It gives me great pleasure to present to you my very first mixtape and interview from a music supervisor – one that I not only admire professionally, but who also happens to be a really funny, opinionated, and all around awesome person. She’s most known for her work on (500) Days of Summer and Dollhouse, but Andrea von Foerster has music supervised films and TV shows all over the map, and contributed to tent pole series like Grey’s Anatomy, The OC, and Supernatural. A self-proclaimed “music nerd” von Foerster knows how to use music to tell a story on film – Broken Social Scene did the score for her most recent film, It’s Kind of A Funny Story, which also features music by White Hinterland and The Middle East – and in mixtape form.
I Know When I’m Not Wanted
TA: So after listening to your mix several times in a row and taking copious notes on it in preparation for this interview I realized that I didn’t really write down any questions – just my understanding or the story you were telling – the story of a break up – and all the journey it took me on. It was really clear from beginning to end. Why tell this particular story?
AVF: There were about 25 mixes I think I started but, if you only have one mix to do you want it to be the best one with the best story and the best collection of songs. I finally stuck with this one because there are so many songs about love, but I’m not really a big happy love song person. I like gutted, sad, awfully heartfelt and hurting songs so I went with that. And having gone through a bad break up it seemed suitable.
TA: What were the first couple songs you knew needed to be on it?
Plan B, “Writing on the Wall.” I listened to the 6-song sampler of his album, The Defamation of Strickland Banks, for probably 7 months straight in my car on repeat. I like that it’s two people that clearly were together in the beginning, but then you just know it’s not working out anymore, and you’re both too afraid to say, “I’m out.” I’m also sort of schizophrenic in that I really like happy/sad songs or sad/happy songs, so I like that “Writing on the Wall” is happy sounding but the lyrics really aren’t very happy at all. But I like the really gut wrenching songs too though. “I Gave You All” – I mean you feel all the raw power and anger and sadness in that song.
TA: I noticed that there aren’t any really angry, vengeful, screaming songs on here – does that speak to how you handle breakups?
AVF: My relationship was so bad/disappointing/unfulfilling the whole way through that the end was almost comical. I made this in the midst of the sad phase…the rage came later. The song “Pieces” by Chase & Status f. Plan B took care of the angry phase. It just depends on what kind of relationship/break up you had. If someone’s a lying douche bag who owes you money, you’re not so happy about it. If you split up because you’re just not feeling it anymore, but you’re still friends…no harm, no foul.
TA: Was this process anything like how you approach a new project? Select a bunch of songs that tell the story?
AVF: Every project is different depending on whom you’re working with, because music supervision is never just one person. I like to work with whoever is the main music person, be it a producer or director, and say, “okay, what’s your vision,” and then I can tailor my nine thousand ideas to that.
TA: A lot of time in Hollywood if you want to pursue a particular career – producer, director, writer, agent – there is a track you need to get on. In my experience that doesn’t always hold true for music supervision, most people seem to discover or stumble upon it accidentally. How did you find your way into the profession?
AVF: From the time I was 2 years old my dad called me “Little Miss Hollywood,” and I was always obsessed with anything on a screen or a radio. So I went to film school at USC for film production, and double minored music recording and music business. I happened to get a job at Disney in soundtracks during my junior summer just as a temp and they told me to come back when I graduated so I did. I worked on film soundtracks for Armageddon, High Fidelity, Coyote Ugly. Then my boss at Disney told me about a coordinator gig with music supervisor, Kevin Edelman. She basically said “hey do you want to music supervise?,” and I said, “I don’t really know what that means but okay.” It was one of those things where it kind of always made sense but I was convinced I was gonna be a DP when I went to film school, and then I was like “wait, no, just kidding I’m gonna be an editor…just kidding…” Music supervision sort of showed itself to me and I just kept getting jobs. And after the first gig I was already hooked, so I just stayed. But most people that are successful music supervisors now did not purposely get into the field. They worked in music any way they could – record store, label, publisher, radio station, booking bands at their college – because they loved music.
TA: Was there ever a particular moment or experience where you said to yourself, “wow this is not at all what I thought it was?”
AVF: Each music supervisor I worked for had such different ways of going about the job that I just had to laugh whenever I got a new gig. Even though we all pitch music and do paperwork, everyone has their own specific style, and I have my own too.
TA: Would you say there was a project or career move that affected the course of your career?
(500) Days of Summer was probably the biggest job for me. It was a true honor to work on a film that I consider to be one of my favorite films of 2009. I was able to have a say in something that I was a huge fan of. I’ve worked on a lot of great TV shows that didn’t last more than a season on air so when I talk about my credits, I get a lot of blank stares until I mention this film.
TA: You worked on Dollhouse too. People know that show!
AVF: I loved loved loved working on that show. I hope Joss Whedon never stops making shows/films/webisodes/comic books…the man has a clear vision and he’s not afraid to stand up for his projects.
TA: How does working on TV differ from film? What do you like/dislike about each medium?
