by Dan Goldwasser
G. Marq Roswell has been working in the film music industry in a different capacity than your average composer. As a music supervisor, G. Marq has been responsible for the songs and music heard on many feature film projects. SoundtrackNet had an opportunity to talk with G. Marq about what exactly he does, and shed some light on the mysterious (and often misunderstood) world of the Music Supervisor.
Tell me about your latest project, Sweet November.
The soundtrack for Sweet November is doing well; it's approaching almost 100,000 copies sold, and that's pretty good all the way around. The songs really fit the movie very well. The movie performed fairly well at the box office, but not great. Since I'm not the producer or the director, I only do what I do and I let them do what they do. I think in some cases either I feel that the projects should shine a bit more, and they don't quite get there. In other cases I can just hope it finds the market and does the best it can.
A highlight of the Sweet November soundtrack is the new Enya song…
Right - that one, and the Paul Cole song, and the k.d. lang song - which was on her album, but was re-recorded for the movie. It's more than a different mix; it's a completely different recording. It's at a different tempo, and works terrifically for the scene. The Enya song was used twice in the film and works great for those sequences as well.
What version of the new k.d. lang song is on the soundtrack album?
There is a third version - a remixed version of the original album version of the song that appears on the soundtrack album. So the film version isn't on any CD. Her producers felt that they wanted something on the soundtrack album that was a bit more "commercial". While I would have preferred the film version on the soundtrack, it's not what they wanted.
What are your thoughts on the whole "Music from and inspired by…." phenomenon?
In the case of Sweet November, working with Danny Bramson was a godsend, since he's a music supervisor in his own right, and he's also the Vice President of Music at Warner Brothers Records. He worked on Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire, and that kind of thing. I've known him for a long time, and it's been a pleasure working with him. We both tend to watch each other's backs to make sure that we agree creatively on what was going to go into the film. But that's not always the case - they are always pushing songs that don't belong in the movie, thus the "inspired by" album. For most of my work, I think I had just about everything end up in the movie. There were a couple of films where I felt that if we were doing a soundtrack with songs that aren't in the movie, they should at least fit in the general direction as if they could have been in the film. I will usually start out on a project that way. I don't go for the real stretch, where you have one song from the film, and ten other songs on the soundtrack that didn't show up anywhere.
What is your procedure for figuring out what songs to use on a project? Do you meet with the director?
It works in a lot of different ways. In the case of The Commitments, we had all of the songs picked in advance before we started shooting, and we had picked actors that could also sing. So we did live vocals to playback, then mixed it and that became the album. It was a musical movie, much like A Thing Called Love, which was River Phoenix's last movie. We had a lot of on-camera songs that ended up becoming the songs on the soundtrack, as well as a lot of country songs written for the film. Many times if a director is musically oriented, he will have very specific ideas. Many times you'll have a lot of on-camera songs, like in Sweet November when Keanu Reeves' character sings the old Chet Baker song "Time After Time". So we had to have Keanu come in and sing the song. There are other cases, such as in The Hurricane where we needed songs picked in advance of shooting for some dance scenes. So those are the instances where you need the songs picked out before you even roll film.
Do you find yourself struggling with securing rights?
It's always a hassle. You try to get a jump on it as early as possible, because if you get a director and a producer hooked on a song and then can't produce it, it's not a good situation to be in! I had a Sam Cook song for The Commitments that we couldn't get, and Alan Parker really wanted it. Most of the time it all comes down to the money. Sometimes it's because the song is being reserved for another movie, but it's all about the market. You just have to make sure you've done your research, and if you're going to play a song for the producer or director, make sure you're able to get the rights!
In addition to being a Music Supervisor, you've also produced the orchestral scores of some films?
Yes! In the case of The Hurricane and Sweet November, I worked very closely with Christopher Young. I would listen to a lot of the themes he wrote, and make suggestions as to what would and wouldn't work even before he presented them to the producer or director - so he wouldn't be wasting their time. Then when we're at the point of scoring it, we would discuss what kind of players we'd use. In the case of The Hurricane, I helped cast some of the musicians. The horn section was comprised of certain Los Angeles jazz horn players, and we had a drummer and bass players that were different that would be normally picked for film score orchestras. I like doing that. Sometimes the songs become the whole movie, like in The Commitments and A Thing Called Love. A lot of times you don't even have a score. In the case of Varsity Blues, we had a lot of songs but Mark Isham provided a score, even though there wasn't a lot of it.
