Under the guidance of acclaimed singer-songwriter Marshall Crenshaw, a quartet of Memphis rock and rollers gathered at Scott Bomar's South Main studio Wednesday afternoon to record original songs for "Losers Take All," a movie about a fictional 1980s indie punk-pop band that is slated to be shot in Memphis this summer.
As the musicians drove a punk freight train titled "Blown Fuse" through Bomar's Electraphonic Recording studio, the 56-year-old Crenshaw -- a Detroit-born artist whose smart-guy-with-glasses songcraft has earned comparisons to Buddy Holly, John Lennon and Elvis Costello -- said he hopes the songs will be true to the standard set by such 1980s inspirations as the Minutemen and the Replacements.
"When you go back and listen to that stuff, there's a real depth to it -- there's a raw energy, but there are real ideas there."
Scheduled to be shot over 25 days on a budget of about $1.5 million, "Losers Take All" likely will be hotly anticipated by independent-film aficionados: The director is Delaware-born Ti West, whose previous feature, last year's art-horror hit "The House of the Devil," was received respectfully and even ecstatically in some mainstream publications by writers impressed with its deliberate pace (interrupted by infrequent bursts of gruesome violence) and its authentic 1980s period production design.
"Memphis is the place to do it," said West, 29, in a phone interview from Los Angeles. "We're not looking anywhere else; it's just one of those things that's taking a long time to cast. It's a very difficult movie to cast because it's about a very particular music scene, so just trying to find four guys that all fit together in a band has been very challenging."
Producers-screenwriters Andrew Pope and Winn Coslick first visited Memphis last summer, at the urging of another of the film's producers, Mike S. Ryan, who worked here on such movies as "21 Grams" (2003) and the Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winner "Forty Shades of Blue" (2005).
"Mike is a real booster of Memphis, and he worked to help us bring this movie here," said deputy Memphis & Shelby County Film commissioner Sharon Fox O'Guin.
"We were just gonna set it in any town," said Pope, 39, a native of Atlanta. "In fact, the town wasn't going to be a 'character' at all. But man, I came down here, I had never been here before, and after the first meal at the Cozy Corner, I was like, 'This is my kind of town.' We realized this is the perfect place to set it."
Coslick, 38, who hails from Savannah, Ga., said Memphis "keeps finding its way into the script." For example, a visit to the Crystal Palace skating rink on South Third convinced them to expand a skating sequence.
Hired to be the film's music supervisor and "music guru" (in Pope's words), Crenshaw contacted numerous songwriters, "just trying to generate some tunes."
Memphian Jack Yarber (a.k.a. Jack Oblivian), Hans Zimmeran of Austin's The Young and Crenshaw's brother, John Crenshaw, are among those whose 1980s-style punk-indie rock compositions are being recorded for the film. Grant Hart of Hüsker Dü contributed a composition that could become the movie's theme song.
The Memphis musicians -- Steve Selvidge and John Paul Keith on guitar, Mark Stuart on bass and Paul Buchignani on drums, all veterans of the local club scene -- received demos of the song by e-mail only a few days before the quickly scheduled recording sessions, which continue today at Electraphonic, with Bomar (composer of scores for "Hustle & Flow" and "Black Snake Moan") again working as producer of the tracks.
If all goes as planned, vocals by the actors cast as rock musicians in the film will replace the vocals cut here this week, but the instrumental backing will remain the same.
-- John Beifuss: 529-2394