Eliot Kennedy has been one of my best friends since our first meeting more than 14 years ago and I’m still in awe of this guy’s heart and talent. He’s a world class songwriter, producer, arranger, singer, programmer, entrepreneur and one of those people who’s disgustingly good at everything they pick up:-)! From The Spice Girls, Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin and Mary J all the way to his movie work with Bryan Adams he’s at the top of his game. I had the good fortune to write a number one record with him for Billie Piper called “Day And Night” and he’s written a bunch more before and since. Check out his company,Steelworks as well as his foundation, One Song.He’s one of the first people I thought of when I had the idea of guest blogs. So many writers ask about writing for movies and I knew Eliot would give some great insight into the creative process. Here ya go, thanks El!
WRITING FOR FILM
The Guardian (never let go), A Bridge To Terabithia (A place for us), Step-mom (When The Lights Go Out), Princess Diaries (Miracles Happen) and more notable Bobby (Never Gonna Break My Faith) which was nominated as best song for a Golden Globe and eventually won a Grammy with Aretha Franklin and Mary J Blige.
That song was written, like many of the songs I have written for film with my good friend and long time writing partner Bryan Adams. It was by far the most difficult song I have ever written. I think more so because it was the first time I had ever been honest about my faith as a Christian. It is the most honest song I have ever written. And as a result, the most difficult to articulate. And by the far the most personal.
Writing for film can be tough. If you are working with a director that has temped (temporarily edited a song into the film as a guide for what the director is looking for) a song in, and is connected to the song, or the flavor of the song, it is sometimes difficult to get anything new past them. However, it can also be a benefit if the director knows exactly what he is looking for. Honestly, it’s horses for courses. Whatever it takes.
My favorite experience in writing for film was when I was working with Bryan and Hans Zimmer on the Dreamworks animated movie ‘Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron‘. It was a challenging movie to work on, because when we were writing the songs, most of the movie was still unrendered. By that I mean a lot of it was wire frame or not in color. It was difficult to get a feel for the film. However looking at the movie now I feel that we got it right. We did have good direction from the writers and producers of the movie.
I remember one pressure day, when Jeffrey Katzenberg (basically speaking, The Boss) was coming in to hear songs, and Hans was pacing around the studio, Bryan and I had about 10 minutes to come up with something for a key scene. The scene was where the hero character, Spirit, had been captured by the cavalry, and they were attempting to ‘break’ him, so that he could become a cavalry horse. However, as the tag line of the movie said ‘some spirits can’t be broken’ and the horse simply throws off everyone who tries to ride him.
We wrote a song called ‘Get Off My Back’. A southern rocker. A rodeo song. It worked perfect for the scene and got the thumbs up from all at Dreamworks.
However, the real story behind that song came about in the following year. Long after it had been on the cinema, and had been released on DVD to great success.
One day a young American mother was taking her son Chan in to hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. Chan had leukemia, and despite traveling all around the USA, no treatment could be found for poor Chan. Chan’s parents (his father was Thai) decided to go back to Bangkok and try alternative medicines. During this period, his mom continued to take him into the city for conventional treatment.
It was on one of these hospital visits, when Chan was waiting for his treatment, that he saw on the TV in the waiting room, the movie ‘Spirit’. His mother noted how much he seemed to enjoy it, in particular a scene where the horse was throwing off the cavalry riders who were trying to break the horse. She remembered how much Chan reacted to the uptempo song, and he smiled.
She asked the nurse if she had the title of the movie, and after the treatment session, she bought the DVD for Chan.
Chan’s mom said that movie kept Chan going for another year. She even bought him the CD as his favorite song was ‘Get Off My Back’ which he likened to his illness. He played that song and watched that movie every day.
He once told his dad to not worry about him because ‘some spirits cannot be broken’.
Sadly, Chan eventually died of his sickness, but his mother wrote to Bryan and myself thanking us for giving her and her husband more time with their son. More time for memories, and more time for love.
You see. Music is more than just the soundtrack to our lives and our memories. It is in our DNA.
It is the language that God gets to speak to everyone in, even if you are not a believer.. It is universal and speaks every language. It has the power to change, and sometimes even save lives.
Music is my life. It is who I am.
If you are thinking of writing for film. Go ahead. The day Bryan and I wrote that song, we were just writing a little tune to fill a scene in a cartoon movie. It went on to have a dramatic effect on a few peoples lives.
You never know what the ripple effects of your actions will have. But be honest. Put your soul into it and only good things can some.