Beatles blues symbolizes tough road to gain top tunes for films By DAVID GERMAIN .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 recordings. ``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 bit.'' 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 Poster. 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.