Music for Screens: Fall 2011
While music industry insiders and fans wait to see if the Rolling Stones will exploit their 50th anniversary with a massive farewell tour in 2012, Mick Jagger seems to be gearing up for another stab at what is clearly his other artistic love: filmmaking.
Jagger is reportedly starting production on “Tabloid,” a feature film he will not only produce, but also star in. Inspired by the recent phone-tapping scandal that erupted earlier this year in Britain, the movie is clearly based on media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
Jagger’s commitment to “Tabloid” reflects a growing trend by rock icons — Mark Wahlberg, Justine Timberlake and Madonna among them — not only intent on exploring another creative outlet but determined to replace the lost revenue streams that evaporated from the financially plagued music industry.
While Jagger has kept the details of “Tabloid” under wraps, he conceived the idea of a film about a sleazy media executive whose quest for sensational headlines corrupts an idealistic young journalist after reading about the Murdoch scandal.
Jagger has already recruited Oscar-nominated screenwriter Josh Olson (“A History of Violence”) to deliver the screenplay, and is putting up his own money to get the project off the ground.
Compared to Jagger — who first started acting in the late ’60s (“Performance”) and launched his own production company, Jagged Films in 1995 (“Enigma,” “The Women” — Madonna is a relative newcomer to the form.
“I directed ‘Filth and Wisdom’ (2008) to teach myself about filmmaking… And now, with this self-punishing process of being a producer and a writer and a director, I’m taking the next step,” said Madonna earlier this year when announcing her upcoming feature film, “W.E.”
Madonna began working on the story of a modern woman obsessed with researching the controversial 1937 love affair between King Edward VIII and American divorcee Wallis Simpson while still married to film director Guy Ritchie. It took several years to finally bring “W.E.” to the screen, with Madonna securing the film’s core financing from Indian billionaire Anil Ambani.
At the film’s Venice premiere, star Abbie Cornish commented that “Madonna is a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need a man to define her — and that’s admirable. She’s studied every aspect of what happened with Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII.”
For every crossover success, there are more than a few casualties. Two years after the hit “Purple Rain” (1884), Prince decided to plunge head-first into the world of film production and directing with “Under a Cherry Moon” with disastrous results, causing irreparable damage to the superstar’s relationship with his record label, Warner Brothers.
But the late George Harrison, recently the subject of the Martin Scorsese doc, “Living in a Material World,” had better luck behind the scenes.
In 1978 Harrison mortgaged his estate in England to help Monty Python get “The Life of Brian” made. With the success of that as its executive producer, Harrison formed HandMade Films with business partner Denis O’Brien.
The artist-oriented film company had a number of commercial and critical successes (“Time Bandits,” “The Long Good Friday,” “Withnail and I” and “Mona Lisa”) and more than its fair share of disasters, the biggest of which was “Shanghai Surprise,” the vehicle developed for Sean Penn and Madonna, who were married at the time.
When the film’s shooting schedule was plagued by flared tempers between the couple, Harrison had to intervene. “I had to go to the set and have a talk with Sean and Madonna, and say, ‘hey kids, come on, get together,’ we’ve a got a film to finish..,'” Harrison told this reporter in 1987. In the end, Harrison called the film, “a complete catastrophe.”
Harrison would sell HandMade in 1994 to Canadian company Paragon Entertainment, who bounced back with the U.K. hit, “Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels,” directed, uncoincidentally, by Madonna’s future spouse, Ritchie.
HandMade more recently scored a hit with the film, “127 Hours.”
Although it has yet to yield a blockbuster for him, the movie business has been rewarding for REM’s Michael Stipe. In 1987, he founded COO FILMS with partner Jim McKay, to channel his “creative talents towards the creation and promotion of alternative film works.”
“Like music, it’s a very powerful medium,” says Stipe. “I’m drawn to it.”
He has served as executive producer for several well-received movies, including “Velvet Goldmine,” “Man on the Moon” and “Saved!” In 1994, he founded a second, more avant garde´film company, Single Cell Pictures, which produced the Oscar-nominated “Being John Malkovich” and Chris Smith’s acclaimed doc “American Movie” in 1999.
His latest project is the “Collapse Into Now Film Project,” a series of music videos from the last REM album, all made by different film makers. Says Stipe: “I wanted to use the available technology … to pull people onto not a single song but a body of work. This feels distinctly 2011, and that’s what I like about it.”
But by far, the most successful film maker to come from the pop world is Oscar-nominated actor-producer Mark Wahlberg, who hit No. 1 on the pop charts as a 20-year-old rapper with Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch.
With partners that include Terence Winter, Martin Scorsese, Tim Van Patten and long time associate, Stephen Levinson, Walhberg has produced such films as “Contraband” and “The Fighter,” and three series for HBO: “Entourage,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “How To Make It In America.”
Likely to follow in Walhberg’s footsteps is Timberlake. After acting in such films as “Social Network” and “Friends With Benefits,” Timberlake will both star in and co-produce “Spinning Gold,” the forthcoming biopic about the late record exec Neil Bogart, who formed Casablanca Records in the 1970s and spearheaded the careers of KISS, Donna Summer and the Village People, among many others. Bogart died in 1982 at age 39 from cancer.
Of all the upcoming films made by music stars, Madonna seems to have the most riding on the line, and the most to prove, given that “Filth and Wisdom” did not resonate with either the critics or the public. But she’s hoping “W.E” will prove a better match with her sensibilities. “They were very controversial, ” she says of King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, “and continue to be. So, of course, I’m very attracted to that.”