With director Paul Weitz’s new movie Fatherhood now streaming on Netflix, I recently landed an exclusive interview with Kevin Hart and Bryan Smiley, Exec producer on the film, and President of Film and TV at HartBeat Productions (Hart’s production company). If you haven’t seen the trailers, Fatherhood is about a man (Hart) dealing with the unexpected death of his wife right after childbirth and his attempt to bring up his daughter as a single dad.
During the interview, Hart and Smiley talked about why they wanted to make Fatherhood, the importance of changing the narrative that is attached to black fathers, balancing the drama with humor, how they worked with Weitz in the editing room, and Hart’s great performance (it’s one of the best things he’s done).
However, with HartBeat Productions involved in so many other projects, we also spent a lot of time talking about other things like the way the company adapted to Covid, how Smiley decides what projects get put in front of Hart, Roku picking up Die Hart for a second season, their four-picture deal with Netflix and why it’s so important to hit home-runs with each movie, how streaming has changed the landscape, the status of another Jumanji movie, their Planes, Trains, and Automobiles remake with Will Smith, True Story with Wesley Snipes (they play brothers in dramatic limited event series produced and written by Eric Newman), why Hart is so excited for people to see the Borderlands movie, and more.
If you’re a fan of Kevin Hart, or just curious what goes on behind-the-scenes at his production company, I’m extremely confident you’ll enjoy this conversation. Since I know some of you like to watch interviews, while others like to read them, I’m offering this two ways: you can either watch the video in the player above or read the full conversation below.
COLLIDER: First of all, I want to start with congratulations on Fatherhood and I have a lot of questions on that. I thought the movie was excellent and Kevin, I thought you really did a great job with this role.
KEVIN HART: Thank you, man.
But before we get into that though, I have a few other questions and I’m curious, if you two guys, I ask this question of a lot of people and I don’t necessarily know if it applies to the two of you because you’re in a very lucky position with your Netflix deal and all of the people that want to get in business with you. But, if you could get the financing for anything right now, what would you guys make and why?
HART: Wow. If we could get the financing for anything, what would we make and why? I think it’s a tough question because we’re now cracking the code on what we can do well. Between the movies and TV, the financing for the ideas that we have brought to the table now don’t seem to be the problem with getting the help of a partner within our studios. I think if it was an independent thing, I’ve been trying to crack the code for a long time. I’ve yet to crack it. I can’t say that I will, but Austin Powers back in the day cracked this amazing code in creating a type of spoof within this world of spy and comedy and built off of the skeleton of Austin is these characters and in this world. The world just grew and grew.
Finding today’s version of that, that doesn’t come off crazy is a priority. What could that be? What could that thing be for me? If cracking the code on that idea, that would be an independent project that I wouldn’t mind raising money for because it’s something that I feel would grow into an IP of three. It’s a vague answer, but one of it would be something along the lines of the spoof of the spy world done with a serious tone. Grounded enough to still bring laughter that could go from a Part One, Part Two, Part Three. Following the setting that Mike Myers did with Austin Powers. The appetite for something like that is very big right now for me.
Bryan, what about you?
BRYAN SMILEY: Well, I will just piggy back on what Kevin said. I think ultimately, we have fantastic partners in Netflix. It’s one of those weird questions where we can really make kind of what we want to make there. I think that’s what’s really exciting about that partnership. But to Kevin’s point, yeah, something that is our bread and butter comedy that we can do multiples of.
Kevin the thing I know about you is that you are a workaholic and you don’t slow down. I am curious for the two of you guys, what was Covid like because that’s so unlike what Kevin does. Were you guys on Zoom meetings everyday just trying to plan the future of what the company will do as soon as this ends?
HART: Bryan will tell you and I’m very serious about what I’m about to say. There was a halt in the entertainment business and in the world and rightfully so. During that time, in the beginning of it, I picked up the phone and got the company on a Zoom. The conversation was about getting in front of what is now. We need to be thinking about how to create in this setting and how to be productive in this setting in case this is our now. It became almost for a year. How long were we-
HART: How long have we been in the pandemic?
SMILEY: About a year now. Over a year.
