A "Savage" View of Music In Film
by: Jeff Hightower
Click here to visit Lunitopia Productions
Back to the nest...
The one thing Iâ€™ve learned about the music business is that there are many doors to get in. You just have to find the one that unlocks for you. Case in point, we donâ€™t all start out with hit songs on the radio. A lot of indie artists are finding success in other places like films and television. With this being said, the best way to understand the music scene in areas like Hollywood is to talk with someone who has had a great deal of exposure to it. Director/Writer/Musician, Stephen Savage, who has worked with artists like the Black Eyed Peas, Chris Thile of Nickle Creek, and Peter Gabriel, sat down to help give a better understanding of another direction for songwriters and artist to go. Heâ€™s spend years out on the West Coast building up a career and with his soon-to-be released â€œCosmic Radioâ€�, he has amassed a brilliant movie with actors such as Michael Madson (Reservoir Dogs), Ricardo Chavira (Desperate Housewives), Rider Strong (Cabin Fever) & Cassie Jaye (The OC) just to name a few. The thing to notice is Stephenâ€™s heavy use of independent artist for this film. Serena Matthews, Sharon Bousquet, Lyndsey Price, Rachel Robinson & yours truly are only part of the list of indie artists that Stephen has selected music from. Stephen sat down with us to discuss the internal working of the movie industry and how music plays a part in that industry. HM - Being a writer/director/musician you must have a more definite idea of the music you want to use in your movies. What is it that grabs you and makes you want to use certain songs? SS - Sometimes a song just hits me and I think... "That would go perfect in scene such and such". And sometimes, I'll hear a song or an artist and just think "I would love to write a film around that sound". It doesn't happen all that often, but over the past few years, a few artists have struck me as so worthy of a spot in one of my films that I have written scenes into movies just to get that song into a vision. Serena Matthews, Sharon Bousquet, Lyndsey Price, and Rachel Robinson, are a few of the people who have set off that vibe in my soul. And all of them have music in my latest film. I was fortunate enough to work with the great actress/singer, Irene Bedard. She's drop dead gorgeous, and such a joy to work with. She and her husband have an incredible band called "Irene Bedard and Deni" (ID). Their sound is so tight and fresh. It was lucky to get her to play a leading role in my film, and also connect with her very cool band. They allowed me the use some of their music for "Cosmic Radio". Wow... I just realized, there are a lot of women on that list. The Female Energy, Dude. I can't live without it. HM - You established a tight relationship with the Black Eyed Peas. How did this come about and what projects are you working on with them currently? SS - Taboo is a friend of mine, and has been amazingly helpful in working on soundtrack material. We are both Cancers, both very musical and visual people. He actually plays the part of Marcus in my film "Cosmic Radio". He's really a good actor, and I plan on using him in my Lewis and Clark film, "Shadows Of Lesser Men". He was a very pleasant surprise during the filming of "Cosmic". He's asked me to direct a video. We're trying to put that together now. HM - If a person wants to pitch songs or music to television or movies, in your mind, what is the best direction to go? What advice would you give to these up and coming artists? SS - That's a tough one. I would say start small. Find out who is doing independent films in your area. Contact them, and present some of your music personally. Believe me, garnering the rights to well known commercial songs is so costly, and well beyond the budget of most non studio films. It's ridiculous. Not even worth the effort. I have found that, unless you have a big post production budget or a personal relationship with a well known artist, you'll just be spinning your wheels when trying to gain the rights to licensing a popular song. What I have done in the past is find artists that have a certain sound. Like say, the band "All Marbles", out of Redlands California. The have a sort of retro, Almond Brothers feel. They are not clones, and have a style that is their own. But the vibe is definitely of THAT era. I used a couple of their songs in my last film, and after a screening we held for the movie, people came to me afterwards and asked, "What was that one song? I haven't heard that in years". When in actuality, the band is very young, and those people had never heard the songs before (laugh). Case in point is you, Jeff. You definitely have your own sound, but I was looking for a Charlie Daniels meets the Eagles kind of thing, and low and behold, one of your songs fit the bill, and ended up in my last project. So you never know. You may have a song or a style that fits very well into a director's vision. But don't think you're going to get rich off your first film. Get your music into a couple of indie movies, and then start looking for a music licensing company/agent who will add you to their library and roster. Say the Universal Film Music group (www.umplmusic.com). I have worked with them in the past, and they are surprisingly helpful. HM - Youâ€™ve earned a reputation as a man who wants to help the independent artist. What is it that made you want to turn to independent artists for places in your movies (i.e.: Cosmic Radio)? SS - Because They're CHEAP!!! (laugh). I'm kidding, but only a little. Like I said, it's a win-win situation for both the director and the artist. It costs me nothing, or next to nothing, to get a great song for my film, and the artists gets the