… is the job of dexterous musical arranger, Jeff Chimenti, who spoke to Backstage about that mountainous feat. Music supervisors and arrangers keep …
Kids are Alright) and Grammy nominated (Y Tu Mamá También – soundtrack) films, Music Supervisor and KCRW 89.9 Santa Monica DJ Liza Richardson maintains an excitement for her projects that seems to drive her success.
Dennis Carlson, from Supervisor Wire caught up with Richardson after a long TV season and intense pilot season in the midst of working on a new film project, Welcome to
DC: It sounds like you’ve been really busy lately. You just wrapped a pile of pilots and are working on a movie project. Let’s talk about pilot
season, when we first connected you were excited that House of Lies (starring Don Cheadle) was just picked up by Showtime. As of this week
it sounds like a few more of your pilots have been confirmed. Tell me about House of Lies.
LR: House of Lies is amazing. I’m co-supervising that one, it’s my only project that I’m doing with somebody else. I’m working with Chris
Douridas, an old colleague that I’ve known forever. It will be on Showtime and probably won’t start airing until January. It’s a great show, really
DC: And I read that Prime Suspect was picked up?
LR: Prime Suspect is excellent! It’s just totally visceral and real and the casting is just incredible, the acting, Maria Bello is unbelievably
cool. It’s just got that gritty thing that Friday Night Lights had.
DC: And it’s directed by Peter Berg (director of Friday Night Lights)?
LR: Yes, I am just really excited about it. When I first saw it, it was one of those things you just know. Super intelligent, great television!
DC: Excellent. And Ringer was picked up by CW but it was CBS originally?
LR: Yeah, interesting. It was originally produced by ABC and CBS for CBS. And now CBS is putting it on CW and I’m excited about it. Now CBS will be
producing it not ABC.
DC: How does that impact you?
LR: That will make it a little easier for me because I get to work with a clearance person at CBS and that will be great!
DC: That’s excellent. Ringer sounds like it has a complicated storyline, which might be a better fit on CW.
LR: Yes, it makes more sense. It seems more like CW than it does CBS to me.
DC: And we’re waiting to hear about Secret Circle?
LR: Yes! – It’s so good! We don’t have the official announcement yet. I’ve heard it’s a shoe-in but we’ll see. [ editor’s note: shortly after the interview, it was confirmed that Secret Circle was picked up by CW] You never know until things are official.
I’m super excited about all my pilots. But Secret Circle is going to have a lot of music. And Kevin Williamson is so cool.
DC: Tell me about how you got involved with each of the pilots?
LR: Secret Circle, I don’t really know. I just got a call from Kevin’s office. For Prime Suspect I had worked with Peter Berg on Friday Night Lights. Wonder Woman I’ve worked with Jeff Reiner who was one of the directors of Friday Night Lights the first two seasons. He called me for Wonder Woman. For House of Lies I knew that the director (Stephen Hopkins) was a friend of Chris Douridas so I asked, “Chris are you on this? Otherwise I’d like to pursue it.” And he said, “No, you should take it”. But then he changed his mind and he said,
“let’s do it together.” And I was like, “Okay!” Ringer, I worked with the director Richard Shepard in the past. I interviewed for that job but not with him. But he probably gave the okay. I’m not sure.
DC: Are those scenarios pretty much typical? Where you know someone on a project and then pursue it?
LR: I stay on top of Deadline Hollywood to keep track of projects and see if I know anyone on them. If I know someone I’ll just send them an e-mail.
Also, people call me that I’ve worked with in the past or assistant editors that are on new productions. You never know who the recommendation is going to come from.
DC: And do you work with an agent as well?
LR: Yes, I have an agent too. He is a great resource. I’ll say “Hey, I just read about this film or TV show. Do you know anybody on it?” Maybe I don’t know anyone but it looks really interesting. I’ll ask him to do some research on it. He is incredible, I love my agent. He is a great ‘inside scoop’ person.
Also my agency has a great accounting department. They are always on top of it. And that’s a huge thing. Rich (Jacobellis) has four music supervisors me, Alex Patsavas, Julianne Jordan and Kevin Edelman. I’m in good company there and I like that. A lot of agencies don’t really want to deal with music supervisors unless there’s a lot of volume. Luckily, I’ve got a lot of volume right now, knock on wood.
DC: You have an impressive résumé with your film and TV work but you’ve also done a quite a bit of work for commercials. I’m curious how those
projects come about. Is it different than going after projects for film and TV?
LR: I don’t really pursue it right now because I’m so busy with film and television. I very consciously used advertising to build my music supervision
reputation and reel. About ten years ago I was very serious about getting my name out there as an independent music supervisor for commercials because most commercials at that time were done in-house. I marketed myself as somebody who an ad agency could hire as an independent contractor for commercials and I just made a reel.
