‘Help Yourself’ from ‘Up in the Air’ becomes the latest music branch rule book casualty

Posted by · 4:57 pm · October 30th, 2009

Sad Brad SmithThe music branch of the Academy sure hasn’t done the hard-working awards team at Paramount any favors lately. You might recall the 2007 fiasco surrounding Johnny Greenwood’s score for “There Will Be Blood,” which left his immaculate (some would say year’s-best) work ineligible due to arbitrary, overly subjective fine print concerning the dilution of the original music by pre-existing material.

Well, lightning strikes twice, as musician Sad Brad Smith has opted out of submitting his soulful, thematically potent track “Help Yourself” from Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air.” We featured the song here earlier in the week.

The reason, I’m told, is that, though unpublished, a portion of the song existed previously in Smith’s repertoire. As such, the track would not qualify due to the fact that it wasn’t rendered, in full, specifically and originally for the film, as the music branch’s rules stipulate.

As previously reported, the closing credits title track from Kevin Renick is also ineligible because it is the second cue over the credits and because Renick penned the song before he met Reitman. Even though it was written specifically for the film, it is ineligible because it was not created in collaboration with the filmmaker and would be, again, arbitrarily dismissed under the music branch’s dubious rule set.

I’m told both the studio and Reitman are standing behind Smith and his decision. There are also still plans to utilize the song extensively in the film’s marketing scheme. And while inelugible for Oscar consideration, it is still eligible for the Golden Globes and year-end critics awards.

I won’t launch into another diatribe against this branch again. My feelings are well-documented. But I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn when I say something is broken here.

“Help Yourself” will be available for download via iTunes on Tuesday, November 3. The full soundtrack hits shelves December 1.

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30 responses so far

  • 1 10-30-2009 at 5:19 pm

    Loyal said...


    We were just talking about this. That sucks, it really is a great song.

    I don’t understand that branch at all, something needs to change.

  • 2 10-30-2009 at 5:54 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Does anybody else think the name Sad Brad Smith is really annoying?

  • 3 10-30-2009 at 6:03 pm

    Matt T said...

    To be honest, this didn’t sound like the kind of song that the Academy would go for. However, these rules need to change so that the term “original” can be a little bit more loosely defined.

  • 4 10-30-2009 at 6:16 pm

    Patryk said...

    This category gets more ludicrous every year. Who are these people? Are their names made public? How can they claim to be honoring the best and leave out work like Greenwood’s and Springsteen’s? What a joke.

  • 5 10-30-2009 at 6:33 pm

    Speaking English said...

    At least we’ll all know what truly was the best original song of the year, since the Academy seems to have trouble ever nominating it. “Help Yourself,” meet “The Wrestler.”

  • 6 10-30-2009 at 6:46 pm

    Patryk said...

    Sorry…meant to say this *branch* gets more ludicrous every year. Both music categories seem out of touch at best.

  • 7 10-30-2009 at 8:11 pm

    henry said...

    Whatever… I never really got over the Phil Collins win for Tarzan over the hilarious Blame Canada from South Park, Aimee Mann’s amazing Save Me from Magnolia, and the When She Loved Me track from Toy Story 2. How did that happen? Seriously.

  • 8 10-31-2009 at 12:18 am

    Glenn said...

    Granted, I haven’t seen the movie so I’m not sure how it works in context, but the song was lovely and nice, but it’s hardly “The Wrestler” (not many things are).

    Anyway, this’ll probably win the Golden Globe now.

  • 9 10-31-2009 at 11:48 pm

    qwiggles said...

    It’s unfortunate for Sad Brad Smith and his fine song, but I don’t liken this to the Jonny Greenwood disqualification.

    As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, it isn’t just a portion of the Sad Brad Smith song that existed: it was the first track on an album he’d recorded. Granted, not a big seller and self-released, but the point remains: the song was not composed for the film. And the studio and Reitman sheepishly danced around this by calling the track “unpublished” — i.e. released, but not by a significant label? Who knows. They also called it an original composition, a bit more boldly. And curiously, the song also vanished from Smith’s myspace late September, but it was up when the film first screened at Telluride. It sounds to me like both Reitman and the studio thought the song was so low profile that no one would notice if they sold it as original. But this is 2009 last.fm pages don’t lie. And no big loss, anyway: getting an Oscar nod under false pretenses is a bit wonky, but getting a groundswell of new listeners because your self-released track is featured on a major soundtrack is fair game. This is a win for him.

