Alan Powell and Adam Watts: “A Week Away” Story & Music

“A Week Away:” Writer and Producer Alan Powell and Music By Adam Watts. Risen caught up with the duo to discuss everything from faith, to family, being good enough and of course the High School Musical connection!

Interviewed for Risen Magazine

Risen Magazine: Alan, let’s maybe start with you. You have done a bunch of TV and film acting, but this is your first feature film that you both wrote and produced. So talk a little bit about how A Week Away developed.

Alan Powell: My kids, my oldest, I only had two at the time, they were watching High School Musical – it’s fun to be able to tell this story again, now, as we go through this process because what’s interesting, I didn’t realize until kind of running this back, was that my kids were watching High School Musical – and I’m a 100% sure that they were actually dancing and singing to a song that Adam wrote for that movie all those years ago.

And I left, I got in my car. I was driving to the studio. I was in a band at the time, and I remember thinking, “Man, there should be something like that in the faith-based space.” I grew up in this world. My dad was a pastor my entire life. My bachelor’s degree is in the Bible. I started a Christian band. It’s in my DNA. And we like to think and hope that obviously it has grown and expanded to become more than just a Christian High School Musical. But nonetheless, that’s the kernel of the idea, to go, “Oh, there’s something in this idea.”

And it just, it grew from there. And I think that the possibility of re-imagining some of these songs that were a part of so many of our childhood. And then to also deliver some new music that had never been heard before within the context of a story that, hopefully, is really fun. And we get to have a blast. But it’s also challenging on a number of levels for the audience. It was a journey that we were excited to go on.

RM: I love that there was a mix of the re-imagined songs with original songs. I’m getting to hear Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman – I’m glad there was an Audio Adrenaline song in there. I still know every word to that song! But then, the original songs. Adam, you wrote all of those, so what did that process look like?

Adam Watts: That was a fun process because it was a challenge, obviously, to write songs that would stand alongside these ones that were so well known and were great songs. I mean, Place in This World, for example. We just recently both found this out, but Alan and I, that was the first song I learned on piano when I was a kid. It was the sheet music on our piano when I was 10/11 years old. And I found out that Alan has that exact same story as that being the first.

I like a good challenge and that was one. And it was really cool. I mean, to say, “I wrote them,” it’s not… I began them. And then we, you know, Alan jumped right in and our partner in crime, Corey Clark was in the studio the whole time with us. And, I think, I believe, it… We were trying to remember which was the first song we tackled, but I recall Alan really talking about what he wants people to come away from, with this movie, which is the theme of “You’re good enough”. And that he was thinking of his daughters and wanting that message to be something that they brought with them through their life, that they’re good enough as they are. And I came away from a phone call with Alan and him saying that and going, “Well, there’s a song title.”

And being inside the story, and being inside that sentiment, and feeling that, one of the things that I always do is I try to capture little ideas when they’re fresh and when I’m actually feeling it. Because I feel like when I can be in a creation space that’s as close to the space that people will be in when they’re actually experiencing the final product, that’s when the magic is best captured. So for me in the old days, it meant I carried a cassette recorder with me everywhere I went. And I just saw, like, I literally have boxes of cassette tapes full of song ideas. Most of them bad. But in this case, took out my iPhone, pressed record and was like, “Good enough.”

And I think I sent you even the voice message, maybe.

AP: Oh, for sure. It’s one of my treasures, yes.

AW: And I just felt like, this feels like it, you know? Like, you know when it lands. And I’m like, I hope Alan agrees. And he did.

AP: Yeah. It was a good day.

A WEEK AWAY

RM: It sounds like you knew some key things that you wanted to hit when you were writing… but when you have these great songs that are already produced and mixed with the originals. Did you write the story and then decide what would work with that? Did you get the songs first and write around it? A little bit of both? What did that look like?

AP: Well, there’s such a great catalog of classic Christian CCM tunes. So, and again, having grown up on it, it’s almost like an embarrassment of riches, right? I think ultimately we started with the story, knowing that we obviously wanted it to be a musical and we wanted to re-imagine these classic Christian tunes.

And so we start with the story and then you go, “Oh, I mean, what would be… We have a musical moment here.” And, “Oh, you know, it could work for that. Great Adventure would go really well there,” you know? And so you just kind of know the world.

The only thing that I will say is that when I had this idea to make it a musical, specifically re-imagining CCM tunes back to place in this world, I was like, Place in This World is in there somewhere. We’ll find, it’ll find its place. But also because we knew what we wanted the movie to be about. And that theme obviously is very, very prevalent throughout the entire film.

But I think it was a matter of so many different versions of the screenplay where there’s different songs that are the wrong songs, but you don’t know it until you kind of really dive into the story and go on that journey. And things shifting around and moving until ultimately you land in a place. Go, these are the right tunes.