HART: We ended up creating Celebrity Game Face. We ended up, I did a campaign with Old Spice through Cold as Balls. We ended up selling more shows and our world of TV development, I pushed to have it continue. We got True Story into development after getting those scripts where they were supposed to be. The Netflix deal was deal in the course of the pandemic and me pivoting and making a decision and getting the team on board with the why. Our first project that we’re now about go into in September, still not announced, so I’ll hold off on the title and stuff. But this was developed in this time as well, so we literally kind of put the feet on the ground and all heads were in the thinking pot of how can we generate now.
What can we do to get in front of this and not be behind it? We did a great job of it. We did a great job as a company, as a team of not panicking, and we did what we could within the parameters of what we were able to do and had a lot of success while doing it.
SMILEY: Yeah, just to piggyback off that. I would say it was definitely the busiest time of my life. I think Kevin really was like, okay the world is changing, but how can we be additive to the marketplace? He mentioned Celebrity Game Face on E! That’s a show we developed specifically for Covid. We shot it during Covid and released it during Covid. Not to mention, we did an amazing show for Motor Trend, which you’re going to see soon. All of that happened in the Covid kind of bubble. We were working, I would say, harder than we’ve ever worked because we knew it was an opportunity to really get ahead of the game and figure out where we could fit in the marketplace.
Bryan, can you talk a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes? Obviously, Kevin’s on set doing a whole bunch of stuff all the time. How does it work with you as the President in terms of material coming in and you… where is the line that you’re like, okay I want to show this to Kevin?
SMILEY: Yeah, it’s a tough barometer. For me, I know Kevin has heard every idea probably twice under the sun. I know if it comes in the door and we have to really great about it and feel like it’s worth his time. As you said, he’s the hardest working man in Hollywood. He’s always on the go, so when we bring him stuff, we have to feel like it is ready for prime time. It’s one of the best ideas we’ve heard. It’s something that he should lean into and hear. You can imagine, we get a lot of incoming pitches and ideas. I would say, the stuff we feel good about, maybe one in ten. That’s a lot of stuff, quite frankly.
But it’s just having that barometer that says it is past the smell test. We feel great about it. It fits the brand and it’s time for Kevin to hear about it.
Die Hart is the first Quibi show at Roku that got picked up for a second season, which is a really big deal. When did you find out that that was going to happen?
HART: It was in the works for quite some time. There was a lot of discussion that was surrounding it. Our other business partner, Jeff Clanagan, has been having discussions with them for a while after the stuff happened with Quibi. This was an IP that we had that we were able to get back and then in getting this IP back, finding out where we could create and figure out a home. I think a priority of HartBeat now is relationships, right, and where we can have not only good relationships, but lasting relationships. Roku is a promising home. They’re doing so much. They’re growing at a rapid space and they picked up Die Hart.
After seeing it and seeing the numbers that it grabbed, they fell in love with the idea of doing another one. Once again, it’s all about being ahead of the curve. We already have a Die Hart 2 that’s in development that we were doing and talking about, so things just lined up. It made sense and I think, that’s for me, that’s what’s most important. It’s always about having a strong surrounding of forward thinking creatives that understand how to go get, that understand how to make things happen. That’s what we have. The Roku, that’s an example of someone making that happen. That didn’t come to us. We had to go make it happen and that opportunity now is real and we’re looking forward to building that relationship.
Bryan, when do you think the season two will actually be filmed/released?
SMILEY: Well, hopefully very soon. To the earlier question, I think, we have great energy in all the companies and we were not surprised about Die Hart 2. The first one was a huge success for Quibi. Ultimately, the Roku deal happened with Quibi and Roku, I think we were feeling good about the second season. Jeff and his team did so much work to push that through. We’re excited so hopefully very soon. We’ll see.
You guys signed a four picture deal with Netflix. I’m curious, what is it like in terms of the relationship with Netflix when it comes to what projects are actually going to be the ones that get made? Is it one of these things where you guys on your side say, we want to make this. Then you sort of take it to Netflix and say, are you guys cool with it? How does that decision making actually happen?
