Celebrities are an excitable bunch, and never more so than when they’ve just got their hands on new projects. If those projects take them into different creative arenas to the ones that made them famous, that excitement ratchets up to a grander scale. And if they allow for a bit of hero worship, that’s pretty much the peak of celebrity existence.
Such has been the case over the past week, with news that OutKast half Andre Benjamin – better known as Andre 3000 – is diving into the lead role of a Jimi Hendrix biopic that has taken numerous shapes during its lengthy development. At one point Morpheus himself, Lawrence Fishburne, was slated to appear in an account of Hendrix’s all-too-brief time in the spotlight, and Benjamin has been attached to a number of different takes on the rocker’s life story. The coveted lead role, which surely counts as Oscar bait all by itself, is set to provide Mr 3000 with a showcase for his individualism, following his role in the OutKast ensemble musical Idlewild (2006). So, we’re off to the races, yes?
The announcement of the film was quickly met with an official disavowal from none other than the estate that controls Jimi Hendrix’s music. “Various media outlets have recently published accounts that indicate a feature-length Jimi Hendrix biographical film is nearing production,” it said. “Experience Hendrix LLC (EH) – the family-owned company entrusted with safeguarding the legacy of Jimi Hendrix and administrator of the Jimi Hendrix music and publishing catalogue – has made it known many times in the past that no such film, were it to include original music or copyrights created by Jimi Hendrix, can be undertaken without its full participation.”
And who is the mastermind behind this rock-blocking manoeuvre? None other than EH CEO Janie L Hendrix – sister of the voodoo-talented fretboard strangler. She added that the EH board has not ruled out a biopic project in the future, “though producing partners would, out of necessity, have to involve the company from the inception of any such film project if it is to include original Jimi Hendrix music or compositions.”
In other words, the filmmakers announced the project before they had the most important duck in their row: the formal permission to actually use Jimi Hendrix music in a film about Jimi Hendrix.
It is not uncommon for project managers to announce what they have in the pipeline before it is truly ready. This tactic can often help to stoke enthusiasm in the endeavour and bring it to public attention, making its eventual emergence a self-fulfilling prophecy. But that risk-heavy approach relies upon a judgment call on exactly how important a project’s missing pieces are. If those nuts and bolts are the most vital ones, no amount of public interest will hold the venture together. Those components are meant to be acquired through leadership, and negotiations with the parties who have them.
There are other, recent examples that underline the point. In April, organisers of London 2012 scrapped a planned lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) awareness centre – Pride House – that was meant to be one of the key social projects linked to the Olympics. The venue had been unable to attract the crucial element of sponsorship. In February, Marc Benioff – CEO of cloud-computing firm Salesforce – was left red-faced when the company was forced to cancel the build of a giant campus in San Francisco’s Bay Area. The reason? Half of Salesforce employees disapproved of the plan, thinking that it was more of a vanity project than a hub of state-of-the-art facilities.
In biopics, as in the rest of business, it is best to actually have a project before you announce one.