Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jay Roach explains Beatles' presence in Schmucks

I had a chance to see an advanced screening of Dinner for Schmucks, which I highly recommend to comedy fans.

Anyway, Dinner for Schmucks director Jay Roach explains how he was able to get a Beatles song in the soundtrack.
For Roach, having "Fool on the Hill" was invaluable because, as he told me, he'd been wrestling with how to give audiences an early glimpse of Carell, even though his character--a lonely loser--isn't actually on screen for the first 15-or-so minutes of the film. As the song plays, we see someone constructing intricate dioramas populated with dead mice, which as we later learn, depict images from Carell's character's long-gone marriage. "I'd been floundering a little with how the movie should start and when our music editor put the song on, it just worked," said Roach.

So Roach did what filmmakers do best. He wrote a long letter to Paul McCartney, making it clear that there was no possible substitute for having "Fool on the Hill." "It helped I think that we'd done an homage to 'A Hard Day's Night' in the first 'Austin Powers' film, which I'd heard had been well received," Roach explained. It also probably helped that Roach's wife, Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles, had met McCartney a couple of times and was a serious Beatles fan, having covered "Got to Get You Into My Life" with Matthew Sweet a few years ago.

"Still, I think the letter helped," Roach said. "I wrote it as if I were the Minister of Storytelling, telling Paul all about the character that Carell plays, with all its irony and sweetness and sadness, and how the song really captured the mood of what was going on. And I admitted that I couldn't think of any other way to start the film."

Roach sent McCartney footage of the opening sequence, with the song playing over it, and--voila--permission was granted. The song didn't come cheap. Paramount/DreamWorks reportedly paid $1.5 million for its usage. But the song sets a perfect tone for the film, neatly capturing the melancholy spirit that is at the heart of Carell's performance, so I'd say it was worth all 150 million pennies.

UPDATE: Paramount is saying it paid less than a million for the Beatles song, though it wouldn't provide a precise figure. In dollars or pennies.
I'm with Roach...there was no other song that could have covered how that film started. It actually works better this way.

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