Sundance Preview: Anne Hathaway Finds Love Amid the Brooklyn Music Scene in 'Song One'

11:21 AM PST 01/08/2014 by Chris O'Falt

Writer-director Kate Barker-Froyland, daughter of Sony Pictures Classics head Michael Barker, is about to make her mark with a different kind of screen musical.

The Sundance Film Festival is a mecca for independent cinema and a pool of fresh filmmaking talent. But with nearly 200 films selected for exhibition, it can be a dizzying game of catch-up. So this year, The Hollywood Reporter decided to do a bit of prep work for you: Here's the who/what/where/when/why on a film worth putting on your radar.

Song One tells the story of Franny (Anne Hathaway), who is estranged from her family but returns home when her brother, Henry (Ben Rosenfield), is hospitalized following an accident. Filled with regret and trying to connect with her now-comatose brother, she explores the Brooklyn music scene that was his great passion in life. On her journey through small music venues to see his favorite performers, she strikes up a relationship with his musical idol, James Forester (Johnny Flynn).

In anticipation of Song One’s Jan. 20 premiere at the Eccles Theatre, The Hollywood Reporter talked to writer-director Kate Barker-Froyland about her career, collaborating with the musical duo Jenny and Johnny, and how her producer became her leading lady.

Background: Being that she's the daughter of longtime Sony Pictures Classics co-head Michael Barker, it’s not surprising that Barker-Froyland became a cinephile with a particular fondness for foreign film. “I grew up watching films by European filmmakers like Francois Truffaut and Wim Wenders and Pedro Almodovar and Louis Malle,” Barker-Froyland explains. “Many of them were family friends whose stories and characters and way of storytelling, I think, had a huge effect on me and my wanting to become a filmmaker.”

After graduating from college, where she studied philosophy and literature, Baker-Froyland went to China to shoot the behind-the-scenes “making of” James Ivory and Ismail Merchant’s last film together, The White Countess. She then went to work on The Devil Wears Prada as director David Frankel’s assistant and eventually completed her film education at Columbia University’s graduate film school for directing.

Getting the Film Off the Ground: While at Columbia, Barker-Froyland made some short films, which Jonathan Demme saw. That opened the door for her to send the legendary director an early draft of her script for Song One, which he agreed to produce. “I spent another year rewriting,” recalls Barker-Froyland, “and Jonathan would read draft after draft and give me notes. He knew that Anne Hathaway and Adam Shulman were interested in producing, and he sent them the script to read. They both connected with the script and wanted to produce the film.”

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Originally the writer-director was excited just to have the Academy Award-winning actress and her husband on board to produce, but she was pleasantly surprised when Hathaway called to express interest in playing the role of Franny herself. “Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it all,” recalls Barker-Froyland.

When It All Seemed to Click: In the film, the character of James is on tour promoting his one album. The design of the script was that all the backstory and emotions of the romantic lead were in his songs, yet in the script all Barker-Froyland wrote was simply “James plays (title of the song)”.  While Barker-Froyland had a clear sense of the character, the pieces didn’t start to come together until she started collaborating with Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice, who wrote the songs for the movie. 

“James' songs are basically his narrative,” Barker-Froyland explains. “I talked a lot to Jenny and Johnny about his character as they wrote these songs about his background and his life. Everything finally became the most real when we cast Johnny Flynn as James, because he was the missing piece to the musical puzzle”.

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The Mission for Song OneMusic plays a huge role in Barker-Froyland’s life, and she’s hoping this film shares with her audience the emotional experience she has seeing live music. To convey the power of music, she carefully constructed a narrative in which two distinct characters, who come from totally different worlds and are lost and alone in their own ways, are brought together by James and Henry’s music. “I was inspired by living in New York, specifically Brooklyn,” the writer-director tells THR, “where music is such a huge part of the neighborhood. Taking the subway, walking on the street, being by the waterfront, and just going to different venues in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side.”  

The Sundance Dream: “My fantasy at Sundance is to see my film on the big screen for the first time and that a good company loves my film and wants to take it on." Asked if her father and his company would get a leg up on the competition and get a sneak peek at the film, Barker-Froyland laughs and replies, "No, they haven't seen it yet.  We're still mixing."

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