We’ve had the plea­sure of work­ing with Scott Laz­er, Tim Grant, Ben Pre­meaux, and much of the crew from the doc­u­men­tary on many occa­sions. We caught up with them this week to talk about how it all came togeth­er.

1. It was almost completely produced by Charlotte talent

Not only were Tim Grant (Pro­duc­er) and Ben Pre­meaux (Co-Direc­tor of Pho­tog­ra­phy) key play­ers in the doc, the Direc­tor, Scott Laz­er, was once a sta­ple in Charlotte’s video pro­duc­tion crowd, only leav­ing for Los Angles about two years ago. More Char­lotte tal­ent, mak­ing the dream(ville) hap­pen was Assis­tant Edi­tor, Gab­by Obrem­s­ki and local film­mak­er John Mud­der…

All of these play­ers were brought togeth­er through their con­nec­tions to each oth­er, ulti­mate­ly with Laz­er at the nucle­us of it all.  Pre­meaux was actu­al­ly one of Lazer’s high school teach­ers, hav­ing Laz­er in his Graph­ic Design I class. “He was like no oth­er stu­dent I have ever met”, Pre­meaux recalls. Beyond high school, and after Laz­er came back from col­lege in New Jer­sey, Pre­meaux was just start­ed out with his own busi­ness (Smart Labs Stu­dios) and end­ed up work­ing with Laz­er on a few projects.  Laz­er lat­er con­nect­ed Pre­meaux to Grant.  “It was so cool to see peo­ple from Char­lotte and North Car­oli­na come togeth­er on such a world-class project”, says Pre­meaux.

The team, of course, watched the pre­miere togeth­er in none oth­er than the Smart Labs office. “This was dif­fer­ent than any oth­er pre­miere that I had been apart of.  Usu­al­ly those are with lots of strangers and you don’t get to real­ly appre­ci­ate what you just did. Hav­ing every­one that worked so hard to make it hap­pen be able to re-live the expe­ri­ence all over again made it that much more spe­cial,” says Grant. Although emo­tion­al, there weren’t any tears shed, “no tears, but I danced real­ly hard” said Pre­meaux.

2. Virtually zero lead time

When asked to describe the moment they both “got the call” to be on this project, they had sim­i­lar sto­ries.

Scott called me [Grant], and told me that he was going to pro­duce this con­cert film and asked if I want­ed to pro­duce it and I imme­di­ate­ly said yes.  Then it went away for a few months.”

Ben’s was told to “leave the last week in August open”, and will­ing­ly, Ben agreed but at that point, nei­ther of them were total­ly pos­i­tive that it was going to hap­pen until right before go-time.

We came in late in the game to do what we did”, said Grant. The con­cert was in August and I think we start­ed work­ing on it maybe 6 weeks out”. Grant explained how lead time was impor­tant main­ly for the cam­eras above all. “It doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly take that long to get all the play­ers involved to make the film. What made it dif­fi­cult was that the tick­ets were already sold. You have to block off seats for your shoot­ers to be in and it became real­ly hard and real­ly scrap­py to find places for our shoot­ers. We want­ed two dif­fer­ent cam­eras but were forced to choose one only because we couldn’t win the tick­ets to those seats.” Thank­ful­ly, they chose cor­rect­ly. Although, if giv­en the chance to do a Part II, they would def­i­nite­ly want to have both. “To get all those things, you need to get into the venue before tick­ets are sold and to pro­duce some­thing like this, you need to start a year out,” said Grant. …And they did it in about 6 weeks.

3. The interviews throughout the doc weren’t planned ahead

Grant and Pre­meaux arrived in Fayet­teville a cou­ple of days before the con­cert know­ing that they need­ed to make some­thing hap­pen, but they weren’t sure exact­ly what. “We made a cou­ple of con­nec­tions at first but then it was off to the races, man-on-the-street style,” said Pre­meaux, “We knew the con­cept was based off the album, which was based off of J. Cole’s life grow­ing up in Fayet­teville, but the peo­ple we end­ed up inter­view­ing came to us by total chance”. In fact, there were sev­er­al times where their obser­va­tions led them to a sto­ry.

