When the filmmakers behind Disney’s “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” were looking for a song to play during the film’s end credits, they commissioned an original song from rocker Daughtry. But when “Feels Like Tonight” was matched up with the film, the filmmakers decided the tune just wasn’t right.
“Creatively, it just didn’t seem to go with the film,” says Mitchell Leib, president of music and soundtracks for Disney. “It’s a great song, and probably could have been a good marketing tool, but when we put it up with the movie, it just felt wrong.”
This creatively cautious sensitivity to not always having an end-titles song is a lingering backlash to the once ubiquitous, overwrought ballads that for years graced every studio’s tentpole pic. These songs were often more a marketing ploy than a tune evocative of the film’s story.
It is also part of the new fiscal reality: Songs from big artists can be expensive and prohibitive given the current state of shrinking film and music budgets. And without a robust music industry, fat soundtrack deals are scarce and a hit song is no longer the foolproof marketing tool it once was.
“The end-titles song often was purposely designed to be a marketing tool,” says Kathy Nelson, president of film music at NBC Universal. “You had the big single and musicvideo helping to promote the film. But everyone got fried on the manipulative nature of the song, so now fewer and fewer films have them.”
Insiders note that the slow demise of the requisite big film song can likely be traced back to the enormous successes in the ’90s when movies like “Up Close and Personal,” “Titanic” or “Armageddon” had big songs by big artists such as Celine Dion and Aerosmith. And when the big songs also gained Academy Awards recognition, almost every filmmaker decided that they too needed a hit at the end of their film.
Partially as a result of that success, songs that would’ve cost filmmakers $100,000 a few years earlier were fetching $500,000 and above. Consequently, filmmakers have turned to smaller, original songs by lesser-known artists to grace a soundtrack — songs that are used more to advance the tale or turn up its emotional tenor than to sell the film to the masses.
In this regard, Sondre Lerche’s understated yet pivotal work adds immeasurable dimension to “Dan in Real Life”; and Eddie Vedder, who has stepped outside his Pearl Jam roots, contributes narratively soulful music to “Into the Wild,” as well as the documentary “Body of War.”
“The use of end credits songs is not over,” says Leib. “But the shamelessness of it existing in the film purely for marketing is. The song has to be a creative, musical extension of the film.”
Oscar-winning producer Wendy Finerman got both a complementary tune and marketing vehicle thanks to “Same Mistake,” a song by James Blunt that graces the end credits of her recently released film “P.S. I Love You.”
“We were done mixing the movie and had to open it to put his song on the last reel,” says Finerman. “We found a song that really played well with the movie and could be used in the marketing.” Finerman says “it was worth it because we were able to make a financial deal that made sense for both parties, and the timing of the release of his album, the movie and the soundtrack was perfect. It was a win-win.”
Blunt has been playing the song, the second single off his Atlantic disc “All the Lost Souls,” during recent appearances on the morning shows as well as on “Home for the Holidays” a CBS special.
Finerman also notes that “when it’s a feel-good movie you certainly want to have the end credits song be something to help people leave (the theater) on an upbeat note. Or if you have a more serious movie, you want to have a score that will resonate with the audience. But you always want to make sure you’re ending the movie with a song that is appropriate for the film, not just for the commerce of a hit.”
Hit songwriter Diane Warren, who wrote the song “Do You Feel Me” for Universal’s “American Gangster” (the song is in the middle of the film, not at its end), offers her own take on why filmmakers and studios have largely shied away from the big end credits song.
“It’s a big world out there, the studios shouldn’t be so jaded,” says Warren. “Sometimes you can be too cool for the room. All the cool people in L.A. and New York like to think everyone thinks like them. But it’s not about being cool, it’s about feeling something from a great song. It’s forever.”