DC: So, it was by design?
LR: Yeah, as a KCRW DJ I needed to find another way to make a living. I couldn’t just get film jobs without having a résumé. So I built up a reel of commercials and got a meeting with Lia Vollack, who is now one of my best friends, she’s the head of music for Sony Pictures Entertainment. When I first met her I showed her my reel and she thought it was really cool and she hired me on a couple of films as a consultant and then eventually she gave me my own film.
DC: When you are hired for a commercial to research music you’re not clearing in those cases?
LR: Yeah, it’s just searching. It’s creative only. It’s like consulting and it’s not anywhere near what you do as music supervisor.
DC: And they haven’t necessarily made the decision to not use an original composition at that point?
LR: Right, they might be stabbing in the dark. I often get hired for an ad when they’ve got a track in mind and they just want to make sure that they have left no stone unturned. Oftentimes, you get hired for search and they go back to the original track, which is totally fine. That’s just how it works out.
DC: You’ve given them confirmation that they’ve made a good decision.
LR: Right, exactly. Peace of mind.
DC: So, juxtapose that with your work in film and TV, which I know is very creative as well, but there you’re actively involved in the
administrative side of the licensing. Is that correct?
LR: Yes, very involved.
DC: Let’s talk about what that means for different projects.
LR: Well, on ABC and Warner Bros shows I am responsible for my own clearances. For NBC and CBS shows they do it in-house. The only way that I can do that many shows is if I have the support. Also, I have a great music supervisor working for me, Frank Palazzolo. He does a ton for me. I delegate as
much as I can.
DC: Do you ever hire additional support?
LR: Yes, sometimes I’ll hire my own clearance person. Like this past Christmas I was working on a film, I Melt With You, that was going to
Sundance (which is right after Christmas) and it had an enormous amount of clearances. And I just said, “There’s no way I can do it!” So I hired
Wendy Turnbull. Then during pilot season I wanted to make sure everything went really quickly and smoothly so I hired Micki Stern to do two of my
shows. She handled the clearances for Wonder Woman and Secret Circle.
But actually, I like doing the clearances! Even if I’m not doing the actual paperwork for clearances I’m making the deal verbally. I’ll call my
licensers and say “Okay, Micki’s going to send you a request but do you think we can get it for $10,000 a side?” I’m always micro-managing everything
but I’m not doing all the paperwork myself.
DC: Is that the case even with NBC or CBS where they are doing the clearances in-house?
LR: Yes, I’ll put together a chart for each production. It has the scene description, song name, length of use, etc. I also give the clearance person
all the contact information that I’ve already gathered and what deals I’ve put in place already.
DC: With the advent of nearly everything going to DVD, Hulu, Netflix streaming, etc. are you negotiating lifetime blanket licenses for shows?
LR: Yeah, every show has a different licensing strategy. Friday Night Lights has a two year term. So that means that it airs on DirecTV and NBC
with the original music intact then it gets re-musiced.
A lot of the music is replaced by library so it can then live in perpetuity on DVD. But Hawaii Five-O for example has five and six year terms. But
they are not perpetuity licenses.
DC: And you don’t get involved with the re-musicing?
LR: I don’t. They’d have to hire me to do it. But it’s easier to hire a company like Five Alarm and have them do it. They know their own music best.
DC: Tell me how the shows you are working on are set up.
LR: Well, on Parenthood, oddly enough, we don’t have spotting sessions. So, I put together huge amounts of music periodically through the
season. Then I ask the editors to draw from these bins. All the music is stuff that I think is right for the show. So, the editors usually pick
songs that I’ve selected and that makes licensing go smoothly. They also send me scenes to work on. But since there is so much music on that show and
a lot of big spots the editors will have a favorite song that they’ve been digging from my bin and they’ll just cut to it. Then there are times when
maybe they’ve put in something that they shouldn’t have and so it needs to get replaced because it’s not going to clear.
There are a lot of spots where you don’t really hear the music that well. I usually pass those to my assistant Frank. He does all the background
music. We use a lot of library music.
Whereas on Hawaii-Five-O we have spotting sessions. I love spotting sessions. It’s really fun to be there and get to know everybody. It’s
really good to have that. On Hawaii Five-O I think I am doing all the spots.
DC: When we first spoke I asked if there was anything pertaining to the industry that you wanted to discuss. One of the topics you mentioned was
whether or not music supervisors should submit compilations of music to get jobs before meeting with the director or show runner.
