Cocaine Cowboy Director Billy Corben on New Miniseries The Tanning of America: "Find A Good Story, Don't F**k It Up"
You won't see much Miami in Rakontur's four-part docu-series The Tanning of America, which aired on VH1 this week.
Photo by Stian Roenning Billy Corben.
The national TV viewing audience was once again denied access to the truth of how integral the characters in our city have been to that "tanning" process. And you certainly didn't find out that a Miami record producer named Henry Stone was the first to get a black R&B record onto the white pop charts.
But other than that, The Tanning of America, was pretty fuckin' awesome, especially episodes 3 and 4. If you missed the VH1 premiere, don't worry. O Cinema will be hosting the documentary's release on Blu Ray and on demand April 8.
We caught up with director Billy Corben to find out all about it. Here's what he had to say.
Cultist: Is this series supposed to be a history of hip hop?
Billy Corben: No. It was never intended to be comprehensive survey of hip hop. It's the "Tanning Of America," following the guidelines of the book of the same name, and trying to set out to prove the thesis that hip hop culture elected the first black president.
How did your involvement in the project come about?
We heard from Stoute's agent, who is a friend of ours, before the book came out. He called and said, "Would you be interested in an adaptation?" We started reading the book and envisioned an epic journey through contemporary American culture, and we said, "This is just one doc. We could make several documentaries out of this."
The book is great, but it's very much a business school study. It's not quite as extensive as we delve, but [it] has great stories, it's really compelling, and it really does prove the thesis. But it's a much bigger story.
From the beginning we wanted to do a miniseries. We had friends at VH1 who we'd been trying to work with for years and years, and they were fans of Broke, The U, and Cocaine Cowboys. Honestly there were not a lot of options for people we could approach with it. They also had a lot of the footage we needed. The MTV library has a lot of material we could dive in and use in the movie. They loved it from the first meeting. It was an ambitious project with over 40 interviews and like 60 licensed songs. The scope is big, and I appreciate VH1 giving us the opportunity to do it.
What was the production process like?
We had the advantage of Stoute's proverbial Rolodex, his phone book. We got access to some real compelling A-list people because of that, so it was a real star-studded affair.
Most of the time, Stoute was there, but I did most of the interviewing. We got a lot of candid interviews with these people talking in a tone you don't nomally see. Dr. Dre is very smooth and relaxed, and Diddy; we had a great compliment from our executive producer at VH1. They said, "We've seen a lot of interviews with Diddy, but this is the first interview we've seen with Sean Combs." His sunglasses are off, and he's refelective and introspective, taking a chance with the benefit of distance and hindsight, and he does so bombastically, self deprecatingly and with a cool attitude and demeanor that you don't normally associate with him.