by Dan Goldwasser
On Saturday, April 10, 1999, the Hollywood Reporter and the Society for Composers and Lyricists held the 4th Annual Film and Television Music Conference at the Director's Guild of America in Hollywood, California. The topic was to discuss "the state of the art".
After a networking breakfast buffet, the conference began with an introduction Mark Watters, the President of the SCL. Watters said that this conference would let industry professionals "look at the film music world from other people's perspectives". Shortly thereafter, the first roundtable began.
The Director / Composer Relationship
Moderated by Hollywood Reporter Music Editor Marc Pollack, this roundtable discussion started with director Michael Bay and composer Trevor Rabin talking about their experiences on Armageddon. Some highlights from the discussion included Rabin explaining that he would take the sound effects into consideration while writing the score, so there wouldn't be too much competition. Bay added, "Sometimes we put too much information into the speakers!" Rabin admitted that the film was probably "overspotted". Interestingly enough, those "Countdown to Armageddon" publicity clocks which were seen in many movie theater lobbies were actually a grim reminder of the deadline that Rabin and Bay faced while putting the finishing touches on the film. After all, there was quite a lot of pressure on such a high-profile project.
Bay stated that he used films like Braveheart, Crimson Tide, The Rock, and The Last of the Mohicans while conceptualizing the scenes, would play them while shooting the scenes. These scores inevitably ended up in the temp track, which Rabin called "the enemy of all composers." The two men hinted at a possible future collaboration, but it is much too soon to say. One particularly funny moment came when discussing the budget of the film - Rabin quipped, "The only time [the concept of a] budget entered Armageddon was when my deal was being done!"
When asked if they thought the market was being flooded with soundtracks (Armageddon had two CD releases), Bay explained that "the people will decide what they want". He started his career as a music video director, so it came as no surprise when Bay mentioned that he would actually re-edit some scenes to fit the music. As such, it was very important for the synthesized sketches of the score that Rabin wrote to be very close to the final version of the score. As it turned out, there was a 3 hour cut of Armageddon which Rabin wrote music for - when the film was cut down, some 20 minutes of score was cut out as well - none of which appears on the CD release, except the first track, retitled "Armageddon Suite".
The next director composer pair was Bryan Singer and John Ottman, who had worked on Public Access, The Usual Suspects, and Apt Pupil. When asked about the influence of World War II overtones in the score, Ottman explained that it was his concern to make the film interesting - so the music would reflect German history. "The score is important for getting the audience to become emotionally attached to the film," said Ottman. Singer said that he tries not to include contemporary music in his films because it could date the film.
Ottman tends to play a dual role in Singer's films - he is an editor as well as a composer. As such, his involvement in the films tends to start at a much earlier stage than it would if he were just composing the score. Unfortunately, because he has that dual role, he ends up with only three weeks to write the full score. When asked about temp scores, Ottman admitted that the Apt Pupil score intentionally had a bad temp score so that a completely original score could be written.
In what might end up being a slightly controversial moment, Ottman admitted that it is hard to stay on one film for 8 months (as an editor and composer) when he can work on three film scores at the same time. "Editing is an invisible, thankless job," explained Ottman. "It's a psychological thing - composers can have a CD of their work - it's a tangible item."
The inevitable X-Men question came up, and Ottman didn't have an answer. But they promised they would work it out. When asked what his model for the score should be, Singer answered, "The approach I'd like to see taken should be in the spirit of the 1st act of Superman."
While nothing has been announced, Singer did indicate that they were in the middle of casting the film, and some of the actors know about X-Men, and others don't. After all, this is a 35 year old comic book series. As such, it has a long history, and as Singer explained, they needed to approach it extra seriously because if people didn't believe one element of the film, then a piece of it would unwind, and the audience won't just single out a specific moment - the whole thing won't work.
When asked about how he felt about the conference, Ottman later told SoundtrackNet, "I hope [the conference] was useful for new composers even though we mainly discussed larger films. The most valuable part was during the luncheon where we were able to talk one-on-one with the attendees."
