As likely as you are to spot movie stars trekking the snowy streets of Park City, Utah, for the Sundance Film Festival (which started January 20 and ends 10 days later), it’s becoming just as commonplace to spot musicians. Just four days into the festival, the paparazzi have already snapped photos of Janelle Monae playing to a packed crowd, Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine) serenading a party, Lil Jon challenging Susan Sarandon to a ping-pong match, Snoop Dogg rapping with a full band, KT Tunstall headlining a charity event, Lou Reed playing live at the Celebration of Music in Film Panel, Tommy Lee DJing, 50 Cent performing, the Roots holding court live, Cee Lo Green taking the stage, and even a be-wigged James Franco jokingly breaking out into dubious rhymes. (Also on the festival docket: the elusive Lauryn Hill and indie critical darlings St. Vincent.)
There are, of course, movies about musicians at Sundance. Sing Your Song rethinks Harry Belafonte as a social activist. Beats, Rhymes & Life, directed by actor Michael Rapaport, celebrates A Tribe Called Quest’s underappreciated legacy. Troubadours waxes nostalgic for the ’70s heyday of the like-named club, when folkies such as Carole King, James Taylor, David Crosby, and Kris Kristofferson made it de rigueur to hang at the West Hollywood establishment.
Then there’s the increasing trend in rock musicians who are scoring films as extracurricular activity. In the past, we’ve seen this with Jonny Greenwood (There Will Be Blood) and Animal Collective (ODDSAC), and more recently, Trent Reznor, who could very likely win an Oscar for his work on The Social Network. This year, the compositions of Arctic Monkeys singer Alex Turner were featured in the coming-of-age movie Submarine, which also features some mixes by Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford. Sundance has attempted to nurture this cross-pollination of music and film with its Film Composers Lab, whose alums include Tyler Bates (300) and Penka Kouneva (Transformers).
But more intriguingly, there’s also a handful of musicians franchising themselves out into the film industry, to varying degrees. And these are the musicians who tend to pound the Park City pavement. On the promotional end of things, Das Racist submitted their “Who’s That? Brooown!” 8-bit video and performed in Utah as well. The Beastie Boys’ Adam “MCA” Yauch—whose Oscilloscope Laboratories has already dropped his basketball documentary Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot in 2008 and the Banksy documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, and will release director Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Howl, the Allen Ginsberg biopic starring James Franco—debuted his 30-minute short, Fight for Your Right Revisited. (Yauch was not present because he is battling cancer in his salivary gland.) An imagining of what fictitiously happened to the Beastie Boys after the events in their “Fight for Your Right” music video, it boasts a cast of arbiters of cool, among them: Elijah Wood, Danny McBride, Seth Rogen, Rainn Wilson, Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, John C. Reilly.
Most intriguingly, Slash has used the occasion to announce, last week, his new horror-movie production company, Slasher Films—a parnership with Scout Productions (Fog of War). And he already has movies in development to promote: Nothing to Fear, a demon story; Theorem, about a dastardly math equation; Wake the Dead, a modernized Frankenstein tale; and The Other Kingdom, about a zombie epidemic. His is a logical extension of the second life Rob Zombie has built as a horror filmmaker, enabling Slash to turn a profit by branding himself, but letting the movie folks do the heavy lifting so he can sticking to what he does best: playing the guitar.
If he plays his cards right, Slash will actually emulate 50 Cent more than Zombie. Few shill with the brazen enthusiasm of Fiddy. A budding actor in his own right, he showed up to the festival with a clear agenda: pushing Twelve, a movie starring Chace Crawford and Emma Roberts, from Cheetah Vision Films, 50’s movie-production company (with Hollywood-dude Randall Emmett) which has a $200 million, 10-picture deal with Lionsgate. (Twelve would be film number 6.) He hit Sundance deftly name-dropping Floyd Mayweather Jr., who’ll be financing Tomorrow Today, the rapper’s own writing-directorial effort, as well as Swizz Beatz and Eminem, who’ll guest on 50’s upcoming album Black Magic. But this isn’t just about moving units. “I’m a work in progress,” 50 told Reuters, explaining his sundry endeavors (which also includes VitaminWater, headphones, clothing, videogames…). Since cross-pollination with other platforms seems the best bet at keeping the ebbing music industry buoyant, perhaps he’s on to something.