    The difference re: Jonny is that he effectively got penalized because the score used reworked music he had previously composed — which most Radiohead fans were well familiar with; it wasn’t as if any of this was hidden — in ADDITION to the excellent hour of original music directly commissioned for the film. In other words, he was held back because PTA liked his BBC composition so much he wanted to use it again. Now that was an arbitrary casualty.

  • 10 11-01-2009 at 12:33 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    If you heard Brad’s thoughts on the matter you’d understand, qwiggles, that he wrote most of the song in response to the emotions of the film. To suggest that it was lifted and placed into the film is dishonest.

    Also, if you knew Reitman and the studio, you’d know that this came as a surprise and was not held back as if it were some big secret.

    And I’m not likening the situation to the Greenwood thing, just using Greenwood as another example of silly rules in this branch holding back award-worthy work.

    Also: uh, what previous post?

  • 11 11-01-2009 at 9:46 am

    qwiggles said...

    First off, apologies about the reference to the previous post (I really meant “comment”), which I misremembered as being here, when it was on the LA Times music blog.

    What I posted there was a last.fm page for an album called Love is Not What You Need, by
    Sad Brad Smith and the Modern Limes. The tracklist had “Help Yourself” as the first up, with a 30 second snippet from the song. Now the tracklisting is gone, too — an awfully rare occurrence with last.fm, where unreleased artists chart their albums in the first place in hopes of having people stumble upon them. (And where artists with as low a profile as Smith typically manage their own info.) So it being gone now, I guess you can dismiss this, unless a cache snapshot pops up. At any rate, the song is still up, and his alma mater of DePaul confirms that he’s recorded an album by that name; if you find it somewhere, I’m willing to bet “Help Yourself” will be on it.

    Anyway, all the “if you heard” and “if you knew”s in your response sound a bit goofy to me. Do I really need to hear the suddenly very familiar “Brad” telling me he wrote it for the film, honest, when he has himself withdrawn the song from Oscar contention, and when there’s obviously an album floating around with that song on it? And how exactly does one “know” a studio, or a director who is campaigning hard for his film in Oscar season? Come on: I’m having a hard time believing Paramount is capable of genuine surprise when my own untrained Googling instincts found something that would seem to complicate his campaign. And when was the last time you heard of a soundtrack advertising an “unpublished” song rather than an “unreleased” one? Not even Columbia stoops to “unpublished” whenever they issue a new Dylan bootlegs collection, or, say, the I’m Not There soundtrack, with its “previously unreleased” edition of “I’m Not There.” Too many grains of salt to take in one bite.

  • 12 11-01-2009 at 12:48 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    You’re being far too conspiratorial for my tastes, qwiggles. “Goofy” indeed.

    It was over two years ago that Reitman was told about Smith by a friend. Between then and now, yeah, I’m sure he wrote the song and put it on a demo CD, passed it to thousands of people going into the Chicago coffee shops he played at, posted it on last.fm, etc.

    But you seem to think there is something afoot, and speaking as someone who’s had relationships, for years, with plenty of the people who would need to be in on such a dubious cover-up, trust me when I tell you that you’re off base here. After all, you’re talking about a track that is set to be used extensively in marketing materials for a major studio movie and will appear on the soundtrack. So why would the studio want it out there floating around for free on last.fm?

    Come on. You’re reaching.

  • 13 11-01-2009 at 12:56 pm

    Leone said...

    I have to agree with Kris. If the song is going to be released on iTunes as Kris’ original post stated, why would the record label want to have it out there in advance if they can sell it and make money? They are, after all, in the business of making money. If last.fm is for unknown musicians to publish their own work, it would make complete sense for it to be “awfully rare” for a song to be taken down. But, how many times does a complete unknown musician whose biggest claim to fame is playing in local coffee houses get one of their songs on a soundtrack for a major feature film? So yeah, it probably doesn’t happen often that songs get taken down, but in this case it makes complete sense. My guess is the label asked him to. Anyway, this is all a mute point — the young man who wrote the song didn’t submit it. End of story.

  • 14 11-01-2009 at 1:59 pm

    qwiggles said...

