$6 Million Anti-Abortion Movie Seeks Major Label Music, But Finds No Takers
In an initial attempt to license songs, the filmmakers behind "Unplanned" were turned down nine of 10 times.
A $6 million movie expected to be critical of Planned Parenthood may have a lot less snippets of songs in it after multiple publishers have denied licensing music to the filmmakers, who are accusing the industry of bias against anti-abortion/pro-life media efforts.
Blake Kanicka, music supervisor for Unplanned, a feature film being made by some of the same people who turned God’s Not Dead into a surprise box office hit, tells The Hollywood Reporter he was prevented from licensing any music from a half dozen of the largest music companies.
“We will have to unfortunately deny the sync/master use in this film. Disney does not take sides in such social issues regardless of what side is being promoted. Due to this reason, we have to deny,” was the response from Disney when Kanicka attempted to license “The Guardian Suite,” an instrumental from composer Trevor Rabin.
Others were less specific about their refusals. Sony/ATV, for example, wrote, “This has been respectfully denied” when executives there turned down a request for Nilu’s rendition of “How to Save a Life,” a song originally from the pop band The Fray.
Sony/ATV also denied the filmmakers access to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper and “Story of My Life” by One Direction, while Round Hill Music denied them the use of "Best Day of My Life" by American Authors.
“There was a pattern of denial with our quote requests,” says Kanicka. “Our team has never seen such a uniform denial across the board regardless of price, genre, usage or type.”
For "Dead Man’s Party," a Universal Music exec quoted a price of $7,500-$10,000 for about 60 seconds of the song and asked the filmmakers in an email “if the film is a faith based production and what position it is taking on the abortion issue."
A representative for the filmmakers informed Universal that the producers are personally supportive of crisis pregnancy centers and wrote in an email that “the film is telling the true story of former clinic director Abby Johnson. There is no official stance, but at the end of her story, she walks away from performing abortions, after facing a specifically horrific experience during an abortion procedure she was a part of.”
The request was then denied.
“After weeks and in some cases months of communicating with these companies, it has been very discouraging and disheartening to realize the amount of discrimination that exists towards the pro-life message,” said Kanicka, a Grammy-nominated composer whose music has been featured on several TV shows.
Kanicka said that of the 10 initial requests he has made, he has heard only denials except in one case involving a classical music piece written by Felix Mendelssohn, the German composer who died in 1847. None of the companies that denied requests for music responded to THR’s request for comment.
Kanicka said an executive at one prominent music label told him that while she is supportive of the film, she nevertheless is prevented from licensing any music to Unplanned. With one particular song, the artist indicated she had no problem with her song being used in the film, but the label still declined the licensing request.
Even faith-based bands have denied the filmmakers use of their songs, telling Kanicka that they could not afford the possibility of a controversy. “That’s the Holy Grail of liberalism; it dictates that artists can’t get involved with certain social issues even if they need the money,” he said.
While abortion has always been a hot-button issue, President Donald Trump’s appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court has increased the intensity as of late, and multiple filmmakers on both sides of the issue are looking to benefit.
Besides Unplanned, a movie called Roe v. Wade is in postproduction from Nick Loeb, a filmmaker engaged in a legal battle over frozen embryos with ex-girlfriend Sofia Vergara, who stars on ABC's Modern Family. A teaser to be shown at a pro-life rally in Washington this weekend features news video of Kavanaugh, even though the feature film takes place in the early 1970s. For Roe v. Wade, Loeb said he used composed music and didn’t try to license existing songs.
Also, Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer was released in October but earned just $3.7 million in theaters. It won’t release to home video until Feb. 5, but on Tuesday it was the No. 1 best-selling drama on Amazon and No. 3 overall in DVD, Blu-ray disc and digital download, proving there’s a market for an anti-abortion film.
For Gosnell, John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting wrote an original piece called “Song for the Innocents,” and producer Phelim McAleer said he didn’t bother attempting to license existing mainstream music. He did, though, have a problem licensing other media: He was turned down when he tried to get a clip from CNN where Anderson Cooper remarks on the lack of news coverage of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, now in prison for first-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
"We were turned down for something as simple as a news clip,' said McAleer. "Knowing Hollywood's general attitude toward abortion, it would have been a total waste of time to pursue any music licensing ... we already knew what the answer would be."
Beyond the anti-abortion/pro-life films, there are a few pro-choice movies in the pipeline, including Let Her Speak, starring Sandra Bullock as former Texas Sen. Wendy Davis, and This Is Jane, which stars Michelle Williams and is about the women who helped to provide abortions prior to the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the procedure. There was also Reversing Roe, a documentary that debuted on Netflix in September during the contentious hearings that ultimately resulted in Kavanaugh’s appointment.
Unplanned's financiers include My Pillow founder Michael Lindell, who recently said he invested $1 million into the pic's total budget. One of the filmmakers behind Unplanned has been down this road before while working on Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a conservative documentary starring Ben Stein that was released in 2008 and included John Lennon’s song "Imagine." Yoko Ono and Sean and Julian Lennon sued to get the song removed, but lost when a judge ruled the filmmakers were protected under copyright law allowing work to be used for criticism or commentary. Unplanned, though, needs to license songs, whereas Expelled did not because of its status as a documentary.
Music and conservative politics have also butted heads several times in the past few years at live events, with about three dozen artists attempting (unsuccessfully) to stop Trump from using their music at his political rallies, including Queen, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Neil Young, Pharrell Williams, Rihanna and Guns N’ Roses.
This article was originally published in The Hollywood Reporter.