The Music of Film: Collaborations and Conversations

PDF The Music of Film: Collaborations and Conversations 1st Edition

Book author
  1. Steven A. Saltzman
The Music of Film

The Music of Film opens up the world of film music from the inside. Through a series of interviews and conversations with professional composers, music supervisors, music editors, and picture editors, this book shows how music for film and television works according to insiders in the industry.

Here we find a comprehensive collection of techniques and personal insights and get a unique perspective on how these key players in postproduction interact, collaborate, and successfully build their careers.

The Music of Film is essential reading for composers, editors, directors, and producers—aspiring and established alike—or anyone interested in learning how to start or manage a profession working with music in feature films, television, and other media.

Steven A. Saltzman is a music editor, composer, and educator. He has earned a Bachelor of Music in composition and film scoring from Berklee College of Music in Boston and composed numerous films and television scores. Additionally, Steven has been music editing for over twenty years with a Golden Reel award and seven Golden Reel nominations. With over ninety films and television shows to his credit, some recent feature film work includes: Lansky, After, Mary (starring Gary Oldman), The Package, 24 Hours to Live (starring Ethan Hawke), The Revenant (starring Leonardo DiCaprio), and Tides of Fate, a David Ellison documentary. He has worked with many composers, including Tyler Bates, Klaus Badelt, Laura Karpman, Bryce Dessner, Mark Mothers- baugh, Pinar Toprak, and Nathan Furst. He enjoys teaching music editing and postproduction audio for composers, editors, and filmmakers, most recently at American Film Institute, and his ongoing course at UCLA Extension. Steven is also a recent member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and sits on the advisory council of the Entertainment Industry Professionals Mentoring Alliance (EIPMA).


Interview, n.
—From French entrevue, a verbal noun from entrevoir “to have a glimpse of”
and s’entrevoir “to see each other.”

From my own teaching and lecturing, as well as discussions with colleagues, educators, and leaders in professional organizations, there was a common thread that schools prepare students with techniques and technologies, but often not the needed insights about the world in which they plan to move into. This was true when I graduated Berklee and embarked on my career in film music. Where do you start to navigate the challenging path? What are the steps or missteps that will enable or hinder you in making the dream a reality? How do you take your passion and gifts into a very competitive field and keep the dream alive or find alternative ways to use those talents? As educators and mentors, how can we support those starting their careers and better prepare them for the realities of living and working in these creative industries? What is the missing link between education and the real world? As with all careers, especially in the entertainment field, these questions and decisions become stepping-stones in finding your way.

Stories are a powerful way to learn and help each generation carry on, improve on, and reach new heights within society, whether in the arts, sciences, or social enterprises. The pandemic slowed the world down. When we were not overwhelmed with panic or using precious energy to deny what was happening, we all had time to reflect on our lives and the world. With my feet planted both in the world of film and music and in the world of teaching the craft, that pause allowed me to reflect on both my own career narrative and how we might connect mentors to those with a dream to succeed in the field. What might make it better?

Having written an earlier book strictly on the craft of music editing, I knew this endeavor would be another adventure with a very different approach. I wanted to tell the story at the intersection of four areas: composing, music editing, music supervising, and picture editing. How are the artists working in these areas intimately and mysteriously intertwined in the music making process across film, television, and other visual mediums? Exploring their creation of the soundtracks of score and songs could in turn reveal insights into their lives, their careers, their discipline, their weaknesses, their view on success, and the meaning of their work. I have compiled 20 interviews from professional colleagues, asking the questions about those personal, behind the scenes, and professional stories and experiences that shaped their work— essentially inviting them to impart their wisdom. Limiting the interviews to the 20 included in this book was difficult, yet in these choices I aimed for a wide range of perspectives.
I recognize there are many other individuals and careers that critically contribute to this process of music making, including mixers, re-recording mixers, orchestrators, musicians, engineers, assistants, copyists, songwriters, artists, di- rectors, producers, showrunners, managers, and agents, to name a few. Telling their stories will have to wait for another book.

