From Academy Award® winner Curtis Hanson, director of L.A. Confidential and Wonder Boys, and Academy Award® winner Brian Grazer, producer of A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13, the Universal Pictures-Imagine Entertainment production 8 Mile stars Eminem, Kim Basinger, Brittany Murphy, Mekhi Phifer, Omar Benson Miller, Evan Jones, Eugene Byrd, De’Angelo Wilson, Anthony Mackie, Taryn Manning and Michael Shannon.
Scott Silver wrote the screenplay. The film was produced by Grazer, Hanson and Jimmy Iovine, with Carol Fenelon, James Whitaker, Gregory Goodman and Paul Rosenberg serving as executive producers. The director of photography was Rodrigo Prieto, the production designer Philip Messina, the costume designer Mark Bridges, and the film editors Jay Rabinowitz and Craig Kitson.
Detroit, 1995. The Mo. The Big D. Murder City. A fallen empire. Once affluent neighborhoods have been left to decline in the wake of white flight as the opportunity and optimism of this once thriving city have evaporated. The shining promise of Detroit’s industrial majesty has collapsed into a heap of economic and racial polarity following one of the worst riots in American history. 8 MILE Road, the city’s perimeter, is now a dividing line between urban and suburban, between black and white.
But bubbling beneath the surface of Detroit is a long history of pressure-cooked creativity, much of it emerging in music. From the Motown sound that dominated the popular music of the 60’s to the gospel artistry of Aretha Franklin, and on through the “Detroit sound” of such rockers as Mitch Ryder, Bob Seger and the MC5, the music of the city has always come from its blue-collar guts, an unfiltered authentic expression of life’s realities. Detroit’s hip hop scene is no exception.
Survival is key in the harsh lower depths of Detroit, and for many, the current emotional life preserver is hip hop. As an art form, rap music is impromptu and fast-paced, topical and insightful, requiring skills of language, nuance and keen observation, as well as emotional truth. For people like Jimmy Smith, Jr. (Eminem), hip hop is the only thing standing between him and the void.
In the absence of nurturing parents, Jimmy and his friends – cool and charismatic Future (Mekhi Phifer), optimistic dreamer Sol (Omar Benson Miller), aspiring activist DJ Iz (De’Angelo Wilson) and slow but steady Chedder Bob (Evan Jones) – have created their own family. Jimmy and his “crew” (Three One Third), live on hopes of “getting that big deal soon,” while struggling to eke out a living at their dead end jobs and navigating the minefields of their turbulent personal relationships. As Jimmy so bluntly puts it: “we’re all broke as shit and living at home with our moms.” At night, they feed their dreams in the hip hop clubs of Detroit where the city’s best rappers battle each other with emotionally abusive rhymes as they vie for the respect of their peers. In the un-poetic world of Three One Third, rhyme is wielded like a weapon with words meant to wound. And victory belongs to the quick-witted.
The world of Detroit’s hip hop clubs is one that 8 Mile star Eminem knows well: “I remember, if I lost a battle, it would be like my entire world was crumbling. A lot of people would say, ‘What’s the big deal? Get over it. You lost, try again.’ But I would feel like my whole life was over. It’s competition. It’s like a sport that is somebody’s whole life. It may look silly to a lot of people, but to a lot of us, it’s our world.”
In 8 Mile, Jimmy has the skills he needs to win. But he needs to find his voice and channel his anger into his music. "My character, Jimmy, is really hot-headed,” said Eminem, “which is how I used to be, and I guess still can be at times. His emotion constantly gets the best of him." But as Jimmy finds his voice, he also begins to find his way and a will to pursue the new roads that will take him beyond the boundaries he can no longer live within.
Fascinated by the hip hop world, producer Brian Grazer had long been convinced that it had enormous dramatic potential which had never been fully explored on film. He was determined to develop a story that would bring its power, energy and truth to the screen.
“I’ve been interested in hip hop for more than 20 years,” explained the producer. "I got introduced to the music of Slick Rick, who was this absurd hip-hop artist who told perverse stories in his songs that had humor and truth. That’s what made me want to discover more about the roots of hip hop, how it works, what the lyrics are relevant to. This was before it became a multi-billion dollar industry.”
