Wednesday, February 25, 2015


     Working on set and in cutting rooms, sadly, leaves little time for blogging. So it’s been a long time since I’ve posted here.  But I had so much fun talking about movie music on my good friend Lauren Fay’s UCLA radio show “Lost and Sound” that I want to write about it.

     First, live radio goes by at amazing speed.  Although I knew which pieces we’d play and had a sense of what we’d talk about, there were times when I felt like a little league kid facing a pro fastball pitcher.  Asked about my work on SOUL PLANE, for example, I responded as though I’d been asked about I’M GONNA GIT U SUCKA! Then the moment was gone, the ball already past me, in the catcher’s mitt.

     Teeing up Miles Davis’ brilliant score for Louis Malle’s ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS, I implied that Miles hadn’t been classically trained.  He’d studied at Julliard, of course, but there was no taking back the “swing and a miss.”  Earlier, I’d left the impression that INFINITELY POLAR BEAR, deftly scored by composer Theodore Shapiro, contained only songs on its soundtrack.  And as the show sped on I heard the ump growl, “Stee-ri-i-ke!”

     Omissions continued.  I never pointed out the fact that two of our clips featured sound design by the great Wylie Stateman.  I wanted to discuss what music supervisors do – supervisor extraodinaire Randall Poster’s work was behind four of the pieces we played -- but the subject never came up.

     All that said, however, I was relaxed… and light years away from my first radio gig, during which WBAI host and brilliant essayist Lenny Lopate reminded me, as I answered a yes-or-no question, “Our audience can’t see you nod your head.”

     I’ve always loved radio and I’m excited that young music aficionados like Lauren Fay embrace it, too.  Watching Martin Scorsese’s delightful documentary, BRINGIN’ IT ALL BACK HOME, we learn that Bob Dylan fell in love with music on stations thousands of miles from his Minnesota home while listening to his crystal set every night.  Whole generations of musicians and filmmakers discovered songs in similar ways.  And here in 2015, on “Lost and Sound,” Lauren shares her passions: Afro-Cuban records, “devil music,” local indie bands and, yes, movie soundtracks, with listeners for whom such sounds are all brand new.

     Perhaps I’m also fond of radio because, like film, it’s becoming rarefied.  Digitally recorded, digitally streamed music selected by Silicon Valley software is radically different from vinyl picked by impassioned disc jockeys, but it’s here to stay.  Likewise, digitally recorded motion pictures digitally projected or streamed on telephones don’t have the magic of light shone through celluloid onto giant silver screens.

     But I also appreciate that live radio is quite different from cinema. Making a movie, we shoot take after take after take, for weeks on end, until we have the best combination of performance and camera work for every beat of every scene.  We then spend months in the editing room, selecting, refining and rearranging these moments, and many more weeks creating and mixing the sound and music, tweaking visual effects and adjusting the color.  So it takes about a year to make a typical two-hour movie.  A one-hour radio show requires an hour of studio time.

     Which brings me back to things I omitted and errors I committed as the clock ticked away.  SOUL PLANE, which Lauren asked about in vain, was quite a trip from a musical standpoint.  Working with RZA on the score, with performances by Method Man, Snoop Dogg and Little John in the film, and with songs by 50 Cent, Nelly and Styles on the soundtrack, exposed me to a kind of music I hadn’t known well, but which was perfect for the picture. Another vibrant color on the palette, another important tool in the kit!

     All those tracks, of course, had to be wrangled - pieces tried for this scene or that, some rejected, some fitting perfectly.  Clearances were obtained and deals made with artists, publishers and labels.  Director Jessy Terrero and I needed suggestions for temp score, and alternatives to cuts that were too expensive.  We were lucky to have -- you guessed it -- a great music supervisor.  Melody London and I had worked together on several films, and on this one she knocked it out of the park.

     I also mentioned supervisor Randall Poster, with whom I’ve worked a few times.  He was supervisor on GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, for which composer Alexander Desplat just won an Academy Award for Best Score.  I remember an amazed Randy calling from a scoring stage in Romania filled entirely with balalaika players, an ensemble I suspect he had a hand in a putting together for that picture.  He currently supervises the Amazon series MOZART IN THE JUNGLE and worked on  GOODFELLAS, PULP FICTION, JACKIE BROWN and INFINITELY POLAR BEAR – movies from which I played records on “Lost and Sound.”

     I could go on about what we didn’t explore on the show:  the joy of working with Leonard Feather on the jazz tracks (and James Horner on the score) for SWING KIDS; the privileged moments, while working with Jerry Goldsmith on MEDICINE MAN, of chatting with the maestro about his writing 40 minutes of music a week for PLAYHOUSE 90 and conducting it live; the sense of musical adventure in every Martin Scorsese soundtrack, from the RAGING BULL’s  “Cavalleria Rusticana” to THE COLOR OF MONEY’s “Werewolves of London” and beyond.  I wish we’d had time to mine the gold of music documentaries.

     But take a listen to what we did do on the show.  In one hour, we presented a pretty exciting playlist that included a couple of Bernard Herrmann pieces, one by Miles Davis, and songs by Brenton Woods, The Chips, Townes Van Zandt, The Delfonics, Chuck Berry, The Fugs and, my own favorite, Rabbi Marshak from Joel and Ethan Coen’s A SERIOUS MAN.