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Interviewed by Michael Laskow

Michael Laskow presents Maureen Crowe with her well deserved Lifetime Achievement Award at TAXI's Road Rally.
Michael Laskow presents Maureen Crowe with her well deserved Lifetime Achievement Award at TAXI's Road Rally.

Michael Laskow’s introduction: This year’s Lifetime Achievement recipient is both tough and loving. She is hard-working, she’s straight-talking, and she’s a true champion of great music and the people who make it. You won’t see her wearing kid gloves, and she won’t sugarcoat the message, but she’ll always give it to you straight up with no BS. If you look up “music supervisor” in the dictionary, Maureen Crowe’s photo will probably be there. She redefined the entire scope of what music supervisors could do with her groundbreaking work on the mega-hit movie The Bodyguard. She made us laugh with Wayne’s World; she scared us half to death and made us gasp for air with The Perfect Storm; she made Roxie Hart unforgettable in Chicago; and she’s been doing groundbreaking music supervision on every single project she’s touched for three decades. But maybe her biggest accomplishment is being the co-founder and president of the Guild of Music Supervisors for five years. Let’s hear a little bit of her work.

[Video plays]

Ladies and gentleman, it is my incredible pleasure to introduce to you TAXI’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient for 2014, Miss Maureen Crowe. [applause]

MC: Thank you…. I am very pleased and humbled by it.

What an incredible body of work, and you’re still doing it three decades later. You must have been, what, four or five when you started?
Really. I was a protégé, that’s it. How many people in the room remember Fame? [most hands go up] That’s great. It was a really wonderful experience. I started in doing theater when I was growing up, so when I interviewed for the job, I said, “Well, yeah, but I can’t transpose music or anything like that.” [They said,] “Oh no, that’s not the job.” And after a while I was able to start finding the music and learning about all the wonderful songwriters that were out there that could make the story shine and touch people’s hearts. So thank you all for being part of that journey.

So if I remember correctly, when you started… I had dinner with Maureen like a year ago, and I just kept saying, “Damn, I wish I had this on tape.” Everything coming out of her mouth was absolutely amazing, and I wanted to share it will all of you guys, so that’s why I got her here this year. When you started out doing this, music supervision was a credit maybe, but it really wasn’t a defined art or science or job description, right?
Yeah. There was just the head of music and television and film, and they usually just took care of the score. It was at a time where there were still kind of standing orchestras, and you could actually call in an orchestra or small group or something before home studios took over. I like to think that it actually started back in the ’60s with Easy Rider. It was really the stories that were being told that reflected people’s lives, and contemporary music was part of their lives, and was a storytelling tool. So there was Easy Rider, there was The Big Chill, all these different things. Filmmakers really started using [music]. Michael Mann, around the same time started Miami Vice, which had the whole different kind of Miami sound that was going on, and electronica and all that.

Becky Mancuso, who was one of the first music supervisors, had worked on Urban Cowboy and on Footloose… And when I was working on Fame, someone said, “You know, there are people that are kind of doing this thing as a career. You should do this.”

Television is very much like a machine that you get one script that you’re reading, one script that you’re shooting from which you read two weeks before, and then you’re doing post production and finishing it on the other end. So you’re actually working on three projects kind of at the same time, and it’s very fast. So that really was kind of the training. Like, okay, he feels bad, and then he sings a song, and then afterwards he feels better. Or he kills himself, or… But the song—like in a musical—had to kind of push the story forward in some way, and let the audience know what was going on.

“For a story, you always look at 'What does the song have to do; what is the end result; what does it serve?''”

-Maureen Crowe

So it was a tremendous training ground, and I think when I worked on The Bodyguard I was kind of new to film… I was really the kid. They were like, “Okay, she can help organize stuff or whatever.” But because I had been doing it already for like five years in terms of helping to tell the stories with songs, when “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” was recorded for the film Fried Green Tomatoes—and that was the originally the song that she was supposed to sing—was climbing the charts as we were shooting, we had to find another song. And for a story, you always look at what does the song have to do; what is the end result; what does it serve? It had to be from his world; it had to be in a bar that played music that he would listen to, and that she would sing it back to him—a man she had had an affair with who had just taken a bullet for her and she was probably never going to see again. So when you ask the right question in the story, I like to think the song presents itself, because you have to answer those questions. It has to fulfill all those needs at the end of it.

