In talking with other music producers over the years, Dallas Austin made an interesting observation about his profession.
"It's funny, the Neptunes and those guys, they all met in band," he said Wednesday from his Atlanta home. "Everybody says it played a huge part in their life in music."
So Austin set out to shine some light on what was also an integral part of his youth and approached Fox Studios about making a movie based on his experiences in high school marching band.
"They were like, 'What's so interesting about it?' " Austin recalled. "So I filmed one of the competitions at the Georgia Dome and brought it back and was like, 'See, they play Top 40 and hip-hop.' They were like, 'Wow!' They'd never seen it before. So I incorporated the story of my life about a kid in band who couldn't read music but could play real good. ... They were like, 'Can we make it in college?' I'm like, 'It's bigger in college, are you kidding?' "
"Drumline" went into production earlier this year — with Nick Cannon (Nickelodeon's "The Nick Cannon Show"), Zoe Saldana ("Crossroads") and Orlando Jones ("The Replacements") in starring roles — and is due in theaters January 10. Austin is the music supervisor and an executive producer of both the movie and the soundtrack (see " 'NSYNC's JC Chasez Records Solo Tracks, Considers Album").
"It's hard because we wanted to have music that was out, but it gets dated really fast," Austin said of the music performed by the bands in the movie. "So what happened is, Orlando Jones is a strict [band] director, and Nick Cannon wants to play street music, so they make a compromise. [Cannon's character] says, 'Let's take it back, let me add old to the new.' So I ended up picking Earth, Wind & Fire and the Jacksons and doing medleys and mixing them with new stuff."
Directed by Charles Stone III ("Paid in Full"), "Drumline" was filmed in Atlanta, where Austin is planning a massive premiere that will include a parade of the marching bands featured in the movie.
Once the film is in theaters, Austin hopes to begin shooting his next project, "Jellybeans," for Warner Bros. and Will Smith's production company, Overbrook. Like "Drumline," the story is based on his childhood in Atlanta, although instead of band competitions, it is set in the skating rink where Austin met TLC's Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Outkast and Organized Noize.
"It's kind of like a 'Saturday Night Fever,' " the producer said. "We're finishing the last redraft of the script write now. It's basically an extended version of a lot of the songs I write."
In addition to movies, Austin is also getting involved in television. He just finished the pilot episode of a sitcom called "Down South" that could be on schedules for next season.
"It's kind of like a cross between 'Fresh Prince [of Bel Air]' and 'Good Times,' " Austin explained. "A kid is sent down South to stay with his aunt Claire and uncle Ray because his parents are rich in New York and he's becoming a problem child and they just think he needs Southern training."
Austin, whose diverse résumé includes tracks with Michael Jackson, Madonna, Björk and Tricky, has also been busy with his day job. He just finished Westside Connection's "Holidays," the first single from the "Friday After Next" soundtrack, and four tracks with TLC.
As a longtime friend of TLC as well as a frequent collaborator, Austin helped T-Boz and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas with the difficult task of finishing 3D after the death of Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes.
"We usually always have something go wrong, but this album is full of everything that could go wrong," he said. "We have a lot of Lisa's vocals around, raps leftover from her solo record. Actually she's on more songs on this album than she's ever been."
One of those tracks is the first-single contender "Quickie." "It reminds me of the old stuff, like when 'Ain't to Proud to Beg' kicked in," Austin said. "It's about a man who came over and [was] too quick and left. He pulled a quickie. It's fun. That's what people like about it."
Austin has also produced nine songs for Macy Gray's next album and was brought in to revamp Monica's self-titled third record at the last minute.
"I'm just getting it on the right tracks," Austin said. "She's more of a woman now, so I'll keep her more soulful than pop-oriented."
The album Austin is most excited about producing, however, is the budding Los Angeles band Ima Robot, featuring bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen, who has played with Beck, Tori Amos and Macy Gray.
"It's the Kinks, but like electroclash!" Austin said, excitedly. Look for Ima Robot in 2003.