Were the Cutting Edge Group to place a "help wanted" ad for film composers, it might sound like an unrealistic come-on: "No experience necessary. Work from home. Five-figure income. Unlimited potential future earnings."
Cutting Edge built its business financing film scores--it has more than 70 in its library and regularly points to the success of "Drive" and "The King's Speech"--and has begun to expand by offering financing for original songs, music supervision and a soundtrack release. Its outreach, through meetings with composers' agents and musicians' managers, has largely piqued the interest of songwriters and producers who have previously not ventured into film.
"Big, sweeping John Williams scores, which work fine for certain movies, is not really the future of independent films," Cutting Edge head of music Andy Ross says. "They have very little money for a composer and [established] composers are in a world of, 'Well, we used to get this much' and aren't interested. If you go to a [recording] artist and say, 'Would you be interested in doing this?' the chunk of money they're going to receive is actually all right. They're like, '50 grand? OK, we're all right with that.' It's not like we're trying to get rock musicians to take over for composers, but wherever it's right, we certainly will."
While the amounts that are paid to songwriters for film scores vary, the approach has worked out recently with Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott of Bright Eyes on the film "Stuck in Love" and producer Nick Launay (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Midnight Oil) on Catherine Hardwicke's "Plush." Sun Kil Moon's Mark Kozelek is in talks to do his first film score.
Cutting Edge has a list of 44 films it's investing in, and Ross is music-supervising five. Its strategy is to reach out to artists who have new material coming out in first-quarter 2014 with the hopes of timing possible score work and/or synchs with upcoming releases.
Films that have been coming to Cutting Edge tend to be budgeted in the $15 million ballpark and the company, generally speaking, offers to double the music budget. Increasingly, independent films are trimming the amount allocated for scores, often dropping them below six figures, which is generally a threshold for anything that involves orchestration.
Composers' representatives have had their issues with the Cutting Edge model, arguing that it reduces composers' fees to the point they cannot make a profit on any all-in deals whereby the composer delivers compositions and master recordings. Producers have been wary about entrusting their projects to first-timers, which Ross says the company can remedy by bringing in composers to assist rookies. And a fair number of managers who have been approached with opportunities for their pop, rock, R&B and hip-hop artists have responded with price quotes way beyond any film's music budget.
"There is definitely a risk because there is a very different vibe to writing music to picture," says Cutting Edge chief executive Philip Moross, who notes the company is eyeing yet another acquisition and has three or four studio deals on the table. "It's about the quality of your musicians, delivering what a director feels he or she needs.
"In these deals, we say, 'We want you to write a score.' Then it's possible we will ask them to write a few songs--it evolves into that. Scores with songs have a far greater chance of being part of a marketing pitch," he says, which in turn would earn the composer additional revenue as a secondary use.
The most profitable example to date is the use of Cliff Martinez's score for "Drive" in a BlackBerry commercial. As with most of Cutting Edge's deals, the publishing is split 50/50.
"We've been so ahead of the curve it's been a bit difficult [to pitch the concept]," Ross says. "Now people are just knocking on the door to get involved. There's such amazing access to film because we're investing at the script stage and, when necessary, have scripts altered slightly to fit in music. I'm only interested in creating something fantastic and fulfilling the vision of the filmmaker."