After a short break, the next panel discussion was set to begin.
The Real World of Negotiations
The idea of this panel was to have real-time mock negotiations for a 30-minute television sitcom, and a one-hour television drama. The panel consisted of moderator Steven Winogradsky, Esq. (President, The Winogradsky Co.), Kevin Edelman (Music Supervisor), Julie Enzer (Sr. Counsel, The Walt Disney Company), Michael Horner (Agent, Soundtrack Music Associates), and accomplished television composers W.G. Snuffy Walden and Jonathan Wolff.
It was very interesting to see the process of hiring a composer. For the first scenario, Winogradsky played the part of on of the producers on a television sitcom, looking to hire a composer. The process went as follows:
Now the negotiations really began. The producers wanted an original demo written for free. In return, the composers insisted that they get the "ears" of the producers - to sit with them in the studio and get instant feedback. (Essentially, if the composers write music for free, they want the producers to spend the time with them writing it so it isn't a one-sided effort.) Both Snuffy and Jonathan were interviewed, and Jonathan seemed very energetic and excited about the project- but he had one stipulation. He would do the demo only if he was hired for the job.
Having impressed the producers with him enthusiasm, Wolff was hired - and Enzer was brought in to work out the contract details. It was determined that he would write the title theme, and the underscore for the show. While this was going on, it came to be learned that Snuffy was friends with one of the producers, and was going to have dinner with him later in the week. But Snuffy had a card up his sleeve - he had learned that this show was to be in the prime slot between "Friends" and "Frasier", so he offered to write the title theme of the sitcom for free. The three producers decided that they would write the lyrics to the theme, and split the royalties 4-ways with Snuffy. That idea was eventually turned down by Julie, because it not only went against the contract being written for Jonathan, but it also lent itself issues with producers acting as songwriters.
Time was running short, so the simulation ended there. Jonathan exclaimed, "now that's why I don't have an agent!" referring to the fact that Mike Horner had even brought Snuffy's proposal to the producers when Jonathan's contract was being fleshed out.
The next simulation involved hiring a composer for a one-hour drama. The producers wanted to license a song for the main title. Julie explained that the studio wouldn't allow a licensed theme, since it generally has a policy to own the main themes of it's own shows. Given the past negotiations, they decided to offer Snuffy the job, but needed to figure out the budget. Snuffy had worked with this studio before for a certain rate (they were dealing in drachmas for the purposes of the simulation), and felt that a raise would be in order. At that point, unfortunately, they ran out of time so they had to stop there.
After an enjoyable luncheon, the keynote address was to begin. This year's speaker was Academy-Award nominated director Mark Rydell. After an introduction by composer Charles Bernstein, Rydell came up to the podium. He discussed the influence that music had on him as a child - he had dreamt of becoming a band leader. In the end, however, he got into acting. "You must retain a dedication to your art," Rydell told the audience, "You need to hang on to the values that matter to you - the artistic values." He also stressed that composers should be wary of the "corporate demeaning" of art. He called temp scores horrible things, "one of the cancers of the music business".
He discussed his relationship with composer Lalo Schifrin, who worked with him on his first feature film, The Fox. Rydell had also worked with "Johnny Williams" on The Reivers, and The Cowboys "before Steven [Spielberg] stole him away from me," he joked. He discussed how when working on a film, the first person he will hire will be the composer, so they can talk about the feeling of the picture. For On Golden Pond, David Grusin was the first person hired, and the discussed musical ideas while filming since Grusin was with the production at that stage (as opposed to many productions which don't hire the composer until well after filming).
Rydell joked that he makes movies because he loved to go to the scoring session. The score of a film is connected to the soul of the picture. In his closing statements, Rydell pleaded with the audience to "hang on and fight against elements in life that will try to stop you from having individuality. You must have courage in the face of resistance."
Ric Romo, the Senior West Coast Producer of NBC's "The Today Show" compiled a film from various composer interviews in the NBC archives. This film showcased composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, Leonard Rosenman, Elmer Bernstein, and others.
