Songwriter Michael Franti on Writing Three New Songs for Woody Harrelsons Champions and Being Inspired by Real-Life Heroes
For singer and songwriter Michael Franti, the road to “Champions” began with a text message during the pandemic. Franti and his long-time friend Woody Harrelson had talked of making a movie together, but the timing never worked. Once COVID hit, the musician found himself with a lot of time on his hands. “I had nothing to do except sit around and watch reels from the movie,” he tells Variety.
In “Champions,” directed by Bobby Farrelly, Harrelson plays Marcus Marokovich, an assistant coach for a minor league basketball team in Iowa. After a DUI, he accepts a community service assignment managing players with intellectual disabilities. Working with his athletes over the course of his 90 days, they gradually break down his grumpy exterior and help reveal his empathetic side.
When Franti watched reels from the film, he “was really touched by it. And I just feel like the world, as crazy as it is right now, as divided as it seems, needs this kind of film and this message of hope and humanity and people growing.”
As a musician and activist, Franti has built a career of giving voices to the unseen. “Champions” touched on themes that have always been important to him. “There’s a message in that for all of us about each of our preconceptions about otherness,” he explains. “It’s important for us to have that kind of open-mindedness, at least to be able to be in a space of curiosity rather than in a space of judgment.”
Having only read the script and seen 10 minutes of the completed film, he sat down and wrote the song “Tell Somebody That You Love Em Right Now,” which plays toward the end. He sent the song to Farrelly and Harrelson, not knowing if it was quite what they had in mind, but feeling confident that it conveyed the emotion he was looking for.
“What I would want people to [take] away from the movie would be that after they got done watching it, they would look to whoever was sitting next to them in the theater or in their home and go, ‘I love you, I care about you.’ And not five minutes from now, but like right now, ‘I love you,’” he says. “That’s the way I approached everything in the movie.”
The urgency Franti felt came from losing his father to COVID in 2021 and having to memorialize him over Zoom. He recalls, “I wasn’t able to be there with the people that I love. To hug them and hold them and just look them in the eye and feel that emotion of being in the same place. So that was all sort of welling in me as I watched the movie.”
Altogether, Franti wrote three original songs for “Champions,” including “Love Is the Champion” and “Imagine We Are Champions.” He licensed several of his previously released songs from the albums “Sound of Sunshine” and “Follow Your Heart,” and wrote all of the incidental music as well.
To Franti, the title “Champions” is about so much more than winning games. “We need champions right now,” he says. “There’s nothing in the world that says that good ever has to win. It’s not a given. We need people who are willing to speak up and stand up for those who aren’t seen. And those who aren’t heard. This film shows that it’s not always about the victories and who wins the game. The victory is in who really helps another person’s heart to shine. And I feel like that’s the power of this movie, and it’s something that really needs to be felt in the world today.”
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