Monday, August 20, 2007

Sayles on Sayles: Part Six

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With Chris Cooper on the set of Lone Star

John Sayles on owning vs. leasing, music rights, and film as an agent of change

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On owning vs. leasing

We got the rights back to our first three films, which are Secaucus 7,
The Brother from Another Planet, and Lianna. We're working on Matewan,
but that's a tangled web. The company went out of business, and I think
people were told, 'Well, we can't pay you, but we'll give you the rights to this.'

So, it's a big legal magilla, and we don't have much money to pull these things away from litigation or whatever. And something like Baby, It's You, if we can get the rights to a couple other films, what we might try to do is just say to Paramount, 'Will you lease us the right to put this in the package of three films?' Or something like that.

Nobody ever gives up their library anymore if the company is still in business.
It's too-it's just not done. They don't want to starve, but they might be able to
lease it. But even that-these corporations get more corporate and bigger, and
they have more and more titles to deal with. They also start thinning out their
staff, so all of a sudden, you have somebody who wasn't born when Baby, It's
You
was made, and they have a computer, and it has 500 titles on it, and they
don't know what any of these movies are. Or if they do, they may not have seen it, and it just has a number next to it, or a "Do not do this' thing. They don't have a mandate to be creative, so it's something that we bang our heads up against a lot.
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On Killer of Sheep
It was a test case. When they used to do seminars for independent filmmakers: This is how not to do it. I think it was only able to play on PBS-and they have a different music licensing agreement than everybody else. Actually, they probably cleared the music rights. So, there are all kinds of movies that have wonderful music in them, and then the distributor finds out-we actually didn't secure the rights to that.
[The lack of music clearances resulted in a release delay of 30 years.]
On music rights
It used to be that you could go to-you know, Stax would have their own
publishing and this, that, and the other. By about 1985-1987, those little
companies started being bought up by the big companies, so now there's
really, at the most, at least a half dozen companies that you have to deal
with-VJ and Stax and all these little outfits that have their own publishing companies. And once again, it's just a computer list, and they set the numbers
where everybody else sets them. And it's really hard to license music.
So, the soundtrack for Baby, It's You, for instance, we'd never be able to get that together again. It would cost more than the movie now. Those are the breaks. I mean, Bruce Springsteen, who we didn't really know at that time, we said, 'Look
we put these songs in the movie. Watch the movie.' And we sent a print over. 'If
you hate it, we'll take them out.' And they liked the movie, and said, 'Here's what we'll do. We own half the rights, and we'll give half for a dollar or something like that.' We had to pay full price to CBS for the performance, but the publishing we
got very cheap, and that's the one reason we were able to put Bruce songs in it.
But that doesn't happen very often-as a matter of fact, most artists don't
have that kind of control over their publishing. Performances usually belong
to the record company. It's a rare artist who can control publishing.
[Sayles has directed three videos for Springsteen, including "Glory Days."]
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On Phil Phillips
So, when we were making Passion Fish, somebody said, 'See that extra over there. That's Phil Phillips, the guy who recorded 'Sea of Love.' And I think his name was Phillip Baptiste, or one of those Cajun names-his real name-but he recorded under Phil Phillips, and I got talking to him about [it]. 'So, it was great that your song,AeP
and they made a movie, and the song is played a dozen times in it,' and he said, 'You know, I didn't make any money on that. I made a couple cents as a performer.' He was one of the writers of the song, but by the time it got on the record label,
it was so diluted by other people who had nothing to do with writing his song.
On the Rhythm and Blues Foundation
Ruth Brown started with Bonnie Raitt and a couple of other people this Rhythm
and Blues Foundation, and some of them, because of that-people who actually created this music-got rediscovered when there were other media. When CDs came along, they weren't getting any of the money, and so they did some reparations-especially with Atlantic Records. I think they were the first label to say, "Yeah, you've got a point.' Ahmet Ertegun, he was embarrassable. Some aren't embarrassable.
On film as an agent of change
I think movies are part of the conversation, and it can be a very important conversation. If you think of race relations in the United States, movies until
about 1955 were part of the problem. If you watch old movies, racism was underlined and encouraged and reinforced by portrayals of black people, especially in movies.
From about 1955 on, they started-very slowly-to be part of the solution. Sometimes-eventually-the most important thing was when it could be just a throwaway, and you had some black soldiers or some black ballplayers, and 'Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen' played on the soundtrack. You know, Denzel Washington is one of our big action heroes-we could do a lot worse, because he's a good actor. And he doesn't have to be in a movie that's only about black people.
[My tape ended just as Sayles was about to say something about Inside Man.]
Reminder: John Sayles will be at SIFF Cinema on Sat., 9/1, at 12pm as part of Bumbershoot's 1 Reel Film Festival. Afterwards, the Honeydripper All-Stars play the Starbucks Stage at 3:15pm. For more information, please click here. As for the movie, Honeydripper is set to be released in 2008 after its premiere at this year's Toronto International Film Festival. For more on the writer/director, Sayles on Sayles
is the title of the interview compendium from which these posts take their name.
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Click here for Charles Burnett's take on Honeydripper. Images
from Senses of Cinema, Google Images, and Wikipedia.

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