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May/June 2019

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DIRECTOR'S CHAIR 16 POST MAY/JUNE 2019 any people would probably give their right arm for Ron Howard's career; after all, he's done it all in Hollywood. The former child star of The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days not only successfully made the tricky transition to adult actor (at 22 he starred opposite John Wayne in The Shootist and was Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actor), but went on to establish himself as an Oscar- winning director and producer (for 2001's A Beautiful Mind) and as one of Hollywood's most beloved, commercial- ly-successful and versatile helmers. Since making his directorial debut in 1977 with Grand Theft Auto (when he was still playing Richie Cunningham in Happy Days), he's made an eclectic group of films about boxers (Cinderella Man), astronauts (Apollo 13), mermaids (Splash), symbologists (The Da Vinci Code franchise), politicians (Frost/ Nixon, which won him two more Oscar nominations), firefighters (Backdraft), mathematicians (A Beautiful Mind — which also won him a Golden Globe for Best Director and BAFTA noms for Best Director and Picture), Formula One racing (Rush), whalers (In the Heart of the Sea) and the Fab Four (The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — his first documentary). Born in Oklahoma with showbiz in his DNA — his parents were both ac- tors, Howard "always wanted to direct" and notes that "producing gives you control." In 1986 he co-founded Imagine Entertainment with Brian Grazer, a powerhouse in film and TV (Empire, Arrested Development) production, and his TV projects include the Genius series for National Geographic. His latest film is Pavarotti, a docu- mentary about the iconic tenor who became one of the most successful and beloved opera singers in history. It features seminal performances, his greatest hits, and intimate interviews, including never-before-seen footage and appearances by such fans as Princess Diana, Bono and U2, Nelson Mandela, Spike Lee, Kofi Annan, Stevie Wonder and Sting. Here, in an exclusive interview with Post, Howard talks about making the film, the challenges involved and his love of post What was the appeal of doing this? "Part of it was that I had so much re- spect and admiration for Pavarotti and his art form, and the great thing about a documentary is that it allows you to explore stuff you may not be that familiar with." Was it easy or hard getting cooperation from his family and friends? "Before Nigel Sinclair even brought the idea to me — and he's a terrific produc- er who I worked with on the Beatles documentary and he also helped finance Rush — he had a pretty good sense that the family would cooper- ate. They were interested and curious about it, and if we had an approach that made sense to them, they'd be on board. And that's what happened. They also had some footage that was rarely if ever seen before, and that was really valuable. There was stuff shot from the wings in the bit about 'The High C's,' and that blew my mind that we actually got it. And then there were all the superstar fans, like Bono, who were all so eager to participate. And that tells you so much about Pavarotti the man. Don't forget, he was a performer, so if there was a camera shooting him behind the scenes, he'd usually be 'on,' and he'd put on the charm, but then we also got the home footage where he'd be far more introspective and thought- ful about his life." How much research did you do? "A ton, and we kept digging as we made it. That's the thing about documentaries. They're so different from scripted. And there's that scary moment where you've been working on it for a year or so, and you're kind of feeling, 'Wow, what story are we going to tell? What exactly do you believe in here? What do you really think about your subject?' And even with this, which is largely archival inter- views, you have to have a sense of what your story is, and what the dramatic fo- cus is going to be and the points you're going to make. And I found the same thing with the Beatles doc, and when I mention this worry to veteran documen- tarians, they just nod. They know I'm a rookie at this, while they've been living with that for a decade or two. But we found it in the end." What most surprised you about him once you began delving deeper into his private life? "I guess like most people, I would have assumed he was this child prodigy, that everyone listening to him sing at age 13 or 14 was saying, 'Just get out of the way, he's the Second Coming!' But that wasn't the case at all, and I really ap- preciated that there was actually a lot of self-doubt early on, which continued for a while. His father, who was also a great tenor, didn't even want him to sing professionally. And I really liked the idea that once he decided to commit — and he was 20 and an elementary schoolteacher at the time, it still took him five or six years before anyone started to notice him." You shot all over the place — Italy, Britain, LA, New York, Montreal, but I assume you had different DPs and crews getting all the establishing shots and so on? "Exactly, as I was here working on other projects at the same time, and I'd dis- cuss what was needed and so on with the DPs and wait for all the footage to come in and then we'd start building it up from there." Where did you do the post? "We did most of it here in LA, with a bit of it in New York, and we went through a process that I apply to my scripted mov- ies, where you get the basic editing done and get a version you can show peo- ple, and then we have a series of small screenings and the audience fills out questionnaires with a ton of questions. And after that we also have a few regular test screenings. So I put it through the RON HOWARD DISCUSSES PAVAROTTI BY IAIN BLAIR A DOCUMENTARY ON OPERA'S LATE POWERHOUSE M

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