Last month we sponsored the California Copyright Conference‘s Film Music: The Real Score dinner in Los Angeles. We bring you the highlights of the behind-the-scenes discussion on how music gets put into films.
California Copyright Conference hosts – Film Music: The Real Score
- Eric Polin, Sr. Vice President of Music Publishing, Universal Pictures (moderator).
- Paul Broucek, President, Warner Bros. Pictures – Music.
- Gary Calamar, KCRW DJ and music supervisor on such productions as The Man in the High Castle, True Blood, Dexter, and Weeds.
- Joe Trapanese, Composer on such films as Straight Outta Compton, Insurgent, and Oblivion.
- Laura Engel, Co-owner of Kraft-Engel Management, which represents such composers as Alexandre Desplat, Danny Elfman, Bear McCreary, John Debney Jeff Beal, John Powell, and many more.
The panel kicks off with a mock scenario – Eric Polin (the “filmmaker/director”) is planning a big budget, dystopian, futuristic, score-driven, action film. In this scenario, Paul Broucek is acting as the studio’s head of music, Joe Trapanese is the composer that the filmmaker wants to hire, Laura Engel is his manager, and Gary Calamar is the suggested music supervisor. We run through the most important considerations for three of the parties below:
Key considerations for Paul (President of the studio’s music department):
Timing for scoring
“In a perfect world”, explains Paul, “if we’re releasing a movie in November or December, we’re trying to finish the film in September/October, the score in September, mixing September/October, dubbing October/November maybe, then visual effects. It’s all a little scary – there are a lot of things that factor in. 2 to 3 months before release we’re in that sweet zone where we want to be scoring.”
The international market
“With the growing power of the international market, places like China in particular are so important. When I started out it used to be domestic, domestic, domestic, but now we try to deliver to the international distribution people 8 weeks beforehand because of the need to dub and subtitle. Particularly on big films we like to go day-and-date, meaning we like to release it on the same date across the entire world, or in most markets. It creates more excitement, and it also helps with piracy.”
Relationships / supporting the director
“You have to get to know your filmmakers and think about creative fits. You need to be aware of their personalities, because you might have a composer who’s fantastic but is kind of a hot head, and it’s just not a marriage. You’re a matchmaker – you’ve got to know people.
“Right now, if we’re working on this dystopian blockbuster, we’re going to meet with the filmmakers and have a conversation. There might be an ongoing relationship between the filmmaker and a composer, which is one scenario, but maybe the composer isn’t available, so that’s another conversation. They may also have worked with a composer on several projects and they want to go in a different direction.”
“I really love and respect film directors. There’s a lot of pressure on them and one of our jobs is to try to support their vision and make it happen, and help them in personal as well as professional ways.”
“I manage expectations – that’s what I do. You have to get people to tell you what they want – it’s like therapy. We’re gatekeepers, our job is to protect the studio and protect the film. We try to figure out how to get to yes with our filmmakers, but we’re not going to let them run the truck off the road. So it’s a dance, and sometimes it’s a harder dance.”
The scale of the project
“If it’s a big score with a lot of action, we’ve got to compete, we’ve got to come with a big orchestra, because a medium sized orchestra will just get eaten up by the sound design. So we’re probably figuring we need an 80/85 piece orchestra. These are the kind of conversations we have – I like to swing for the fences – you know – let’s do it if we can pay for it.”
Finding the right deal
“The trade off is the sweet spot where the composer feels comfortable and taken care of, considering the time, project, and effort, but we can’t go crazy. You only want to do the deal once, it’s important to get it right the first time around. Only once did I do a deal that I had to go and re-do because it wasn’t fair on the composer.”
Source music / hiring a music supervisor
Depending on the director’s vision and the amount of source music in the script, Paul recommends getting a music supervisor involved early on to brainstorm ideas with the composer and filmmakers. As well as working on the source cues in the film, the music supervisor can help to facilitate other uses of music for the project. “The marketing department loves it if we can create a music moment with an artist”, explains Paul. “Perhaps a bespoke song that could be used early in the trailer, for example.”
Key considerations for Laura (the composer’s manager):
On negotiating a deal for the composer, Laura is looking for something that’s “nice and fair.” “On a full fee, big budget movie, normally you should have an expectation, whether it’s managed or not, that you’ll get the quote and possibly a raise. Often they’re starting at way below quote these days because all the money went to visual effects or the actors”, she continues.
In this particular example, the composer would be getting a fee deal, where any extra expenses are budgeted and paid for by the studio. Laura goes on to negotiate further options with Paul including a spike in the fee if the film is a huge box office success, as well as raises on the second and third film if the project is to become a trilogy.
In some cases there will be additional projects available to composers on a film, for example if the director wants an original song written. “This would be a separate thing to his scoring fee”, explains Laura. “If the song’s going to be used we’ll then work out a fair rate and some co-publishing. The score is owned by the studio, but with original songs composers should get co-publishing.” In this instance Paul suggests coming up with a demo fund for up to 4 songs, plus a fee for songwriting.
Key considerations for Joe (the score composer):
Is it the right project?
“I think of the triangle”, says Joe: “Good people, good project, good money – if there’s none of them, I’m probably going to say no.”
Type of deal / budget
Again this is something that needs to be worked out properly at the beginning of a project. “I’ve been in circumstances where stuff like this hasn’t been discussed and it’s a real mess, so its’ great to discuss it all at the start”, says Joe.
As Paul describes, “in modern composing you can’t do it all by yourself – you have to have a team of people, a bunch of gear, a room. So we give the composer some money to do what they want with, like a development fund.” This is known as the ‘electronic package’. Later in the conversation, Laura negotiates a higher electronic package for this project, due to the high levels of sound design required.
A project is likely to be more appealing to the composer if they don’t have to travel too much. “Can we record this AFM in Los Angeles, or does this have to be recorded non AFM overseas?” asks Laura.
What’s the timeline of the project? Will there be opportunities for Joe to work on other projects in-between?
Achieving the director’s vision
It’s important for the composer and the director to be on the same page as early on in the process. “Most directors say, “no we don’t need much music at all”, and then it becomes wall to wall music”, says Joe. “I like to plan early ahead to make sure I deliver the filmmakers’ vision for the film.”