By Don Heckman
Music doesn’t just magically appear on television shows and in films. Composers have to write underscores, songwriters have to write songs, and someone has to bring them together with the producers and directors who make the TV shows and the movies. Frankie Pine and her Whirly Girl Music company have been doing precisely that for the past ten years. Her most recent film was “Tooth Fairy,” and her television assignments reach from “Brothers & Sisters” to “Army Wives,” “Dirty Sexy Money” and beyond. She recently agreed to answer some questions about the way music makes its progression from a composer’s imagination to the motion picture and television screens.
DH: Frankie, I know you’re from Ohio, so I’m assuming you didn’t exactly get to a Hollywood sound stage overnight. How did it all happen?
FP: Well, I grew up with family of musicians. I played piano, was a singer, thought I’d be the next big dance star of the ‘80s. My dad was a deejay and I knew even at a young age that I wanted to do something in music and promote music in some kind of way. I actually got started when I was living in Orlando, working for the Mickey Mouse Club TV show. I started helping the music coordinator for the show, picking the bands for music day for the Mickey Mouse Club.
DH: So that gave you a bit of experience in picking and choosing music. But you were still in Orlando.
FP: Right. And I told myself I was going to save my money, move to New York and get a job with a record company. Which I did, working for Polygram, licensing out Polygram material for television clients. Then I was offered the chance to move to Los Angeles, by a client of mine, Dawn Soler. She had just gotten the Head of Music position at Polygram film. So I actually just transferred from Polygram Records to Polygram Film. That’s really where it all started.
DH: Okay, let’s be clear about what “it” is. How do you identify what “it” is that you do?
FP: I’m called a Music Supervisor. It’s supervision of music on a film or television project, or any other media that is in need of music. On a film, I’m involved in all aspects of music. Working with the director on what style of music, what kind of underscore, the hiring of a composer — kind of bringing together the entire musical team.
DH: And that team would be…?
FP: Myself as the music supervisor, the composer of the film and the music editor.
DH: At what point does it all begin to come together?
FP: It depends on when I come on to a film. If there’s any kind of on-camera needs – shooting music with a live band or somebody singing or dancing – then I’m usually brought on before they start shooting the film. If there’s nothing on camera then I can be brought on either in the middle of shooting or towards the end of shooting, when post production is beginning to start. Sometimes I’ve read scripts and said ‘This is the direction I think we need to go.” Other times I don’t suggest a direction until I’ve actually seen the picture. So it really can go either way.
DH: How do you work with the director and composer in terms of what music is required, and how it will be composed?
FP: I never actually tell them how it should be composed. My work begins before that, when I sit down with the director to discuss what the music should be. Then I’m the one who sets out to find the right composer.
DH: That’s a pretty important step. How do you go about it?
FP: A lot of ways. But basically, I obtain demo reels from different agencies and different composers, I compile what I think are the best possibilities and then submit those to the director so the director can make a decision. Then I interview the composers to see which ones the director will feel most comfortable with.
DH: Do you find that there’s a wide range between directors and producers in terms of the amount of advice that that they need musically, or that they’re receptive to musically?
FP: Yes, they’re all different. Some are very musical. And some aren’t very musical at all. As the Music Supervisor, you have to be kind of chameleon-like in figuring out what their needs are and what you can provide for them.
DH: So you have to understand their style, their way of working, their creative attitudes?
FP: Yes. But there’s more. When I meet with a director, I don’t focus on what they’ve done in the past, what their previous films have been like. For me it’s more about where are they from, how old are they? Those things tell me more about what the personality of the director is, and where their head is going to be musically.
DH: Interesting. You almost have to be a psychotherapist –
FP: [laughing] I always say I’m so thankful I have a sociology degree. It’s the only part of my degree I actually use.
DH: Before a composer actually becomes part of the mix, directors often tend to use temporary music cues in editing pictures to get the feeling their looking for. And now, with all the software that’s available, they can go beyond that, actually assemble stuff very quickly on their own, without necessarily having any traditional composition skills. And sometimes it winds up in the picture itself. How does that affect what you do? Or does it?
