Michael Lohmann's cool Orson Welles like shot of Layla crying backstage
So when after the first 8 episodes, the spinning wheel landed on me, I was READY. What's different about Nashville, and what I was excited to use as a springboard, was the music. Obviously, I had to first pick up "the batons" from the previous episode and move them down the field toward what we knew had to happen in the next episode -- an end of 2013 cliffhanger.
I needed stories that made emotional, narrative, and musical sense. (I also had a private agenda of doing stories that would bring as many of the myriad characters together, because I'd seen other episodes compress under the pressure of delivering scenes for so many storylines -- and besides, we were due for throwing awkward, secret, reunited and ex-couples Scarlett/Avery and Zoey/Gunnar into a room together.)
at least three songs each episode. With rare exceptions, we use only original songs (ie that haven't been made famous by recording artists). Our actors actually sing, we have to rotate who performs, the songs have to make sense in the story, and have to be recorded in advance and played back on set. Though you usually see only a minute or so on the show, full songs are recorded and filmed, released on Itunes, YouTube, and soundtrack albums. While our cast doesn't tour to support them, we recently cracked the country Top 40 with a Scarlett/Deacon duet, "This Town."
So to answer the questions I've been asked by screenwriting students:
Do writers write the songs? (No!)
We have a weekly meeting with Frankie Pine, our music supervisor, where we lay out future needs and she plays us contenders on her laptop. The ultimate decision lies in the hands of show creator Callie Khouri, Music Producer Buddy Miller, and showrunner Dee Johnson, but we all weigh in. It's an exciting and scary part of the process because we're always up against time deadlines.
What do you put in the script? (Dialogue with XXXXX until the songs are finalized, usually during the last week.)
I set about to reverse engineer my stories from which performances I wanted to see, musically and storywise. Two involved pairing up people for the first time, for selfish -- and story-- reasons.
1) Chris Carmack and Hayden Panettiere. Will and Juliette -- and the actors who play them -- are two of the show's most charismatic young performers and we'd put them on tour together, yet they'd not had a scene together since Juliette gave Will the gig pre-opening for her and the ambitious, scheming Layla. I wanted to up the ante and get them on stage together, so I cooked up a plot in which Juliette is threatened by Layla, demotes her, Will invites Layla to duet with him -- so Juliette trumps her by grabbing the mike. So their duet would not just be a musical moment, but a power play, even a flirt.
|Juliette steals Layla's mike backstage.|
|Lohmann's three cameras capture Aubrey|
|Video Village during music scene: |
Cinematographer Michael Lohmann, Performance Consultant Colin Linden, Brad Stella (dad of Lennon and Maisy), Director Kevin Dowling, Script Supervisor Allison Hughes Stroud
When my colleague Wendy Calhoun (veteran of Justified and Revenge) returned from the Nashville filming of her episode #204, she reported to me that the local hipster clothing store, Two Old Hippies, had a weekly open mic for teenagers on Sunday afternoons.
This sparked a whole story in my head. Being a divorced dad, I know the complications in multiple parental units attending a kids' event -- and this one had the extra oomph of Teddy being threatened by Deacon's paternity of Maddie. Throw in Teddy's new wife Peggy (Kimberly Paisley-Williams), who everyone loves to hate, and it's a powder keg. Drama is conflict.
|Biological dad, step mom, dad, mom. Rehearsal at Two Old Hippies.|
My episode also has a bonus song, which my bosses and I chose from a bunch of songs we could afford rights to. We needed the closeted Will to act out and get injured. The original pitch had been an homage to the roof-to-pool jumping scene from Almost Famous, but production exigencies changed the plan to a dive off of a bar.
So we needed a song that would motivate him to get up and start dancing and singing along. We chose Keni Thomas's "Gunslinger," which had just the right touch of dumbass braggadocio. It was fun to add the lyrics to the script, and Chris Carmack was so into the scene that, even though they'd flown in a stunt double, he insisted on doing the bellyflop himself.
Episodes film in the order that makes the most sense to production, not the order of the script pages, and the two big performances -- Layla's opener and Will/Juliette, an Act Three moment -- both didn't film until the 8th day of an 8 1/2 day shoot.
Even Maddie and Deacon's performance at Two Old Hippies, because of time of day issues, were shot reverse order: first the aftermath fight on the sidewalk, then the performance, and then everyone's arrivals. Brad Paisley came by to watch his wife film.
Even though the shop had to shutter for the morning, between takes the cast and crew ended up spending more money than a typical morning consumer crowd would have. We used the store's actual emcee, employee Matt Walbeg, a musician himself, as the emcee, and when his intro proved too short to cover a camera move, supervising producer Michael Waxman had him add the phrase "Home of peace, love, and rock and roll."
Everything came together and the cast and crew kicked ass. The three songs not only anchored the episode, but all three of them will be on Season Two's first CD of songs.
Song purchase links:
Tell Me: http://bit.ly/1bib6SK
A Life That's Good (Maddie & Deacon version): http://bit.ly/18mH00y
Can't Say No To You: http://bit.ly/1cYI1P8
For more inside info on the songwriters of some of this season's songs, check out:
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