Music For Films: "The Connection Between Composers and Directors" panel (from left): Mychael Danna, Composer, "Moneyball;" Bennett Miller, Director, "Moneyball;" Ed Shearmur, Composer, "Abduction;" John Singleton, Director, "Abduction;"moderator Doreen Ringer Ross, VP of Film & Television Relations, BMI. (Photo: Arnold Turner)
Bennett Miller and Mychael Danna ("Moneyball"), and John Singleton and Ed Shearmur ("Abduction"), two very different pairs of director/composer teams creating two very different films were featured in "The Connection Between Composers and Directors" panel at the Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference on Monday. The panel was sponsored by BMI and was moderated by Doreen Ringer Ross, the rights organization's VP of Film and Television Relations.
Miller and Danna, who worked previously on the award-winning "Capote" kept a friendly, occasionally sharp banter going-Bennett complaining about Danna's deliberate pace, and Danna admitting that "before creation, there must be destruction…of the composer's ego"). Singleton and Shearmur, who previous to "Abduction" had only collaborated on a few cues for "Four Brothers," were given to a more reserved interaction.
The differences in tone were only emphasized by the clips shown from each film. "Moneyball," the story of former ballplayer turned executive Billy Beane attempt to turn the Oakland A's major league baseball team into a contender by acquiring players whose stats were undervalued. It was represented by scenes of Beane (Brad Pitt) reworking and finessing his roster, trying to convince the players that his new system would bear results. They were accompanied by Danna's pulsing, Philip Glass-styled score, orchestrated in intense arpeggios. For Bennett, the best thing about Danna's composing style was the way his work "compliments the story and doesn't direct you to react. It has a consciousness that allows you to see."
On the other hand, the clip from Singleton and Shearmur's "Abduction," a high-tension thriller, was scored with driving, chattering, beat-heavy music.
Directors & Composers: Ed Shearmur, John Singleton, Doreen Ringer Ross, Mychael Danna and Bennett Miller. (Photo: Arnold Turner)
Both teams had a concept they wanted to score to reinforce. For Bennett, the traditions and rhythms of baseball demanded an almost old-fashioned score, one that leaned heavily on the string section. "I didn't want to hear a guitar or electronic instrument," he said. Singleton, kept asking Shearmur when the guitars and drum machines would appear. "The character (played by "Twilight" pretty boy Taylor Lautner) is young," he reasoned, "so keep (the music) young too." But most importantly, both Singleton and Shearmur demanded that "when the music comes in, it gets behind the character."
While everyone had a focus on what they wanted, neither score came easy, they said. Bennett repeatedly joked that Danna took more than six months to produce the music, to which Danna replied that he's "a method composer," who needed to get into character. It was a "struggle" coming up with themes, but one he did, the work went relatively smoothly. They both were amazed when Singleton and Shearmur admitted it took only about five days for the latter to deliver the score, but they still occasionally butted heads. "The worst thing is when a director tells me he plays a little guitar, or used to be in a band," Shearmur said. "When I hear that, I worry that they'll be listening to the score with the wrong ears-more for the music than for the drama."
Music supervisors also experienced frustration in their work, but it was more likely to be from people pitching them music than the show's creative team.
Slouching Towards Placements: The "Three Hits" panel, from left: Thomas Golubic, Music Supervisor, "Breaking Bad;" Janet Lopez, Co-Music Supervisor, "Enlightened;" Greg Still, President/Owner, Music Makes Pictures "Justified;" Edwina Travis-Chin Music Director, APM Music; and moderator Phil Gallo, Senior Correspondent, Billboard. (Photo: Arnold Turner)
The "Three Hits" panel, featuring music supervisors Thomas Golubic (AMC's "Breaking Bad"), Janet Lopez (HBO's new "Enlightened") and Greg Sill (FX's "Justified") and Edwina Travis-Chin, the music director at APM Music and moderated by Billboard Senior Correspondent Phil Gallo, found the supervisors complaining about the roadblocks set into place by the major labels and studios (Sony was given special mention, most because of their Byzantine rules over what specific rights must be retained before a song can be approved), and songwriters and publishers that pitch songs without any idea of the shows. "I recently had someone call me up and ask what I need for "Six Feet Under," Golubic said, incredulously. "I mean, that show's been off the air since 2005. A quick look at Google would tell you that!"
For Sill, the offhand way people send him music gets under his skin. "I've been sent CDs that have nothing but a crayon drawing on them," he said. "What do they expect me to do with that?"
Even worse, they said, was the lack of support the labels are showing their catalog. With all the layoffs and consolidation, the staff to promote and index the music disappeared. "Warners has their amazing music, but no one can tell you what's there, " Golubic said. Music libraries such as APM have stepped into the breech, and all three supervisors said it makes their job much easier.
When Golubic was looking for music related to the nuclear scares of the 1950s, he wasn't sure what was out there. But a query to Travis-Chin brought a long list of songs from the era.
Even with those sources, all three still do much of their own research. Sill, a self-described "Jew from the Valley" learned how music changes when you travel just a few miles. "Justified" takes place in Kentucky, he said, and while traveling, he discovered that once you leave Tennessee, the predominant sound moves from country to bluegrass. "So I had to go back and tell everyone about the change," he said. "Some of them didn't get it. Even after this, I had to explain that Nina Simone-who someone thought would sound perfect behind a bar fight-did not fall under his definition of bluegrass." And Lopez had to bone up on Bob Dylan and other singer songwriters for "Enlightened" because one of the characters was fan.
Their research leads to some memorable music. The final scenes of "Breaking Bad" used a guitar duet performed by two teenage boys. To give an idea how obscure the song was, Golubic negotiated with their older, 18-year-old brother for the rights. "It wasn't what we were looking for, but it was just what the scene needed."
While all three had nothing but compliments for their executive producers, even they can't win them all. Sill was adamant that the death of female character not occur under a male vocal, but he was overruled. While Graham Yost, the creator and. Showrunner, agreed with him, it was not a battle he wanted to fight.
Comrades in Arms: Thomas Golubic, Janet Lopez, Greg Still, Edwina Travis-Chin Music Director, Phil Gallo. (Photo: Arnold Turner)