That’s a look into the actual thought process of the supervisor. When I was working on the questions the other night, I realized; there’s not a person in this room who wouldn’t give up a fingertip to get a song to you. They’re thinking, “Oh, man, if only I could get my stuff to the supervisor.” But the timing has to be so perfect, because your need as a supervisor… It could be the greatest song in the world, but if you don’t need it…
Yeah, that’s the thing. The amazing part of talking to songwriters like at conferences, you’ll have somebody come up and say, “I have the perfect song. I have the perfect song for Scandal; I have the perfect song for Breaking Bad.” Well, okay, great, what kind of music is it? Or what’s been in the show? Why do you think that it’s perfect? Like what character would be…? “Oh, I don’t watch the show. I’m too busy in the studio. I don’t have time to watch these shows.” Well, how do you think it’s perfect for the show if you don’t watch the show?

I know it’s hard, because you’re in the world creating. But it’s just like if you wanted to place it with a singer. If it was a Country song, you wouldn’t necessarily be sending it to Jay Z, you know what I mean? It’s that kind of thing where you have to really do your homework in terms of what’s going on and what the needs are. You know, Scandal uses all existing music, so probably not a big shot, unless it was something in the genre that might be used as kind of a background thing.

I did want to mention to you that the music in Houdini was actually from a TAXI member. It was something that was crafted for the opening and the main title sequence. It was a source cue in a bordello, and they definitely wanted it to have a certain type of vibe that you were not going to hear in just traditional turn-of-the-century music, and it couldn’t be so contemporary that it would take it out of the period. So that was a listing, and it really solved the problem. But that’s really it with the placement of music—how do you solve the problem, or how do you enhance the scene, and how do you tell the story? So that’s why the clearer you are in terms of this song is about this, and creating relationships, and following through. When you said [in the opening remarks] there was only a small percentage of people who followed up [when they were contacted by the library owner for] a listing, that’s not acceptable. There are a plethora of sources for music right now. That’s an understatement, and honestly, TAXI is your best friend, because they have these tentacles out to all these different people. They are serving you in terms of kind of song management, and all these different things. There are other companies out there that do far less and take far more. So you talk about integrity, Michael is a man of great integrity. [applause] He started a format that early on people were like, “Well, I don’t know about this.” Now it’s like, oh my gosh, he’s a visionary in terms of it, because a lot of the stuff that’s going on now is just cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, you know, really. So you have to do your part. No one can want it more than you want it yourself.

So every supervisor has their issues [they have to deal] with… We answer to… If it’s in a film, maybe it’s the director and a producer, and maybe a studio. If it’s on television, you might have 10 writers; you might have actors that have feelings… So you are dealing with a lot of people. It’s not just like, “Oh, listening to music, I’ll write this song.” That would be so nice.

“The music in Houdini was actually from a TAXI member.”

-Maureen Crowe

So whose decision is it…? Let’s talk about different types of supervision. Supervising a reality show is different from doing an episodic drama; doing an episodic drama is different from doing a big budget feature; doing a big budget feature is very different from doing a documentary. Let’s talk about feature films, because that’s more-or-less your specialty. And who do you answer to?
With features you have a lot more time. You usually answer to the director. You know, usually in feature films the director is the 800-pound guerilla. In some cases, like in The Bodyguard, obviously Kevin [Costner] was a big influencer; everything had to go past him. So [mega-producer] Jerry Bruckheimer, I would say, runs the show. So there will be a conversation between the director and the producer on that. And depending on who the kingpin is, who the ultimate decider is, will decide on that. The Broccolis, the James Bond producers; they would have a say with the director.

Does it start out with a script? Do you get a script in the early stages, and go through it and hand back to them penciled-in notes and say, “In this scene I think there should be a love song?”
Yeah. Well, you go through the script, and anytime there’s an opportunity for music… It could be in the car driving, do you want music in there or not? Do you want to play it quiet or not? They’re in a restaurant; do you want music in there? Or there’s a montage scene, is that going to be score, or should we get a song for that?

