Even though it was his first major film project as a writer-director, Crazy Heart’s Scott Cooper knew one thing would make or break the movie — its music. The fictionalized biopic of a fading country music star wowed audiences with stunning performances from Jeff Bridges, but its soundtrack captured their hearts. The film would go on to win Academy Awards for best actor (Bridges) and best original song (Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett’s “The Weary Kind” ).
A musical team that included Burnett, Bingham, Bridges, Cooper and the late Stephen Bruton created each song to help tell the story, but not all of the material they came up with was included in the theatrical version. With the DVD release of the film, viewers are offered musical sequences that didn’t make the final cut, among other special features. Recently, Cooper talked with CMT.com about the DVD, the craft of matching music with film and where he will go from here.
CMT.com: Congratulations on Crazy Heart’s success. So many country music fans connected with it right away.
Cooper: Oh, well that means a lot to me because I literally grew up in Bristol, Va., and Abingdon, Va., which is where country music started with the Carter Family. So it meant a lot to me to tell this story and that it’s been embraced the way that it has.
What has life been like for you and the cast since the Golden Globes and the Oscars?
It’s really indescribable. It’s been a whirlwind. I mean, when you set out to make a feature film for the first time as a writer and director, you certainly don’t expect to go to the Golden Globes and the Oscars and then win a couple and really take the ride that I’ve taken.
What special features are included in the DVD version of Crazy Heart?
Well, there will be some behind-the-scenes footage and there will also be some scenes that I trimmed out of the movie that were very important to me and the actors. I’m so happy that they’re going to be included because they’re really just some fantastic work. I mean Jeff does even better work in some of the scenes that you haven’t seen, if that’s possible.
I also read somewhere that it may include some alternative music cuts, too. Is that true?
Yeah it is. … When you have the genius of T Bone Burnett and all the people that worked on it, there’s just so much rich material.
As far making a memorable scene, how do you decide where a song should go in a film?
Very carefully, because you’re also telling a narrative. So for instance, the first song we hear Bad Blake sing in the movie is called “Somebody Else.” So, quickly, he tells the audience in the bowling alley and tells us viewers that “I used to be somebody, but now I’m somebody else.” This is a guy who used to play the Ryman and the Opry, who now finds himself playing bowling alleys. And one of the last musical scenes in the movie, when Bad Blake is performing in Robert Duvall’s bar, he sings a song called “Brand New Angel.” It’s about the death of a fiddle player, but it’s also, in his case, about the rebirth of a man who has gone through sobriety and really sought redemption and found it. So nothing is by mistake.
Which comes first then, the song or the scene?
Well, when I was writing the screenplay, I would put in filler because I wrote the role for Jeff, but I didn’t have Jeff attached. And I wanted to create the music organically from the boots up around a performer. But I would put in a Townes Van Zandt song or a Waylon Jennings song or a Billy Joe Shaver song as a place holder. Just kind of whatever I felt I wanted to express at that moment. Then T Bone and Jeff and I would create the music.
Do you think there are any similarities between writing a song and making a movie?
Yeah, there is, because it’s really all about two things: telling a story and, as Merle Haggard said, “telling the truth.” And that’s what we tried to do — as I did the screenplay and as we were crafting these songs — tell the truth about this man’s story. Especially if you look at the song that Ryan Bingham wrote, “The Weary Kind.”
How does it feel to know that Ryan Bingham’s career has taken off, kind of in a new direction, since this film?
Well, you know, any time a guy goes from living in his truck to winning an Oscar in two years, you’ve gotta be happy about that. And he’s so talented and an original voice, and he’s one that we’re going to hear a lot from. So that I could help Ryan reach a wider audience is very gratifying.
Did you and Ryan know each other before the project?
No, I just liked his music. I didn’t know any of these people, other than Robert Duvall, who’s a close friend and a frequent collaborator. I was married on his farm, and we’ve worked together four times. But I didn’t know anybody, so I just wrote them all letters. And then when I heard Ryan’s CD, Mescalito, I asked to meet with him, took him to lunch and said, “Have you ever been in a movie?” He said “No,” and I said “Well, I want you to play Tony,” who is the young singer-songwriter that we meet at the bowling alley. And then, I asked him to write a song, and he went home, thought about it and wrote “The Weary Kind.”
Would you consider doing another music-related project?
Oh, yeah, I would. I think that someone should tell Miles Davis’ story. [Jazz musician] Chet Baker had an interesting life story. Those guys come to mind.
Is there anything that you can tell us about right now that’s in the works?
Well, I’ll say that it’s been an embarrassment of riches. I’ve never been offered anything in my life, and now I’m getting [movie offers] on a weekly basis. But I’ve kind of felt like I didn’t want to direct somebody else’s script. I’m not saying that I won’t, but I’m writing something now that I just feel really connected to. So, as they say down south, “hide and watch.”