FP: It depends on the scope of the picture or the project you’re working on. A bigger, epic picture isn’t something you’re going to temp score with Garage Band. If you’re using a temp score for that kind of picture its generally taken from other epic pictures to get the same feeling. If it’s a smaller project, like music for a trailer, then people do it on their own all the time. But that’s really only on smaller, independent pictures and projects.
DH: And in the case of larger pictures, the music score itself has a value of its own, right?
FP: Yes. Every studio wants to own the score to a film. They’re hiring a composer, who basically gets paid on a work for hire basis, and the studio winds up owning the entire recording. Some composers can make better deals, depending if it’s a big project or a small indy production. Maybe it’ll be 50% of publishing, depending on the budget.
DH: Let’s talk about the use of songs in films and television. It seems to me that it’s become much more prevalent in recent years. How do you go about finding the right song for a specific film or television show?
FP: We probably get ten or fifteen packages of music a day in my office. Much of it unsolicited. We try to listen to it and if it’s appropriate to a specific project, we’ll keep it with that project in mind. If it’s not appropriate for anything specific, but we like it, we keep it, as well. If we don’t like it, it just goes away.
DH: How does a composer or a songwriter know what to send you?
FP: I tell everybody the same thing: do your research before you send your music to a music supervisor. Right now, I’m not using a lot of rock music, so sending me rock music is kind of a waste of time. My current projects just don’t call for it. Right now I’m in singer/songwriter land. Very poignant, melodic, nothing too fast, nothing real rockin’. Those are the projects I’m working on right now.
DH: Would you say it’s a trend?
FP: Well for television, and knowing the television shows that are out there right now, yes. Pop rock is very useful in promo spots, or in big pictures, like Iron Man and things like that. But we do shows like Army Wives, Brothers and Sisters. Then you have Private Practice, Grey’s Anatomy. And all these shows are using the same kind of music – very poignant, hitting the heartstrings kind of music.
DH: Will you sometimes go to a specific composer in advance for a song?
FP: Sure. One example. I needed something that had the feeling of “Night and Day,” but that was fun musically and a little kitschy sounding. The picture had actually been cut to a specific existing recording of “Night and Day.” So I needed a piece of music that would fit into that segment, have a certain number of beats per minute, and it had to hit the dance moves and the things that were happening picture-wise. So I called Ella Leya, a very dependable songwriter, and she wrote the song – “I’m In Love.” I wound up using it in the film, My Sassy Girl, as well as an episode of Samantha Who? And I’ll use it again the next time I need that kind of vibe.
DH: Let’s assume a songwriter has the most poignant song since James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.” Or a composer has skills that reach from large orchestral cues to electronica. How do they approach you?
FP: It’s easy to look on the Internet Movie Data Base or some other kind of website to find out what Whirly Girl and Frankie Pine are doing. If we’re working on a television show, there’s usually already a composer who’s been on it for as long as we’ve been on it. So changes in television scoring don’t happen very often, although there can often be an opening for a song. For film, if there’s a film coming up that I’m working on, find out where we are in that process. It’s easy to make a phone call, find out what kind of music, what kind of style we’re looking for. Call our office, or call the production office. Talk to an assistant there who will tell you who the music supervisor is.
DH: That doesn’t necessarily open the doors, though, does it?
FP: No, I’d have to add that, for most composers, the best way to go to get your music heard is go through an agent. It’s very hard for a composer to get a deal without being repped by one of the composer agents in town.
DH: And of course have good demo material.
FP: Yes. Being a jack of all trades is definitely a good thing in the composer world. But also be sure to put your best foot forward. If you feel you’re on top of your game in electronica and my next movie is some horror movie and that’s the kind of vibe we’re going for, then give me electronica. Don’t give me your light hearted romantic stuff, too.
DH: Frankie, you’ve had Whirly Girl Music for ten years. Has the business changed much over that period of time?
FP: Sure. There was a time when you were either a film music supervisor or a TV music supervisor. And being TV wasn’t as cool as being film. But now I feel it’s kind of switched. Television is such a big arena of reaching such a mass audience that most people that are trying to sell me music want to get heard on television. Newer music can get heard a lot sooner on TV because the medium works so fast.
DH: Fortunately, you work in both areas.
FP: I do. I’d have to say I’m just about where I want to be right now.
DH: Thanks, Frankie, for taking to time to fill us in on this fascinating area of the music business.