In a lot of cases, also, you might go into post-production, and they have overshot the film and it’s running two and a half hours, and it’s a romantic comedy and we’ve got to condense it. And that’s kind of what happened with Tootsie. I know that the director for a long time, wanted that old song “Something’s Telling Me It Might Be You.” They had to chill the whole relationship between Jessica and Dustin Hoffman’s character when she goes home, and they were like, “This is taking forever.” So they cut it together and put in a song, and it developed the entire relationship in a minute and a half, as opposed to 20 minutes later. “Okay, we got it. Let’s move on.”

The producer of The Hangover was recently talking about that. A great song can save so much time and energy in terms of shooting. And an inexpensive shooting day is about $250,000 a day. So, if you have a song that eliminates basically having to shoot two or three days of dialog—and be more effective in terms of communicating to your audience—it’s the fastest shorthand, and the most compelling way to actually help tell the story. And this is coming out of a producer’s mouth!

There must be a tremendous amount of pressure on you when the director is in love with a song. Maybe it’s the director’s 14 year-old daughter who loves the song and plays it around the house, and the director falls in love with it. “I want this song in my movie,” and you are wearing that albatross around your neck for six months. And then the big day comes. You are on the mix stage, you’ve totally blown through the budget, there’s no more money. Is the Rolling Stones song staying in or coming out? How do you prepare for that moment, and what do you do for a safety net?
You get alternatives. You just get lots of alternatives. You put the calls out, and you always have music that is kind of ready to go. You also need to think of things from the audience perspective.

For a while, every single director wanted to use “There She Goes.” It was on everything—every commercial, everything else, it was in every film. So when I worked on A Guy Thing, the director had it in the film and loved it, loved it, loved it. I think for three films in a row, every time I would walk into the editing room it was playing in some theater. I just finally just said, “Look, you cannot use this song.” And nobody in the editing room was saying it; everybody was silent. I said, “Okay, I’m going to say it, and I want to go to each and every one of these people in the room and I want you to tell me that I’m lying, and let the director know.” And they were like, “No, it has been used a lot.” And we went to the list of commercials—Tampon, all this stuff—and I said that you have to know when you use that song, all of that is coming with, because it’s not in a vacuum. The song is gonna come with you wherever you go. Like when I say “Blue Velvet,” do you think of 1950, dancing with your girl? Or do you think of David Lynch? So every song has its footprints, and you have to respect that footprint. So you do always have alternatives for it, and most of the time there are always great alternatives.

I wanted to say this about directors and their prejudice against music. It always goes back to the scripts and who is your character. I had a director one time that was a woman who was doing this film about a girl who was in a rock band in Los Angeles. Her sister was mentally impaired, but was in love with Ricky Nelson—Ricky Nelson posters all over the place—and she had to go get her after the mother died and figure out a life together back with her rock group. The director wanted a saxophone/jazz score. And I’m like, “Gosh, I’m so brilliant.” I know, I hate to tell you this, because she likes saxophone; that’s what she listened to. And I said, “I gotta tell you, every character in your movie is screaming out either a rock score…or at least a guitar score.” And she goes, “Really?” I’m like, “Really!” So, you know, it’s those kinds of comments are a big example. But those are the kinds of things that you have to keep going back into character. You know, what is the world your character lives in? What is the music that they play?

So if somebody asks you songs for teenagers for a Disney [project], that’s different than [what you’d use for] AMC. There are different audiences. So every TV show—just like a concert—there are going to be different “ticket holders” that are watching every week.

There is just so much information out here. And this is the one of the things that I like to talk about, is that music is driving so many industries. What is the best way to get people’s attention? A song. You know, the same thing I was talking about—selling the comedy, telling the story, how to get there fast. The song is such a powerful tool, and the music industry is not being treated well in terms of what it’s contributing economically to the livelihood of these industries—you know, creating the Spotifys, the Shazams, all these different things. And we’re all supposed to say, “Oh, thank you. Thank you so much for using our music so you can make more money and not pay me.” [applause] I just want to say, you treat people to teach people how to treat yourself, you know what I mean? So if you [musicians] accept it…hey.

Don’t miss Part Two of this interview in next month’s issue!