Award season screenings and parties have begun. Nancy Ross has a sound mixing room in her Laurel Canyon home, and the studios occasionally invite industry folks to attend a screening followed by a light supper. This week the film was David Chase's film debut "Not Fade Away" (December 21), which is working its way around the country on a promo tour after its New York Film Festival debut (review and press conference here, review round-up here). Next stop: Chase's alma mater Stanford, where he studied film.
Thanks to his ex-manager Brad Grey, who runs Paramount now, Chase got to make this delicious and personal slice of authentic 60s life with just one recognizable star, Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini. He's excellent and moving as the hard-nosed old-school Italian father of a counter-cultural high school/college kid (John Magaro, pictured) who starts a band, first as drummer and then as lead singer/songwriter. This is the kind of film Hollywood doesn't make anymore: idiosyncratic, not following any sense of pre-determined three-act structure or pacing, organic and real.
The movie cost $20 million (backed by Paramount Vantage and Indian Paintbrush) and at least $2.5 million of that went to the music rights. "Sopranos" star, "E Street Band" member and music guru Steve Van Zandt went first to Paul McCartney, lined up the Beatles at a favored nations rate, followed by the Rolling Stones and eventually Bob Dylan. Everyone else came on board below the $50,000 per song Beatles/Stones deal, except The Who and Jimi Hendrix (whom no one can get). The music in the movie–Chase wrote more than the final 50 songs into the screenplay–is foot-tapping good.
Van Zandt is crucial to making the young band work. Mostly they do covers (and he had to help determine which ones they could deliver), but there is one original song as well, written by Van Zandt. Chase insisted on casting good actors, not musicians, and they in turn went to boot camp with Zandt at his home studio to learn how to play. Van Zandt also worked with experts to make sure every guitar, mic and piece of equipment was true to the exact period. That's what the band used. And Van Zandt recorded live analog sound; he didn't even go digital until the final mix.
Jack Huston ("Boardwalk Empire") had to play guitar and sing (badly), while Magaro ("Liberal Arts") learned drums and vocals. Magaro is dealing with a lot right now: he's up for Frankie Valli in the movie "Jersey Boys." Bella Heathcote ("Dark Shadows") is another one to watch.
Is this movie commercial? No. But it's good. And it hits the Boomer demo head on. Did you listen to John Mayall in high school? Remember when vinyl records were wrapped in plastic and people wore pea coats and grey suede Vegas boots? This movie is for you.
One thing that was added for the sake of audience understanding was an over-narration by the kid's younger sister, says Chase. She needed to explain that no, this is not a biopic, or about a band that we all recognize. It's about that band that so many people were part of when they were young that did not make it. And it's about not losing that back beat.