LR: Right, I usually get jobs just based on my résumé. At least now I do. But as an example, on one show I was being interviewed for I had to show up
to the meeting with a compilation without knowing very much information. I had watched the show, that’s it. Then I met with two producers. They
said, “Okay, now take it in this direction.” So, I did another follow up compilation. Then they wanted me to talk to the creators. Once I’d talked to
them they listened to the two compilations and then they asked me to adjust it further. I did three rounds of research and then didn’t get the show.
Two months later they called me to tell me that there was a song that I gave them that somehow got in the cut and they couldn’t find any info on it
because it was ‘unshazamable’ and they wanted to use it.
I was bummed. I talked to Lia Vollack about it and she was just like, “don’t give music before you’re hired.”
DC: I can imagine that must have been really frustrating. Is that normal?
LR: I don’t know. I’m curious how other music supervisors do it. There is a danger of giving all these cool ideas that somehow end up getting used, even
if it’s inadvertently.
DC: Are you a member of the Guild of Music Supervisors?
LR: Yes, I’m not on the board but I’m glad to help with whatever I can help with. We’re just starting out. We don’t have health insurance yet but I
think that would be great.
DC: OK last question, what is your favorite cover song from the past year and why?
LR: Ohhh…. Modest Mouse does of cover of a Buddy Holly song called “That’ll Be the Day”. It’s on this Buddy Holly tribute record that Randy Poster put
together. It’s not out yet, but it’s so great. Pitchfork posted that I played it on my radio show which led people to my page on KCRW and we got so
many freaking hits!
DC: Well, I will have to check that out. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. I really appreciate it.
LR: You are welcome and thank you!
– – – – – – – –
Liza Richardson was interviewed by Dennis Carlson for Supervisor Wire on May 16, 2011.
Listen to Liza Richardson’s KCRW radio show here: kcrw.com/music/programs/td
Dennis Carlson can be found on Twitter at: twitter.com/gaslighteast
Follow Supervisor Wire on Twitter at: twitter.com/supervisorwire
A Supervisor Wire Exclusive: A Conversation with Joe Rudge
Music Supervisor Joe Rudge has worked on independent films, documentaries and big budget Hollywood releases. Music supervising films like Blue Valentine and Brick have brought him notoriety and solidified his credibility in the industry. In a conversation with Dennis Carlson we learn what his “linear path” was to a career as a music supervisor, his process, and the difference between working in New York and Hollywood.
Follow Supervisor Wire on Twitter at: twitter.com/supervisorwire
Dennis Carlson: According to IMDB you’ve worked on about 40-projects, is that correct? A highlight for me is Brick, one of my favorite films.
Joe Rudge: Yeah. Thank you.
DC: And then Blue Valentine of course, the Oscar contender from this past year. I want to talk briefly about the music for that.
DC: Did you pick Grizzly Bear for that project or was that Derek Cianfrance’s (director) idea?
JR: That was Derek’s idea. He was eager to use Grizzly Bear for years, well before I jumped on board as music supervisor. Originally, they were supposed to score the project. It just so happened that we entered post around the same time they came out with Veckatimest. Grizzly Bear were then out touring, supporting that album, building up a fan base – which is obviously so important for any band these days as record sales have sort of disappeared – and unfortunately, they didn’t have time score the project. So we ended up taking preexisting Grizzly Bear recordings from all their albums and using that as score instead.
DC: And what about the Penny and the Quarters song? It’s kind of an obscure but fantastic placement. Is there a story there?
JR: The Penny and the Quarters song was not my idea. That was actually Ryan Gosling’s idea, as I understand.
DC: Oh, really?
JR: Yeah, he chose a great song and I happened to know the licensors very well. That was just pure dumb luck!
DC: What do you feel was your primary creative contribution on that film?
JR: My creative contribution was, and nobody really talks about, was hiring Matt Sweeney for additional composing work. He was with a band
called Chavez, and is a fantastic musician. He helped us out in a pinch, where we couldn’t find the right Grizzly Bear cues for a scene. I was
proud of his contributions; Matt had the right energy for the project.
DC: That’s good to know. I saw his name credited but had no idea.
JR: Yeah! And it was something that Derek was excited about and it was just a good marriage. For whatever reason not a lot of people talk about it so, I’ll spread the gospel of Matt Sweeney a little bit.
DC: Definitely. What are some of your highlights from previous projects? Are there any films that were pivotal for you as a music supervisor?
JR: Brick was huge for me. I don’t think I would be a music supervisor if it weren’t for that film. What I’ve subsequently learned since is that finding a project like Brick is like finding a needle in a haystack, excuse the cliché! It’s very rare that you find a film that is such a game-changer. Look what it did for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s career.