SMILEY: I think they’re just fantastic partners. They’re like, whatever you guys are super into, what you think is best for your brand, that we know will work for the platform, they are fully supportive of that. It’s an ongoing conversation. We have things that we are passionate about. We talk to our exec’s over there and they just kind of say, yeah. If this is what you guys want to do, let’s do it and we just start the process. It’s one of the, I would say, greatest relationships I have seen in the entertainment space as business to business in my time in the industry. I just think that’s because of Kevin’s great relationships and obviously, his amazing talent.
HART: Yeah, we couldn’t ask for a better partnership. What I love about them is that they’re trusting, right? They believe in the relationships that they sign up to invest in. They’re very strategic, so in making a deal with a production company, it’s because they really do have belief that the production company can do the work that they’re saying that they can do. It wasn’t just about me as a talent. It was about the production company as well and they understood my appetite and want for the evolvement of my production company.
This was something that, it made sense. I’m right now, I’m about to basically have four starring vehicles that I’m producing that will be available on that platform and pushed at an amazing pace and speed and all of the above. For all the countries that they have access to. This is put up or shut up. This is a big deal and it’s not something that I’m overlooking. We understand what’s at our hands right now. We understand we got to take every single ball thrown and knock it out the park to the point where that ball is never coming back. That’s our focus and we love that Netflix is really empowering us to do just that.
Yeah, the thing also is Netflix doesn’t release… they don’t really release numbers, but if they’re willing to sign you, Kevin, for a four picture deal and HartBeat being involved, that basically means you get a lot of views.
HART: It’s a lot of… that’s a lot of views, man. It’s a lot of views and you know what? I can say that the business of their business makes sense for our business. That’s the best way to put that. I think that if done right, we’re finding value in elevating each other. I think a star of my magnitude coming to Netflix, making a deal like this, shows that Netflix is a place that can be a home. It’s a place that is now elevating and really doing big things in our business. The world of streaming is a world that’s real. It’s here to stay. It’s not going anywhere.
I’ve always been in a position where I’ve been able to kind of check all the boxes. I think when you look at the world of box office, when you look at that space, I’ve checked all of those boxes and I did it correctly. All of those relationships and partnerships were unbelievable to me and to our company. Us taking this step now, is about checking this new box and if done well, it only elevates. It’s not about taking steps backwards. It’s about taking steps forwards. This partnership, this deal it… we can’t wait. We can’t wait to really get on this journey and start to release these projects because they are and they will be amazing.
Yeah, if I was in your guys’ position, I would definitely be making a deal like you did with Netflix or a streaming is clearly not going away. Bryan, Netflix has a great relationship with Adam Sandler and now they you have a great relationship with you guys. Have they picked up the phone and been like, so let’s find a project for Adam and Kevin on Netflix?
SMILEY: I think if that happens, it would be amazing. We’ll see. I think that could be a great pairing, but it has to be the right project.
Completely. I just had to throw that out there. Do you think with all the streaming channels and streaming in general, it’s opened the door to a lot more people to have their voices heard. More diverse filmmakers, more people of color, and so I want to talk about, do you feel like the last few years, as streaming has gained its foothold, that it is easier? That more diversity is coming into the entertainment industry? What’s your take on this?
SMILEY: I would say that streaming has definitely created an atmosphere where more filmmakers from diverse backgrounds have a shot. Ultimately, there was the old saying that certain films don’t travel and it made the financial risk to make those films theatrically, supposedly, really difficult. But certainly, streamers, because of how they operate and how they release films, have allowed so many amazing filmmakers to start their career. I think the future is bright for diverse storytelling and storytellers, and so much of that is because of the Netflix’s of the world.
I don’t know if you wanted to add anything Kevin?
HART: No, look Bryan said that strong as hell. I have nothing to add to that one. That’s a great answer. That’s a great answer.
Jumanji: The Next Level made a ton of money. Were you guys even a little bit surprised that the third one made $800 million or were you like… can you sort of talk about the success and if you guys are even talking with Sony about doing another?
