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On Sunday, April 11, Maureen Crowe, the founding member and president of the Guild of Music Supervisors, will receive the organization’s Legacy Award at its 11th annual awards ceremony, which will be staged virtually. Crowe, whose credits include The Bodyguard, Wayne’s World, Chicago and Newsies, was instrumental in getting the Television Academy to introduce an award for music supervisors and has been lobbying the Motion Picture Academy to follow suit. It’s an effort that’s still ongoing. Crowe took time recently to talk to The Hollywood Reporter about the Guild’s origins, its relevance to an industry increasingly reliant on the use of music in all of its forms, and its goals going forward.
Has working during the pandemic changed the way you conduct business?
It definitely takes more communication. The time zones become important and there’s a lot of technology where you can be virtually in the editing room and the dubbing stage. I did work in Toronto [on the Disney Channel original movie Spin] during the pandemic. Disney had great protocols and we were getting tested every couple of days. Safety officers on the set made sure people were distanced and we had no issues, which was very encouraging. I’m sure it was a huge commitment in terms of production costs to do it this way.
When I think back on the great landmark needle-drop films, The Graduate (1967) and Easy Rider (1969) come to mind. When did music supervisors come into the picture and why did that role become so important?
You brought up two very significant films in terms of this journey of music and film, and in media in general. [Directors] Mike Nichols and Dennis Hopper were basically creating a story and they were using music that was relevant to the characters and they were doing this outside the studio system because that was the period of the new directors and the new vision. In the 1960s, the Academy had determined that only composers and lyricists would be part of the music branch because that was the type of music being used in films predominantly. Pop music was Broadway musicals and suddenly in the ’60s, kids are listening to music on transistor radios and in their cars, and their culture and style is influenced by bands and artists. In the early ’60s when studios were dealing mainly with original music, they didn’t have the bandwidth to generate relationships with the record labels and engage in rights negotiations. They were thinking, “we can do that maybe one time on a film or a show, but we don’t have the manpower to do it every week.” So you contrast those departments from 1960 to Netflix, which has 40 people working in all different areas with all kinds of music. There’s so much more media, so many more stories, so many different ways to tell the story. Now there’s this huge variety of music and musical styles and points of view that can all be expressed by the music playlist of the modern soundtrack that’s pushing the story forward. If you start putting limits on what music will do, music will prove you wrong every time. It’s like the air we breathe. The more you contain it, the less healthy it is for you.
I’ve been watching Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, which uses everything from the Beatles to Billy Joel and it’s made me wonder, “how on Earth do they afford the rights to all of this iconic music?”
Music is probably the least expensive thing on that show. If you’re spending $100,000 a day to shoot a series, the music is going to be the least expensive thing. And I’m sure on that show, as, with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, they budget accordingly. So the idea that music is expensive doesn’t really hold water. Those songs come with a lot of communication power — just like your actors, just like your director, what the production design is. All those things send a message. The songs become part of the writing process. You’re creating a new universe for the music and you’re asking that song to live there.
How much of the job has to do with rights clearance and how much of it is curatorial?
It depends on a number of different things. Everybody has their personal playlist — but their personal playlist may not really work for the characters. For example, I just worked on the Rita Moreno documentary [Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It] and they wanted to use several Miles Davis songs. Well, Miles Davis is always great [but his music] wasn’t really relevant to the story. It wasn’t like Miles was a central character in her life or she saw him at a particular club and it changed her life. We had Kathryn Bostic, a fantastic composer who’s incorporated jazz into her work, doing the score and I felt we could serve the story better by continuing Kathy’s score than licensing a song that doesn’t have any relevance to the story. So when you work on a film, you’re working on the entire thing. You’re having a dialogue with the filmmakers, just like any other creative person. So my job is to get to the best result based on what they say they want and giving them options.
You were a founding member of the Guild when it was established in 2010. How many members were there then versus now?
I was the founding president because the Guild was my idea. It started when I was president of the L.A. Chapter of the Recording Academy, which required you to be a very educated person about music. I told them, “you want music supervisors to have voting rights because they’re the ones who are listening to all kinds of music.” So I worked to get that passed, which meant you could vote for the Grammys and get involved in the Grammy leadership. So I then gathered some [music supervisors] together, including Alex Patsavas and PJ Bloom (now at WB), and Bonnie Greenberg and Becky Mancuso (now Becky Mancuso-Winding) and others. Dawn Soler, who is now head of music at ABC, said “wait a minute, where’s the band? You’re calling us down here to recognize this as a craft?” And I said, “yes, that’s the one.” It was so emotional. People were like, “Wow, I suddenly feel like I’m being seen.” The initial commitment was about nine people. Now we have more than 200 voting members.
Is diversity part of the mandate for inclusion in the guild?
It’s a healthier climate to be inclusive. The more you exclude, the less healthy it is. The entertainment industry thrives on different ideas and types of energy.
You were instrumental in establishing a music supervisor Emmy category from the TV Academy and you’ve been involved in lobbying the Motion Picture Academy for a similar distinction. What was the hurdle you had to clear for the Emmys and is it similar with the Oscars?
Unfortunately, it is the same obstacle. There’s basically a philosophy among certain composers emeritus, that the Television Academy should only represent them. And that’s also true of the Motion Picture Academy, that it should only be composers and lyricists, although they’ve allowed music editors to join their ranks. They only want to represent a portion of how music is used in motion pictures. And they want to ignore the role that music supervisors and existing music has played in the history of films. So Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, the way they use music, is irrelevant to the Academy’s music branch. Now I am an Academy member. I had to get in through “at large,” which means “you’re kind of important, but we’re not sure how you’re really important to any particular branch.”
The creation of a “Best Song” has become its own cottage industry and more often than not is played over the film’s end credits. Do music supervisors have their fingerprints on this?
You want music so that when people leave the theater, they’re going to remember the movie. A music supervisor can advise the filmmakers if there is an emotional design benefit: a coda of an idea that completes the story. If agreed, and the project needs it, the supervisor will cast the songwriters, producer, artists, negotiate with managers, lawyers, agents, etc. — whatever it takes to get it done
Compensation, retirement and health coverage are obviously sore points in your profession. Can you elaborate?
Music supervisors are getting paid pretty much the same thing that they’ve been getting paid since the ’80s. For health, I think for the most part supervisors are relying on California coverage. So basically, not only do you have an industry that’s not contributing to your health care, but you then have to rely on the taxpayers of California to take care of your health care or subsidize it. And in terms of retirement, there is no retirement. So I’m hoping we can create some kind of fund for people who’ve been working 20, 30 years in this business. Otherwise, it’s not a pretty picture going forward. And I think the music industry needs to clean up its own house and make this so it works for everybody.
Let’s pivot to something more fun: If you were to create a highlight reel of your career, what would it include?
If it wasn’t for the years I spent with Debbie Allen on [the TV series] Fame putting on three or four musical numbers every week, I don’t think I would’ve been prepared for The Bodyguard. I have to bring up The Bodyguard because it was such a phenomenal hit. It’s not everyone who has the biggest selling soundtrack of all time. But that wasn’t the goal; the goal was to tell a story. It was great working with Kenny Ortega on Newsies. Newsies was really putting together the musical that ended up on Broadway. So to have a film that didn’t do well when it came out, and to see it on Broadway, and to see your work up there, it’s just phenomenal.
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