Robert Budreau is an award-winning director, writer and producer at Lumanity Productions based in Toronto and Los Angeles. His most recent feature is a jazz film called Born To Be Blue about legendary jazz artist Chet Baker and his rise and fall from fame. It stars Ethan Hawke and Carmen Ejogo. His debut feature film That Beautiful Somewhere was nominated for a Genie Award (the Canadian equivalent to an Academy Award). He also wrote and produced Bankstas in 2013.
Mr. Budreau was very kind to grant an interview. We had originally talked after the Toronto International Film Festival, where I had the pleasure of seeing Born to be Blue but now with its release in theaters this month we sat down over Skype to talk everything jazz and film related.
Welcome Robert, could you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into filmmaking?
Budreau: I went to film school at the Vancouver film school on the west coast, I’m now Toronto based. I spend quite a bit of time in Los Angeles these days. Ironically the first film I made coming out of film school was a period, black and white jazz movie called Dream According, that I teamed up with David Braid with. David is a jazz composer, one of the best in the country, who ended up doing all the jazz arrangements and scoring on Born to be Blue. So for whatever reason jazz and cinema have always seemed to be two topics that interlope quite well, which I’ve noticed since I started making short films in film school.
While this movie bares a lot of similarities to Chet Baker’s life, Born to be Blue takes certain liberties. Why did you decide to make a movie different than the usual biopic?
Budreau: A lot of music biopics follow a specific formula of the musicians career and read like that artists biography. I set out to tell a different type of story that captures the essence of an artist without being dogged by factual milestones. In many ways, Born To Be Blue is an anti-biopic because it pokes fun at the biopic formula through a film-within-the-film structure that openly addresses the pitfalls of trying to capture “truth” in the telling of a person’s life.
What movies inspired this different take on Born to be Blue?
Budreau: I think that the movie I’ve talked about a lot is Raging Bull. Scorsese completely reinvented biopics with that film and it still shocks me how he didn’t win best director with that movie. I also drew inspiration from Charlie Kauffman’s Adaptation and Bob Dylan’s Renalda and Clara.
The film was based on actual events but what characters and events did you re-imagine?
Budreau: The big re-imagining was the character of Jane played by Carmen Ejogo. She was actually based on all the love interests in Chet’s life. It was also rumoured that Chet was going to star in a movie about himself but it never came to fruition.
With everything going on in Hollywood about diversity it was refreshing to see Carmen Ejogo as Chet Baker’s love interest Jane. Did you always have Jane in mind as an African American character?
Budreau: Yeah from the early stages I always saw Jane as a mixed race character. This also fit in with Chet’s character because a lot of the women in his life were mixed race. Carmen came in and was stunning and she was pretty much hired on the spot. The chemistry between her and Ethan was brilliant so I was very lucky to have her.
Was Ethan Hawke always your ideal actor for the role of Chet Baker? How did his casting come about?
Budreau: We made Ethan a traditional offer and happened upon an actor who was as obsessed with Chet Baker as I was. He came onboard after we met extensively and agreed on a collaborative partnership. We prepared extensively – first with a series of meeting to refine the script and then with trumpet/vocal lessons to prepare for the music side, which was considerable and challenging. It worked out perfectly in the end because his schedule was open when we wanted to film and it all just fell into place.
What were some of the struggles of shooting Born to be Blue?
The biggest challenge was creating the period aesthetic of Los Angeles and New York of the 1950s and 1960s in the small town of Sudbury in Northern Ontario in early winter. Aidan Leroux, helped overcome this obstacle with clever production design. We also shot several pick-up days in Los Angeles following the main unit days in order to capture the California exteriors critical to the music and world of Chet Baker. It was also snowing in Sudbury later on in the production, which presented a challenge at first but in the end actually helped us show the changing of the seasons at Chet’s family home.
Did you have the freedom to go where you wanted with the film or did you have to convince some people first?
Budreau: Well obviously you always have to sell your idea and luckily the stars aligned. My production company (Lumanity Productions) produced the movie alongside help from New Real Films and Productivity Media. We also did post production in England at Black Hanger Studios. So in many ways this was a very international production. We had Entertainment One distribute the movie here in Canada and overseas and ICF Films distribute the movie in the U.S.
Born to be Blue has so far been loved by critics and audiences alike. What are your plans for the future? Are there any movies you’re currently in the process of making?
Budreau: I’m always coming up with ideas and I think that’s a big part of being a filmmaker. One idea I’ve been bouncing around is a spy thriller, possibly as a film noir. Lumanity Productions (his production company) has also optioned Dennis Lehane’s hitman novel Consumers, which I will be writing and producing.
Born to be Blue is released in the United States on March 25th. It will be released throughout the rest of the world sometime in April. Review coming soon on the Get Reel Movies Podcast.