Am I Making A Movie Or Am I Making A Soundtrack?
The final panel of the day was going to focus on a hypothetical situation in which a film was to be made which would include songs, score, and song performances. The panel included composers Bruce Broughton (also the moderator) and Marc Shaiman, directors Randa Haines (Children of a Lesser God) and Brad Silberling (City of Angels), Music Supervisor Bonnie Greenberg, Jacquie Perryman (Senior VP Soundtracks, Island / Def Jam Music Group), and Todd Homme (Music Executive, Dreamworks SKG).
First the panel introduced itself. Shaiman indicated that he prefers to write the songs himself, so it lends itself more continuity to the score. Greenberg talked about her job as a music supervisor - working with a choreographer, dealing with lip sync, working with the film editors, temp scoring, and more. All in all, there was a lot of stuff where she would get involved - more than I realized! Perryman gets involved in the movies by finding places to use songs by artists. Essentially, she looks for soundtrack projects for record labels. Silberling discussed how he was able to forge relationships for the soundtrack on his own before the studio ever saw the film. In the case of City of Angels, he had been in touch with Alanis Morissette before Warner Brothers had seen a cut of the movie. He felt that the director is responsible for helping the composer navigate the "minefield" of spotting. When songs replace the score, the composers might begin to take it personally. Shaiman joked that, "there have been times when I'm also a music supervisor, and I hate myself on those jobs!"
Haines felt that every decision you make on a film is based on what the film really means for you as a director. The CD, she felt, should really be an expression of the movie - when they divert, how can you get it back on track? Everyone on the panel seemed to agree that the trend of "Music Inspired ByÖ." soundtracks is really just a moneymaking system. Homme represented the studio angle by explaining that the studios hire directors to tell a story. The studios, he felt, are demonized for the amount of control they want to bring to a project.
The scenario presented to the panelists was the creation of a musical, which included all elements: live performances, licensed material, original songs, and underscore. Haines said that she would talk with the studio executive (in this case, Homme) about the shape of the music in the project. If a relationship between the director and a music supervisor (Greenberg) existed, the chances are greater that they would talk first, before going to the studio executive. This is the first major instance where politics could enter the project. Silberling, on the other hand, felt that he would talk to the composer first, and then go to the studio last (he would prefer to have a complete team established).
Shaiman, who has been a music supervisor on some films he scored, warned that if someone else was a music supervisor on his movie, there might be some tension. Broughton interjected with an anecdote where he had the unfortunate situation where the studio actually congratulated the music supervisor on the great score! Silberling mentioned that when dealing the studios, they might pressure you to use their own artists. Homme added that when there is a related record company, they tend to get first pick - sometimes it will work, and other times it won't. Greenberg said that film companies tend to cut the music budget down, and then will try to find a record company that will supplement it - which is why many scores don't get released. The licensing and re-use fees tend to be too cost prohibitive that if they aren't included in the original budget, it will be difficult for a record company to pay for it all. Perryman felt that she would try to get involved early so the album could be closely related to the film, but if she isn't informed of the direction that the film is trying to take, it can be very difficult.
The session ended with some audience questions, and then the conference was over! When asked how he thought the conference went, SCL Vice President (and renowned television composer) Alf Clausen had this to say:
"This year's SCL/Hollywood Reporter State of the Art Conference was probably the most successful ever. The wide range of topics presented certainly explored the realities of many of the issues facing both experienced and neophyte film composers. Personal highlights for me were director Mark Rydell's inspirational keynote address and the deal-making panel moderated by Steve Winogradsky. Steve and the panel participants presented an informative, stimulating and highly entertaining look into the world of composer deal-making. Kudos to all!"
There was a nice cocktail reception afterwards, and people chatted and networked for the remainder of the day. Overall, it was an informative conference, and I'm sure than many aspiring composers present learned quite a bit from the scenarios presented. Rydell was a great speaker, and the panelists were lively and interesting to listen to. It will be interesting to see what next year's conference will bring, but I think it's safe to say that the state of the art is quite alive and well.