Grazer knew that for a film about this world to work, it was essential to find the right rap artist. As destiny would have it, Grazer's laser focus fixed on the brilliant and controversial rapper Eminem at exactly the same time that the rapper was searching for the right project in which to make his motion picture debut.
Eminem and producer Jimmy Iovine had listened to countless film pitches but nothing connected for them until they met Grazer. According to Iovine, “We kept hitting the ball and Brian Grazer was the first guy to hit it back.”
“I became interested in Eminem several years
ago,” Grazer remembered. “He wasn’t a star at the time, but I felt he had
enormous charisma and that he could be explosive as a film star. I got him in my
office, and he just wouldn’t talk. He wouldn’t even look at me. After about
15 minutes, he finally engaged. And once I got him talking, he was fantastically
articulate and eloquent.”
For director Curtis Hanson, 8 Mile was an
opportunity to once again explore a unique stratum of American culture, to peel
back its layers and take a look at people struggling to find their way: "In
8 Mile, we are exposed to a world little known or visited in film, or in
mainstream news coverage: impoverished America struggling to make it
legitimately in the recesses of the inner city. The people in Detroit know 8
Mile as the city limit, a border, a boundary. But for the character of Jimmy, 8
Mile is the psychological dividing line that separates him from where he wants
to be and who he wants to be. If you think about it, we all have our own 8
In his quest to find the perfect actress to
portray Jimmy’s mother, Stephanie, Hanson turned to Kim Basinger, who won an
Academy Award®, Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild Award for her
performance in Hanson’s L.A. Confidential. Basinger readily accepted the
invitation. “It was a second gift to me to be able to work with Curtis
again,” said Basinger. “It is the most sincere collaboration I have ever
experienced. I cannot think of anyone more talented or worth one’s trust than
Curtis Hanson, especially being the insecure artists that we are, always in
search of someone to believe that we can do it with the right guidance. He’s
so supportive – a humble, beautiful person with the excitement of a kid, a
great friend and a little bit of a mystery – a wonderful combination. I am
thankful I know him.”
“Curtis had a really interesting way of going
about rehearsals, and I loved what he did,” Murphy continued. “In a way, I
see him as a grand puppet master ... he’s a very mysterious man. There was a
beautiful sense of everyone getting to know each other. Everyone truly became
friends and got to know everyone’s tics. To be the only girl with all those
silly guys was fun and crazy. I would stay in after I had finished rehearsing my
scenes and watch their rehearsals, because it was just too much fun.”
The backdrop and rehearsal process swept the
actors into a kind of crusade for truth that brought art and life together.
“We came to this project with no false pretenses,” said Phifer. “We came
with our passion, ready to work. We came to better the project and make it our
own. Rehearsals helped define our relationships. We changed and enhanced the
dynamics between the characters, making them stronger and understanding their
Making a movie in Detroit isn’t easy. Making a movie in Detroit in the middle of winter is a challenge. Nonetheless, the artists behind 8 Mile found themselves quickly falling in step with the city. “Getting to know Detroit was a revelation,” said Hanson. “Everywhere you looked you’d see evidence of the city that used to be – the city that promised a future to all who came there and now appeared to promise nothing. It was the perfect setting both visually and thematically for our story.”
For 8 Mile, Hanson and Prieto developed a
disciplined, yet free form approach to capturing the drama. “When things
aren’t perfect, it’s more spontaneous,” said Prieto, “and that’s the
way we approached the photography. Curtis and I talked about the way these guys
live and how they do free-style rapping, and that’s the way we shot it –
free-styling, with a lot of improvisation. We did almost all of it with
hand-held camera. It gave freedom to the camera, not confining it to a track or
a tripod. You can move around as things happen, with the camera adapting to the
situation and organic as to what the actors are doing. We’re not doing
complicated dolly or crane shots, and generally not doing establishing shots of
locations either. We discover Detroit through the characters.”
One example of this phenomenon is the Michigan
Theatre, which opened in 1926 and went through several incarnations as a supper
club, nightclub and finally, a parking garage, which Messina described as “one
of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen in my life. The theatre was
literally gutted from the roof down, with about a quarter of its proscenium
intact with tattered curtains hanging over it, and the rest is a three-level
parking garage. We really fell in love with it and it became a key location.”