SXSW: Music Supervisor Randall Poster Talks Losing The Beatles In Wes Anderson's 'Royal Tenenbaums'

by The Playlist
March 15, 2011 11:04 AM
8 Comments
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Heralded Music Supervisor Says Favorite Wes Anderson Film Is 'Life Aquatic' & Yes, He's Already At Work On 'Moon Rise Kingdom'



Richard Linklater was a no-show to his SXSW conversation with celebrated music supervisor Randall Poster -- bummer -- (they've worked together on "The School of Rock," "Before Sunrise" and "SubUrbia" which members of Sonic Youth did some uncredited musical score work on). But Poster soldiered on with Graham Reynolds, the composer currently working on Linklater's next picture, the West Texas-set black comedy, "Bernie," starring Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey.

Known for his music supervision work on all of Wes Anderson's films, Poster was more than happy to answer questions about his work with the quirky, wunderkind filmmaker. Perhaps one of the greatest and almost legendary, music-in-film misses, took place on Anderson's third film, "The Royal Tenenbaums." While it's known for originally having The Beatles' version of "Hey Jude" in the opening, the film was also book-ended by two Beatles songs, including the Beatles Anthology 2 version of "I'm Looking Through You" in an earlier cut of the movie -- this writer witnessed it with his eyes and ears first hand at a L.A. press screening in 2001.

"We lassoed everyone that we wanted, but the truth is we had problems with The Beatles, actually with 'Hey Jude,' " Poster said, addressing the story. "The Beatles have a very complicated business arrangement among themselves and we worked it every way we could, but unfortunately, George Harrison was very sick during that time and it was just not going to happen, we weren't going to be able to get approval."

Of course all ended well, or as well as it could when Anderson and Poster had Mark Mothersbaugh record an instrumental cover of the classic Beatles song. As you might recall, Elliott Smith was asked to record the cover, but was apparently too ill from drug addiction at the time to take part. "He was in a bad state and just wasn't able to,'' Anderson told EW in 2004. Evidently there was even another ending that featured the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B" (the picture ultimately ends with Van Morrison's "Everyone"). "In a way, I thought Mark Mothersbaugh's version really helped kick the movie off. It came out of necessity, but it really helped us because it gave us a little bit more room, and I think, a little bit more of a cinematic launch to the picture."

Like Led Zeppelin with Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous," The Beatles eventually let down their music-in-film guard, but it wasn't exactly the most momentous occasion or film in the world.

"They hadn't licensed their music for movies until I guess some Ricky Gervais movie ["Ghost Town"] and it was like, 'really'?" Poster said when "The Royal Tenenbaums" was screened for Cameron Crowe and Jackson Browne, the musician leaned over to Crowe during the now iconic scene where Nico's "These Days" plays to Gwyneth Paltrow's entrance in the film -- Jackson played guitar on her classic 1967 record Chelsea Girl -- and said nostalgically, "I used to play guitar like that." "When that came back to us we were real thrilled by that," he smiled.

Poster noted how his working relationship with Anderson is unique and one that begins in the very embryonic stage. "The process of working with Wes is really unique in that we start talking about the music in the movies even before there's a script," he said " 'Royal Tenenbaums' was two sentences on a piece of paper that I still actually have when we started talking about the music. And I would say about 80% of the songs, we knew what we were going to try and do before we started shooting the film."

Poster said his favorite Wes Anderson film was "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou," and noted that he has a secret vault of music waiting in the wings for Wes Anderson films. "I have a safe where I keep songs. The Bobby Fuller song at the end of 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' ("Let Her Dance"), Wes and I had that hidden away for ten years. That was something we knew we were eventually going to use. And I never played it for anyone else so there's gems that we have."

As you'd expect, Poster will be doing the music supervision for Anderson's upcoming '60s-set picture, "Moon Rise Kingdom." We approached the music super after the Q&A and asked if they were going to delve into the vault for the new picture, "Oh, yeah," he said, emphatically. "You're gonna love it, it's going to be great."



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8 Comments

  • John | May 24, 2012 8:14 PMReply

    Hi . I heard on NPR that Randall was looking for a copy of "On The Beach" with the floral inside. I have this album! In great condition too. It is his for the asking. Just contact me at jdzakarian@gmail.com. Bests! John Z.

  • Marc Edward Heuck | June 7, 2011 11:45 AMReply

    I saw a pre-release screening of TENENBAUMS with "Sloop John B" over the ending, and I really really loved that. I was so shocked when I watched it on DVD months later and the song was gone. It was just such a beautiful metaphor for the trying yet strengthening journey these characters took with the protagonist. Maybe one day when music rights are not so onerous they'll offer it as a bonus clip on a Blu-Ray edition.

  • Ben | March 16, 2011 4:37 AMReply

    Hal Ashby's "Coming Home" (easily one of the greatest soundtracks) has a couple Beatles songs in it.

  • perry | March 16, 2011 4:16 AMReply

    I remember wondering how Michael Moore got the rights to "Happiness is a Warm Gun" way back when. I think it was in Bowling for Columbine.

  • cirkusfolk | March 16, 2011 2:27 AMReply

    What they should've asked Poster is why Radiohead's Everything In It's Right Place was dropped from the "tour of my boat" scene from Life Aquatic that was in test screenings. Maybe cause Vanilla Sky used it already?

    It's sad that good films didn't get to use Beatles songs but now the likes of Ghost Town and Dinner For Schmucks get to use them.

  • cirkusfolk | March 16, 2011 2:24 AMReply

    I'm glad the Elliott Smith cover didn't work out. First, because he already did the Beatles cover thing with Because for American Beauty and second, because I don't think he could've pulled off a cover of Hey Jude. It's too powerful of a song for his voice. I'm also glad I'm Looking Through You fell through...Everyone is the perfect song to end to the movie, and is still rare enough to keep up their street cred. BTW, I would pay 100 bucks to see all these songs in "the vault."

  • Richie | March 15, 2011 12:36 PMReply

    Elliott actually did record a version of "Hey Jude" and it was temped in for certain early critic and "for your consideration" screenings. (This was also when "Sloop John B." was the closing song.) I know, because I attended an ACE screening in 11/01.

    I'd heard in advance that the Beatles version had been pulled and that they'd gotten Elliott to contribute. I thought this was a brilliant move and was imagining some glorious FIGURE 8/Jon Brion-sounding piece... and it just wasn't. It was sloppy and too tack-piano heavy. Just sad.

    As I understand it, Elliott recorded the track sent it to Wes & co. and it was temped in. The crew knew that this first pass just wasn't going to cut it-- they were hoping he'd revise, tweak, tighten, etc. But Elliott was in a really bad place and impossible to track down and that's when Mothersbaugh was called in to pinch hit.

  • James | March 15, 2011 11:31 AMReply

    While original Beatles recordings have always been difficult to get, as opposed to just the right to record a cover, there were films before GHOST TOWN that got them.

    A number of them were produced by George Harrison's Handmade Films, as this article explains:

    http://filmbabble.blogspot.com/2007/09/beatles-music-in-movies-not-their-own.html

    From what I've read, you have to get permission from all four Beatles or their estates, and even then it's monstrously expensive to use them.

    Of course Fincher has used original Beatles recordings in his last two films.

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