My own story has been a complex one. While starting on one path, I could not have fully understood where or how the journey would take me. These interviews have also taught me about how we define a successful life and the twists and turns that come when we are willing to risk a career in a creative field. While I endeavored to be a composer for film, my career has taken me in unexpected directions: music editing, teaching, and writing.

My father was my first mentor. He laid a foundation for having the courage to undertake a creative calling. William Saltzman was an accomplished artist and professor at Macalester College. He was receiving commissions until his death at age 90. A World War II veteran, he was a part of the 604th Army Engineers Camouflage Battalion. His artistic creativity saved lives by concealing Allied Forces and diverting the enemy. He was married for over 65 years, nurturing three children who all went into the arts. In the mid-sixties, he took his family for a sabbatical year in Europe, indulging in all the aesthetics that Italy and the continent had to offer. He drew and painted and returned full of artistic vigor. Yet, he was always reaching for the next level of success, often dismissing what he had achieved. I know that my father passed along these feelings to me as well. What defines success? I believe those illusions of attainment that we choose to carry with us can interfere and drag us down. The micro view keeps us from grasping a well-lived life. There is the danger of falling away from joy, confidence, appreciation, and travels that can create a life of flourishing. Every day I witness my own father’s legacy—his paintings and sculptures fill our home and garden, his grandchildren have entered fields that embrace the arts, and his great-grandchildren too are well on their way to being enriched by music and paint.
He has inspired this book, too.

With my guitar and piano, I dreamed of composing for film. I prepared myself with two years of a university music major and then graduated from Berklee College of Music with a degree in composition and film scoring. I stayed in Boston waiting tables and writing music for anything that came my way: songs for a church that I sold for $5 each, children’s theater with such ti- tles as “The Baby & The Bear,” “The Little Dragon,” and “The Littlest Witch.” I scored a wonderful, animated film, Jason and The Argonauts, and wrote some television daytime news themes for the local network, some local commercials, and infomercials.

I knew remaining in Boston would not provide the opportunities toward my dream, so with both the allure and the risks of Hollywood, my wife, our toddler, and I left for California. The excitement was palpable, as was the fear. When you ask your partner to join your dream and leave their beloved roots, the pressure to succeed increases dramatically. Katherine is and has been a most remarkable woman and wife. She epitomizes the support one needs to pursue a career path such as I did. Many of the questions I ask my interviewees are based on my conversations with Katherine and the challenges and sometimes critical relationship moments we experienced while moving to California with a new child, no jobs and without any financial security. She has often told me she would have valued a book with insights into supporting a struggling composer, while juggling the life and needs of a young family—a book on the impact and the realities that these careers have on family and relationships. In this way it’s so appropriate she has contributed to forming and editing this introduction. I hope the interviewees’ stories will help to expose the challenges you will encounter, as well as those likely faced by those joining you on the journey.

The challenges were many, starting with a handful of names to cold-call, it was clearly going to be a difficult road ahead. In those early years, I remember one person who was in a very high position at one of the performing rights organizations, saying to me, “You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t meant to be a composer.” I hung on those words of encouragement that helped build and keep my confidence in the many times of despair. I networked. I sent demos and resumé packages by snail mail. I made warm calls and cold calls. I visited Mike Post scoring sessions. I visited mix sessions. I lunch’d. I coffee’d. I did any kind of writing or production job I could get, even one gig as a music director that was way over my head. My other gig at the time was caretaking of our son and daughter. Living in Los Angeles also brought financial challenges. My wife managed not only a full-time demanding job but also traveled for speaking engagements and conferences. Her career flourished, while my dream felt like it was failing fast. After ten years, my financial contribution to the family was negligible. A major choice and critical mass were on us. It was a time of reckoning, as well as a need for repair and healing. Not only was it financial, but there was an unspoken fissure in our relationship. This should not have been a surprise to either of us. I don’t think anyone can totally predict these things, although we, each in our own way, knew there had to be a change.

Maybe if I kept going, I would achieve success. Yet, at what cost? I kept asking why my dream was falling away. What if my music was better? What if I met more people directly? What if my networking skills were better? The weight of it was awful. I was immobilized and demoralized, caught by only seeing one path to the dream.
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