Ged Doherty talks teaming with Sony Music on the first Luther Vandross documentary

Ged Doherty talks teaming with Sony Music on the first Luther Vandross documentary

Raindog Films' Ged Doherty has spoken to Music Week about the recently announced first ever feature-length documentary on the life and career of legendary American singer Luther Vandross.

In partnership with Trilogy Films, the Estate of Luther Vandross and estate partner Primary Wave Music, the film aims to capture the Grammy-winning artist's passion for music, global rise, and personal struggles.

Raindog, the film company Doherty founded in 2012 with actor Colin Firth, is teaming with Sony Music Entertainment’s (SME) Premium Content Division, Sony Music Publishing and Jamie Foxx's Foxxhole Productions on the documentary from award-winning American filmmaker Dawn Porter. 

New York City-born Vandross, who died aged 54 in July 2005 after a stroke, sold more than 40 million records worldwide and was nominated for 33 Grammy Awards, winning eight.

Ex-Sony Music UK CEO and BPI chair Doherty, who is serving as a producer on the film alongside Raindog partner Trish D Chetty, said the project was a long time coming.

"I worked several Luther albums when I was head of international marketing at Sony in New York in the '90s," said Doherty, speaking to Music Week. "I ended up working five albums in his career from an international marketing perspective, and I always loved him and could never understand why a documentary had never been made.

"I was down in South Africa a few years ago shooting one of our first films, [2015's] Eye In The Sky, which had Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman. We were in South Africa for six months and everywhere I went Luther Vandross' [music] was playing and I'm thinking, 'Wow, I didn't realise he was so big down here.'"

I called up the estate manager and I was like, 'Why have you never made a documentary about Luther?'

Ged Doherty

He continued: "Coincidentally, about a year before that, I'd heard that an old friend of mine who I used to work at Epic Records in New York with, Dave Gottlieb, was managing the Luther estate, so I called him up and I was like, 'Why have you never made a documentary about Luther?'

"And he said, 'Ged, we've had hundreds of approaches over the years. All the pictures are always about Luther's personal life. They're not about his music. They're not about his legacy. They're not about his history and his influence, and that's one of the reasons we haven't wanted to go there.'"

Production of the documentary is already underway in partnership with Foxxhole Trilogy Films and the Estate of Luther Vandross, with full support and participation of Vandross' closest friends and family, and access to his personal archive. 

The breakthrough came after Chetty wrote a detailed brief setting out her vision for the documentary - a celebration of Vandross' life, music and influence.

"We sent it to the Luther board and they absolutely loved it," said Doherty. "Trish and I went to New York to meet them and they gave us the rights to do the documentary, the biopic and the stage show, and so we started developing the film and meeting with directors.

"Meanwhile, Jamie Foxx's company reached out to Sony Music separately and said, 'We want to talk to you about Luther Vandross, because Jamie wants to play Luther in a biopic.' Sony were like, 'Well, you need to speak to Ged - he's got the rights to it. We'll introduce you.'"

The subsequent discussions resulted in Foxx and his producing partner Datari Turner coming on board as producers, with Trilogy Films founder Dawn Porter later signing on as director. 

We've got two or three other music projects in the pipeline

Ged Doherty

"Dawn hasn't made a music documentary before, she's mainly done political film," noted Doherty. "She did the brilliant three part Bobby Kennedy series on Netflix and a brilliant film called The Way I See It about the years in the White House with Obama.

"Coming from New York, she grew up on Luther and she said, 'Ged and Trish, if we make this film right, it will be a Friday night date film because Luther's music is so important to American culture.'"

Raindog, which recently produced the Anton Corbijn-directed Squaring The Circle - a film exploring the legacy of famed music art studio Hipgnosis - has a number of other productions in the works.

"We've got two or three other music projects in the pipeline," revealed Doherty, who stepped down as BPI chair last year to focus on the company. "We're doing another project with Noel Gallagher and we're shooting a feature film in America at the end of this year that a big A-list actor has just signed on for. That's with a director called Gavin Hood, who we've made two movies with so far: Eye In The Sky and Official Secrets.

"We've also got a huge budget television drama series that we'll be shooting at the end of this year with three major stars in it and an Oscar-winning director directing it. That's what keeps us busy."

PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Natkin/Getty Images

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