A Supervisor Wire Exclusive: A Conversation with Liza Richardson
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 smart.
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!
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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
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