HITS Daily Double
"The problem is,
the movie people don’t understand anything about the music industry, and that’s true of me—
I have no idea what's going on."
——About a Boy co-director Chris Weitz


An Exclusive HITS Roundtable
By Harvey Kubernik


Chris Weitz, who along with his brother Paul Weitz, directed the film About a Boy, and co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Hedges.

Badly Drawn Boy’s Damon Gough composed and performed the original soundtrack music to About a Boy, released by ArtistDirect, his first major release since the U.K. Mercury Music Prize-winning Hour of the Bewilderbeast.

Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh composed the score for Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums and two previous Anderson films, Bottle Rocket and Rushmore. The soundtrack album is available on Hollywood Records.

V2’s Andy Gershon and Kate Hyman worked on the soundtrack to I Am Sam, a best-selling collection of Beatles covers, including Eddie Vedder’s "You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away" and The Vines’ "I’m Only Sleeping," along with tracks from Nick Cave, Sheryl Crow, Ben Folds, Stereophonics, Sarah McLachlan and more.

I Am Sam director Jessie Nelson (with producer Richard Solomon) helped assemble the collection, which she produced with V2 A&R execs Hyman and John Sidel. Randall Poster is the Music Supervisor for Wes Anderson’s films, as well as Jesus’ Son, Rounders, Velvet Goldmine, I Shot Andy Warhol, Kids and Meet the Parents.

Chris, why did you and your brother select Damon of Badly Drawn Boy for the About a Boy soundtrack?
Chris Weitz:
A friend of mine turned me on to Badly Drawn Boy. For a year, I listened to the album somewhat compulsively, as you do when you think you’ve found the next great thing. His lyrics have a wonderful oblique quality that I just thought was very clever. Paul and I had become tired of the "compilation record" aspect of modern soundtracks. We were trying to emulate Simon & Garfunkel’s music for The Graduate. We thought it would be better to have one person do it. I played Hour of the Bewilderbeast for my brother, and he fell in love with it, too. We just sorta got this idea in our heads that we would do this, and it was a bit of a pipe dream at the time, because we didn’t think the studio would agree to it. Then we talked to [book author] Nick Hornby, and he kind of did a double take. He said, "That’s bizarre, because I was going to go behind your back to try to get some songs from Badly Drawn Boy for the movie."

We met Damon’s managerial people, then we went to see him at the Albert Hall in London. We had a few meetings with him, which were tenuous at first. I’m sure he wondered if we were just a couple of dickheads from Hollywood. He’s an extraordinarily hard-working guy and very prolific. Anytime things didn’t quite fit, he’d go back and write more. He’d get tapes of scenes in rough, and came down to the set a couple of times. It was a wonderful throwback to an earlier period in moviemaking, where you had these sort of collaborations.

When we came home from shooting the movie in England, suddenly Universal was faced with a soundtrack that was completely composed by this one guy. There was a little moment of hesitation about the whole thing. But we stuck to our guns.

Damon Gough: I was touring the States and people kept mentioning the project. I had spoken to the Weitz brothers before I toured America. They called me at home and we had a conference call. I became too intrigued to pass on it. I’d read Nick Hornby’s book...well, at least half of it. I was asked to get involved in the early stages to represent the story through the music. I started to get a good feeling about the project.

Randall, can you describe your job as music supervisor for The Royal Tenenbaums.
Randall Poster:
The music supervisor helps to establish a vocabulary that the primary participants can share in referencing music. And then, the other goal is to just help define the musical logic of the movie. Sometimes that can take place by connecting sounds; sometimes it can be by connecting a musical legacy; sometimes by drawing either contrast or confluence in a musical arrangement and style.

What do you make of the success of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack?
I think every flat-picker in America will be signed to a major label by the end of the month. A movie like that, any time there is a new idea, I applaud it.

Andy Gershon: The role of the soundtrack has evolved. The O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack is an example. If you care about bluegrass music, that’s the record to buy. Forget about the fact that it happens to be the soundtrack to a great movie.

Jessie, when you began working on the screenplay for I Am Sam, did you already have specific Beatles songs in mind?
Jessie Nelson:
I’d placed 12 songs in the script, and I was pretty nave, to be honest, thinking all 12 would be sung by The Beatles, not realizing how sensitive it is to get the publishing to agree to allow me to use them, let alone have The Beatles singing them. Some of the songs shifted once we were in the cutting room. Different songs would replace what I had, or new ones worked perfectly. For me, the writing is about capturing the mood and the feeling you want to capture in a scene, and how a song can take it even further, or heighten it. Usually I do it more through the writing than the actor. Sean [Penn] suggested "You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away" months before when we were thinking of The Beatles singing everything. It wasn’t like it was premeditated that we’d end up with Eddie Vedder.

How were the songs selected for the film and the soundtrack?
Most of the songs had been in the screenplay. We’d try some songs in editing, asking, "What would work here?" "The Two of Us" or "Across the Universe"? We would throw different songs up against the movie. And then once we had chosen the nine that seemed to resonate the most, some were obvious. Like Sean’s baby—was she going to be called Julia, Lucy, Rita or Prudence?

Kate Hyman: The agenda was for each of us to call our favorite artists. Andy and I both love Nick Cave, so that’s why he’s on the record.

Gershon: We tried to come up with artists we loved and cast the songs that would be appropriate for those particular artists, and kept our fingers crossed. The managers and artists were incredibly supportive once they saw the movie and found out what it was about. No’s turned very quickly into yeses.

Hyman: With the bigger artists, sometimes the hardest part is getting it by the record label that has that artist. But the artists we used seem to be big enough that they and their management had enough clout to get their labels to agree.

