Makin’ Stuff Up: Music Row’s Ambassador to Hollywood
On an April afternoon, a serpentine cue stretched down the hall and coiled around the entire lower lobby of the Regal Green Hills 16 multiplex – home of The Nashville Film Festival. The event was a presentation by a panel of top music supervisors, imported from the left coast to share the ins and outs of placing songs in film and television. From the turnout, it was obvious that Music Row’s interest in film and TV placement had reached an unprecedented fervor. However, the message this eager, standing-room-only house received could be summed up thusly: “We don’t want to hear your songs.” After delivering these discouraging words, the illustrious panel was ushered out through a rear door, leaving a packed house of puzzled, disgruntled songwriters, pluggers, and publishers grumbling and shaking their heads.
This keep-your-distance attitude is nothing new. Historically, Music City has experienced a lack of rapport with and respect from Hollywood. Robert Altman’s 1975 cinematic caricature of Music City, Nashville – starring Laugh In’s Henry Gibson as a flag-wavin’ Hank Snow send-up – featured songs by Californian Richard Baskin, performed by Hollywood actors. Even Urban Cowboy (1980), a film that should logically have utilized Music Row talent, was dominated by writer-performers from pretty much everywhere-but-Nashville (Boz Scaggs on a country music soundtrack? Really? Thank you, Mr. Azoff.). Johnny Lee’s “Lookin’ For Love (In All The Wrong Places)” was the only hit from that soundtrack actually co-composed by a Music Row tunesmith (Bob Morrison).
In the 1990s, 20-something Anastasia Brown (then Anastasia Pruitt) was running Miles Copeland’s Nashville management office. Although she was naïve to this tale of two seemingly incompatible cities, Anastasia quickly figured out that pitching songs for film and television out of Nashville was, as she recalls, “an uphill battle.” Instead of waving a white flag at what appeared to be a futile quest, this charming, industrious young woman focused her “Type A” personality toward challenging Tinseltown’s aversion to Music Row. She began making regular commutes to L.A. – intent on placing Nashville music in Hollywood films. “There were a lot of naysayers about being a music supervisor out of Nashville,” Anastasia recalls. However, she bucked herself up with this mantra: Hollywood is always looking for great music. And WE HAVE IT!
With dogged persistence, the unsinkable Ms. Brown finally established herself in a big way, as music supervisor for Steven Spielberg’s Emmy-winning 2002 Sci-Fi Network series, Taken. That same year, Anastasia began hosting a panel of music supervisors at the burgeoning Nashville Screenwriters Conference. For its first five years, the panel’s format was pretty traditional: the do’s, the don’ts, Q&A, thank you, and good luck. Meanwhile, Anastasia continued to cultivate relationships with the industry’s top players – by volunteering to be Hollywood’s clearinghouse for Nashville music. Because Anastasia has always been careful to expose only what she calls “top-notch, professional stuff,” L.A. supervisors feel assured that Ambassador Brown’s stamp of approval means their time and resources are being respected.
In year six of her NSC music-supervisor panel, Anastasia boldly invited supervisors to screen clips of projects for which they were casting material. And, get this! Attendees were actually encouraged to pitch for those placements! To facilitate this extraordinary opportunity, Anastasia once again committed to personally screen every submission before forwarding the pieces she deemed worthy of consideration. “Of course,” she confides, “I also take notes on new talent for my own data base.” Thus, as Nashville’s sole representative of Format Entertainment, she has recently been instrumental in placing an impressive number of locally grown pieces – in such features as Dream House (Daniel Craig,) In Time (Justin Timberlake,) Cold Light Of Day (Bruce Willis,) and Magic Mike (Matthew McConaughey, Channing Tatum.)
“The Nashville Film and TV music scene is NOT what you might expect,” testifies Julia Michels, music supervisor for Sex And The City, The Blind Side, and The Devil Wears Prada. “The high quality and all-around great pool of diverse talent is a well I find myself going back to again and again. I continue to be pleasantly surprised!”
When Anastasia is asked to recall her proudest accomplishment to date, she doesn’t pause for a second. It was an Academy Award nomination. Not for Brown but for a previously obscure vocal ensemble from Harlem, New York: The Impact Choir and their song, “Raise It Up.” The film was August Rush; its Music Supervisor, Anastasia Brown.
Ironically, during the ’90s, as Anastasia was making her many forays westward from Tennessee, I was making the opposite trek. Having lived in Los Angeles for nearly 20 years, where I had been fortunate enough to place songs in more than a dozen major feature films, I was determined to integrate myself into the Music Row songwriting community and find a publishing home on Music Row. The first company to offer me a deal worth considering was EMI (in 1995) where an affable, red-headed wise-cracker by the name of John Mabe was the tape-copy guy. (And, in those days, the tape-copy guy literally made tape copies!). A mere 19 years later, EMI’s ex-tape-copy guy scored one of the biggest copyrights to ever explode off of Music Row: “The Climb,” (co-written with Jesse Alexander) from Hannah Montana: The Movie, performed by superstar native daughter, Miley Cyrus.
Even more evidence to support Anastasia Brown’s mantra: Hollywood is always looking for great music. And WE HAVE IT!