As a music executive, Nashville resident Anastasia Brown has amassed an illustrious list of credits in her quest to bridge the gap between Nashville music and Hollywood films.
She earned Grammy nominations for her work on Footloose, and as music supervisor for August Rush, as well as an Emmy win for the television mini-series Steven Spielberg Presents: Taken. She also worked on the movie and soundtrack for Billy Graham: The Early Years. Other projects include For the Love of Music: The Story of Nashville, I Saw The Light, Charlie’s War, and the television show The Americans, among others. From 2005-2007, she served as a judge on USA Network’s Nashville Star.
In her latest venture, Brown served as music supervisor for the Lionsgate film The Shack, starring Sam Worthington and Octavia Spencer, with country star and actor Tim McGraw in a supporting role. She also worked as producer on the film’s soundtrack.
The faith-based drama, which revolves around a grieving father that meets with a higher power in the shack where his daughter was murdered, brought in $16.1 million during its opening weekend on March 3, according to Forbes.
In 2009, Brown was introduced to the book The Shack, the William P. Young bestseller that the movie is based on.
“My father gave it to me during a personal crisis,” Brown tells MusicRow. “He said, ‘You are becoming someone that you are not. Read this to learn how to live and love again.’ I read the book and it changed the way I thought. I wanted to get out of that place and become more positive.”
In 2014, while attending an industry party, she met Lani and Gil Netter, who had produced the 2012 movie Life of Pi.
“I had watched that movie the night before, and was blown away. I asked what was their next movie, and they said, The Shack,” Brown recalls.
She took advantage of the opportunity, asking to do the music for the film. “I kept checking in, sending him songs while he was finishing the script and would not let it go. I was like a dog on a bone.”
Initially, vision for the film’s music involved more Americana music, “music with some dust on it, if you will,” says Brown. As the production process went along, they moved in a different direction after viewing the rough cut.
“Every movie takes on a life of its own,” says Brown. “The actors start becoming the people you envisioned, and the emotion in the film starts…we realized the music would be more score-driven, because there was so much emotion already and the dialogue was so important. Too many songs would compete with that beautiful dialogue.”
In the process of overseeing music for The Shack, Brown fulfilled a long-held dream of scoring a movie in Nashville.
“I have to give credit to [Lionsgate’s Music Chief] Amy Dunning,” says Brown. “I connected her with [EA Music Group’s] Steve Schnur, who has done amazing scoring in Nashville. They said, ‘Ok, we’ll trust you. We’ll give it a try.’”
A team of 75 Nashville musicians began working at Ocean Way Studios at 10 a.m., and went well into the evening, scoring the entire film in one day.
“The first five minutes you could tell that [composer] Aaron [Zigman] was a little nervous but when he heard the Nashville musicians began to play, he was like, ‘Ok, I’m not nervous anymore. I want to score here more and more.’”
Brown also oversaw the compilation of the accompanying soundtrack, The Shack: Music From and Inspired By The Original Motion Picture, which released Feb. 24 via Atlantic Records. She says the soundtrack is an extension of the movie, rather than an accompaniment.
“Gill Netter and Lionsgate had the movie in mind before they even hired me. You can only fit so much of a book in two hours of a film, and there are so many important messages in the book and the film. The soundtrack can touch on things that a movie cannot,” Brown said.
The album features music from a diverse set of country and contemporary Christian music artists, including Dierks Bentley, Lady Antebellum, Brett Eldredge, Skillett, for King & Country, NEEDTOBREATHE (ft. Lauren Daigle), Devin Dawson, and more. Tim McGraw, who narrates the film and portrays the character “Willie,” was chief among Brown’s desired artists for the soundtrack. McGraw, Faith Hill and ace songwriters Shane McAnally and Lori McKenna penned “Keep Your Eyes On Me.”
A few songs from the soundtrack were used throughout the film, such as “I’ll Think About You,” by Word Entertainment band We Are Messengers.
“There is a burial scene in the film, and I asked several artists to write a song for that scene,” recalls Brown. “The song really elevated that scene, but then they decided to use scoring in that particular scene, so it went back and forth. I had to go to the band and ask for multiple changes over a few months and after all those changes, it went back to scoring. I was devastated. We began getting audience feedback from those that got to see [early cuts of the film] and the song was what really resonated with them. In the end, We Are Messengers got the placement and it really had such a beautiful impact on the film.”
Dan+Shay’s “When I Pray For You” is another standout song from the soundtrack.
“Their take on this film was about praying for the future and having a good future, which is another theme in the film. The mother was a prayer warrior and the father really had to go through the fire, if you will, to get to that point. The song talks about the strength and belief of the mother and the fact that they wanted their child to have that same faith.”
Brown says Kelly Clarkson became involved in the soundtrack after watching an early screening. “She had recently had a baby, and she left the screening so emotional. She said, ‘It’s too close to home to write a song, but I’d love to record one,’” Brown says.
Brown turned to singer-songwriter Aloe Blacc with the idea of a duet. Clarkson and Blacc recorded their portions of “Love Goes On,” separately. “We got that song very close to our deadline,” Brown recalls.
The soundtrack offers a generous 14 songs, and there were plenty of songs they had to pass on.
“We’ve had a batch of songs for more than a year,” she says. “The bar just kept going higher and the songs got better. A lot of songs we had to let go of. I personally think that because the film is so inspiring, it inspires a lot of great songwriting. Part of me wants to encourage the label to put out a second soundtrack.”
Brown’s work with music and film came after several years working in marketing and music. Brown moved to Nashville in 1990, and began working for a marketing and advertising company whose clients included the Roy Acuff Theatre.
Brown teamed with manager Miles Copeland’s Ark 21 Records in 1993, working to exploit copyrights with Nashville artists. Brown secured collaborations between Sting and artists including Toby Keith, Waylon Jennings and Tammy Wynette, among others. She also facilitated a collaboration between Sting and Toby Keith on “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” during the 31st annual Country Music Association Awards.
After parting ways with Copeland in 1999, Brown got involved with a local screenwriters conference. “I noticed that Nashville’s local artists weren’t getting a lot of placements. It was a challenge because the relationships weren’t there, but I decided to do this full time. I have to fly to L.A. a lot, but I love Nashville and our creative community so much that it’s worth doing.”
Brown has found boldness to be her hallmark, as she recalls her passion for her work on the 2007 movie August Rush. “If you want something, you have to chase it really hard. I joke that ‘No is my maybe.’ I did not have a ton of experience before August Rush but I had so much passion and a lot of great ideas.”
She also credits her time with Copeland, whom she still keeps in touch with, for teaching her to keep going. “Miles told me that if he had been so afraid of making a mistake that The Police would have never been the band that they are. He told me to go with my gut and don’t think like everyone else does.”
- CMA Honors Robert Deaton With Chairman’s Award - December 4, 2020
- Nashville Symphony, Nashville Musicians Association Reach Agreement - December 4, 2020
- Zach Williams’ “Chain Breaker” Is Most-Added On ‘MusicRow’ CountryBreakout Radio Chart - December 4, 2020