    I don’t see why there has to be a whiff of conspiracy nut in someone pointing out that a studio would want to push a candidate that almost but doesn’t quite qualify for an Oscar by downplaying the “doesn’t quite.” What you see as a “dubious cover-up” that surely can’t be real reads to me as a pretty basic effort to see how far a contender could go before alas, someone pinpointed a problem with his eligibility. My point in bringing this up was not to uncover the mass Paramount-Reitman conspiracy of ’09 but to respond to the language in your post about “rule book casualties,” and something being “broken,” and “portions” of songs hovering in the ether. Please.

    My stumbling upon Sad Brad’s album was also not, as you’d like to portray it, a case of hysterical whistle blowing internet detective work: I was looking for the song, and found it. On an already existing album. Hence, no broken system: just a song that existed independent of the film.

    Also, while I’m glad you found a way to turn my word “goofy” back around at me, you’ve ignored the substance of how I used it. So to reiterate: yeah, suggesting that if only I *knew* the completely honest intentions of Paramount, I wouldn’t suspect they had a clue the song was already on an album is a bit goofy — or to use a nicer word, utopian. I guess you’d also contend that their music department hasn’t figured out MySpace or last.fm?

    One more clarification, re: Leone: it isn’t the song’s removal that is “awfully rare”; in fact, the song snippet is still there. What’s been removed is its place from the tracklisting of his album, which now apparently only has one song on it.

  • 15 11-01-2009 at 3:53 pm

    Leone said...

    You were the one who said “awfully rare” regarding its removal, not I, either regarding myspace or last.fm. No matter – a snippet is one thing, a full song is another when a record label is trying to promote a soundtrack and one of its probable key singles. If the “album” listing was gone as you say, isn’t it possible that it was taken down because the guy who wrote the song didn’t know about the lame ass Oscar rules beforehand? Maybe he took it down himself? Maybe the studio? Maybe the record label? It doesn’t seem very crafty to do so – it seems smart. Why have it all over the place? I don’t know that much about music, I can barely make my iPod work. But I have to imagine that lots of unknown musicians have “albums” that exist in one form or another that they use to promote themselves and their songs/music. And how would he know that he wouldn’t be allowed to have it online before the movie comes out? He’s just a guy that, apparently, has never had a song on a soundtrack before for a movie – hell, he hasn’t even had a song on an album that he didn’t make himself. And again, I think the likely scenario is that the record label probably took down any reference to the song online as they are trying to sell the song. Why allow it to be available for free all over the internet? As for Mr. Smith, how would an unknown artist even know about some silly rule? I doubt he was thinking about something as lofty as an Oscar nomination when the song was written and then used in the film. He was probably just happy to finally be a “recorded” recording artist, published, whatever, by a record label on a real album, not a sample, not a demo, not self-published, but an honest-to-goodness real CD selling at Amoeba and iTunes for all the world to hear. So I may not be able to work my iPod correctly, but as to Paramount’s intentions, I do know a little bit about the industry of film. I have to wonder why anyone would think a major studio cares so much about one song from one movie written by a guy nobody knows. Do they make some mountain of money if they get a song nomination – no. Or how about a sound nomination – no. Cinematography – no. A studio stands to POSSIBLY make money off a Best Picture nomination, which this film is way on its way to getting. Perhaps you are not a “conspiracy nut” but I would say that perhaps it’s a bit over the top to assume that the studio, or the director for that matter would know a song existed before, if you are correct and it did indeed pre-date Mr. Smith being approached to provide an original song for the movie, and STILL promote it as original for some reason – the thrill of seeing if they could “trick” everyone for fun? I’m not being contrary but they really ahve nothing to gain. Your post is insinuating – YES – a conspiracy of some kind and I just wonder why anyone would believe that a pretty well respected filmmaker and a big conglomerate like Paramount would be sooooooo intent on getting this guy’s song nominated for an Oscar under false pretenses? It’s not like he’s Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan or Mary J. Blige – his song isn’t going to generate tons of press for the movie because HE isn’t famous. It’s a ridiculous assumption actually. Whatever the case, the song is great. I hope the album goes platinum and this guy gets a huge chunk of change. I think he deserves it.

  • 16 11-01-2009 at 4:38 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Yeah, you’re right, qwiggles. The studio collaborated on hiding the truth so that it could land a Best Original Song nomination for a movie that will be made or broken by its inclusion.