HART: Look, you’re talking about astronomical numbers. When you get into this space and you hit these particular balls out the park, all you can do is kind of laugh because it’s unheard of, especially outside the world of Marvel. Or the world of Fast and Furious. Those are the two players that consistently rack up numbers in the space. You got Marvel, you got DC, you got Fast and Furious. I know you got Spider-Man, but once again you’re talking about the world of Marvel. These other IP’s, they just, it just doesn’t happen.
For us to recreate the Jumanji world and have that success, it’s monumental. You don’t walk away from that. We have no interest in walking away. It’s about the timing. Dwayne, myself… I’m doing a movie with Jack Black right now, Borderlands. I’m in Budapest. We’ve all kind of taken on some other projects, so I think when things slow down for us and our commitments are out the way, we’re definitely going to revisit another one because there’s no reason not to. It’s a family adventure. That’s a box that, once again, if you can check correctly it’s amazing. It’s profitable. The household of all can go out and enjoy, but right now, my priorities are and the commitments that I’ve made.
Staying true to my partnership at Netflix, making sure that I prioritize these films. Knocking these out, doing it at a high level, and then after that, looking at what the world of appetite is for the other things that we have on the table. That’s going to be a priority. But there’s no world where we’re not interested in doing more. I know Sony definitely is as well.
Bryan, can you sort of talk about what’s coming up for HartBeat, in terms of, what’s the next things that you are excited about in terms of what you guys are developing, in terms of feature films.
SMILEY: Well, we’re doing a lot on the TV side, which is very exciting. Stuff that the world has not seen yet, but will see very soon, including an amazing scripted series with Kevin and Wesley Snipes. That’s been announced. On the feature side, our priority is really lining up the guaranteed films we have with our deal. One of which we’re starting production on this summer, late this summer, which we’re really excited about. But really, it’s like, how do we take this opportunity with the deal and make sure we’re not just making films just to make them. But really, figuring out filmmakers we want to work with and great writers that also really bolster the brand.
Our priority is just staying true to that and working really hard to make sure that these next four pictures will be the best the company’s ever done. That’s really exciting for us. Also, in addition to that, is developing the non-Kevin Hart starring vehicles as well. It’s a big piece of our brand, a big piece of what our future is, and working with some of the best talent in town to do that too.
You guys, and I could be wrong about this, but I read that you guys were developing a Planes, Trains, and Automobiles remake. Is that actually happening?
HART: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, we’re trying to figure it out. Will and myself are both interested. Right now, it’s on the table. The world of development is a long one and we know that the IP is there. Everybody was willing to let us get into it, but we got to crack the code on what story is and what the world that we’ll make it in and how we can best make it fit Will and myself. Yes, but it’s… we’re a ways away from it.
Got it, so are you working on a script right now or is it not even in script phase?
SMILEY: It’s in development. It’s deep development and we’ll see. It’ll be amazing if it can happen.
What about Night School the superhero comedy with Tim Story?
SMILEY: More to come on that. I think you’ll hear more about that pretty soon.
All right, so jumping into Fatherhood. I was very impressed with this film and mostly because, not to put myself in this, but I’ve recently… we all deal with loss. I think this film deals with loss in a very honest way without Hollywoodizing any of it. Kevin, your performance in this film is really fantastic.
HART: Thank you, man.
You thread that line. Can you guys talk about what it was about this material, the script, story, that said we need to make this?
HART: Well, I think the biggest and best thing about this was an opportunity to truly show my reach within my craft. It’s a true story. Being able to portray this man’s life with a performance, it just, it made sense to me. I’ve yet to do this. I’ve yet to grab a piece of material like this and it was also an opportunity to change a narrative that’s attached to black fathers, right?
Normally, on the big screen, black fathers are drug addicts, going to jail, getting out of jail, missing. It’s the same story and has been for quite some time. To be a part of a narrative with a positive influence attached to it, after being in such a dark place, I felt was good. Everything lined up and it all basically pointed to go. Also, within the development of the script, Marty Bowen, our producing partner on this one, they had the script around for a while but wasn’t brought to us. Matt Logeland, Marty Bowen, ourself at HartBeat, there was a collaborative on just making sure that we could shape and mold the story to now fit me, now that I’m playing the part. Everybody was okay with that. We all had our hands in this pot of making it good, making it great, I think this is my best work on screen that I’ve been able to do on screen in my career.
