NASHVILLE — When Dub Cornett and the other producers of Paramount’s Charley Pride biopic met with director Craig Brewer in mid-October about hiring a screenwriter, they examined what they didn’t want to do with the Terrence Howard project.
“We had to think, ‘How do we make it pertinent? How do we pay homage to Charley Pride?'” says Cornett, who divides his time between Santa Monica and Watertown, Tenn. “The one thing we discussed was we didn’t want to get it wrong.
“That is the first thing that turns a Nashville audience off, that you get it wrong, that it feels like it is disingenuous, the same stereotype we’ve looked at 15 times. If you hand it to the wrong person and they don’t come down and understand the complexity of it, that’s what you are going to get. They don’t take the time to write the person; they write the hats and the boots.”
While films like “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Sweet Dreams” and “Walk the Line” are lauded in Music City for their accurate portrayals, Hollywood too often paints an inaccurate picture of the Tennessee capital, Nashville producers and writers say.
“The best one was ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter,'” Nashville screenwriter Will Akers says. “They did their homework and got it right. I would say that is the exception.”
In contrast, says Les Bohem, the writer of New Line Cinema’s “Paper Wings,” the story of a female country singer and a bull rider: “I personally think the Robert Altman ‘Nashville’ is a horrible movie. I thought that was a bad case of movie people thinking they were way superior to the people they were making a movie about and laughing at them.”
In other words, it’s not merely that the films don’t capture Nashville, the city: They fail to capture the people, instead relying upon outdated stereotypes of Southerners as uneducated rednecks who all wear ridiculous Western outfits.
There seems to be insufficient recognition that Southerners also live in cities, wear Prada, drive imports, watch CNN and eschew cowboy hats of any kind.
“What they typically get wrong is the level of intelligence and depth of the characters,” says Eric Geadelmann, founder and CEO of Nashville-based 821 Entertainment Group. “A lot of the dialogue descriptions of characters just really play up the redneck Bubba stereotypes and miss oftentimes the intelligence, heart and depth of some of these characters and overall people in the culture.
“But there have been some breakthroughs in the last 24 to 36 months,” he adds. “We are very encouraged by not only the level of activity in orientation to this audience, but people trying to do what they need to do to get it right.”
Bohem also sees signs that the “Hee-Haw” perception of Nashville is vanishing.
“When (“A Mighty Wind” producer) Karen Murphy and I started hosting the screenwriters conference in Nashville, we brought people down who had some misconceptions about the music,” Bohem says. “You only have to be in town for a minute and a half to hear somebody play for that to disappear.”
In recent years, Nashville has rarely been the setting for a movie that wasn’t focused on country music. The city is ripe for a project, according to Murphy, especially if it is positioned as something other than a music film.
“If more people could sell stories and movies about people who are from Nashville or were at the highest or lowest point of their career in Nashville, then you wouldn’t necessarily be talking about a music film,” Murphy says. “You might be talking about a film about a well-known person that has a good story that happens to take place in Nashville.”
For the ultimate Nashville story, Cornett believes writers and directors who have roots there must be involved, much like Brewer’s Memphis-based “Hustle & Flow.”
“If we want the story told right and we want to stop it from getting told wrong,” Cornett says, “we’ve got to tell the story (ourselves). We are looking at Hollywood, ‘Tell us who we are.’ Other places have done their stories. Nashville is waiting on that first great director and storyteller to define what Nashville looks like on film.”