its subject matter, has a great voice and point of view. It’s clear the movie will present Davis as a troubled genius while hitting some of the usual stations of the biopic cross. But Cheadle’s performance is the real draw here and that presents a strong case for going and seeing the movie in and of itself.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website opens with the trailer appearing in a pop-up video player.
The first main section of content is “About” which has a good Synopsis of the story along with The Making of Miles Ahead, which goes into the issues the filmmakers had with schedules and other technical issues and GoGo Nation, which lists the names of those who contributed to the IndieGoGo campaign to make up for a budget shortfall.
The people in front of the camera, with the exception of Cheadle, get bios and in-depth filmographies in the “Cast” section. Cheadle gets his due with the rest of the behind-the-scenes crew in the “Filmmakers” section, where everyone gets equally extensive write-ups.
There are about two dozen stills in the “Gallery” and you can find out everything you need to know about Davis himself in the “World of Miles Davis” section, which has links to his website, social network profiles and more.
“Reviews” has some blurbs from early screenings of the movie and “Find a Theater” lets you figure out where it might be playing near you.
There’s not a whole lot on the movie’s Facebook page. Links to press stories, uploaded videos like trailers and some engagement bait. But there’s lots of activity if you go back to 2014 and follow how Cheadle and the other filmmakers were using it to drum up interest in the IndieGoGo, including offering lots of perks and other incentives. The Twitter profile for the movie has lots of the same activity, but with more RTing and such, though there’s little to no engagement with or amplification of fans.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Nothing that I’m aware of on this front. There may have been some online advertising done but I didn’t see anything. It’s also a safe bet there were some outdoor ads run in the cities in which the movie is opening this weekend.
Media and Publicity
The movie was slated to debut at the New York Film Festival and the official trailer for that festival provided a few quick glimpses at the movie in advance of its own marketing efforts kicking off. Clips from the movie would continue to be released here and there to keep things going.
The big coming out party would be held at the New York Film Festival, where Cheadle had to spend some time defending the film’s artistic liberties but where it received a mostly positive reception. At that screening Cheadle and some of this cast would talk about how, as the director, he would stay in character as Davis in an effort to bring that kind of sensibility and attitude not just to his performance but to his approach to the film as a whole.
The difficulty in making the movie – indeed of even conceiving of the framing device for the story – was consistently the subject of press stories, including this substantial Rolling Stone interview with Cheadle as well as this New York Times interview. In it he talked about how they took an intentionally unconventional approach to portraying Davis and his life, not wanting it to be standing biopic structure. He also admitted, as he had elsewhere, that the financing for the movie never really came together until they were able to cast a white guy in a major role, which is where the invention of McGregor’s fictional journalist entered the picture.
Cheadle kept talking about the journey the story took to a finished film in this interview conducted by current jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, who’s been compared to Davis and who is seen as continuing his experimental legacy. McGregor did some press as well with interviews like this where he talked about working with Cheadle, taking direction from another actor and the movie in general.
What I get from this campaign is a lot of hustle, by which I mean Cheadle in particular is out there working hard to drum up interest for the movie. That certainly speaks to his passion for the story and how he had to work to get funding not only from traditional investors but also via the IndieGoGo campaign. He’s made the movie happen through sheer force of will and now he’s working to sell the movie in the same manner, by just getting out there in everyone’s face.
And it works. The marketing feels a little disjointed at times – the trailer has an interesting flow that takes a couple viewings to really get – and there’s no real consistency between the various elements. But regardless of some issues with the execution it all works in the direction of selling a movie that has a unique and interesting point of view and story. Cheadle is, of course, the centerpiece here in a push that sells the movie as a buddy caper that just so happens to involve a musical legend.