I was going to say this might be one of my favorite things you’ve done.
HART: Thank you, man.
In terms of your performance.
HART: Thank you so much, man.
Also I forgot to mention something…Thanks for making me cry in the first 10 minutes. I didn’t realize I was watching a Pixar movie. You know what I mean? Bryan, talk a little bit about how you guys got Paul to helm the film. How did that come about?
SMILEY: Well, it’s an interesting story. I was actually leaving Sony coming to HartBeat when I heard that Kevin Hart and HartBeat was going hop on the project and really spearhead and produce it. Ultimately, to Kevin’s point, the idea of being a part of something that really changes the narrative of black fathers on screen was a huge opportunity, because quite frankly, you just don’t see these positive images. We know people, my friends, cousins, uncles, that have children and how amazing fathers they are and to be able to tell that story to a global platform that is Netflix is quite frankly, what we do this for.
You mentioned that the Obama’s were producers. What is it like actually to pick up the phone and call them? Did they call you? What is that like because I can’t imagine what that is like?
SMILEY: It just shows that this project and the quality of the project just attracts greatness. I think Obama’s knew about it. They talked to Kevin and got a sense of the material and Marty and the other producers and David. Ultimately, it just made us feel really great that we made something that they felt good about putting their name behind. Certainly, I think, the idea of talking to them is insane. So, another dream come true and I hope that people see what they saw in the movie next weekend.
One of the things about the film… it’s a drama, but there’s funny parts. There’s a bit Kevin, where you are talking to a parent’s group, and laying out some truth about what’s going on, the bowel movements and stuff like that. Can you sort of talk about the fact that this film does have levity? It’s not just a drama, but it’s just an honest role.
HART: Absolutely. Look this was an opportunity to kind of break new ground within the approach to drama. You can have a subject and story that’s so heavy and still break it up with personable, grounded moments. I felt like we needed to give the audience breaks because if it’s all heavy going so through, well, that’s tough. That’s tough for anybody to sit through and watch. A laugh break here and there was priority, it was important. Not doing it in a way to where it’s over the top. Grounding it. Grounding those laughs to where they’re real relatable moments that other fathers, other people can simply relate to and understand. I think that’s a good job of the writers of incorporating and also my director and letting me find those moments and run with them.
Can you guys talk a little bit about editing and how involved you are? Editing is ultimately the final rewrite where it all comes together. How involved are the two of you in the editing process?
SMILEY: Paul Weitz was our director who’s an incredible filmmaker. Who did an amazing job as you saw. He must of screened 10, 15 cuts. Not in the post room but we literally were there every couple of weeks to see the new cuts and he was the most collaborative filmmaker you could ask to work with as a partner.
SMILEY: Very respectful of all the notes and the comments and really asking us things that maybe he wasn’t getting for different reasons. It was a great experience and Kevin and myself were extremely involved in that process.
Did the edit change a lot in terms of you were going in one direction and you realized you needed to tweak and bring it another way. Or was this sort of like just little minor things in the edit?
HART: To Bryan’s point, I can say that Paul did a great job of incorporating us and letting us see a lot of the cuts and a lot of the edits. In doing it, there was never a moment where I felt like Paul was off. Where his approach and his take to the edit was just going down a bad road and the movie just wasn’t making sense. He kind of was knocking that ball out the park from the beginning. There was a rough edit that I swear could have been a locked picture in my mind.
He still was fine tuning and tweaking. About three edits later, we got our final and it was as lean and trim as I could ask. But he has an eye for this. This is what Paul does very well. It’s why I like working with these type of directors because I’m trusting you, because when it gets to this place is when I know this is where you also really shine. Because you know everything that you got, and you’re putting that puzzle together at a rapid pace.
For him allowing us to see the cuts that we saw early on, then witness him make the changes that he made, it was something dope to see. But there was never a negative tone that we had to take as a production company like this isn’t right. It’s got to be fixed. We were on board from the beginning.