Landing that job was complete luck. I happened to know the producer, Ron Bergman, who’s a great guy. A good friend of mine introduced me to him. Ron had me involved in that project because I expressed interest in music supervising. It’s just amazing. It was one of those films where you knew right away that it was going to go places. And, it’s funny, people who work on film sets say all the time that you know if the film is going to be successful or not the day you start shooting.
That was a great project to work on too because, even though there weren’t that many source cues, I had a good creative contribution in replacing a couple of cues that we just couldn’t afford. We had to replace a handful of pretty expensive jazz cues, so I passed along some suggestions to Rian (director) and it all worked out. And then Rian was really keen on using ‘Sister Ray’ (The Velvet Underground) in the credits and I was glad that worked out. I think it’s a beautiful way to end a film. That film changed the whole dynamic of my career.
DC: I think in years to come, Brick will continue to stand apart as a really unique, interesting, cool, edgy film that everybody should see.
JR: Right! I agree. Everybody should see it. It’s funny, I can think of a few other projects I did around the same time that deserve a bigger audience… I music supervised Aza Jacob’s first film, The GoodTimesKid, which very few people have seen and is a great film. These days, Aza is a successful director with a flourishing career. We just finished Terri with John C. Riley that ATO Pictures just released theatrically.
I met AZA when I was living in L.A., in Echo Park – we were both absolute beginners – and he was like, “I have this little film, you want to help me out?” We used this Gang of Four cue, ‘Damaged Goods’. It’s such a beautiful use of the song, and without giving anything away, it’s a huge part how the film ends. I’m particularly proud of that cue, it’s just good use of music in a film. Again, everyone should go see that film.
Right now, I’m working on a film called California Solo. It’s an indie film by a young director, Marshal Loui. Robert Carlyle is in it – he plays this washed-up, leftover Scottish rocker who was a one hit wonder back in the 90’s. They hired me to find a band that could give us a fictional song that Robert Carlyle’s characters old band, called The Cranks, would have written back in the day. We ended up choosing a Brooklyn band I like called Violens – – they did a song for us that really nailed that polished 90’s, Brit-pop kind of sound – more leaning towards Primal Scream as opposed to Blur, if you will.
These are the kind of projects that I love to sink my teeth into because that’s really where my contribution as a music supervisor are tested. The director had no idea where to start. I said, “Well, we don’t have much money but there are all these great bands who would love to take a chance at recording a song for us.” Violens just happened to be the right fit. And then we had Adam Franklin write another song for the film. Adam Franklin was in Swervedriver.
DC: I loved Swervedriver back in the day.
JR: Amazing band that is regrettably lost in the shuffle when that era of 90s music is discussed. Adam wrote us a song that is supposed to be penned by Robert Carlyle’s character as a cathartic device to sort out the mess that is his life. He just nailed it. I’m particularly proud of this project, because my fingerprints are all over the music. Thankfully on California Solo, Marshall let me have a substantial creative voice.
DC: How often do you think you are getting hired because of your stamp? Do you think that’s happening at all now?
JR: Yes and no. I am hired because of my body of work and from what I’m told, good taste in music. But honestly, I’m still cognizant of the fact that it’s not as much about that. I do as much as I can to put good music in a film but ultimately, I’m there to help the director put in good music.
Film is still a director’s medium. My function is to help the director realize his or her vision. The directors have their own ideas and I let them know if I think they’re good and then I’ll add my two cents. I’ll definitely pitch songs but I’m not necessarily there to put my stamp or my taste in the film. I’m really there to help the director flesh out their vision.
DC: And getting back to California Solo, you mentioned when we first connected that that movie was a true test of your supervision expertise.
What did you mean by that?
JR: Anybody could say, “Oh, why don’t we go hire The Killers to do this song” but obviously we didn’t have the budget for that so I had to go out and find somebody who was willing to do this for not very much money and who could deliver a well produced Brit-rock sound. And I don’t think I could have done that five years ago. I wouldn’t know who to talk to. I wouldn’t know which bands to reach out to because I hadn’t quite built that network of contacts. But now, I know exactly who to approach. And I know who could deliver that sound on budget. For instance, Jorge Elbrecht from Violens, who produced and executed the song for us, he has his own recording studio and so, little things like that help.
DC: That makes a big difference, I imagine.
JR: Yeah. Adam Franklin was another great example. I knew I wanted somebody from that 90s era who could write the song, ‘California Solo’. I was introduced to him a while ago and Adam told me, “If you ever have a project, I’d love to come on board as a composer, songwriter, or whatever.” I stored him away and knew eventually, the right project would come up. Sure enough, this appeared and I was like, “Great, perfect match.”
