FINDING COMPOSERS

I think music can make or break a movie.  I’ve seen a lot of movies that have really crappy soundtracks and music that is, well, just horrible.  If you are hunting for a composer to do your score, make sure they are the right person sonically.  I mean, they might be a great musician but ask yourself if their particular style of music fits with the tone of your movie.

Johnette Napolitano, the singer from 80s band Concrete Blonde, did the score for my first film PEP SQUAD.  I knew she was the right person for the cheeky campy sound I was going for with that film, and she did a haunting vocal version of America the Beautiful she called “Amerika.”  It was her first film score, and it was fun to work with her on it.  I even came up with the idea to incorporate drum cadences, which were recorded by our local high school marching band.  Pleasant Gehman was working on a spoken word album with Kristian Hoffman at the time, and Johnette had a recording of Pleasant’s “Super Mega Zsa Zsa,” and played it for me.  As soon as I heard it, I fell head over heels for it.  The totally insane part was that when I placed it into the movie, the song fit the scene perfectly, beats actually happening on certain cuts, and ending at exactly the right moment.  Total synchronicity.

Different composers have different methods of working.  Johnette made several variations of each theme and left me in charge of where to place them in the film.  Whereas, Justin Durban and Lindsay Ann Klemm, the composers for my film FIRECRACKER, scored music to fit the actual scene or sequence in question.

Also working on FIRECRACKER was The Enigma (using the name Paul Lawrence).  The Enigma had previously made some music with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, and composed some of the music for the carnival sections of the film.  My dad Clark played all the Chopin Nocturnes you hear in the movie.

Then I met the genius Rob Kleiner.  Rob is a talent beyond talents, and a great guy who is a total pleasure to be around.  Some of you know Rob from his work with Cee Lo Green, on the song they did for one of the TWILIGHT movies, which earned Rob a Grammy nomination.  Rob and I first worked together on WATCH OUT.  Then he did the incomparable score for STUCK! and then CASSEROLE CLUB, CULTURE SHOCK, and FAR FLUNG STAR.  Rob’s sonic brilliance comes into play as another character in each movie.  His music can be subtle or big, but always right in tune and in step with the rhythm and tone of each given film.

I’ve worked with dozens of other artists who have given me songs for inclusion into different scores.  THE WOODLANDS is Samuel and Hannah Robertson, who create absolutely breathtaking stuff.  Samuel also made a solo project called QUIET ARROWS, which is equally arresting, and a couple of his songs became part of the OCCUPYING ED score, which was composed by Kevin Peirce.  (Kevin appeared on my debut album Hypothermia, which was released in 1999).

Even if you don’t know famous musicians, it is totally possible to find super great music out there.  My advice is to keep in mind that the right music will make your movie awesome, and the wrong choices could make it horrible to sit through.

Also keep in mind that just because you like a song, doesn’t mean everyone else will.  So I encourage you to share the music with other people before including it in your movie.  Just in case.

IS FILM A COLLABORATIVE … ART?

Filmmaking is NOT a collaborative art.  It is a collaborative PROCESS.  Those are two totally different things.  If you’re hearing this for the first time, it might seem shocking, but let me explain.

This goes across the board with any artistic endeavor, be it music, painting, or design.  Let’s use painting as the example.  One person can stretch the canvas, another person can mix the paint, but when it comes time, only one person can hold the brush—or it will look like it.  If more than one person holds the brush the painting will lack unity and the perspective will be off.  Then, of course, you can have another person sell to painting to a gallery, and yet another person at that gallery selling it to the consumer.

Sure, filmmaking by committee exists, and I have no problem with filmmaking by committee.  But people might confuse filmmaking by committee as a collaborate art—it isn’t.  It’s a collaborative process.  There always needs to be one person in charge—the head honcho—whether the director, a producer, or a studio executive.  If you have too many people making decisions, the end result will be chaotic and lack any kind of unity or focus.  Which sometimes happens, and we’ve all seen examples of the outcome.

When you’re about to make a film it’s very important to define who is the leader.  If you are merely a director who is translating what the producer tells you to do, you need to have a clear understanding of what that means.  And so does the producer.  You don’t want to wait until half way into your shoot and realize you’ve done it all wrong, that he’s in charge and you aren’t.

Once I was working with a make-up person who wouldn’t create the “faces” and looks I wanted, but rather, wanted to do it his way.  He said, “but this is my art.”  I replied, “No it isn’t.  This is about PROCESS.  It is your job to use your abilities to translate what I want, because this is my vision, my perspective.”  If we had our actors wear the make-up he wanted them to wear, the movie would’ve looked like a cartoon.  He had been hired based on his technical skill, not his taste.

On the flip-side, there are artists I’ve worked with that have an absolutely keen eye.  When we filmed THE CASSEROLE CLUB, I asked Jane Wiedlin to be my second set of eyes.  I value her opinion as an artist, and in this case, we had reached an aesthetic understanding of what we were creating, so I knew that if she had any ideas, they would be worth considering.  And they were.  Still, she knew I was in charge, but I gave her the freedom to speak up if she had an idea that could make the scene brighter, or point out something that didn’t seem right, or props that weren’t historically accurate.

As a director, if you can define your vision and share those definitions with people, chances are that when you set them free inside that spectrum, they will create something you love.  I usually like to make a list of rules that apply to every aspect of the process.  I make a “look book” that illustrates what we’re going for.  If you tell someone to make it “exotic” or “gothic” and not much else, they could come back with something appropriate for a Tim Burton movie, or at the other end of the spectrum, a look suitable for Twilight.  Neither of which may be what you want.  But, it isn’t their fault.  It’s yours.  Because you didn’t communicate effectively.  Remember: the meaning of communication is what the other person hears—not what you say.

It’s very important to illustrate verbally, visually, and in great detail, what it is you’re creating so that everyone’s on the same page.  Then, the collaborative process can be an enjoyable one.  But, remember, there must always be one person in charge and it’s important to define who that is right at the start.