You mentioned earlier a project you guys were… the television project. I’m a big fan of Eric Newman and the work that he did on Narcos. You guys did True Story with Wesley Snipes and I’m very excited for this. What can you tease about this project?
HART: Oh my God, man. I just said that this movie is going to be my best work on screen to date and I meant that. This performance in True Story is going… it’s purposely put after Fatherhood because it’s going to wow you in a way that you would never expect to be wow’d from me. This year, my approach to these projects that I have coming out was to create some conversation, create some talk about the direction that I’m going in, and the things that I’m doing.
It’s an amazing story. It’s an amazing journey and I can just say the performance is like no other that you’re going to see from me in this one. Eric Newman is outstanding, by the way.
Yeah, Eric is fantastic. I am very impressed. I’m not sure if you guys are fans of Narcos and what he did on that show.
SMILEY: Definitely. Just to add to it, I think to Kevin’s point, we work with some amazing collaborators. I think this project will… People think of Kevin and HartBeat, I think definitely comedy, definitely action comedy, but this will really expand what the brand means in the best possible way. I am very excited for people to see it.
Can you just talk a little bit about the fact that you’re playing brothers with Wesley Snipes-
HART: Yes sir.
Just take my money. Can you tease what that experience was like?
HART: Jungle Fever. You’re talking about Blade. You’re talking about… God, I can down a list. Demolition Man. I can go down a list of the movies…White Men Can’t Jump. This guy was, he was movies when I was coming up. To have Wesley Snipes as a co-star, in my career was just unreal for him to even do the project. It had me excited and hype as hell. It just, it legitimized it. It really made the project real and the performances that are on display in this are because of actors like Wesley. Billy Zane. It’s some heavy hitters in here and for the right reasons. It’s a doozy man. It’s a real doozy. I can’t wait. I’m so excited, and once again, I credit Netflix for giving me the opportunity to be this creative and trusting me within the process as a production company again, to take, develop, and do.
I did an extended interview with Wesley when Coming 2 America was coming out. The thing that he told me, which I could not believe, is that he had the rights to Black Panther way back when. Because of the industry in the ’90s, and the name Black Panther was synonymous with something else, super hero movies-
Were not what they were, but he was totally ahead of the curve. Then he ended up doing Blade. Isn’t that crazy?
SMILEY: I’ve heard that story too. It’s a crazy story, but I believe it.
It’s totally true. You’re currently working on Borderlands. Can you just talk a little bit about what it was about that project that said I want to do this and what can you tease fans of the material?
HART: Borderlands, once again, it’s all about the shock factor. This is me stepping into action full speed ahead. No comedy. I’m responsible for the action. He said, ‘Kevin, if you tell me that you can show up prepared and that you want to come in and knock this out, then you’re my guy.’ So I went, I did some training with some Navy SEALS, I got real good with weapons, I got real good with my hand-to-hand combat. And the experience here in Budapest filming Borderlands has been unreal. Cate Blanchett, Jamie Lee Curtis, myself, Flo [Munteanu], Ariana [Greenblatt]… I mean, our cast is unreal. He truly is knocking this movie out the park. And I can say visually, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. Somehow, I find myself in these spaces where you get a part of these IPs that are hitting the big screen have the potential to become so much more. Jumanji was just supposed to be the one and it ended up being Jumanji 2 and these big things. Borderlands, nobody knows what to expect, but if this thing comes and it smacks people correctly, well, you can be looking at Borderlands 2, Borderlands 3. It’s that good and Cate is amazing. The story is amazing. The fan base that follows the game is already huge and unreal, but I don’t think they even have a clear understanding of how close we’re coming to the game. It looks like the game. It’s unbelievable. Truly unbelievable.
I am so amped for that film. Listen, I’ll stop there even though I have a million other things like Super Pets. What? But I’ll leave you guys be and just say, Suzy, thank you and for real, congrats on Fatherhood. You guys did a great job with that.
HART: Thank you, man. Thank you, man. Much appreciated.
Fatherhood is now streaming on Netflix.
Hart also tells us how he prepared to step into the role of Vault Hunter Roland.
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