How do you remake an iconic movie with a classic soundtrack that’s still timeless 27 years later? If you’re Paramount Pictures and the movie is Footloose, the answer is — very carefully. Three years in the making, with multiple cast changes, the film seemed at one point destined to be one of those “great ideas in the works” projects that never materialized.
But patience on the part of those connected with the movie prevailed, and the result is a film heavily laced with music that borrows from the old while showcasing the new. The 1984 pop/rock soundtrack was replete with radio smashes that even today still get airplay. Original Footloose tracks including “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” “Almost Paradise,” “Holding Out for a Hero” and of course the title cut remain instantly identifiable and linked to the careers of the artists who sang them. So obviously it was crucial to the success of the remake to cast the songs smartly and give them a fresh start while still paying homage to the originals. And with the new Footloose set in the South (Georgia), the movie presented a perfect opportunity to showcase Country acts.
Grammy-winning producer Randy Spendlove, President of Motion Picture Music, Paramount Pictures, has been integrally involved with Footloose from the outset. He believes its soundtrack will boost some already-established careers — Big & Rich, Cee Lo Green, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Zac Brown of Zac Brown Band — at the same time that it showcases newer artists including Whitney Duncan, Hunter Hayes and Jana Kramer. Paramount joined forces with Atlantic Records in New York and Warner Music in Nashville to coordinate a vigorous marketing campaign centered on Country radio and Country dance clubs across the U.S. Spendlove couldn’t be more pleased with the final product.
“The music is the backdrop of the entire movie, and a featured backdrop too,” he said. “It’s a movie about what it’s like to grow up in the South and be able to be free and have your time. It’s a real celebration of music and dance in a coming-of-age story. The marketing method will be the movie itself, with the music a huge part of it.”
“When I started working with this film,” he continued, “one of the first things I did was to contact Anastasia Brown (head of Format Entertainment’s Nashville office) and asked her to set me up with a dozen or two up-and-coming artists. I came to Nashville and met with about 20 young artists. Most of them weren’t even signed at the time. I just didn’t want it to be about some guy from L.A. coming in to take all these meetings and then nothing ever comes of it. I’m really proud of the fact that three of the artists from those initial meetings have ended up in the movie. We’ve got some newer artists sitting alongside acts such as Blake Shelton and Cee Lo in the movie and on the soundtrack.”
Shelton got the nod to sing the iconic Footloose anthem, but it was Warner Music Nashville colleagues Big & Rich (John Rich and Big Kenny) who won the honor of releasing the soundtrack’s first single and video, “Fake ID.” Rich co-wrote “Fake ID” several years ago with L.A. hit songwriter John Shanks, thinking it might work for one of Big & Rich’s projects. Rich’s demo of the song caught the attention of Spendlove and Footloose director Craig Brewer, himself a major Big & Rich fan, even before filming began. The more they listened, the more they felt the song deserved a key spot in the film.
“Craig loved the demo with John’s voice and thought the beat and melody worked perfectly for the big Country line dancing scene,” recalled Warner Music Nashville President and CEO John Esposito. “But he felt it would be enhanced even more if we could get it to be a Big & Rich song. So John and Kenny went back in and redid the song with Gretchen Wilson singing harmony.”
“Fake ID” ended up becoming the music cue for the pivotal dance club scene in the film. Big & Rich’s video was shot to resemble the movie scene as closely as possible. As luck would have it, “Fake ID,” the first new music from Big & Rich in more than three years, tied in perfectly and helped add momentum to their summer tour, “Xtreme Muzik: The Tour.”
Rich recalled being curious once he and Big Kenny decided to do the tour. “We were wondering, were the fans still there? Was anybody gonna show up? But all the shows were either sold out or almost sold out. It’s great to feel yourself running out of breath because you’re jumping up and down on the stage so much, and you get to the bus and your clothes are wringing with sweat, and your ears are ringing because the crowd was so loud and you’re so pumped.”
When the original Footloose came out in 1984, the singer was only 10 years old, but like so many people he’s an admittedly ardent fan of the film. “It’s definitely a ‘bus movie,’” he said. “It’s one of the movies you always keep on the bus so you can watch it any time.” He also thinks that the new version completely lives up to its legendary namesake. “If you can improve on a classic — if it’s possible — I think they’ve done it. People are going to be blown away.”
Was having a song on the silver screen always atop Rich’s constantly evolving bucket list? (And has he started thinking about an Oscars acceptance speech?) “No — and no!” Rich insisted, with a laugh. “But I love movies. I’ve never had a song in a movie, so to be able to go sit and watch and then all of a sudden there’s your song, and all your friends are elbowing you and going ‘There it is! There it is!’ and you hear your voice in the background, sure, it’s exciting. It doesn’t rank up there with ‘Hey, I’d like to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry,’ but it is exciting for sure. It gives you a sense that you’re a little piece of pop culture, so it’s really cool.”
Rich relishes his artistic freedom and his ability to experiment freely in new avenues. He sees it as a safeguard against potential career boredom and burnout. He’s also quick to defend his creative multitasking, insisting that prioritizing projects isn’t a problem for him. “I never set out to be a record producer or a TV personality or anything like that,” he explained. “But all the different parts of what I do — whether it be writing a song, recording, performing, producing, finding someone else and developing them — to me, it’s all one thing because it’s all Country Music. People ask me all the time, ‘How do you do all those things at once?’ Well, I don’t do them all at once. I kind of do them in a circle. It’s like a washing machine that figures out how to keep itself balanced. If I ever do too much of any one thing, I feel out of balance.”
So what advice can those associated with the new Footloose offer to other artists and songwriters wishing to expand their own musical horizons into film? They all say there are no hard and fast rules, no guaranteed playbook for success to follow. They insist it comes down to timing, being in the right place at the right time, and staying true to who you are musically.
“Big & Rich were game changers from the minute they launched their career seven years ago,” stated Esposito. “They brought a new spirit to the format. They’ve both made solo records, but there’s something magic about those two voices together, and there’s nothing like a Big & Rich show in terms of colorfulness and entertainment value. You can see it in the ‘Fake ID’ video. I think they help round out our Country format with something nobody else has done or I think could do.”
“John Rich is very selective in the things he wants to be involved with, but once he’s involved, he gives 110 percent,” observed Peter Strickland, Senior VP of Brand Management and Sales, Warner Music Nashville. “He’s one of the most creative and nonstop hard working artists I’ve ever seen. His career is very well rounded.”
Rich goes a step further. “I would say to anyone reading this, keep mastering each level one step at a time. When you find yourself at the next step, challenge yourself to keep going. I never said to myself, ‘Someday I’m gonna be on TV and movies and radio and touring and producing and writing hit songs and running a publishing company.’ There was no way I would ever have even thought that. It’s my reality now, but I think it’s because it happened to me one step at a time and I was open to failure along the way as a part of the process. When I failed at something, I went back to the woodshed and figured out how to not fail at that again.”
He paused before adding, “No matter what, you can’t lose sight of why you’re doing what you do. For me, playing music is where everything else came from. As big as it’s gotten now for me, it wouldn’t have happened at all without a guitar, a microphone and a honky-tonk.”
© 2011 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.