Interview with LAURA Z WASSERMAN, Music Supervisor for Moulin Rouge, Romeo & Juliet, The Full Monty - May 12, 2002
ďAt least one or two songs from the temp track end up in the final movie ...Ē
Laura Z.Wasserman is a music supervisor at her own company, Avenger Entertainment, US, as well as a consultant for RCA Records. Her credits as music supervisor include Serendipity, Moulin Rouge, Romeo & Juliet, The Beach, Scooby Doo, and The Full Monty.
How did you get started in the film and music business and how did you become a music supervisor?
I started making tapes in the Disney music department, adjusting songs. Then when I did the clearances for a movie called New York Story, I really got a taste for it. I'd really started to love it, but moved out of it for a while and did A&R for a record company. I ended up going back to it, though, when I did a soundtrack called South Central and realized that that was where my heart was. After that, I did a few movies independently and then got hired by Fox to be an in-house music supervisor. At Fox, I grew and became a high-level executive in the music department, doing ten movies at a time. I loved it, but decided that I wanted to be on my own and do one movie at a time.
What qualities are needed to be a successful music supervisor?
Patience. You need to know the art of making deals, because the hardest part of music supervision is the deals and the politics. The political aspect involves making sure that decisions made by the director, the producer, the film company and, if there is a soundtrack involved, the record company, all work together and within a budget. You have to try to make the director feel comfortable with the budget constraints and let him do what he wants to do, which is to be creative. The producer can be very involved, although it depends on the project.
Film companies always make sure that youíre staying within the budget and, if it involves a soundtrack release, they want a big singles artist. In that case, you have to make sure that the artist fits into the creative framework, and that the product will sell records for the record company.You have to match the filmmakerís and the record companyís agendas, which are making sure that the music works for the movie, and selling records, respectively.
Everybody has a different opinion and loves music, so everybody thinks that their choices are the right ones. You have to make everybody feel that they are involved, although, ultimately, you have to make the director feel that his choices are the ones that matter. Itís a big political balancing act, and once youíve finally figured it all out, you have to go out and find the artists and make them want to be involved in the project
All of these things have to work together at the same time, and, on top of that, you have to meet a deadline. Movies have release dates, so you have to be able to juggle all of it at once. The funny thing is that some music supervisors are really good at one thing and not another: some of them are really good at temping music into the movie but they canít go out and get the artist, while others can get the artist but have no idea how to make it work for the picture. There are very few people out there who I believe have all the necessary skills, so when you find those people theyíre real gems.
What are you currently working on?
Iím just finishing Scooby Doo, and Iím about to start work on a small movie called Down With Love, which Iím going to co-supervise with Chris Douridas. Weíre very excited to be able to work on this; it will be a fun and creative project. I am also looking forward to working with the filmmakers themselves. They seem really cool.
How did you become involved in the projects you are working on?
In different ways. My agent tells me about projects; movie producers and directors call me; or Iíll read about something in the paper, find it interesting and check to see if thereís somebody I know on the project. What you hope to do is build relationships with filmmakers so theyíll want you back. Thatís your ultimate goal.
What are the creative challenges when putting music to film?
Finding a song that the director feels comfortable with is the greatest creative challenge. Finding something that fits the movie and the overall vibe of the movie, and, on a business level, something that can be cleared and purchased for the film.
What people do you work with when deciding on the music for a film?
The director, always, and sometimes the producer.
How should a publisher or a record label go about placing a song of theirs in a movie that you're working on?
The best way is to send me music and point out which of the tracks are really good, or to call my office if they have something they want me to hear immediately.
Is it possible for an unsigned artist to get a song featured in a movie?
Yes! Managers you know might have unsigned artists, or you might get something in the mail that you just love. Sometimes itís a small movie and you canít afford to invest a lot of money. It really all depends on the situation.
Have you featured unsigned artistsí music in your movies?
Yes, I have. In fact, I just put one in Scooby Doo.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
Up to a point, yes. After a while, it gets to be a lot of music and itís hard to listen to unsolicited material all the time, especially when youíre in the middle of a project. Unfortunately, you tend to go to people you already know, because you know their taste and therefore more or less what theyíre going to send you.
What resources do you use to find music for the films you work on?
Publishers, record companies, managers and agents.
What decides which record company will release the soundtrack?
It's a case of who offers the best deal, but also, in creative terms, who has the right artists with whom the director and the producers feel comfortable with.
If artists can break just by having their songs featured in a major film, would it be a possible scenario for an artist to sign a co-deal with a record label and a film company? These would then share the profits from that artist, and the movie company would feature the artists music in different movies during the artistís career?
It's something I've never heard of; movie companies donít usually sign artists. But there have been a few times when unsigned artists have got their songs on soundtracks and then been signed because of it. Synergistic things do happen, for example, when they make a Warner movie, they will try to put the soundtrack out on a Warner label and try to make the performers of the singles Warner artists. Sony and Universal have also been doing that lately; they try to be synergistic within their companies.
How much are the licensing fees for music in films, and what are these figures based on?
It varies completely, and depends on the song, the movie, the artist, the publisher, and the record label.
If you ďorderĒ a song for a film from a writer or a producer, what input do you have on the writing and production of it?
It depends on the producer, some donít let you have any input. Sometimes, you hire specific producers because you want exactly what they do, and you donít want to get involved. At other times, you want somebody to whom you can explain exactly what you need, so that it can fit into the picture the way it needs to fit, somebody who will change it as many times as possible in order for it to work.
What are the possible obstacles when trying to obtain a sync or a master licence?
Price! But also content: some writers or artists donít like their music to be in sexually explicit or violent films, and harder-edged artists might not want their song featured in a kids movie.
How important is it to consider the sales of the soundtrack, when putting together the music for a movie?
If there is a soundtrack involved, itís very important. You do try to adapt the artist line-up to create an attractive soundtrack that will sell.
How common is it that the temp music actually ends up in the final movie?
It happens a lot that at least one or two songs from the temp track end up in the final movie, because the director gets used to them.
Who usually puts together the temp track?
The music supervisor or the music editor. The directors also have songs they put in, but often itís the film editors and music editors who put something in when theyíre editing.
Which of your projects as a music supervisor are you happiest with?
I worked really hard on this little movie called Brokedown Palace, and, although no one probably saw it, I really loved the music. I also still have a great love for the music in Great Expectations. Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge, of course, though I canít say that my song selection in those two was a huge force. The choice of songs in The Beach was phenomenal, and that, I have to say, was very much due to the director, Danny Boyle, who has great taste.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
When Baz Luhrmann thanked me when he won best picture at the Golden Globe Awards.
Another great moment was when I first heard Lady Marmelade (from Moulin Rouge Ė Ed.) on the radio. Putting it together was such a long and involved process, that when I first heard it on the radio, it was so exciting that it had all actually happened. I have to say anytime youíve done a soundtrack and you hear the song on the radio, itís just incredible. All of a sudden everybody gets to hear what youíve been working on. Iím sure it feels the same way for artists.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?
Interviewed by Jean-Francois Mťan