SUNDANCE: How Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead Helped a Movie Get Made
PARK CITY -- The way producer Peter Newman sees it, without Bob Dylan on board, The Music Never Stopped may have never been made. And without the Grateful Dead, it probably would’ve needed a different ending.
The family drama focuses on the father-son dynamic between Gabriel, whose memory has been severely damaged by a brain tumor, and his uptight father, Henry, who sets out to mend his long-frayed relationship with his son. Gabriel, played by Lou Taylor Pucci, is able to recall once-forgotten memories when listening to the music of his 1960s adolescence — Dylan, the Grateful Dead, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, among others.
Fittingly, the film, which had its U.S. theatrical rights acquired by Roadside Attractions earlier this month, is filled with hits from those 60s juggernauts. But, that wasn’t always a fait accompli.
The film’s budget was under $4 million and Newman and other producers were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to afford the music rights to the hit songs they wanted.
“We were fully aware that we couldn’t or wouldn’t make the movie if we couldn’t get that caliber of music,” Newman said. “The movie would not have rung true.”
In the end, the producers estimate that if they had been required to pay artists their going rates for use of their music, it would have cost between $8 million and $10 million.
So how did they do it? It was simple, really: They asked Dylan for use of his songs at discount, and when the Bard agreed, it created a domino effect, with each artist taking the same reduced per-song rate. The Grateful Dead, which, as Gabriel’s favorite band, plays a key role in the film, followed suit after Dylan, as did others. Ultimately, the filmmakers used four Dylan songs (including “Desolation Row” and “Mr. Tambourine Man”) and six Grateful Dead songs. The Music features 16 songs in all.
(Worth noting: some of the Grateful Dead’s hits, such as “Truckin,’” “Ripple,” and “Touch of Grey” are in the film, but the band’s “The Music Never Stopped,” for which the film is named, is not.)
While Newman declined to discuss how much was spent on music rights — except to say that it “was really reasonable” — he did note that there are “box office benchmarks and bonuses” that could net more for the artists. And the matter of a soundtrack is being discussed.
It was clear at the The Music’s Saturday screening at the Eccles Theatre, that the Grateful Dead’s relationship with the film isn’t just a monetary one. At the Q&A after the screening, band member Mickey Hart related a story about connecting with the man whose real-life struggle with a brain tumor was the subject of Dr. Oliver Sacks’ The Last Hippie — the book that was the basis for The Music.
Hart and Weir also spoke of their fondness for the film and said they were delighted that their music could play a prominent role in the story. In the film’s climactic sequence, Gabriel and Henry (a strong J.K. Simmons) attend a Grateful Dead concert, rock out to “Touch of Grey,” and finally reestablish their love for one another.
The film premiered at Sundance on Friday at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City and is screening in the festival’s premieres section.