Talking Heads’ ‘Once in a Lifetime’ Unavailable — Except to Oliver Stone

The Talking Heads ironic, biting ballad “Once in a Lifetime” was the song we wanted for our documentaryabout the Governor of California, “Running with Arnold,” last year.

After striking out time after time trying to get the rights to use the song, imagine our surprise last week when we saw the TV ad for Oliver Stone’s “W” with “Once in a Lifetime” pulsating throughout.

We liked it because it used piercing lyrics that were completely applicable to our subject, a man who may or may not deserve to be installed in the highest office in the state. Which for obvious reasons can easily be translated to the U.S. Presidency.

Our script used the song as follows:

“You may find yourself in a beautiful house…”
Cut to: Photo still of the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento.
“…With a beautiful wife…”
Cut to: Photo still of Maria Shriver.
“…And you may ask yourself: how did I get here?”
Cut to: Photo still of a flummoxed Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But no matter how much we tried (and we really tried) we were told over and over that it was impossible to get the rights to that song. We were simply told that the Talking Heads had split so far apart (perhaps to say they weren’t actually ever Talking anymore) that it was nigh impossible to even license one of their songs, no matter what we were willing to pay.

Five different music supervisors gave it their best shot. No good.

We even cut a cover version with tremendous local L.A. talent orchestrated and conducted by Cliff Tazner and sung by rapper Wil B. It sounded phenomenal, but we couldn’t get cover rights either.

I pulled out all the contacts I had, including an old friend and contact of mine, Gary Goetzman, who been involved in the production of “Stop Making Sense,” the Talking Heads documentary. He said he would help, but nothing came of that. I even attempted a conversation with David Byrne when I ran into him at the New York Film Festival party. He didn’t have time.

We were denied on every count. We ultimately settled on a poor substitute, a Flock of Seagulls song that was simply from the same era. Or so my executive producer told me.

I can’t blame Oliver Stone for this transgression, although he did see the film in the Zurich International Film Festival in Oct. 2007 when it won the Best Documentary Award. He even said he liked it.

Perhaps it was a lesson in the noblesse oblige that exists in Hollywood.

Our tiny documentary was made for a little more than half a million dollars. The Talking Heads lawyers were claiming that even if they could make it happen, it would cost more than $1 million just for the licensing fee.

So we had to stick to Flock of Seagulls. Maybe that made Arnold happy.