EXCLUSIVE: Following their successful collaboration on the The Beatles: Eight Days A Week, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment and Nigel Sinclair and Guy East’s White Horse Pictures will follow with a feature documentary on famed tenor and opera icon Luciano Pavarotti. Howard will direct.
Much the way that The Beatles film greatly benefited from rare early footage, the Pavarotti pic will be bolstered with full access to the singer’s family archives, interviews and live music footage. The film will be made in collaboration with Universal Music Group partner Polygram Entertainment. Studiocanal will co-finance and oversee international sales with White Horse Pictures. Latter will handle the North American distribution deal. Howard, Sinclair and Grazer will produce with Michael Rosenberg and Jeanne Elfant Festa. The goal is for the film to be ready for release next year.
“When we did The Beatles docu, or for that matter Jay-Z’s Made In America, the amazing music was a big benefit, but I’m always more fascinated in the human interest side and the stories behind the music,” Howard told Deadline. “As with The Beatles, Nigel Sinclair brought the idea to me of working on a docu about Pavarotti, and along with Nigel comes the same team of editor Paul Crowder and the executive producer and writer Mark Monroe. I didn’t know that much about opera, but always found Pavarotti a charismatic figure, whom I’d met in the ’80s. Like with many people, he was my introduction to opera as something that was accessible, moving and emotional. Probably the only opera albums I bought were by Pavarotti. One of the pleasing things about The Beatles documentary was the opportunity to tell a compelling single viewing experience that honored and respected in an authentic way those who really knew their story and understood the nuances of the music and individuals, while heightening the curiosity of people who thought they knew The Beatles but really didn’t have any idea of the depth and power of their story. I hope to do the same here.”
Howard said while it was only possible to re-edit early archived Beatles footage because so many films had come before, Pavarotti’s own story is largely untouched, especially in the U.S., even though there is no shortage of resources. Pavarotti died in 2007 at age 71.
“He has been vastly documented and recorded enough that even though he’s not with us, we’re going to be able to allow Pavarotti to tell his own story,” Howard said. “I am now going to school on this. For instance, I had no idea what a physical feat it is to generate those sounds, especially night in and night out. It is the function of years of dedicated training and a commitment to turn your body into that kind of instrument. It’s not just a matter of some people having a good set of pipes and others don’t.”
Much the way that The Beatles film demonstrated how hours of playing dive clubs steeled the musicianship of the Mop Tops to the point they could play their songs in Shea Stadium without being able to hear the instruments, Pavarotti’s origins show the same kind of slow build. “He lived through the ravages of WWII, the son of a local baker who had a great voice and dreams of performing, and a mother who rolled cigars in a factory in Northern Italy where he grew up,” Howard said. “He struggled well into his 20s and was not any kind of prodigy. He emerged slowly but surely, gained his acclaim, and maintained it with a kind of athleticism I don’t think most of us understand is required to sing and perform at that level. He didn’t care much for money, but used his fame to become this ambassador for humanity because of the hardship he’d seen as a young man, and to expand the reach of opera. He took the unprecedented step of performing with the greatest pop stars of his era. It was controversial among opera purists but he took the chance because what was most important to him was that more people understood the power of opera and what it could mean to the heart and the mind. I hope the film can continue that effort. And when he led the Three Tenors, the popularity was unprecedented; for a few years, they were as big an act and sold as many or more records as Prince, Elton John or the Rolling Stones.”
Grazer met Pavarotti when he performed with James Brown at a time Imagine was developing the movie about the Godfather of Soul. “It’s gratifying to have an opportunity similar to The Beatles, who were different than people thought, these four genius musical savants living together with equal votes on their band. There are similar depths to the story of Pavarotti, even though he was the Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, The Beatles of his art form.”
It was Sinclair who was first approached about the documentary, during the making of The Beatles by Universal Music Group on behalf of its opera label Decca Records. Producer Jeanne Elfant Festa then went to Italy and tied down the cooperation of the late singer’s families, which was no small feat. “The producers are delighted that the family of Adua Veroni and their daughters Lorenza, Cristina and Giuliana, and the family of Nicoletta Mantovani and their daughter Alice, are lending their support to the project,” Sinclair said. “The estate wanted his whole story told, and they trusted Ron.”
White Horse’s East and Nicholas Ferrall will be exec producers with Crowder and Monroe. Cassidy Hartmann will serve as a consulting writer and co-exec producer and Mark McCune is supervising producer. Also exec producing are Dickon Stainer, president and CEO of Global Classics; UMG; and David Blackman, Head of Polygram Entertainment; along with Didier Lupfer and Ron Halpern for Studiocanal.