    Regarding your snarky comment about the music department at the studio, I’m sure they’re aware of MySpace and last.fm, but I assure you they don’t have an Academy rule book in their hands at all times. They in fact go to awards consultants to ask about such matters, so seriously, I think you’re being a bit heavy with this.

    You want to take umbrage with what I’ve written, want to suggest it was studio spin. I don’t think you’ve made that case, however. So please don’t insinuate.

    I will ask, however: Is what you heard on last.fm the full song?

  • 17 11-01-2009 at 4:53 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Also, despite the Help Yourself situation, this is a system that is nevertheless, indeed, “broken.”

  • 18 11-01-2009 at 5:18 pm

    qwiggles said...

    I can’t recall where I ever argued that Paramount stands to make a killing off a best song nomination, as to the lengthier part of your response, so I’ll go ahead and agree with your critique of a point I never made. Just about the only claim I’d feel comfortable making along these lines is that Dreamgirls demonstrated that a song nod (or three) nicely boosts the number of nominations you can boast in the ads. And that’s about it.

    I’m again unclear, though, on why it’s over the top to think a marketing guy might Google an aspiring best song candidate — especially if we are claiming that the music branch “caused poor Sad brad Smith to preemptively refrain from submitting his moving track”; was there a thwarted FYC campaign or wasn’t there? It’s also odd to think Reitman would’ve sought his participation in the film without having heard his only album, which has “Help Yourself” as track #1.

    That’s a rather loopy claim, but what do I know: I guess if I really knew Reitman and Paramount, I would know that neither the former nor reps for the latter would have popped their featured trailer-scoring artist’s sole album Love is Not What You Need into their CD players, because those are just the kind of guys they are. Just like how Cameron Crowe never listened to Pearl Jam’s back catalogue before putting them in Singles.

    Nice song, anyway, and one I’ll happily download on iTunes. As for the music branch, if it’s broken, the break surely has something to do with the weirdness of the song category to begin with. It seems to celebrate a promotional aspect of a film in a way that none of the other categories do, such that the winner is often the song that’s been featured the most prominently.

  • 19 11-01-2009 at 5:43 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    You keep attacking my reportage but fail to miss the truth, which is that the studio told Smith they would back his decision whatever the case. If he wanted to submit the track, they would have done so. They explained to him that, given the rules (of which he was completely unaware), the song existing elsewhere in any form could cause some trouble with a notoriously stubborn branch of the Academy.

    So it’s not what you keep insinuating. The studio didn’t Google it, find it on last.fm, take it down and pretend that this was all Smith’s choice. You might be shocked, qwiggles, to discover that it was your comment on the LA Times blog that alerted them to the fact that there might be some cause for concern. Believe it or not. (Which is why I asked at the top about the “previous post” comment, because this is what they told me before I reported the story Friday.)

    At the end of the day, it was Smith’s choice not to submit it. He’s a new artist who would — it only makes sense — prefer to not be a part of a potentially controversial circumstance like this at the beginning of his career.

    What is the release date of Smith’s “only album?” Do you know? Could the song not have been placed on the last.fm site by Smith after it appeared in the film? I Googled the album. Three hits. Do you know something no one else knows?

    You also haven’t answered whether it was the full song you heard or some other form of it, because the truth of the matter is the track existed in a previous form, one of a number of songs any musician has lying around in snippets, and Smith wrote something for the film around that framework.

  • 20 11-01-2009 at 6:03 pm

    Leone said...

    Quiggles – I googled the song too! I wasn’t taking up with you the fact that you were interested in gooogling the song. It seems like b/c you googled it, and saw the track there, you seem to be saying, forgive me if I”m misunderstanding, that it shouldn’t have been online if it was made for the film. My only point was that that fact doesn’t make for any kind of coverup. No one really stands to benefit from such a thing it would seem. Anyway, no big whoop – seems like we all have one thing in common: We love the song!

  • 21 11-01-2009 at 8:00 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    One last thing:

    It seems we may be talking about two different things. The fact that there was a full version of the song was on the internet as a downlaodable title track of an “album,” that doesn’t make the song ineligible because last.fm would have been easy to explain to the Academy: a complete unknown with no ties to the music or movie business put his song up there after he wrote it for a film without knowing.

    What Qwiggles seems to be alledging, if I understand him correctly, is that the song wasn’t written for the film. Period. That is simply untrue. The artist said he took a piece of pre-existing music from his collection and morphed it for UITA — that fact makes it ineligible if it was submitted, which he ultimately decided not to do.

