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Words and Music
In the all-important role of music supervisor – who helps the director devise and execute a musical strategy for the film -- the filmmakers chose Randall Poster, veteran collaborator with such directors as Martin Scorsese, Sam Mendes and Wes Anderson. Shana Feste readily embraced the choice. "With Randy Poster, I think ‘good music, excellent taste and really really smart,'” she praises. "We had heard that he wanted to do a movie about country music so we got on the phone and started talking. It was a fun experience from the very beginning; as we began to collaborate on finding each of these character's voices, we would send each other CDs of music that we loved, ‘Oh, this could sound like a Kelly song. This could sound like a Chiles song.' And then we went to Nashville and had two day-long meetings, every fifteen minutes with different songwriters and publishers; we pitched them the story and told them what we wanted from each song. Over the next few months we were inundated with music and we listened to all of it. It was one of the most painstaking processes choosing the thirteen songs that ended up in the movie because there was so much good stuff to choose from.”

Poster, a country music fan who'd always been eager to work on a film that explored that milieu, says, "Generally when you try to introduce a country element into a film, people tend to be allergic to the ‘twang,' so it's refreshing to be able to really push and vigorously explore that world. In country music people believe in the ability of songs to take you through your life and support you emotionally, so I think that one of the great values of country music is how the audience brings this music into their lives and values it to such a degree. And performers have a lot of respect for their audience and enjoy a fervent fan base they are very committed to satisfying. They appreciate the fact that they have been invited into people's daily lives (and a lot of their music speaks to people's daily lives).”

Feste knew that with three distinct performer characters, there needed to be three different sounds. Says Feste, "Beau reflected the country music that I grew up listening to and fell in love with, the singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt kind of sound. His contemporaries are Hayes Carll and Ryan Bingham, and I wanted him to be part of that authentic tradition. I wanted Kelly to be a superstar, like a Faith Hill, so she had to have a very specific sound. And then Chiles is an emerging pop-country artist in the vein of Taylor Swift, so she'd have a very different sound. So it was very exciting to be able to explore three very different parts of country music. I also knew that it would capture a hot topic in country music as well since there are people who have been very outspoken about how country music has changed recently and gone a little more pop and less traditional than it used to be.”

Considering the three voices that Feste created, Poster "immediately thought it was important to create distinct musical worlds for each of the three characters. I worked with Shana to figure out our musical precedents, what we wanted to accomplish and how we would use music to help tell the story--how music would be used as dramatic support.” He suggested hiring three different music producers with three separate, individualized sounds. "Working with different producers for our three characters' voices was Randy's idea,” notes Feste, "which I think was very smart. Each producer is different and very credible for each artist. Byron Gallimore actually produces Tim and Faith so he knows exactly what to do with Kelly's songs; he made them sound like they were country hits. Nathan Chapman, who produces Taylor Swift's music, does Chiles' songs and they sound like they could be on country radio. Frank Liddell did Beau's music and gave it a very different sound that embraces the singer-songwriter in the character.”

Getting to work with the best Nashville songwriters – and have them put forward their best material – was the most fun part, for Poster. "We don't have a song that isn't great in the movie, so I couldn't be more excited about who we've got involved,” says Poster. "The challenge was to do something that would be accepted by the music community, and I think that given the fact that we've included so many local writers and artists, Nashville sees this as their movie. It a very tight-knit, thriving community that has a lot of respect for history and precedent, so I arrived wanting to show my respect for and commitment to the music, and spent a lot of time just walking around Music Row and introducing myself and the project to all the primary players in town: publishers, writers, producers, artists.”

In formulating the songscape of COUNTRY STRONG, Poster and Feste ended up working with a number of established Nashville composers. Among them was Tom Douglas, who Poster describes as "one of the premier writers in town--he's written a bunch of hits for Tim [including ‘Southern Voice,' the title of McGraw's album and 2010 tour]. Tom really heard what we were looking for and he enlisted some of his fellow writers like Bob DePiero, Troy Verges and a woman named Hillary Lindsey who is one of the great talents in town. They wrote ‘Coming Home' which is one of the most important songs in the film.” Another contribution of Hillary's was ‘A Little Bit Stronger,' which Leighton's character Chiles performs. Continues Poster, "I was very just impressed with how focused these writers were on getting us the songs we needed and were willing to work and rework and tailor it to our absolute specifications. We couldn't have gotten anything better than what we got from them.”

Douglas describes COUNTRY STRONG as nothing less than "thrilling” for Nashville. "I know the whole songwriting community has felt a real responsibility to deliver great songs,” says Douglas, "because this is going to be a post card about Nashville to the whole world, so we really wanted to bring our best which I'm sure we've done.”

"The songs sound like Nashville songs,” observes the outspoken Marshall Chapman. "They enhance the movie. Sometimes movie people just crowbar songs into movies. I had a song in a movie once, some hot tub scene that had nothing to do with nothing. It's like why? Except thank you for the money. But no, these songs are organically incorporated into what's going on. It's cool.”

Like Chapman, Tom Douglas also appears on screen, as a pastor. Other Nashville notables who appear in non-performing roles include double-digit Grammy® winner Dan Tyminski, the singing voice of George Clooney in the Coen Brothers' O Brother Where Art Thou?, who appears as a security guard; Ed Bruce, who wrote the classic "Mothers Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” as Clint, the owner of the club where Beau and Chiles perform; and singer-songwriters Lari White – who appears as Kelly Canter's hairstylist -- and Alana Grace, as Beau's ex-girlfriend.

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