I Am Sam to feature Beatles Cover Tunes...interesting story

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by RicP, Dec 29, 2001.

  1. RicP

    RicP Screenwriter

    Feb 29, 2000
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    Beatles blues symbolizes tough road to gain top tunes for films


    .c The Associated Press

    LOS ANGELES (AP) - Director Jessie Nelson admits to having had some naivete

    when she and co-writer Kristine Johnson wove a batch of Beatles tunes

    throughout their film, ``I Am Sam.''

    The film, starring Sean Penn as a retarded father with an ardor for the

    Beatles, was such a love song to the Fab Four that Nelson figured she could

    land the rights to use the band's actual recordings.

    ``I'm unbelievably naive and thought, 'I'll get 12 of them, put the songs all

    through the script. They'll give them to us,''' Nelson joked. ``I had no idea

    how complicated that is and how expensive it is.''

    Securing rights to use a recording by major bands such as the Rolling Stones or

    U2 in a movie can cost half a million dollars or more. And in some cases, such

    as the tightly governed Beatles catalog, it's virtually impossible to obtain

    film rights.

    Bands sometimes withhold songs for artistic reasons. Director Cameron Crowe

    used two Radiohead tunes in his new film ``Vanilla Sky,'' but was unable to

    obtain a third song the band wanted to preserve solely for its own releases.

    Crowe had a similar problem when he wanted to obtain rights for Led Zeppelin's

    ``Stairway to Heaven'' to use in a DVD outtake for last year's film ``Almost

    Famous.'' He met in England with band principals Robert Plant and Jimmy Page

    and got permission to use other Led Zeppelin tunes in the film's theatrical

    version. But Crowe never bothered asking about ``Stairway to Heaven.''

    ``They were talking about how important it is that their music is used well,

    and Robert Plant had this aside, `Well, you know, it's not like they're asking

    for ``Stairway to Heaven,'' which we've never given anyone,''' Crowe said.

    ``I'm shooting looks at my friend like: 'Oklahoma, Plan B where we ask for

    ``Stairway to Heaven.''' No, forget it.''

    Instead, the DVD includes the outtake and instructs viewers to cue up

    ``Stairway to Heaven'' on compact disc to watch the scene as Crowe intended.

    Perhaps no band has been more guarded in licensing its music than the Beatles.

    Their output remains controlled by the band's Apple label, with decisions on

    the music made by surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr or the

    estates of John Lennon and George Harrison. As last year's chart-topping

    Beatles compilation ''1'' showed, the band's music remains a gold mine, partly

    because Apple so rarely allows any of the songs to be used for movie

    soundtracks or other commercial projects.

    After a round of early contacts with Beatles representatives, Nelson and

    distributor New Line Cinema realized it would likely be a futile task.

    New Line already had rights to record cover tunes of Beatles songs from Sony

    Music, which oversees the band's music publishing. Nelson and New Line worked

    with V2 Records to line up artists, who quickly laid down 16 Beatles covers,

    nine making the final cut of ``I Am Sam,'' which co-stars Michelle Pfeiffer and

    opens Friday. The remaining covers are included on the film's soundtrack, due

    out Jan. 8.

    ``We came up with concepts to cast the album much the same way as casting

    actors in a film,'' said Erin Scully, music supervisor on ``I Am Sam.''

    ``Certain voices lend themselves to certain Beatles' songs, Paul's part or

    John's part.''

    The lineup includes the Wallflowers with ``I'm Looking Through You,'' Sarah

    McLachlan singing ``Blackbird,'' Eddie Vedder doing ``You've Got to Hide Your

    Love Away,'' and Aimee Mann and husband Michael Penn - Sean Penn's brother -

    covering ``Two of Us.''

    Because the final edit of the film was locked in, the main limitation that

    cover artists faced was sticking to the tempo of the original Beatles versions.

    Some covers are fairly literal interpretations. In certain cases, where the

    song was integral to the action on screen, Nelson felt the music should stick

    close to the originals.

    Sean Penn's character names his daughter ``Lucy Diamond Dawson'' after the

    Beatles' ``Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,'' and the Black Crowes' cover of the

    tune is instantly recognizable. Likewise, audiences can identify Ben Harper's

    ``Strawberry Fields Forever'' and Rufus Wainwright's ``Across the Universe''

    from the opening strains.

    Penn said he was not disappointed the movie contained no original Beatles


    ``I thought it was too easy. I remember resenting (Lennon's) `Imagine' in `The

    Killing Fields' because I'm crying, but I cried the first time I heard it,

    without the movie,'' Penn said. ``If you just put Beatles songs throughout,

    people can close their eyes, open their eyes, in either case, it's an enjoyable

    experience. I like that the music we have is different and challenges a little


    Director Wes Anderson also had sought two Beatles recordings - ``Hey Jude'' and

    ``I'm Looking Through You'' - for his new film ``The Royal Tenenbaums,''

    starring Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston and Gwyneth Paltrow. He made contact

    with Beatles representatives, but ultimately went with an instrumental version

    of ``Hey Jude'' and substituted another tune for the second Beatles song.

    Anderson did get the rights to use the Lennon solo tune ``Look at Me.''

    ``At the end of the day, after putting the Lennon song in, Wes got a little bit

    of Beatle fulfillment,'' said ``Royal Tenenbaums'' music supervisor Randall


    Nelson quickly coped with the fact that she would have no actual Beatles

    recordings in ``I Am Sam.'' The cover versions add a dimension because viewers

    may hear the lyrics in a new way without the Beatles' familiar music and

    vocals, she said.

    ``I love what the artists did with the songs. I love hearing women interpret

    the songs, and I love that this music is being heard by another generation,''

    Nelson said.
  2. Greg_Y

    Greg_Y Screenwriter

    Mar 7, 1999
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    Interesting article.


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