AVF: TV is way faster, which I like. You basically have a 2-3 week turnaround per episode so it’s a lot of last minute, 11th hour work and more people have to trust you with constant impending deadlines. And if you have a music budget, you have the power to break new music to a wide audience very quickly. But the downside of TV is that we don’t have budgets anymore. Unless you’re one of the major music shows, you really have to maximize the money you’ve got because projects still have the same appetite for music, they just don’t want to back it up with the funds these days. With film, you’re on it for an average of a year so the pace is way more lax, which can be good – but you end up pitching way more music for the same spots. You can often be more adventurous with music in film because you’re creating a world that someone has paid to see. You’ve got an active user who wants to be part of that world. With TV, you have to be able to please the common denominator because anyone can tune in.
TA: What are you listening to for pleasure? Or after listening for projects all day is there ever a point where you get maxxed out on music?
AVF: I can’t not have music playing at all times. If it’s not actually playing at all times, it’s in my head at all times. I listen to domestic and international radio stations, occasionally read blogs, watch TV shows and movies to see what they use and how it was placed because I don’t want to use the same stuff. I love Scandinavian indie pop, Brit pop – I’m originally from England so I think I have an automatic need to listen to all things British. I was just sent a song by the band Everything Everything and I’ve seriously listened to it fifty times in the last twenty-four hours. I’ve already watched all of their videos on YouTube. When I like a song/album/artist, I need to know everything about them immediately. Bless the Internet for indulging my neuroses.
TA: You call yourself a “music nerd.” How is that different from a “music snob”? The number of people still willing to go to concerts with you?
AVF: I classify myself as a music nerd instead of a music snob because I enjoy my pop confections as much as anyone. To condemn popular music in favor of [fill in your favorite obscure sub-genre of music here] is ridiculous. You’re not better than anyone for knowing music that nobody knows, you’re just more aware. I rarely find willing plus one’s for concerts these days because most people I know outside of the music business don’t want to see a band they don’t know. So it’s me amongst the web-addicted teenage masses at pretty much every gig I attend and I’m okay with that.
TA: What would be your ideal project to work on? Would it be a particular story? Tone? A genre of music?
AVF: Oooh..I would die happy if I music supervised anything directed by Danny Boyle, Baz Luhrmann, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino. I want to do a vampire/horror project. I would love to work on something that would use electronic music as I never get to use it and it’s frustrating considering it’s one of the most internationally successful genres. I could actually answer this question for hours. If projects were left entirely to supervisors, I think the music would be vastly different from what it is currently. We get all the toys (new music, advances, baby bands) and then we can’t play with them. It’s sometimes hard to convince projects to go for the up and coming act rather than a top 40 artist.
TA: Which is surprising since a lot of it seems like most music supervisors are always trying to seek out the “bubbling under” band. You’d think filmmakers would want to support that and be ahead of the curve.
AVF: Directors and producers care about the cool factor but most projects take so long to make, from idea to execution, that they’ve gotten married music along the way.
TA: That has to be frustrating, but absolutely makes sense. What other challenges do you often face?
AVF: When you feel like a song is perfect and will be colossal, and everyone disagrees with you because they’re not used to it – then 6 months later someone takes a chance on it and it’s huge. Or when you love a song, but the film you’re working on isn’t going to come out for a year, and a TV show uses it before you. Or when songs are too expensive and you know they’re perfect and you beg and plead and they still say no.
TA: What are you watching on TV?
AVF: I love Fringe, Bones, Lie To Me. My favorite TV show is Vampire Diaries. Seriously. I love that show and will one day take out the current supervisor. I already told him to sleep with one eye open.
TA: So working on Dollhouse was awesome.
It was the best. First of all Joss Whedon is just seriously one of the best people ever. He’s got a voice and an opinion but he’s open. I love all the shows he’s done, I love all the movies he’s done – pretty much anything he touches is perfect, so to be able to be a fan and work on the show was amazing. I like really dark and moody music and that’s what the show called for.
TA: You’ve made recent trips to London, Oslo, Norway, Canada, and Nashville over the past few months. As a music nerd who’s seen some of the best music cities in the world, which one is your favorite?
AVF: London. Did I say that fast enough? You’ll hear dancehall which we never get here, and then dubstep, which we never get here, and then a massive house track, which you never get here, and then indie pop, singer/songwriter, hip-hop, R&B and more all in the same hour-long radio show. I think a lot of that is because it’s government funded. In general anywhere outside of the U.S. has much more diverse taste and they don’t feel the need to put themselves in categories the way that we do in America.
TA: So what would you tell someone who was trying to get into music supervision?
AVF: Just be really open to all genres of music, know what rights, terms and territories are, learn who the creative and licensing people are at publishing companies and labels because if you don’t know how to clear a song then you’re just a song picker –not really a music supervisor. You can find a lot of information on the Internet about music supervision or you can take a UCLA extension course or major/minor in music business in college. If you love music then pursue it and it will happen if it’s supposed to happen. I’m a big believer in fate so life will take you where it wants to take you.