“The High Note” – Behind the Scenes

An inside look at the making of THE HIGH NOTE featuring behind the scenes footage and cast commentary! Don’t miss THE HIGH NOTE on digital May 29th!


The High Note is a story about following your dream and taking risks. The first time I read Flora Greeson’s script for The High Note, I knew this was a movie I had to direct. The story had all the elements of movies that I love. It centered on the relationship between two multifaceted women who were talented and uncompromising—yet also funny and flawed in all the best ways. It offered an insider’s view of the entertainment industry with a story about just how much hard work and sacrifice is required to achieve success, and to maintain it—especially for women, and especially for women of a certain age.  The script was insightful and smart. It was an inventive take on a genre that I love.

I was also really excited to tell the story of two women, Maggie – who is trying to break into a field that doesn’t really take women seriously, and Grace Davis – a music icon who is struggling to stay in a field that sidelines women when they get to the age of 40. To me, it was a beautiful story that I hadn’t seen told. I love that both The High Note and Late Night, center women who are being told by society and their industries that they should play it safe and be thankful for what they have. Both women end up taking big risks, and both women are incredibly rewarded for it. I love a story that supports women taking risks and succeeding in an arena that has previously only celebrated the success of men.

The story of a woman putting it all on the line for a career she dreams about is something we haven’t seen in a long time. Broadcast News, Working Girl – those movies did it so incredibly – Devil Wears Prada did too – but we haven’t had a movie like that in awhile. And though we get music driven movies that center the male point of view, we don’t often get them about Women and about Women of Color. And if we do – it is rarely in the form of a comedy.  I love this movie because it’s FUN to be in music and FUN to be an artist – and I want this movie to inspire people to follow their dreams and also inspire a generation of young women to aspire to be a part of the creative process. So many movies tell young women to be a star, get the adoration of fans! But this movie gives weight and desire to the creative process – to being behind the scenes as the producer as well as being on stage as the star. Only 3 women (Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey and Linda Perry) have been nominated in the history of the Grammys for Producer of the Year. More and more young women are breaking in – and there are so many talented producers out there – I hope this movie shines a light on them too.

The cast of the movie are not only gifted as actors, but they are also passionate about music—and it shows. As an actress, Tracee Ellis Ross has both impeccable comic timing and dramatic range, but here, singing publicly for the first time, she shines like never before. Her voice is truly remarkable. She brings so much emotion to every song and you can feel the joy in her voice. Because of our incredible songwriters like, Corinne Bailey Rae and Sarah Aarons, as well as legendary music producer Rodney Jerkins, Tracee had excellent material to work with, and she bared her soul in the recording booth.

Dakota Johnson played Grace’s assistant Maggie with just the right mix of self-confidence, savvy and insecurity. This is a young woman who is ambitious and unafraid, but she also makes some pretty sizable mistakes—still, we’re always rooting for her. I was excited that we had the chance to show this young woman paying her dues and working tirelessly to achieve her dreams. She’s a little bit of an outsider looking in at this beautiful world of music, and we have the chance to peer behind-the-curtain right along with her. Dakota gave Maggie real earthiness and charm and made her so relatable.

Flora’s script included a spectacular array of supporting characters who rounded out Grace and Maggie’s worlds. In the case of Jack, Grace’s manager, the role could have been fairly straightforward. He’s a businessman who thinks his star should play it safe, and not take too many risks at this point in her career.

With Ice Cube as Jack, however, he suddenly leapt off the screen. Cube’s mere presence makes the music element really take root. There are few people so strongly associated with Los Angeles’ influential music scene. But Cube is also a fantastic comic actor who makes the most of every last line. When you have the comedic talents of Ice Cube and Tracee Ellis Ross—and June Diane Raphael as Grace’s companion Gail— the comedy gold just keeps being spun. All those actors were so rooted in their characters that they could improvise on the spot. They knew who they were, and they knew what their character was bringing to life specifically. And they were really really funny.

I had no idea that Cube was so good at improv.  He had us all in tears with every take. When Cube comes to the set – he always got his lines but then he would rif and add so much more. His wealth of knowledge and his skill as a comic actor added so much more to the movie than we could have ever written.   And June Diane Raphael is always the comedian you can lean on – in The High Note, she brought such an incredible interpretation to the role of “Gail” – her take on the character was to show a woman with zero ambition.  We realized we had yet to see this kind of woman on screen.  Unapologetic hanger on – who was in the right place at the right time and is “in for life” because of her connection to Grace.

We also had the opportunity to show the world that Kelvin Harrison, Jr. as David, is a compelling romantic comedy leading man. The High Note marked the first time Kelvin had a chance to show us all that he is a fantastically talented vocalist. I think his performance in this film is charming, grounded, and truthful. He makes it look easy, but he comes off so great because he works so hard on his craft.

In this strange new pandemic time, I hope The High Note helps bring a little joy to all of our lives.  I think it’s important to tell stories that emphasize how we all benefit from striving to be our best selves and from coming together to support one another—even if there are stumbling blocks to overcome along the way (and there always are). I also hope that with The High Note we’ll be able to bring a little additional joy into the world with great performances, a lot of laughs, and some truly unforgettable music. Because nothing buoys the spirits like beautiful songs and laughter.