kind of exposure that might lead to huge things for them. Trust me, I wouldn't put a song in a film that I didn't think was fantastic, no matter how cheap. But an artist has to understand, indie filmmakers are not big Hollywood moguls. There is a finite amount of money in any budget. So finding great unsigned artist that are just as hungry for exposure as the filmmaker, well... it's a marriage made in heaven. And if you can work out a way to release a soundtrack album, there is money in that. But the more money I spend on things like music, the less money I have to put on the screen. And what good does it do an artist to have a song in a film that looks like a crappy home movie? You have to look at the big picture, and decide if loaning some of your music to a film that will be seen, even if only in a few dozen film festivals, is worth your time. I say, of course it is. If you already have recorded material, it will only cost you the price of the CD that you give to the producer. And sometimes, if you're lucky, that producer or director might even have already paid for your CD, and that's how he found out about you (laugh). Another thing... I have found a few great artists on line. That's how I discovered the beautiful music of Serena Matthews. Now she not only has a song in my new film, but I am currently working on a screenplay for a film I hope to shoot in the near future that will feature her music exclusively. So, having a web site that is fun and interesting, and represents the artist or band in a really good light, like a well thought out MySpace page, that's important. Make sure you put your best stuff on there. Believe me, someone is looking for film music at this very moment. Be prepared. HM - Speaking of â€œCosmic Radioâ€�, you amassed a great cast and the movie itself is looking great. Are you surprised at the amount of positive feedback for the movie youâ€™ve received thus-far? SS - It's amazing to me. First off, we had a great production team, and a fantastic casting director in Shannon Makhanian. She was able to push the environmental side of the script, and so touched upon the core feelings of some really big name actors. They came on for much less that their normal fee simply because they wanted to loan their talents to a film that was entertaining and had a cool message. The TV coverage we got from the A&E Network and the "Sons Of Hollywood" show, well... that's the kind of PR an indie filmmaker can't buy. HM - When and where will it premiere? SS - Not sure yet. We are in negotiations on a few different distribution options. I would love to have made some film festivals this past Winter, but the movie just wasn't ready, and we didn't want to push it just to get into Sundance or wherever. So, we'll see. HM - What is your background in music and what types are the ones that (as a director and writer) draw your attention when it comes to films. SS - My brother, Tucker, and I come from a very musical family. Our mother was a blues singer, and all of our uncles play guitar. I picked up piano and guitar at an early age just from being around it. Tucker is a gifted drummer, but he is really an amazing vocalist. We had a deal with A&M records some years back, but our contract was never picked up, so we just stayed on the road forever, until I decided to go to the UK for a while and try something else. I went to film school, got my degree, and now that's what I do. But we still have our band, and I try to play as much as I can, but it's hard to find the time right now. I just paid way too much for a '76 Les Paul Standard, so I know I want to play (laugh). Otherwise, why not just save that money? It never leaves your blood I guess. Now days, I spend most of my musical energy developing soundtrack material for my movies and composing for film. As for what I look for, if the music strikes my soul, I will find some way to put it in a film. HM - Could you tell us more about your production company, Lunatopia Productions? SS - It's really just a name right now. But I will develop it into something bigger when I start producing my own films, and producing music artists. That will happen in the next five years or so. I plan on having my own label, completely internet based. The wave of the future. Lunatopia will produce films and music. Mostly organic, acoustic, folkie stuff, and good old fashioned rock and roll. Gotta have a plan, Man. HM - Working with major label recording artists is something most independent artists have not been able to do yet. What is it like actually working in the studios and on set with major recording artists? SS - Hum.... Most of the rich and famous that I know are just good people who have turned their talents into gold. You find as you climb the show-biz ladder, that a lot of big name artists and actors are just as surprised as anyone that they have made it. I try to remain cool, like I'm unaffected by it all, but under my breath I still find myself thinking things like "Holy Crap! I'm actually having lunch with Peter Gabriel"!! It can be surreal. Working in big recording studios is cool. But I lived that life before. The movie star thing is fairly new to me, though, I am having a good time. We at Ambient Level Music would like to thank Stephen for taking time to impart some knowledge of how the film industry works and for giving so much of his time to help indie artist learn more about the different areas where music fits into pop-culture. To learn more about Lunatopia Productions and his current film â€œCosmic Radioâ€�, you can reach Stephen through his myspace page at http://www.myspace.com/lunitopia. His open door policy is just what weâ€™ve all needed. An unbiased ear that helps us all benefit from doing what we love. From the Hornetâ€™s nestâ€¦ Jeff Hightower