DC: Wow. That is great.
JR: Does that make sense? It’s really about the Rolodex. What people don’t understand about music supervision is I know exactly who to reach out to:
who has great indie bands; I know which major publisher is willing to help me out on a great indie film because I have a solid working relationship with them over the years. Those connections take time to finesse and build. It makes a big difference.
DC: Knowing who to go to, and speeding up that process – I have to imagine this makes it go more smoothly for everybody, and can make you look pretty good too.
JR: Yes. I’ve been lucky to work on a handful of pretty cool projects. I think a lot of licensors know that, and so they want to work with me. . .
DC: . . . their music is going to fit in. You go to Bank Robber music, who have every cool band under the sun and . . .
JR: Yes, Bank Robber is a company I love and yeah, exactly, I have a great relationship with them.
DC: Cool. Let’s talk about Return. I’ve been reading and hearing a lot of buzz about it. I know it was the only U.S. movie selected for the Directors Fortnight at Cannes. I’m curious how you got that job. Also, you mentioned that you were working with a first time director. I’d like you to talk about that if you could.
JR: Sure! That was unusual but then again, each film is different, each film is its own beast. But that film – I was lucky – a composer named Todd Griffith recommended that I come on board as music supervisor and introduced me to the director, Liza Johnson. She’s really wonderful – a talented director but also a fantastic communicator.
Liza was honest in that she didn’t know a tremendous amount about music. She also knew that we didn’t have a huge source budget, again. In that instance, she really let me go nuts with the music. And that’s what I really liked about that project. I also think the music is excellent in that film.
DC: Who are some of the artists you placed?
JR: In one scene in particular that I’m proud of, there is this Lil’ John song that we put in called, ‘Get Low.’ It was an important part of the film, in that Liza and I had this whole discussion about what exactly that song would communicate about Linda Cardelinni’s character, Kelly, who is the protagonist of the film. Here is someone who just returned from the Iraq War, hanging out in this ‘boy’s club’ out in the desert, very much in a heavy testosterone environment. What kind of music would she listen to? The Lil’ Jon song is something she would have played stationed on the front lines. ‘Get Low’ just fit the energy – it’s kind of a vulgar song but it’s also kind of a staple song. It’s not something you
would play at Junior League.
Now, Liza was really keen to use a Gillian Welch song, ‘Look at Miss Ohio,’ and that was a key cue.
DC: Great song.
JR: Great song. Yeah. That was really our editor, Paul Zucker, a friend of mine, who suggested that song. When he mentioned it to me, I thought “Perfect! I couldn’t have found a better song.”
JR: And that’s a great example – it’s collaborative – it’s the director, the editor, it’s me – and that’s something you have to understand as a music supervisor. Check your ego at the door and work with everybody to make it a better film. Not try to just put …
DC: … your mix tape together …
JR: … your mix tape together, exactly. It’s a thing I can’t stress enough about music supervision. My favorite part of music supervision is working with the director or the editor. It changes – sometimes I’m working with the editor putting in music which we’ll present to the director – sometimes the director comes up with the music – it’s all just playing ideas off each other. Sometimes I’ll come in with a mix – I’ll read the script and have a screener of the film and I’ll come up with a bunch of ideas. Then when I sit with the director or whoever, and go over it, I realize, “Oh wait a minute, I’m not quite eye-to-eye.” That’s why the collaboration is so important – to learn what it means the ‘why’ and ‘what’ the director wants from that scene. You can recalculate, recalibrate and then come back with more ideas.
Sometimes I’ll nail it the first time, but it usually takes dialog to try to figure out exactly what’s in the director’s head. For me it’s fun. I’ll keep going back and back because there’s so much great music out there.
DC: How often do you come up against the phenomenon “temp love”?
JR: Oh, temp love, hate it! Temp love comes up a lot in documentaries because it takes such a long time to edit. It’s hundreds of hours of footage and you’re trying to piece together a story, it just takes forever. So, as the music supervisor, you’re brought in at the very last minute after they’ve spent months and months editing this film. You’ll have like four or five cues, and people saying, “We love these songs, we absolutely can’t lose them, because we edited the picture and …” blah blah blah.
But I’ve found with feature films, most editors and filmmakers are completely open to song ideas, which is a huge relief. Often, I’m brought in early because they’re starting to edit and they will ask my opinion before they fall in love with any one song.
DC: That’s nice.
JR: So I rarely suffer these days from temp love. Actually it’s great when you work with a lot of established filmmakers like, Joel Schumacher or Wayne Wang. Or, I just did a film with someone named David Ellis who has been in the business for years. What’s so great about working with all those guys – they’re just like, “Look, I’m not married to any music, because I’ve been burned in the past too often, from temp love. Anything you see in here, just feel free to take it out.”