Ben tells the sto­ry about how one day before the con­cert, they were eat­ing lunch and Pre­meaux had a feel­ing that their wait­er was a J. Cole fan.  They were able to get an inter­view with him after lunch and what the wait­er, Jim­my, end­ed up say­ing was so good that that footage shows up mul­ti­ple times through­out the film.  

There was a lit­tle shred of method to the over­all mad­ness.  Grant and Laz­er were able to iden­ti­fy the themes that they want­ed view­ers to expe­ri­ence, but that was it.  Tim says that “Laz­er knew the buzz that was going to be fill­ing up Fayet­teville when Cole’s tour stopped in his home­town and all we had to do was find it”.  What is the secret to con­nect­ing the dots?  “You just had to keep your eyes open,” says Pre­meaux, if you are open to it, it will come it.”  

The thing about work­ing on doc­u­men­taries,” Grant explains, “you have to be pos­i­tive. We had no choice but to go out and find the sto­ries.” Grant likens the expe­ri­ence to what actors go through when prepar­ing for a role.  Actors train so their  gut reac­tion actu­al­ly becomes that of the char­ac­ter.  In the same way with doc­u­men­taries,  you have to get your­self in the mind­set of ‘any­thing can hap­pen’ so you can rec­og­nize the win­dows oppor­tu­ni­ty when they find their way to you.”

4. HBO came into play way after it was done

Judg­ing by the pro­duc­tion qual­i­ty of the doc­u­men­tary, you would assume that this project was well fund­ed by the net­work. While the pro­duc­tion IS big-time net­work qual­i­ty, the bud­get was not. “It was tough to get what we got for the mon­ey we had,” said Grant.  But that didn’t mat­ter, HBO saw the film’s poten­tial and bought it.  This came as some­what of a sur­prise con­sid­er­ing they wrapped their film­ing of it about 6 months pri­or to the pur­chase.  Ben jokes about how he found out about HBO’s involve­ment, “Scott texted me and said ‘How does it feel to have your first HBO [Direc­tor of Pho­tog­ra­phy] cred­it?”.  Need­less to say, it was a com­plete­ly sur­re­al expe­ri­ence.

Both Grant and Ben give Laz­er the cred­it for devel­op­ing that con­nec­tion that with Cole while being on tour with him up until the point of the doc­u­men­tary.  They knew that Scott had all this oth­er con­tent (that lat­er turned into the first 4 episodes that cul­mi­nate with the film) that was real­ly spec­tac­u­lar so they had a feel­ing they were in for some­thing good.

HBO buys tons of con­tent, but it was prob­a­bly a lit­tle strange for them to actu­al­ly buy a con­cert film,” says Grant, “most of their con­cert films they have had have been pro­duced by them in the first place.” The ulti­mate­ly back­stage pass that this doc­u­men­tary gives to the view­er is so gen­uine that it’s no won­der HBO had to get in on it.

5. J Cole was extremely supportive of the creative process

As you have read, there is a lot that goes into mak­ing any film, espe­cial­ly a doc­u­men­tary. Before any footage is cap­tured, you have to make sure all involved are cool with every­thing that a doc­u­men­tary entails. Espe­cial­ly the star of the show. You need their buy-in and com­plete trust so you can have the most gen­uine and per­son­al expe­ri­ence. J. Cole let the team do what they do best and com­plete­ly trust­ed their unique cre­ative process. “I think it was inter­est­ing for us work­ing on it to see J. Cole give so much free­dom to Scott,” said Grant, “Scott cre­at­ed a doc­u­men­tary with J. Cole in it, rather than J. Cole made a film about him­self. I feel like you can tell when you watch it.”

The cam­eras don’t get all the cred­it though, the edit­ing squad rocked it out. Char­lot­tean Gab­by Obres­ki was one of the first ones to sift through the hours of footage after Grant and Pre­meaux were done. “Ben and I [Grant] can start that thread out in the field but it is the edi­tors that have to car­ry it on and make it come alive in the final prod­uct,” said Grant.  While edit­ing is very metic­u­lous and requires extreme atten­tion to detail, there are perks.  Talk­ing about all the extra behind-the-scenes footage that doesn’t make it to the screen, Obrem­s­ki jokes and says “I some­times think about how I have seen things that oth­er peo­ple will nev­er see.” Lucky her!

Go top Google+