Laughter kicked off the Billboard Film & TV Music Conference’s high-powered discussion as Billboard’s Phil Gallo introduced the Keynote Roundtable, “Film Music from a Studio Perspective.” The talk included some of the film industry’s biggest musical gatekeepers in Sony Pictures’ Lia Vollack, Paramount Pictures’ Randy Spendlove, Disney’s Leib, and Fox’s Diego.
Following up on his humorous into, Gallo asked the panel more seriously how the massive blockbuster that is Frozen — which spent 39 straight weeks in the Billboard Top Ten (Dec. 28, 2013 – Sept. 19, 2014), selling more than 3.4 million copies — has changed the film-music game.
“What I get for films from people at my company is that people say, ‘We need a ‘Let it Go,’ and I’m like, ‘Right away,'” said Danielle Diego. “People don’t realize how incredible that is, or how [Disney] struck lightning.”
“We started an animation division two years ago,” Paramount’s Spendlove said. “Watching the success that Disney, Sony, and Fox have had in the animation space … we had an association with DreamWorks Animation, but that ended, and we started our own animation division. Now we have five, six, or seven movies that are musicals essentially in that space. It’s a business here to stay, and we’ll see more of them.”
Sony’s Vollack said there’s a cycle with animation musicals. Lots were seen in the ’90s, with films like The Lion King and The Little Mermaid, but the format eventually fell out of favor. Vollack said her animation division is now “working on something that will be a fully realized musical with the story in song.” She also referenced Sony’s upcoming Annie film and revealed that a new film by director Jonathan Demme will have “on-camera musical performances” and is slated for summer 2015.
A number of other titillating titles in the pipeline mentioned during the roundtable included a new Terminator film, a SpongeBob flick, and a new Mission Impossible installment at Paramount. Vollack spoke about a new James Bond film at Sony, featuring returning director Sam Mendes. She described the intense process of commissioning a theme song for the iconic franchise, which then becomes the basis for the film’s opening montage (they got Adele last time).
Disney, said Leib, is working on Pirates of the Caribbean 5, Into the Woods, and a new Beauty and the Beast film with Alan Menken composing new material. Fox has Wolverine, a Hugh Jackman offshoot of the X-Men franchise, as well as Ice Age 5, a continuation of The Maze Runner, and a new Alvin and the Chipmunks film coming down the pike, according to Diego. She also mentioned the possibility of a Let’s Be Cops sequel.
The panelists universally agreed that the business of film and music has changed, though their examples somewhat diverged. Diego noted how Us The Duo, a band discovered through Vine, saw “No Matter Where You Are” make it into Fox’s Book of Life. The group’s inclusion came after somebody sent Diego a link of the duo’s real-life wedding video, in which they sang to each other.
Spendlove said artists’ involvement in Paramount’s franchise films are “a bigger idea than you just write a song.” He said Linkin Park‘s involvement in three Transformer films was almost like a “360 deal,” with the band writing with the composer, creating a video, and integrating their tour with the film. For the newest installment, Transformers: Age of Extinction, the studio tapped Imagine Dragons, who worked directly with Hans Zimmer in the studio and wrote two new songs for the film. Spendlove also mentioned Muse‘s work on World War Z and the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film tapping Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J.
Vollack said there are now more opportunities for younger composers to get work on films that aren’t major franchises. “Our budgets have come down, and the money and resources to score is down, so we are working with a whole new generation of filmmakers. That is exciting.” She said a lot of the major agents are turning her on to newer composers as some are starting to sign with agencies.
Citing Daft Punk‘s Tron: Legacy score as well as artists like Junkie XL and Trent Reznor, Leib brought up the point that it’s also a great time for more established recording artists to find opportunities in the film business.
With a healthy portion of the audience made up of aspiring composers, the panel also offered different paths on how to make it in the film scoring business, including: searching out up-and-coming filmmakers to work with, getting your music to staff at studios, researching and creating music for upcoming projects listed in trades, and taking on work for free to get established.
“It’s a good time to be in this business,” Vollack said.