DC: That’s got to be fantastic.
JR: I think that’s why those three directors in particular continue to work. They understand the importance of being flexible in film. If you’re stubborn about music, you’ll probably be stubborn about something else, and that leads to expensive mistakes and you won’t last very long.
DC: Right. Another project you mentioned was the Ed Koch documentary, and I want to talk a bit about that. You mentioned that there were differences between working on feature films versus documentaries.
JR: Oh, yeah, on the Ed Koch documentary I’m working with a first time director, Neil Barksy. They’re already editing. They actually brought me on early to avoid temp love, and choose songs that we can afford, so this is thankfully not your average documentary. I’m having a great time on, and the music is specific to New York in the 70’s and 80’s. Which is very much obscured by what the gentrified mess New York is. I grew up in New York City, it’s a completely different city. It’s nice to go back and be slightly nostalgic about the good old bad days, the music really helps set this era. But, I think you’re also asking a little bit about the difference of working in New York and L.A., perhaps.
DC: Yes, and about some of the advantages and disadvantages of being outside L.A. and some of the opportunities of being in New York.
JR: Actually, I didn’t mention this before – I was in L.A. this past winter music supervising a film called Shark Night directed by David Ellis who I mentioned previously, who directed the Final Destination films and Snakes on a Plane. It’s a huge 3-D thriller that Relatively is releasing later this summer, a monster film. Those projects do not exist in New York. One thing you have to be
aware of in New York – it’s an indie film town and with that you’re going to hit the ceiling pretty quickly. That’s fine with me though. I love indie films. They’re very personal, thoughtful, unique stories that can only be told without a lot of studio film influence.
Hollywood is geared toward making movies within the Hollywood system, which is great too, but it’s very much a business. It’s a little bit more about ‘the auteur’ here in New York: A very personalized vision of what they want to accomplish through their film. And I love it. I’m all in. I love indie film.
DC: You were talking about the David Ellis film, Shark Night – that’s a huge Hollywood film that you worked on.
JR: Right, I’m just finishing it right now.
DC: How do you wind up with a job like that?
JR: Lynette Howell, who’s great and she’s from Blue Valentine. She hired me for the project.
DC: She’s worked with you before?
JR: Yeah. We worked really well together on Blue Valentine and she thought I’d have a lot of fun with Shark Night. What’s nice about Shark Night and about working with on Hollywood films is that they’re fun! You’re very aware that this is like a popcorn film aimed at teenagers. The whole process is a little less self-conscience.
DC: Do you think it’s fair to say that as a music supervisor for a movie like that, a big Hollywood production, musically you shoot sometimes more towards a demographic than you do an arc of a story?
JR: Well, that’s something I’ve wrestled with. I’m absolutely aware of who’s going to pay for a ticket to see Shark Night so the music is not going to be so clever or obscure. I’m not going to use this film as a showcase for my musical snobbery. I think more about what an 18 year-old is going to listen to. But I’m also mindful that the consumer is a lot more savvy than you think. That’s one thing we’ve learned from the explosion of Nirvana and the alt music revolution that came out of nowhere. People were hungry for something that wasn’t spoon fed from the major label world.
JR: Nirvana happened to be an example. I’m just trying to put the best music I possibly can in a project.
DC: Do you think maybe more so now than in the past few years, with Arcade Fire winning a Grammy, that things have turned? With terrestrial radio being dead and record retail being dead it seems like the Wild West.
JR: Vampire Weekend competed for number one on the Billboard charts. Grizzly Bear charted number seven their first week. The average teenager out there listens to some really good music.
And I think that’s one of the reasons Lynnette wanted me on board Shark Night. She wanted me to bring something more indie-minded. I was like “Great!” But again, that being said, I was mindful of who was going to go see this film.
DC: How do you typically get a job? Is there an agent finding you work?
JR: My agent is finding me work, which is a huge help. But, A lot of it is luck! Again, it goes back to how I got my start in music supervision. I was just very lucky that I knew the right people. Alexander Orlovsky who is a good friend of mine, was one of the producers onBlue Valentine. He threw my hat in the ring for me to music supervise that project early on in the process and without him, I doubt, in fact I know, that I would not have been the music supervisor for Blue Valentine.
I don’t want to discourage people who aspire to music supervision and don’t even know where to begin but, I can’t tell you how much of my career is
based on who I know.
DC: One thing that’s interesting is I don’t hear you saying, “I heard about this project and I then I went after it.” It sounds more like a lot of the time people are saying “I’ve got this cool project, I want Joe Rudge.” I imagine that must be a great place to be. Is that accurate?
