One step forward. Five steps back. We tell the truth they turn up the laugh track. Feminists we're calling you. Please report to the front desk. Let's name this phenomenon. It's too dumb to bring us down.
– Le Tigre, FYR lyrics
With a sound track that plays like a"Riot Grrrl" music reunion tour, the music of Itty BittyTitty Committee plays a big part in shaping the feel of the movie. The fast-paced songs of Le Tigre, Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, Heaven’s to Betsy and Team Dresch fit with the edgy scenes.
Power Up talked to Roanna Gillespie, IBTC Music Supervisor and owner of WOW Sounds, about how she went from being a music fan to her position now, what it takes to be in the business, and how the music can make or break a film.
What does a music supervisor do?
Most people know about the music in a film at the simplest level, but not how it happens. I can get hired in the beginning of a movie, in case there is anything that needs to be dealt with before you shoot the film, and sometimes the music supervisor is the very last person to get hired. Music supervision is also more than just the soundtrack. It’s video games, it’s commercials, it’s ringtones, its everything. We used to call it film and television, and now we call it new media.
How did you get into this field of work?
Usually, in the music and the film business, I don’t think people set out and say, “Hey I’m going to be a location manager, or a grip,” and then actually do it. I think that they search around for different things, and get different experiences. You don’t necessarily take the route you planned. This is the kind of position you fall into by learning the business. It’s also depends where you get your breaks.
I love music, but I can’t sing, and I’ve never been in a band or written any songs. While I was temping at Disney for the head of the music department, I learned about music publishers – the people who get and pitch the songs and also do talent acquisition, like going out and finding bands and songwriters. I thought this position could combine my love for music with my love for film. It has been kind of serendipitous and long journey.
How did the music happen for IBTC?
The film kind of came out of the music. Most of the music was already picked by Babbit – she had very strong ideas about what she wanted. The biggest thing she needed was to get the music cleared. I pulled some rabbits out of a hat, and got some great deals on music that people said we would never get. We had to ask for music for free until the movie sold.
Jaime had already cut the film, and had already dropped in the music that she wanted. So it was just a matter of me being able to clear that music. We came across some songs that we couldn’t clear, for various reasons, and we replaced them with back-ups.
What does music bring to a movie?
I truly think the music is another character in the film. It’s as important as who your star cast can be. It can make or break the film. Have any of you ever watched a movie without music? It’s almost impossible to do, and enjoy it. It’s one thing to watch the movie, and say “Wow, I loved the music.” It’s another thing to watch a film and not have any of those emotional cues.
I’ve seen plenty of films where I hated the music, and thought, “God, if the music hadn’t been so bad, I would have enjoyed that film more.” I think people take that for granted because it’s ambient sometimes.
Hardest part of being a music supervisor?
I grit my teeth, because it’s always the last thing in the budget, and the first thing they go and take money from for other things in the film.
Why can’t you always find soundtracks for a movie?
In the early 90’s, there were a few soundtracks that did really well, so there was a huge frenzy of soundtracks. There are ones to do – like High School Musical, or GardenState, where the sound track can be as successful as the movie. For every one of those, there are 100’s that don’t do well. Because a lot of the music from IBTC came from Kill Rockstars, we approached them about the possibility of there being a soundtrack that would be like an anthology of a lot of the Riot Grrrl bands.
Sound tracks are also expensive. The problem comes up when you have songs on different labels. You have a Columbia soundtrack, and you have to go to Capital, and BMG and these other labels, to get songs.
A soundtrack discussion, though, is really irrelevant until the film gets distribution.
You were telling me that the negotiations for the rights to the music can be tough.
Many times, I am working long after the production and everything else is done – even a year later – to get the rights to music. There are different rights depending on what you do with the music. For example, when you get rights to put songs to digital media, it’s called a synchronization right. If a song is going on a record or CD, or any kind of recording, is called a recordable right. Every country in the world also has different copyright laws. There are different kinds of royalties for these rights, and you have to go and negotiate in a different way.
How do you go about deciding what music is right for a scene?
The director and I will talk about what is going on in the scene, and what they want. Do they want music specific to the scene? To the characters? Male or female vocal? Is it happy, ambivalent, or sad music we want?
If directors don’t know what they want, I will get a page of artists the director listens to, and then develop a thread of that persons musical tastes.
What are some different ways to approach a scene?
You can also have a song that is working with the scene, or you may want something that works against the scene, and is working the opposite of what is actually going on. The music in a scene can be so powerful, that it makes you think about that scene every time you hear that song. For example, the song American Girl is playing in the movie Silence of the Lambs when a woman is kidnapped. I always loved that song, and I can’t listen to that song now without thinking about that scene.
How do you find the music?
It’s so random how I find music. There is no science; it’s all personal taste. Knowing who has what is a big part of the job. I can go out to people, to music publishers, and music records companies, and I can say I’m looking for a song that does a specific thing.
I was at a point in my career where I saw five or six bands in a night. I may also go into a record store, and I will just sit there for hours listening to music. I don’t have the patience to listen to a whole song, but I can get it in the verse or chorus. I start with the bands a director likes, and then ask the music store employees if there are bands that sound like that.
I’ve found artists on MySpace.com. I will sometimes go back to music I have listened to for other films.
I will listen to about 150 songs, and then send the director maybe eight to 10 for each spot. So maybe five to 10 percent of what I listen to gets passed onto the director. I’m not the final decision-maker, I’m just the middle man.
What advice do you have for filmmakers?
I always recommend back-ups so for songs that you want for a movie, so that you have something to fall back onto if you can’t get the rights.
What about musicians trying to get music into a movie?
I’ll get these emails that say, “Will you listen to this material?’ but I really need to listen to the music that I’m looking for at the time, so I don’t think that is the best way to do it.
I’ve found musicians that I love, and I couldn’t get anyone to pay attention. Sometimes stuff that’s hip and innovative, you can’t get anyone to pay attention, and then you have stuff down the middle that gets picked up.
Favorite movie soundtrack or score?
The Breakfast Club, because it was one of the first times pop music was used as opposed to a score in a movie in a way that made me say, “Wow.” One of my all-time favorite scores is Thomas Newman’s American Beauty, and I love when spaghetti western stuff gets reused.
What is on your I-Pod now?
It’s hard to just listen to music in a club or on the radio, because I am always analyzing it, but deep down I'm a rocker chick. The latest ones I’ve been into are Arcade Fire, Huskey Rescue, Spoon, Silversun Pickups and some old favorites like Jeff Buckley and the Who. I love U2, because they were dropped by their first record label, and then Chris Blackwell picked them back up. That always inspired me to try and find something that was going to change the face of music.