In Depth

Making Movie Themes Special

CBS Music Showcase Distinguishes Itself by Putting Quality First

When you talk to Richard Beckman, president of the Conde Nast Media Group, about “Movies Rock: A Celebration of Music in Film,” you can hear the pride in his voice. “That which you are most passionate about ends up being where you do your best work,” said Mr. Beckman. “We had tremendous passion for this project and that came across, I think. It was a labor of love for us.”

“Movies Rock” was a CBS special in which today’s top music stars re-created classic songs from films in new and innovative ways. There was Fergie doing Wings’ James Bond rocker “Live and Let Die,” Chris Brown evoking Elvis with “Jailhouse Rock” and others.

The show, which is a contender for an Emmy nomination for variety, music or comedy special, was a production of Condé Nast Media Group, the Producers Guild of America and the Entertainment Industry Foundation. Mr. Beckman and PGA board members Kathleen Kennedy and Bruce Cohen were executive producers along with Don Mischer of Don Mischer Productions.

“Movies Rock” grew out of the 5-year-old success “Fashion Rocks.” “It’s been very successful and has drawn some incredible talent to it,” said Mr. Beckman. “In the course of working on that, we got to meet the Producers Guild. They were really interested in creating a lot of fashion around film. No disrespect to the award shows at all, but a lot of the TV coverage of the big screen has always been focused on awards. We developed collectively this idea that it would be terrific if we could articulate music and film’s relationship in a very contemporary way.”

Considering how difficult it is to stage big production numbers during award shows, “Movies Rock” was taking a big chance. According to Mr. Beckman, the involvement of 13-time Emmy-winning producer-director Mr. Mischer made it easier to take on the challenge. “Don is very talented, and he had done ‘Fashion Rocks’ with us,” he said. “We set out to create something highly entertaining that had the best talent in their genre. Everyone in the show was best in class.”

The producers brainstormed ideas, coming up with the star to match the right film song. “A lot of thought went into everything, and we didn’t go over the top in what we tried to do to create something to pay great respect to these classic songs of the past, by giving them a contemporary edge by the nature of the performances and the arrangements and the people we had doing the songs. I love the juxtaposition at the end with Tony Bennett doing ‘White Christmas’ preceded by ‘Shaft.’ LL Cool J on the same stage as Tony Bennett, that’s great,” said Mr. Beckman.

“Music is more than just the soundtrack,” he added. “It’s almost like the third character. It’s the energy that courses through the film. It sets the mood, it helps the plot and the characters develop. So that was the objective.”

One of the standout performances on “Movies Rock” was Usher re-creating Gene Kelly’s title number from “Singin’ in the Rain.” “We sat with Usher at Radio City while he was rehearsing for ‘Fashion Rocks,’ and he talked about his admiration for Gene Kelly, how he grew up admiring and respecting his panache and his performances,” Mr. Beckman said.

Re-creating the street scene for Usher to sing and dance in the rain meant taping the performance rather than doing it live. “We had to tape for the show because we couldn’t replicate the rain on a live stage.

“Usher is one of the stars we’re putting forth for the individual Emmy as best performance,” Mr. Beckman said. “The other one is Beyonce. She brought the house down with ‘Over the Rainbow.’”

The success of “Movies Rock” has inspired a sequel. On Dec. 7, at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, “Movies Rock” will rock again, with all-new performances of classic film songs. “There’s such a rich body of work,” he said. “We came up with 30 other songs. If you talk to the artists, they talked about how great it was to step out of their comfort zone, to show what they can do with these iconic songs from the past.”

Mr. Mischer will again produce the television show.

“We all really struck a chord. It was a marvelous show,” said Mr. Beckman. “I remember sitting there, being so proud of what we had done.” He’ll be just as proud when and if the Primetime Emmy comes their way.