Do you ever find yourself competing with a composer?
The spotting session usually takes care of that many times, but it's my feeling that I would rather have a composer write more music over section where we might have a song, since the song might not affect the scene as emotionally as the score would. I think that's why I'm pretty composer-friendly. A lot of music supervisors might think that they just do the songs, and the composer does the score. The first thing I do is meet with the composer and the director and talk about what everyone is going to do, and I'll tend to fall on the side of the composer saying, "If there's any question, score it and we can try the song and let the director on the dub stage have a real choice." Because if I fight it too soon, you might not know until the dub stage what is actually best for the movie.
Is your composer-friendliness one of your distinct traits as a Music Supervisor?
What many Music Supervisors do is try to serve their own interests on the soundtrack, or try to get songs in a film what whatever reason. They end up alienating the composer and causing a riff with the director. The Music Supervisor's job is like a music producer of the whole project, and you're there to serve the director of the film. You're not working for the songs or the record company. With me, I think I can be pretty happy with most of the work I've done because I try to serve the movie and the director first, and if I'm really doing my job, the composer should be happy with what he's doing. He should feel that he could be as creative as possible and not worry. Whether it's Thomas Newman on Pay It Forward or someone else, it's all the same to me. I just ask how we can all make the film as good as possible.
What is your background? How did you get involved in the film music world?
I attended the UCLA Film School to be a writer/director, and was heading down that path. I had friends in the music business, and ended up managing a band. When I got out of that, I got back into producing again, and I knew a lot of the producers that had films knew that I worked in the music business. So they asked me if I could help them out on their movie - so I did. I put the Fine Young Cannibals in Tin Men, and three of the songs ended up on their big album. So different people just kept calling me in. It ended up being a pretty good gig, and I thought that it was creating a nice niche for myself. It helped that I knew a lot about filmmaking and how it all comes together. Knowing all aspects of writing, directing, and making a film allows me to be a realist about the situations. Many times the director isn't ready to talk about music, since they're still making the film - so it's all about timing and knowing when to step in.
Would you ever consider going back to writing and directing?
Well, I don't know about writing, but if I came across an interesting music project that I want to produce, I would pursue that. Because I see how difficult it is to make a great movie, I probably know too much! <laughs> Actually, it's not so much how difficult it is, but how to get a terrific film? Bjork's music in Dancer in the Dark was better than anything I'd seen all year. No one was doing that kind of thing! I also love what T-Bone Burnett did for Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? - it fits in the movie, and totally is the movie. It's not just sticking songs in the film. That's where I think with The Hurricane and Varsity Blues or The Commitments, or some of these kinds of things - you're able to affect it in a cool way. Even in The Slums of Beverly Hills where we got some quirky songs and got a cool score by Rolfe Kent - we were able to get a great combination of music and score that just gelled.
How do you get exposed to so many songs?
Well it all has to do with the record companies. In the case of Playing God I went to London and looked at all of the electronica. For Varsity Blues you would call the KROQ companies and get that kind of stuff. With For Love of the Game I knew I was making a pop rock soundtrack, and it's a specific lifestyle kind of album. Sometimes you can be a little bit quirkier like with Brain Candy and in that regard it's really fun. You are able to occasionally go down another road. I'm fortunate that I can work on different types of movies. From black hip-hop urban to country, I've been able to move from one thing to another without being pigeonholed in one specific area.
Whatever area I'm in, from East Coast Hip-Hop or London-style electronica, or drum and bass, you just go to that specific place, and every record company and publisher will just start sending music in to listen to. Then it's up to my ears to know what works for the movie, and that's where the creative instincts might come in.
What are you working on currently?
I’m starting work on Collateral Damage, a new Schwarzenegger film that takes place mostly in Columbia and South America. It's primarily an action piece, and will use a lot of score, as well as some Columbian music in the cities. It looks like Graeme Revell will be scoring it, so I'll work closely with him to try and get some indigenous sounds in the score (like in The Mission) so that the music flows from score to source. So while this project won't be soundtrack driven, I'll still approach it the same way I do all my other projects to make sure that Andrew Davis (the director) gets the emotional fabric of the film, and gives you a sense of place and tension and the thing that you really need to weave it together.
The Sweet November soundtrack is currently available in stores, as well as most of the other projects he's worked on. Collateral Damage will be out this fall. Special thanks to Costa Communications for arranging the interview.