Of Gentleman and Cowards, a rock quartet from Hamilton, Ontario, landed a track on the soundtrack to “We Made This Movie,” and four days after the premiere appeared on “Late Show With David Letterman.” The band owes a considerable debt to crowd-sourcing.
The rest of the debt can be paid to “Letterman” executive producer Rob Burnett, who made his directorial debut with “We Made This Movie” and chose a DIY approach aligned with the one that went into making the film. After creating several versions with music pulled from YouTube, Burnett and his co-writer, Jon Beckerman, turned to Red Bull Soundstage for assistance in getting original music.
The filmmakers, who kept the budget at less than $1 million but didn’t have any money for music, loaded four scenes, described the style of music desired and opened the door for submissions. “I did not know what to expect. I thought we’d get 60 or 70 submissions and we wound up with nearly 1,200,” Burnett says.
Burnett and Beckerman, who met on the “Letterman” writing staff and later worked together on NBC’s “Ed,” felt obligated to listen to all 1,200 tracks. It expanded their vision of the role the music should play: Instead of using four synchs, they placed 22 of the tracks in the film and another two in the trailer.
“The first one I listened to was Amanda Lee Peers & the Driftwood Sailors,” a Rochester, N.Y., rock quartet that has released three live albums, Burnett says. “I played the song and thought, ‘This is beautiful.’ That song didn’t end up in the movie, but we liked it so much we invited her to the premiere and she came. That bodes so well for this whole process.”
Red Bull Soundstage, at less than a year old, has had limited experience as a conduit for partnering audio and video content for two separate providers, mostly placing songs with sports videos. “We Made This Movie” was its first full-length feature project, says Matt Hirst, director of culture and marketing for Red Bull North America.
“Rob’s approach was unique,” Hirst says. “It’s quite a provocative statement to have the ability to compete against standards of Hollywood with a DIY approach.”
From Burnett’s perspective, the assembling of the soundtrack fit hand in glove with every other element of the film — the way it was shot, the subject matter (high school kids making a movie) and letting outsiders help determine an element of the film.
The filmmakers knew they had four spots where music synchs would be key to the storytelling and attempts to insert teenagers doing covers didn’t feel right. Digging up original music on YouTube was better, but overwhelming. Red Bull Soundstage provided an organized platform.
“It was never about a gimmick,” Burnett says. “It was how we could get new music in an interesting way that makes sense for this movie. Having said that, I would absolutely be open to doing this again, to get music for a film that’s not about kids making a movie.”
In one of the last scenes of “We Made This Movie,” the lead character, an aspiring filmmaker, takes a pair of scissors to a home-burned DVD of “Citizen Kane.” It seems like the wrong choice of inspiration for a filmmaker whose 90-minute debut owes more to the amateurism of “The Blair Witch Project,” the coming-of-age catharsis of “The Breakfast Club” and the antics of “Jackass.”
The film premiered in New York on Sept. 20 and Of Gentleman and Cowards won a contest on the Red Bull Soundstage website that landed the group gigs at the premiere and on “Letterman” on Sept. 24. Red Bull continues to promote the soundtrack’s bands through social media while the soundtrack — and the film — are available on iTunes. Other video-on-demand services are coming online while the movie’s distributor, Snag Films, looks for more events to present the movie and, in some cases, bring in the soundtrack’s bands for performances. Los Angeles and San Francisco are high on the priority list.
One of the artists who made it onto the soundtrack, Cassie Boettcher, documented her trip to the New York premiere with her own five-minute iPhone video. It touched Burnett. “I started weeping when I saw it,” he says. He then tweeted the video to his 4,000 followers with a simple, poignant note: “This is the only reason to be in showbiz.”