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Ron Howard Says Directing 'Made in America' Was a Challenge

'I was meeting artists I had barely heard of,' adds the Oscar-winning director

Ron Howard
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
September 19, 2013 4:15 PM ET

Ron Howard admits he felt out of his element directing Jay Z's Made In America documentary. The two-time Oscar winner was finishing his Formula One film Rush at the time, and didn’t know many of the artists on the bill (Kanye West, Run-D.M.C. and Skrillex included). Still, the 59-year-old tells Rolling Stone he went in with open eyes (and ears!) and just followed the story as it unfolded.

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How did you meet Jay Z?
It was through Brian Grazer, who got to know Jay Z through American Gangster, a movie he produced. Through that, I got to meet Jay Z a couple of times. Then suddenly, I got a call and had a meeting. He talked about this event, and asked if I would be interested in covering it. And I didn’t really know what it meant!

Rock docs like Monterey Pop and Woodstock have stood the test of time. What will people think about Made In America 40 years from now?
As a documentarian, you think, "follow your curiosity." I felt like a stranger in a stranger land: I was meeting artists I didn’t know and others I had barely heard of, and I found it fascinating. The film very much reflects that. So if that’s useful down the road – if it’s a snapshot of the moment – then that's that.

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It’s not just a concert film – you wove in stories about the American dream.
The phrase "made in America" put people in a wavelength; this is what they talked about. There was this inspiring expression of possibility, self-reliance and an entrepreneurial spirit, which was what Jay Z was talking about initially, and I kept seeing it pop up over and over again. Again, I wandered into this without any predetermined idea what the film would be about, but this was consistently something that the cameras were picking up.

Can Made In America be the next Lollapalooza or Warped Tour?
That’s what Jay Z and his team are hoping for. It is a very conscious attempt to break down barriers of genre, an idea that Jay Z thinks is antiquated. He keeps citing his own iPod mix. He said music is binary – it’s either good, or it doesn’t resonate.

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