According to Variety, Paramount Classics has made a deal to distribute Prairie Wind, a performance film that Jonathan Demme will direct, based around a two-night performance of new material by Neil Young.
The film is a co-production between Demme's Clinica Estetica and Tom Hanks' and Gary Goetzman's Playtone. Ilona Hertzberg will produce with Demme, while Goetzman exec produces with Elliot Rubinowitz (Young's manager, Elliot Roberts), and Bernard Shakey (the name Young has used in pics).
The deal was made even though the studio execs haven't heard the songs, which Young will sing for the first time in public Aug. 18-19 at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. The songs appear on Young's next disc for Reprise Records, "Prairie Wind," to be released Sept. 27.
Paramount Classics co-presidents Ruth Vitale and David Dinerstein made the deal with Tom Lesinski, president of Paramount Worldwide Home Entertainment.
That they've yet to hear Prairie Wind is just one of the unusual things about the film. Most directors of concert films shoot bands in the midst of a tour. Here, Demme has rented the Ryman specifically for the film, and he's pulling out all the stops for the production.
Young will be accompanied by a variety of guest musicians, including Emmylou Harris, Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns, the Fisk University Jubilee Singers and Carl Gorodetsky and the 12-piece Nashville String Machine. Young's band on the record -- Spooner Oldham, Ben Keith, Chad Cromwell, Karl Himmel and Rick Rosas -- will back him at the Ryman.
Demme has hired Ellen Kuras as d.p., Michael Zansky to build special visual backdrops and, for wardrobe, has secured the services of Manuel, the man responsible for Elvis' movie wardrobe and Clint Eastwood's "man with no name" look. All this for a film Demme said he's waited his whole career to make.
"Because he never backslides, I've talked to Neil often about doing a performance film, and I knew this was right as soon as he sent me the CD," Demme said. "These songs, which cover everything from 9/11 to loving your children, came from a deep place, and they are so dreamy and gorgeous. He recorded them in between when he was told he had an aneurysm and when he had the operation to correct it. Maybe he was in a certain special place."
Demme and Goetzman worked together on the Demme-directed Talking Heads performance pic Stop Making Sense, and with Young on Philadelphia, for which he provided a tune that was Oscar-nominated.
Demme is working with Paramount Classics to slot the film's release as close to the album's release date as possible. Said Demme: "I feel this record will make a big cultural dent. Gary and I want for this to be part of the 'Prairie Wind' phenomenon, and not an historical look back."
Said Par Classics co-prexy Vitale: "We're keeping in mind the desire to go hand-in-hand with the album, but this is a movie that works on its own terms. The idea of Demme and Neil Young is kind of amazing, and between David, Tom and myself, we couldn't pass it up."
Young developed a life-threatening brain aneurysm in the spring. The condition was diagnosed right after he experienced blurred vision following his performance with the Pretenders at the group's induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March. The condition was corrected in April.
For his last album, Greendale, Young toured with about two dozen actors, who performed a stage show while he sang. He made an impressionistic film based on the songs that played some festivals, including Toronto, and then was given a theatrical tour. BMG Video handled the DVD release.