SXSW: Music Supervisor Randall Poster on Why the 'Beatles Are Like Kryptonite,' Death of the Soundtrack Album

The Hangover One Sheet Hugo One Sheet Split - H 2013

The Hangover One Sheet Hugo One Sheet Split - H 2013

During a Q&A held at South By Southwest in Austin, the veteran movie-music man also discusses the difficulty in finding period-appropriate songs for use in "Boardwalk Empire."

Music Supervisor Randall Poster has more movie credits than even he can count at this point. Starting with 1995’s Kids, the New York native has gone on to set the musical tone for blockbusters (among them: Skyfall, Old School and Meet the Parents), beloved indie flicks (Suburbia, 200 Cigarettes) and Wes Anderson’s entire film canon.

These days, while still in high demand for movie projects, Poster has been delving deep into music history via television, mostly building the soundtrack to Boardwalk Empire. He led an afternoon panel at South By Southwest in connection with the premiere of Spring Breakers, directed by Harmony Korine, with whom Poster first worked on Kids. But while Poster clearly had the sound portion of public speaking down, picture was more of a challenge, as several failed attempts at audio-visual accompaniment proved.

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No matter, during the hourlong chat, Poster took questions from attendees instead, revealing in the process that The Hangover Part III was recently tested in front of its first audience and that his next project will be a musical compendium of songs from the Civil War era, for which he’s engrossing himself in traditional American bluegrass. Ultimately, he declared his love of music comes down to being “dedicated to the liner note.”

Among the other revelations:

Coming up with period-appropriate music for Boardwalk Empire continues to be a challenge. In its fourth season, Poster has only made it to the four-year period between 1920 and 1924. “That’s very early in American music, and so much music has disappeared from the era,” he explained. “There were 15,000 silent movie houses in 1920 and then sound comes into movies, and this world of live musicians goes away.” Because the live bands each played what was called “inspirationals,” music to set a certain emotional tone that would vary from theater to theater, little of it was documented -- until now. Said Poster: “We gathered some of the sheet music and recorded it, which was thrilling because it was music that had disappeared.”

Dwindling soundtrack album sales have been a disappointment … So said Poster when asked if he bemoans the bygone days of multi-platinum soundtrack successes (like Pulp Fiction, Saturday Night Fever, O Brother Where Art Thou, etc.). Still, Poster made sure to note that, while many get into music supervision because they were “point people for record companies” in soundtrack departments, he was “always more aligned with the filmmaker -- a soundtrack didn’t lead us.” Today, he added, “I work hard to create a soundtrack album you can listen to from start to finish that reveals something a little deeper, but 80 percent of the tracks need to be available for individual download so it doesn’t really prompt that kind of consumption.”

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A comedy doesn’t mean the music has to be jokey. Take, for instance, Hangover Part III, which was screened for the first time in early March. “Working on the Todd Phillips Hangover films -- those songs are pretty formidable and they drive the movie -- they don’t necessarily point the viewer at the funny bits,” Poster explained. In fact, the pacing of the jokes is just as important, he elaborated, and the movie studio will often record the audience, then put the track of the crowd to the film and see where they’re getting response.

“The Beatles are like Kryptonite.” Not only are original songs by the Fab Four exorbitantly expensive to license, Poster says, “they’re so powerful and people bring so much of their life experience into [hearing a Beatles song] that it can be a distraction.” Hence, the Superman analogy. Similarly, when looking for new music, Poster declares that he’s “allergic to the terminology ‘library’” but always open to finding new resources and new bands. 

Twitter: @THRMusic