ASCAP Workshop, Day 9

In which future composers meet their future bosses

Final scores were due at 8AM the next morning; what better time to meet music-business heavies?

From Warner Bros. Pictures came Doug Frank (president, music operations) and Lisa Margolis (senior VP, legal affairs); from Sony Pictures Television, Tony Scudellari (VP, music creative) and Sean Mulligan (senior director, U.S. film, television & media, ole); and Russell Emanuel, president of stock music library Extreme Music.

Frank posed a provocative question: Would you rather be known as a “chorus boy,” someone who could compose in a variety of musical styles, or as a “character actor”? Said Frank: “Understand that as you march on with your careers, you are guilty by association. One of the bad things is if you get known for a particular kind of genre, like an actor being pigeonholed.”

He also told the story of a star on a film who was known to be so difficult, the composer’s contract included a “movie-star” clause with a contingency fund for last-minute changes. “Star shows up — ‘What is that sound? I hate flutes!’ We picked up the costs with no fault to the composer.”

Frank also warned that a film’s budget is not indicative of what is there to be spent for music. “If you have an effects-heavy picture, you may short the music budget.” Producers often don’t worry about music in early budgeting; it’s a concern once they get the greenlight. Furthermore, they may hope that when they show the director’s cut, the studio will love it enough to give them some more money for music. With the tremendous amount of money a studio invests in a picture (the MPAA puts the average cost of producing and marketing a studio film at nearly $107 million), Frank said, “There is a feeling that we have to protect this investment.”

Given that the 12 workshop participants are essentially trying to break into Hollywood, how do studio execs respond when directors request lesser-known composers?

“We try to be as supportive of the creatives as possible,” he said. “We will support the choice. The question is: Will [others executives within] the network support them?”

Scudellari called the process of getting decision-makers to consider unknown composers as “the blind Pepsi taste test.” Give them reels without labels, he said, “so they can’t just go for the name.”

Frank backed this up with the story of how “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” director David Yates wanted to hire the relatively unknown Nick Hooper, whom he knew from his work on U.K. television. At this point, the franchise’s composers had included John Williams, William Ross and Patrick Doyle.

“The story has a happy ending,” Frank said. “Nick Hooper did a great job on ‘Harry Potter V’ and he will be doing ‘Harry Potter VI.’ He had the right relationship at the right time. The most valuable relationship you can have is with the filmmaker.”

Margolis explained that in a situation like this, a studio might want to protect itself with a “step deal” in which timely delivery and music approval keeps the money flowing in steps. Frank also said that they might have a new composer “temp” over the movie, write some themes, score selected scenes or do a mock-up — “then you start to feel a little more comfortable.”

Frank stressed that meetings in which you discuss non-musical interests can get you work, as when “Silverado” composer Bruce Broughton offered up that, at one point, he was torn between being an animator or a composer. This lead Frank to offer “Tiny Toons” (“much to his agent’s chagrin,” said Frank, “because I had TV animation money”).

Mulligan and Emanuel suggested alternate revenue streams. Mulligan’s music publishing company, ole, even has a mechanism called a “creative freedom advance” on royalties.

Emanuel touted Extreme as the world’s number-one grossing library, with people like Dave Stewart and Hans Zimmer creating some of the cues. “I wanted to create a production company with A-list talent and everyone said, ‘Go fuck yourself,’ Emanuel said. “It was really hard.” He also said that with the current high quality of home recordings, he has even licensed demos for broadcast.

Workshop director Bellis summed up the need for all the tough words the composers had heard with, “Frustration is based on expectation. The more you know about the inner workings of the business, why you don’t get a job — the less frustration.”

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