Sunday , April 21 2024
Elmer Bernstein: If all the budget they had left was for a kazoo and a banjo, let’s get the best kazoo and banjo we can get.

PopConLA: Making Music Magic for Indie Producers

Music can make or break your indie film, TV show or Internet series. Getting the right music means working with composers, music supervisors and/or licensing library tracks. PopConLA, a new popular culture convention which spotlights fantasy/sci-fi, art, music, fashion, extreme sports and other pop-culture memes, brought together a stellar group of veteran composers and music supervisors from July 5-8. They shared secrets and showed new filmmakers how to avoid creative and technical land mines.

Producer Steven Swimmer ( moderated the group of uninhibited music makers and producers, including conductor/composer Richard Gibbs, composer and music supervisor John Jones, composer MJ Mynarski, music supervisor Anna Granucci, music producer Sean Fernald, and business development executive David Weitzman.

Swimmer asked panelists about when a filmmaker should start thinking about music.

Weitzman, who works for ole Music Publishing, said music supervisors should be brought in as early as possible. He said that doing so can save tons of time and licensing problems. “Almost always”, he said, “they don’t get brought in until the budget says they will, but they usually should be brought in earlier.”

Granucci (music supervisor on Girls, Guns and Gambling and A Haunting at Silver Falls) agreed, saying that “You don’t want people to feel under pressure or like they are under the gun. Licensing music involves negotiations that can take a long time. When you wait to post-production, the music suffers. You should think about music at the onset of the project.” She added, “Newer filmmakers have a very open mind and are starting to look at music earlier.”

Composers Gibbs (keyboardist for Oingo Boingo and composer for Battlestar Galactica, The Simpsons, 10 Things I Hate About You and Dr. Dolittle) and Mynarski (composer for American Psycho and Holly Rollers) suggested, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that you could save money by not hiring a music director to license music and just hire a composer to write all original music for your project.

“Filmmakers need to tell us their vision,” Mynarski said. “Nobody goes to the movies to listen to music. You tell us what the emotion and the drama is, and we’ll give you the music.” He said that music for film works better when you have motivic development. “You hear the same theme,” he explained, “but the inflection is sadder or more heroic like in an opera.”

Sean Fernald, producer for Oingo Boingo and Duran Duran and music director for over 75 films and TV shows including Detention of the Dead and Femme Fatales, said, “I always tell the director that music is there to let the audience know what to feel.” He said that without music that viewer can become confused.

Swimmer asked when the best time to bring a composer on to the project is.
Gibbs said the earlier the better. “I’ve been brought on before the casting. Don’t bring a music composer in during post. That’s just wrong.” Gibbs pointed to his experience with Queen of the Damned. “I had a year to think about music rather than just six weeks,” he said. “I had a feel for the film so by the time production started I knew where it was going – I was practically scoring the rushes. Composing the music became part of the process. That’s the beauty of doing it that way.”

John Jones, Grammy award-winning music producer for, among others, Duran Duran and Celine Dion, pointed out how crucial music was in general for film. “Back in silent film days,” he said, “they knew during production what classical music they would use when the film was played in the theater. When filming they would have a quartet playing on the set to create the mood.”

Gibbs agreed. “If you’re looking to create an original vision in your film, why would you take someone else’s music — their vision?” he asked. “Hire a composer and have other people licensing your music.”

Swimmer concluded by asking about the state of movie music today.

Gibbs was not happy. “I haven’t heard a good soundtrack for years,” he said, “and I’m in the Academy. I vote.” He continued, “The art of filmmaking has been lost. It has become a money making machine. One of the reasons I came here is because I’m interested in what indie filmmakers are doing. You need to have vision. A great film is a collection of great artistic visions coming together under the auspices of the director. Without that vision, you end up with a committee – producing a camel when they wanted a horse.” He concluded, “Now in Hollywood we have a lot of camels out there on the screen.”

Mynarski held out hope for new filmmakers. “Doing live music is always better than trying to create a symphony with a synthesizer. I always try and start from scratch. I was lucky enough to meet Elmer Bernstein. He told me to tell people that the music for their film hasn’t been written yet. And if all the budget they had left was for a kazoo and a banjo, let’s get the best kazoo and banjo we can get.”

Mynarski had one more suggestion for new filmmakers. “Watch The Godfather every day for a week before you start talking to a composer and watch how they used music to make the movie great.”

About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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