JR: Well I’m lucky that, every time there is a lull in the work, my phone rings. And I think, “Okay, I got this project and I probably should pick up a Variety every so often and see what films are in production, and circle in on those I find appealing.” But, for whatever reason, the phone just keeps ringing at the right time.
DC: Yeah, I wouldn’t change what you’re doing. That’s a pretty good strategy. (Laughs)
JR: (Laughs) I am actually fairly aloof from how this whole system works. I am not someone who sits there and reads Variety all day or Deadline Hollywood. I think that would actually keep me up all night if I knew how many projects and competing music supervisors are out there.
I’m kind of blissfully unaware of how this all works, seriously. The one thing that I’ve learned from this whole process is that it’s random.
DC: It’s not formulaic.
JR: It’s not formulaic at all. There is no magical mathematical equation how you’re going to become a music supervisor.
DC: I think that’s interesting because there are more and more books and panels popping up at music conferences focused around how to become a music
supervisor. And it seems that if you ask an established music supervisor how they got into it, the stories are wide and varied. There is no single path.
JR: Right. I just want to go into that a little bit. There was a linear path that lead to my becoming a music supervisor. From my first job out of college as a PA at MTV, where I worked with a producer who recommended me to another producer at the Disney Channel, who needed a music programmer for a show called Z Games. That’s what sparked the interest in music supervision. I didn’t know anything about clearances. I was just putting music into the show, which was a lot of fun. Then from there, I said, “What’s this clearance business all about?” and “I guess if I’m going to become a music supervisor, I’ve got to learn how to clear music.”
DC: Is that mostly trial by fire?
JR: Yeah! I worked at the Sundance Channel. I took an unglamorous job in rights and clearances, specifically to learn to clear music. That experience was music clearance boot camp. That was a game-changer for my career because I absolutely needed to learn this essential part of music supervision. Otherwise, I’d never become a music supervisor.
DC: Are you doing all clearances 100% yourself? Do you ever hire it out?
JR: I don’t hire it out. No, I think a music supervisor should be accountable for your work. If I’m going to pitch a song, the buck stops with me.
I’ve got to know that we can clear it, and perhaps it’s like a little bit the old cliché, ‘if you want to do a job right, do it yourself.’
I was editor-in-chief of my yearbook in high school. I think there’s a part of me, that loves looking at every detail.
DC: You’re a bit of a micromanager?
JR: Yeah. (Laughs). But I’m micromanaging myself.
JR: Yeah. But I want to make sure – since I am a little bit of a control freak – with everything I deliver in my “music Bible” to the producers, that I’ve overseen every clearance and understand that it’s all 100% accounted for.
DC: That makes sense.
JR: Now, I’ve worked with people who have cleared music on my behalf and that’s obviously a lot of fun. (Laughs). It takes that workload off your plate – which is half the job. But it also produces a nagging anxiety: “Did they clear this song properly? Did they talk to my contact? Could they have gotten a better deal?” All those things are racing through my mind. I think the answer to your question is that I like doing clearances, and its actually just part of what I think a music supervisor should do. It’s a part of the job.
DC: Its part and parcel. If you say you’re a music supervisor, that’s what you’ve got to do.
JR: Oh, by the way, it’s also a part of the creative decisions that you make.
DC: Doing clearances?
JR: You have to know what the value is for each song and each artist. Say I’m given a music budget of X and with that I have to clear ten songs, then 40% of the budget might be for just two songs which are major copyrights and will cost a lot of money. These are the things that I think you understand if you do your own clearances. Clearances help you to understand the value of music.
DC: I imagine you’re called on to set the music budget. Or when you enter a project, they say “here’s the budget we’re working on” and you have to
make decisions around that?
JR: On a lot of projects there isn’t any budget set aside for music. I always try to work with producers and say, “Look, give us more money because I can clear this many more songs. The music is going to be so much better.” Often I work with seasoned and knowledgeable producers who say, “You know what, you’re right, we should put a little bit more towards the music” or “Look, sorry, this is all we have …” and that’s fine too. I encourage all producers to bring me on as early as possible when it comes to a discussion about a music budget. A 10% to 20% budget increase can make all the difference.
DC: I would imagine that would be the case particularly with so many indie bands willing to do that kind of work now.
JR: Right. And with everything I try to do as a music supervisor too – I don’t want to exploit bands. I respect music as its own living, breathing copyright and I’m not going to sit there and try to strong-arm somebody into a gratis license.
