Red Vector

Excerpt From A Work-In-Progress

Red Vector, the biggest summer film of the decade, tells the story of a spy forced out of retirement. Harrison Ford had lobbied hard for the role because it allowed him to play his age. And he most effectively leveraged the no-longer-young angle in the seaside cottage scenes bookending the film. A new agent, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, is sent to convince Ford to again serve his country and, of course, they fall in love at his secluded waterside home. Two hours later, the action returns to the cottage on the cliff: the main baddie (Christopher Walken, naturally), whom Ford thinks he’s killed in the middle of the third act, turns out to be–big, collective gasp from the audience–Not Dead, Heavily Armed and Really Pissed . . .

A music department assistant had run love-, water– and sand-based searches across the back catalogs acquired by the Global Entertainment Group: old songs were filtered through these queries, distilling those with meanings that might fit the new context of the film. But there’d been no search for autumn because the screenplay’s slugline simply stated exterior. seaside home. So in the end it wasbeach that had snagged your song, and then the rest of the very cinematic lyric had gone on to clinch the deal.

By shooting and cutting the film’s love montage to a song it already owned, GEG also managed to create most of the video needed for VH1, and then promptly distributed the costs across both the music and film divisions–something the accountants found far more stirring than any ballad ever written. Afterwards, they stood you in front of a green screen and had you lip-sync the chorus for a couple hours, so that later, intercut with footage from the film, there’s just under 45 seconds of you in the six-minute video of your song . . .

Red Vector ends on a downbeat note–which probably accounts for all that bewildering acclaim for a blatant Big Summer Movie. And crucially, this undermining of expectations was your second lucky break. The original climax would have had Christopher Walken shotgunned off the cliff, and then, as Ford pulls Gyllenhaal to his chest,smash-cut to black and credit roll–which would have reprised Sharpnel’s “Armageddon Outta Here” from the second car chase in the film.

But the project’s director, both sensitive and French, had tired of making Euro-inflected action films, and so over a long weekend at the Chateau, he’d rewritten the predictable ending: Gyllenhaal is now revealed to have been a double agent, and is shot by Walken just before he’s blasted off the cliff. Ford rushes to her side for some forgiving, final words, and then audiences everywhere go weepy. As he cradles no-longer-with-us Gyllenhaal, a slow reverse-zoom aerial shot reduces him to a dot in an existential universe. (Being French, the director had insisted on calling this–yes–his Vertigo Moment.) After which there’s fade to black and credit roll–with what else but “Autumn Beach?” The full vocal version because now the song is about Harrison Ford alone with his memories. And of course, it’s also a certainty that the audience’s mood is now autumnal.

Saddened filmgoers filed out of theaters to a Dolby remix of “Autumn Beach” that you had had nothing to do with. And this was the version of the song that became a hit. However, if the studio hadn’t lost its battle for the uncontroversial Focus Group Ending, the deluxe, hit-bound iteration of the song would have appeared a full three minutes into the credits, accompanying the names of craftspeople in esoteric technical groups and therefore only heard by geeks in nearly empty auditoriums.

But Harrison Ford had intervened–he’d seen Maggie’s New Death Scene as the chance to do his first real acting in more than two hours: he could emote over the lover dying in his arms or snarl an Asta la vista variant–as choices go, it wasn’t hard. And so, with no second thought, Ford made a call and got the Vertigo Moment made by cashing-in one of his career chips . . .

Without limitations, everything’s possible–and that’s the problem: everything’s possible. However, that won’t be an issue here because there are parameters built into the sessions. All that’s needed is to clean-up the tracks; to be worthy of the 24-Bit Sampling line on the back of the lyric booklet. Get in, meticulously scrub and then get the hell out. Things that just aren’t good for us.

It means some badly needed cash, to say nothing of the rush that comes from being right all those years ago when you had stood firm regarding your own Vertigo Moment; when everyone else–critics, listeners and even Jack–couldn’t have been more wrong.

This is why you’re at Limbus Sound, in this swivel chair, on this oriental rug, in this cone of glacial light, with your cane on the floor beside you. Except it isn’t the real reason.

Your presence here has nothing to do with networking or savvy management or personal persistence or the obvious quality of the song or even the hard work (which, after all, had occurred 10 years ago). Your resurrection-fantasy-come-true is the result of the acquisition strategies of a global conglomerate, the database skills of a corporate research assistant, the accidental alignment of song subject with a story created by a politicized committee of screenwriters, the fortuitous choice of a literal title, the overweening ambitions of an dead-ended action director and the second agenda of an international film star.

Within significant limitations, only certain things are possible.

These are the fading details of your second chance–and why a version of “Autumn Beach” mixed by someone else will bump the original to the end of your re-release or, more likely, simply replace it.