It took one collaboration with Jay-Z for Brian Grazer to realize the rapper’s creative genius. It occurred im 2007, when the Academy-Award winning producer behind Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind was wrapping up American Gangster; Jay contacted him and offered to make a digital soundtrack for the film. “I thought, ‘Well, how will he have time to do that?'” Grazer recalls to Rolling Stone.
However, Jay-Z wouldn’t back down: he promised Grazer that he could knock out 12 tracks in 10 days. “He figured out how to write, produce and perform all the tracks,” the producer says, still baffled by the prospect. “When Jay really relates to something, he relates on the deepest artistic level and he’s able to do things that we all find to be phenomenal.”
So when Grazer was recently approached with the opportunity to produce a documentary film on the Budweiser Made in America Festival, Jay-Z’s two-day extravaganza in Philadelphia over Labor Day weekend, he considered the idea a no-brainer. The event features headlining performances from the Brooklyn mogul himself, along with Pearl Jam, Drake and Run-DMC. “We just immediately, that minute, said we want to do this,” Grazer says. “We want to be your partner!” The 61-year-old film executive also knew it would be a perfect fit for Ron Howard, acclaimed director and his partner at Imagine Entertainment. “I thought it would be great for Ron’s career and good [for him] as a culture icon to be working with Jay,” he explains.
The producer plans to incorporate Jay-Z’s personal storyline – overcoming a rough upbringing, transforming himself into a successful rapper and businessman – into the film’s narrative arc. “I think that’s what I’m gonna do,” he says. “There’s sort of a creation element.” Grazer adds that he wants to hone in on “what the meaning of the festival is, why Jay is doing it and how he relates to each artist.”
Merging music into film is a familiar concept for Grazer: he produced the Eminem film 8 Mile in 2002 and notes that his TV series Friday Night Lights always made music a central focus. Still, he admits that a concert documentary will be a different beast. “It is a new challenge,” he concedes. “Challenging but exciting… I see documentaries as equations that you have to solve.”
When Made in America kicks off in two weeks, Grazer will be on-site in Philadelphia, he says, to help “define the film’s perspective.” He stops, catching himself. “Wait, that sounds pretentious,” he says, laughing. “It should be good.”