  • 22 11-03-2009 at 8:13 pm

    David R said...

    Whoever broke this amazing piece of ‘news’ or even thought it worthwhile to look into is a real dick and worse than Kanye West (Yes, I step on kittens). Have you taken a moment to think about what has been done? Let me tell you then. You have shown more proof why the Academy rules behind this category are utterly stupid. You have also taken the dreams of an aspiring and talented amateur musician and brought him from walking on air to feeling true, heartfelt sadness and disappointment. Nice job, tool. The song Help Yourself was wonderful and was written and performed by someone who works his heart out performing, writing songs and walking the path towards the dream that we all have-that of making it in this world. The perfect story of someone who came out of obscurity and with his talent and determination was headed towards success, until you crapped all over him. I hope you have the decency to now put your energy and blog in support of his eligibility and deserving of the less rigid Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song. To Sad Brad Smith, you won. Your work in now known worldwide, appreciated, enjoyed and of a caliber that has put you on top. I hope you ride the wave, capitalize on this and reap the rewards that you deserve, notwithstanding what this jerk did to you. Most of us never make it as far as you did in fullfilling their dreams, and I hope you shove it their face and get the recognition for Help Yourself, or some other song that you may write in the future. Don’t give up and savor what you have accomplished.

  • 23 11-04-2009 at 12:40 pm

    qwiggles said...

    David, get over yourself. If you’ve read anything I’ve written in this thread you’ll see that I liked the song and found the album it was on only because I was looking for more songs by Sad Brad Smith. All I “broke” was that the song appeared to be on an album and would potentially have eligibility issues because of it. I also commented — not in my apparently inciting LA Times blog comment but here — on how it seemed strange to me that the tracklist disappeared, which I’ve never seen before on last.fm in my 4 years using the site. I never said, either here or there, “I hope this song runs into eligibility issues!” and I perhaps naively saw pointing out this possible drawback as a way to comment on its nomination possibility rather than as a means to expose the terrible secrets of SBS. I figured, in fact, that it already would’ve been exposed to the people who counted if it was a problem.

    I own the song on iTunes now — do you? Maybe you could buy it, too, instead of talking at length about what a kitten stomper I am.

    I’m sorry my pointing this out apparently led to Paramount saying “hm,” but I’m not sure how responsible I should feel. If the song actually did not exist independent of the movie, my pointing out that it seemed to be on an album would mean nothing — I’d be proven wrong and SBS would be fully capable of running a campaign without feeling like he’d get in trouble. If, as Kris seems to be implying and as seems likely, the song listed on the album is what he recorded for the movie, than I have no idea why Paramount might think there was cause for concern either — wouldn’t they just say, yup, that’s a clip from our song; his album’s not out yet; the rights to that song are ours?

    Kris, I hadn’t answered whether it was the full song because at the time, you hadn’t asked — your comment was initially a terse “All I can tell you is you’re wrong.” Anyway, no, the 30 second snippet I heard began at the “take the time to take apart / each brick that sits outside your heart / and look around you” verse. That in itself means nothing: the clip has strangely been replaced with a clip from SBS’s song “Sure” so I can’t confirm whether it’s been excerpted from the single now in release or an earlier version. So sure, the album could have been assembled at the same time as the film. The most concrete argument I ever made on the subject was that there was an album, that “Help Yourself” was on it, and that at least Reitman probably knew about it, it being the song for his movie and all.

    I never had my hand in the jar with all the stuff about the song preexisting in fragments because I know nothing about it: you’ve spoken with them, not me. I will say that the song seems to be about a group of people who love someone in a troubled phase in his/her life believing in that person and giving him/her space to bounce back and help them, but only after helping him/herself. I don’t want to be the crank saying “that’s not quite the movie!” because of course you can draw parallels, but “the emotions of the movie inspired me to rewrite the song” is always the kind of hazy argument you have to accept or reject on the word of the person saying it. So forgive me, not knowing this guy, and having no real evidence in the lovely song, if I see no reason to just believe that.

  • 24 1-11-2010 at 8:41 pm

    Laura said...

    Haha, you were the one who twittered Jason Reitman about his first kiss in Kindergarted Cop. I also completely agree that the ruling should be changed.