Every year, it seems, awards season gives us some sort of feel-good Cinderella story. We all remember the “Slumdog” kids, or Keisha Castle-Hughes… hell, heartwarming awards season tales go all the way back to folks like Harold Russell in 1946’s “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Well, the tradition is continuing this year with one of the greatest real-life success stories we’ve heard in a awhile, and it involves Jason Reitman, a tape recorder and an unemployed musician who was in the right place at the right time.
“At that point I was telling myself ‘This is all I can do’,” St. Louis native Kevin Renick remembers of the fateful day he attended a lecture hosted by the “Juno” director in February 2008 and, out of sheer desperation, snuck him a cassette tape of a demo he had recorded. “I thought ‘This is not going to work. He’s probably going to throw the thing in the trash.’ But I thought I’d try it anyway.”
Now, his song “Up In the Air” plays over the end credits for Reitman’s movie of the same name -- an awards season juggernaut that many are calling the best film of the year. “By extraordinary luck, he was intrigued that I was giving him a cassette,” marveled Renick, who in Fall 2008 was laid-off from his day job as an advertising proofreader, last April had his mother and “best friend” pass away and simply didn’t have the financial means to burn a CD. “Because I gave him this outdated technology, he was intrigued enough to find a place to listen to it -– and he liked the song!”
“I had horrible luck leading up to this,” he remembered of his life at the time. “It was the year from hell, basically.”
“I never dreamed that he’d use the little demo on the cassette,” he continued, explaining the endearingly-crappy sound of the recording moviegoers are now hearing at theaters worldwide. “I thought that if he liked the song he’d send me into a recording studio and tell me to do a slick version of it. Instead, he liked the fact that it was a primitive recording -- and that’s what he used in the movie.”
“I was very nervous. My heart was pounding when I asked him,” Renick remembered of last February, when he stood up during the Q & A portion of the lecture and asked Reitman in front of a room full of people if the director would listen to his demo. “People were laughing at me, going ‘What nerve!’”
When you think about it, the odds are astronomically slim that Renick would approach the right director, and that someone as open-minded as Reitman would just happen to be shooting a movie with the same name as a song the aspiring musician already had written.
“It was [a sign] in a way, because I thought ‘Wow, that’s an interesting coincidence,’” he remembered of his thoughts upon learning that “Up In the Air” was the title of Reitman’s next film. “And I was further inspired to follow through when I learned the movie was using the concept of being up in the air to have a double meaning… I had the same double meaning in my song; it’s about travel, but it’s also clearly about indecision.”
Now, Renick is fielding phone calls from the music and movie industry for future projects, working on his own full-length album called “Close to Something Beautiful” and performing the song live in concert for the likes of Reitman himself. And to make sure his career continues to blossom, he teased, he might just keep writing songs featuring the titles of upcoming movies.
“I’ve joked with friends that I’m going to watch to see what films might be going into production,” he laughed about such future heart-tugging hits as “Batman 3 (are you out there, Mr. Nolan?).” “I’ll just start writing songs with the name of every single movie. I figure with one out of ten, I’ll score.”
“I can’t believe all of this is happening,” he said in all seriousness, thanking Jason Reitman for seeking out a cassette player and giving him his big break. “I’m astounded.”
What do you think of Kevin Renick’s story?