How did you decide which songs heard in the movie I Am Sam wouldnt make the soundtrack? And vice versa?
With this album, so many people got excited and involved that we had several artists we had to tell, "You can do a song, and if it’s not in the movie, it’ll be on the record.’ Several did not end up on the record, so that was real difficult.

Nelson: It’s a really tricky dance directors have to do between the record company needs and their needs as filmmakers. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to have somebody like Andy who says the movie is the priority, and we’ll make the soundtrack around the movie. And then sometimes you have other people who say, "Look, if you want the soundtrack, you have to make these specific compromises." It’s a dance you do, and hopefully you don’t have to give up too much to get what you need.

Damon, did you wonder how your fans might react to you writing songs for a movie?
Hopefully, most of them will see it as a huge video promo for my music. I’ve always set my own agenda and made my own decisions. From the early part of my career, I was always pissing someone off, whether it be a live show that was too long, or messing around onstage. I’m just having fun. I just thought, "Well, someone is spending a hell of a lot of money to put out my music here in this film." The Weitz brothers were completely supportive. It was a long shot for them to think I could do the soundtrack, but I immediately understood why they’d asked me. It’s less about the music that I write and more about the way that I approach it. There’s a song in the soundtrack, "Something to Talk About," which I knew everybody would be happy with because it used the phrase "about a boy." I managed to sneak in a line unobtrusively, which I quite like. I’m a big fan of subtlety. Sequencing the soundtrack album was the hardest bit. Like the first track, "Exit Stage Right," is my favorite moment.

Whats the best way for the composer to work with a director and music supervisor?
Mark Mothersbaugh:
I’ve always looked at music supervisors as being unnecessary, meddlesome and over-credited. You have to try to understand everybody’s motivations. The most important thing for me is helping a director achieve his vision.

Randall, as a music supervisor, how did you go about dealing with getting music from the estates of Nico and Nick Drake for The Royal Tenebaums soundtrack?
Randall Poster:
There’s no hard and fast rule. Sometimes [getting songs from artists who have passed away] makes it more complicated, sometimes simpler. There are all sorts of complications. Sometimes the artists don’t have any control of the process at all. We’ve licensed from some of the most notoriously difficult people. That’s why we really try to get in there early, so we know where we stand, and we’re relentless.

Have there been situations where labels lean for the inclusion of their own artists on the soundtrack?
As for as the Rushmore and Tenenbaums soundtracks, I had plenty of interaction with the label who put them out. They really responded to the material; I don’t think they would try to force something in that didn’t make sense.

Is it more complicated in 2002 to secure songs for movies and soundtracks?
Yes. Conglomerations. Fewer owners. The proliferation of songs in commercials. It raises people’s expectations as far as money goes. And there’s more competition for songs. [More producers] see the opportunity, tying in with music to promote their movie, or music being an ancillary form of income. With certain pop artists, there’s a lot of competition, so that raises the price.

What kind of marketing initiatives did V2 undertake to bring I Am Sam to the attention of consumers?
We did screenings with radio stations, retail and press. New Line was incredibly supportive, from booking theaters to making sure prints were there for us to screen the movie to set up the album. Because we felt that if people reacted to the movie the same way that we did and the same way the artists did that, again it comes back to that’s our strongest marketing tool.

Nelson: When we were doing the soundtrack, everyday we would have a conference call between my producer, Erin Cully at New Line, myself and Andy and his team, John Sidel and Kate Hyman. We would say, "OK. We’ve got ‘You Got to Hide Your Love Away.’ What voice can knock it out of the ballpark?’" "Eddie Vedder." "OK." "How do we get to Eddie Vedder?" It was literally that way song by song. We would make a list of our first few choices, and they never forced us to use anyone we didn’t want to use. V2 was so supportive in getting people, and fought just as hard for those people on other labels as for the artists on the V2 label. So they were really committed to doing what was right for the movie. Sean [Penn] got a beautiful letter from Paul McCartney after he saw the movie telling Sean that he was angry at Sean because he’d given his girlfriend a sinus infection because she was crying so hard when she saw the movie and how much they loved it. How deeply they were moved by it. And the same thing with Yoko Ono’s camp.

How do you go about collaborating with record companies in constructing soundtrack albums?
I’m always open to working with the label and the A&R person. There are certain labels and executives that don’t want to see one of their bands, if they’re working a record, or a single, to have a distraction, or have it available anywhere else. Then, there are other people who feel any exposure that they can get for this artist they’re going to take. So I’m not going to be that precious about it. The growing trend is that there are very few career artists. They need every opportunity to expose the band to whatever audience that might not be reached otherwise through a movie.

Weitz: About a Boy was a dream. We had a great time working with the music supervisors. We were completely in league with the artist and the artists’ label, and we made it under the radar; otherwise it’s a very tricky and frustrating process. Because the record label views your movie as an ad for their record, I’m inclined to view the record as an advertisement for the movie. You’ve got two completely different agendas. And it comes down to what Faustian bargain you work out.

The problem is, the movie people don’t understand anything about the music industry, and that’s true of me—I have no idea what is going on. It’s an entirely different set of jargon and standards, and I hope we get to keep on doing what we did on this film, which is to work with single artists, people who know exactly what to do from the beginning. If I have to do a compilation album again, I’m gonna have to educate myself about the way the music industry works.

Gershon: The problem with soundtracks is that they take up a tremendous amount of time, resources and money. And to me, that money and time is much better spent developing an artist that could have a really long career, rather than developing an album that you hope the movie studio doesn’t screw up. If the movie tanks the first weekend, your soundtrack is history.