And then it was the challenge led by Adam to go, “Okay, great. Here’s the song.” But if you’re familiar with Great Adventure, Steven’s [Curtis Chapman] version 25/30 years ago, or Dive, or any of these tunes, they’re fantastic. But they’re definitely not what we have in this movie and/or what we were going for sonically. So, then becomes the challenge to both honor the original in a way that feels right, and yet have it be completely new and, to an audience who’s not familiar with those songs, feel like they’re songs just written for this movie.

So it became a really fun puzzle piece at first to get the right song to help tell the story, so it doesn’t feel like you’re just going over here to sing a song because it’s a fun song to sing, but then it helps develop the plot, develop the character. And then the challenge of sonically re-imagining and re-introducing it to a new audience in a way that feels unique to this movie and yet relevant.

RM: Adam, talk to me a little bit about faith within your life and kind of how that is married with some of your work. You’ve done a lot of titles that we would know like High School Musical, The Chronicles of Narnia, Hannah Montana, Sydney White and The Perfect Man, which I grew up watching. So talk to me about what faith looks like. You, individually, and then getting to actually use it within some of your projects, too.

AW: I grew up in a Christian home and went through that period that a lot of people go through, late teens, early twenties, where you decide whether or not it’s your faith or just a faith you were born with that you just kind of roll with, you know? And so it became my faith, always has been. And at that same point in my life, 19/20 years old, I was already really obsessed with music and drumming. That’s when I began writing songs. And songwriting became sort of just the cornerstone of my life. It’s like, it’s my journal. It’s my friend. It’s my hobby. It’s my passion. It’s my career. It’s everything. And so, when I discovered singing and songwriting and recording, it was for myself as an artist. And my faith was all wrapped up in that.

In fact, I feel like the audience for my music is people driving around in their cars, thinking about their life and wondering about the existence of God and the why behind everything. That’s why I write music. Thoughts, feelings, chicken or the egg, God, me, everything, you know?

And, so, from there, I was like, “Well, I want to be doing this all the time.” I know that I write music that isn’t necessarily for the broadest audience, since it’s all this existential crisis stuff. And I’m not going to work at a gas station or flip burgers. And I love all styles of music. So I just was like, “I want to help record other people.” One thing led to another, and it was a real blessing, but I ran into Jeremy Camp and ended up producing his first couple of records. And I was already playing in church and all that stuff.

So I started in the faith world and then ended up writing a song called Beautiful Soul that Jesse McCartney recorded and became a really big hit for him. That led to me getting a publishing deal with Disney. And then all of a sudden they’re developing this thing called High School Musical and asked me and my partner, Andy Dodd, to write for that.

And so, one thing led to another, but my faith was already always there. And I was, in my career, sort of launched in the Christian space. And then I’ve just spent my time sort of going back and forth, still releasing records as a solo artist. And faith, it’s definitely deep inside that. When it came time for this movie, it was a no brainer. It’s like it fit me like a glove. So that’s cool.

RM: Alan, we’ve talked a little bit about how some of the themes were developed maybe out of things that you wanted for your kids to be able to see reflected on screen. You have six children. Themes like, the weight of perfectionism, trying to live most authentic as possible, and not wanting to hide yourself. This experience of going away for camp. For you, what was the most tangible, most real?

AP: Oh, yeah. At the end of the day, I wanted to make a movie that told my kids and vis-a-vis your kids, anybody watching, that they were good enough. More than good enough actually is the song, as the song says. The one that Adam sent over on that voice memo. One of my favorite moments in this process. They’re more than good enough, just the way they are. I mean, that’s what Will has to learn. Will doesn’t know at the beginning, and hopefully is taking the first baby step at the end of the movie to maybe at least open himself up to the possibility of the truth that we all hopefully have to learn and wrestle with, and is the daily kind of struggle to be reminded of. So that’s why I wanted to make it, so my kids were fed that and consumed that message with this movie and anybody who’s watching it really.

But also, again, growing up in the Christian faith and, and my dad being a pastor my entire life. And, you know, as, as you mentioned that we all kind of have that we have that moment in our life where we realize, is this mine? Or is it my parents’? Or somebody else’s, for that matter, whoever it is.

And that’s something that I really wanted to explore as well. And I think on a deeper level. For me as a writer, that’s a theme that Will really deals with. I mean, there’s backstory with he and his parents that obviously doesn’t show up on screen, but for me, it was kind of a guide, a guide post in his struggle with faith. It was really interesting to explore and meaningful for me to explore. But that’s something that drove us as well as we were making this movie.

A Week Away is now streaming on Netflix.

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