DC: You are in New York, you’re not in Hollywood, huh? (Laughs)
JR: (Laughs) Perhaps, maybe I’m too altruistic. I’m not saying I’m going to offer them a tremendous amount of money. I just want to make sure bands are compensated. It’s a hard balance because often I just don’t have a lot of money, but when there’s money left over at the end of the project I really try to kick it down to someone who maybe gave me a reduced quote.
DC: We talked a little bit about New York. What do you like about being in New York as a music supervisor?
JR: I like New York, I love L.A., and I lived there for four years, and I would move back in a heartbeat. But I do like the East Coast because it’s not such a one industry town. I’m not constantly bombarded with short films or screenplays here in New York like I am every time I go back to L.A. The focus isn’t on film and television, it’s a small part of the NYC economy. There’s a ton of advertising work here in New York City. I’ve worked a lot with event marketing and brand marketing for corporations, and using music for what they call “sonic branding.” That type of work is a lot of fun too.
JR: It is interesting. There are so many music supervisors and music houses that just work in advertising and branding here in New York – nothing to do with film.
DC: What aspect of the film business do you wish you knew more about?
JR: It’s still a mystery to me how producers get the money to make a multi-million dollar film. That’s makes no sense and I wish I knew a little bit more about what’s involved in financing films.
Producing is something that interests me too and I understand slightly. I’ve always thought that one of the things that set me apart as a music supervisor, is that I was never a great musician, but I PA’d at MTV and was field producer on a few History Channel shows, and made handful of documentaries. I was an associate producer on a mini documentary called Word Wars about competitive Scrabble players.
I understand how to make a film. I’ve been on film sets and I think that is something that I bring to the table. I creatively understand the filmmaking process.
DC: That’s got to be unique in your position.
JR: It is. I think I can relate a little bit better to the filmmaker. Perhaps I think a little bit now like a filmmaker.
DC: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a music supervisor?
JR: If I were to give advice to an aspiring music supervisor, I’d tell them to make a short film and learn their medium. I know a lot of music
industry people who want to get into music supervision and I think what they miss out on is you’re working in film – this isn’t the music
industry anymore! (Laughs).
JR: And I think it helps to think like a director and understand how these projects are made.
DC: It’s not about making a mix tape, it’s not just about picking a song that goes with the scene, and it’s not just about negotiations – it’s all of the above.
JR: It’s all of the above, exactly. So that’s always my advice. And then learn clearances.
But really, approach a scene thinking like a director. Understand ‘why’ –and understand what a producer has on their plate. All of these are like branches on a tree that are involved in this making of one film. It’ll help you as music supervisor. You’re right, it’s much more than just making a mix tape.
But clearances are so important. I can’t emphasize enough what a huge part clearances are of a music supervisors job. You have to understand how the
process works and respect the process too. And understand why you can’t just put Led Zeppelin in your film.
JR: Maybe Led Zeppelin don’t want to be in your film. That’s out of your control. Learning clearances has made me a much more efficient supervisor.
DC: Yeah, I’m sure. It sounds like what you are saying is that it’s not secondary to the process at all.
JR: It’s not secondary to the process at all and it does help you make better decisions because you understand the value of each copyright. It comes in handy as a music supervisor, you don’t have a ton of time to work on these films. So when you pitch a song, it’s got to be something you can clear for budget. You can frustrate a director if you keep coming back with, “Oops, sorry it’s more expensive than we thought.” Especially, when you’re putting together 14 or 15 songs for source cues in one film.
DC: I have to imagine you can look incompetent really fast if a couple things don’t clear budget or don’t clear at all.
JR: Absolutely, you look like a total idiot.
DC: And I can’t imagine there’s very much understanding of what you do, so you appear stupid.
JR: You do look stupid. That’s everything too. Oftentimes, a director or producer doesn’t really want to know why. I feel like you’re a terminator – you look at each scene, you’re thinking all of a sudden in your mind, you’re evaluating all the possibilities that go into whether a song will or will not work. It’s strange how often it comes down to bare-bone numbers. It’s amazing how much budget completely dictates what’s on a soundtrack.
DC: Interesting. OK, last question. What’s your favorite cover song from the past year and why?
JR: Oh, I heard a band called Teen Daze – they did a cover of a Japandroids song, ‘Wet Hair.’ They’re great! (Starts song) A duo, I’m playing it right now. They’re a Canadian band. My friend sent me this cover they did of the song. I think it’s amazing.
DC: Very cool. Joe Rudge, thanks so much for talking to me. This has been great.
JR: Thank you!
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Follow Joe Rudge on Twitter at: twitter.com/joerudge
Follow Supervisor Wire on Twitter at: twitter.com/supervisorwire
Joe Rudge was interviewed by Dennis Carlson for Supervisor Wire in July 2011.