The Film Business

Get Your Own Damn Movie Soundtrack!

film business

image by: BB Matt

You’re probably wondering what to do about getting a great music track for your own damn movie that you’re producing. Because, let’s face it: music for your film or viral movie or music video is crucial for the trajectory of the emotional arc you want your audience to travel. Maybe you think it’s hopeless because you can’t afford “great” music. Well, there are hundreds of thousands of musicians on MySpace and other sites who will let you hear their work and most likely be dying for you to give them exposure by using their songs in your movie. For free!

There are also established mainstream rock bands that refuse to “sell out” or “go commercial.” They like the idea of maintaining their “street cred” by allowing you to put their music in your flick. For example, Lemmy of the band Motörhead has generously donated not just his music but his amazing acting talents to more than one Troma movie because he believed in the Troma way of life (and he cracked after I called his cell phone 26 times over a three-day period).

Take Poultrygeist as another example. Being the musical extravaganza made for “chicken feed” that it was, producer Gabe Friedman and I had to write our own damn lyrics. But we needed someone to bring them to life. I put out an ad on the Internet asking for a composer seeking the acute privilege of scoring a Troma movie for no money whatsoever in exchange for a rockin’ credit and incredible experience. We were inundated with responses! Some were slackers, but many of the sincere responses came with great samples and compositions from talented musicians across the country and the continent.

As it turned out, one of the best came from Edmonton, Canada, by way of Mr. Duggie Banas. Through the beauty of the Internet and modern technology, Duggie, Gabe Friedman and I were able to work intensively together over several months, honing and then recording the tracks until they were perfect. Duggie worked his Banas off! I didn’t even meet Poultrygeist’s composer, film scorer and music producer in person until a Poultrygeist screening at a festival in Calgary, Canada, two years after Duggie and I had met on the Internet. After meeting him in person, I felt guilty that Duggie did so much hard work over so much time for free. So I sent him a big $100 dollars.

Chris Wyatt, who produced Napoleon Dynamite, told us at the Tromadance Film Festival a few years ago that due to his needing to save money, he licensed or acquired only “festival rights” for the music for his low-budget independent movie, Napoleon Dynamite. So when Fox announced they were going to distribute Napoleon Dynamite, Chris had to go back to all the music publishers to license all of the other rights. Of course, when the music publishers discovered that a major studio was now involved, the greatest ass fucking since the classic film Anal Lesbian Club Part XII took place. Chris paid twice as much for music rights for his film score as the entire budget of Napoleon Dynamite: $800K, I believe.

And what about Nina Paley? She is a genius filmmaker who produced Sita Sings the Blues, the only animated movie entirely in Flash, as far as I know. She, too, has limited resources, so she decided to score her film with public domain music whose “sync” or publishing rights cost zilch. Unfortunately, Nina did not know that the “performance rights” of the folks performing the music were not public domain, and those singers, performers and musicians wanted to be paid. So far this has been a huge problem for Nina and has stood in the way of her making distribution deals.

Giuseppe Andrews composes all of his own damn music. Believe it or not, I used to do that, too. For Battle of Love’s Return and The Girl Who Returned, I knew enough clarinet to pick out the main melodic themes played throughout the course of the movie. As I made those movies during my time at Yale, we recorded the music in one of the piano rooms there in the Music Department using a reel-to-reel tape recorder and microphone. In Sugar Cookies, we worked with composer Gershon Kingsley, whose big claim to fame at that time was the Maxwell House coffee commercial jingle and a novelty song called “Popcorn.” Sugar Cookies was one of the first movies to be scored entirely using a Moog synthesizer. During an early scene within Sugar Cookies, Mary Woronov plunks out about five random notes on the piano. Gershon used those five notes as the theme to score the entire movie.

By the way, while you’re producing your own damn movie music, you may have to write your own damn lyrics! That’s what I did when I wrote the words to the Top 20 hit song “Big Gus, What’s the Fuss?” and “Have I Ever Let You Down?,” both featured in Sugar Cookies.

Excerpted from Produce Your Own Damn Movie! by Lloyd Kaufman, © 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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