For our latest Screen Sounds, we jumped to the big screen and talked to Will Kaplan, music editor. His latest project is The Lonely Island’s feature film, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Read on for more about Kaplan’s incredible work!
Hey Will! Your career as a music editor is extensive, having worked on Birdman, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Jonas Brothers 3D Concert Experience, Super 8 – the list goes on. What led you into editing music for film?
I don’t think any rational person grows up dreaming of being a music editor. Since it’s a craft best judged by its invisibility, it’s not the career to pick for notoriety beyond one’s peers. For most of us, it’s something we fell into after failing at more ambitious ventures. Out of college, I wrote music for television commercials for 8 years in Chicago. Itching to try out Hollywood, I moved to LA in 1988. It was my good fortune to have grown up with a fellow named Bill Bernstein (music editor for Thomas Newman) who had come to LA a few years earlier and hooked up with one of the true greats of the field, Bob Badami. Through them, I was exposed to the world of film scoring and the incredible talents of everyone associated with it. I made my way with freelance work for awhile but when Bob offered me my first film (Bingo, 1991), I jumped at it and haven’t done anything else since. Between putting in temporary music while a film’s in editorial and then making changes to the final stuff on the mix stage, music editors can make quite a contribution to the finished product. Plus, I get to write the occasional background source cue or perform on a score (i.e. in Armageddon, I’m playing the piano in the “Animal Crackers” scene with Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler) and that’s enough to scratch my creative itch every now and then.
Are there any contemporary trends in music that you feel are easier to parody than others? Why or why not?
Pop music here in the states seems less diverse lately so it’s probably easier to parody an artist than their music. In Popstar, there’s a character named Hunter who’s kind of an amalgam of several angry young rappers. I can’t speak for the Lonely Island guys whether he’s meant to be an outright parody but the songs he performs certainly aren’t. All their contributors are all pretty cutting edge so the songs in the show feel fresh in their own right.
What are the challenges of working on a project with a satirical tone, while keeping a realistic pop sound within the music?
When you’re bringing in people like Adam Levine, Pink and Justin Timberlake, and producers like Greg Kurstin, you’re not going to have much trouble whipping up a realistic pop sound. One of the cool things about LI is that they’re not Weird Al; they strive to make you laugh to a genuinely dope beat.
Are there any films in particular that shaped your creative process as a music editor? How did they affect your style?
A big part of the job is learning to look through the musical eyes of your director, since it’s their vision you’re trying to capture. In 1994, I worked with exec producer Steven Spielberg on a film called Little Giants and that experience helped launch my career. Other directors/films that come to mind are Tony Scott on Crimson Tide, Boaz Yakin on Remember the Titans and Jared Hess on Nacho Libre. Birdman was certainly a unique gig, as was Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply (which will be coming out in the fall). On that one, I was given a once-in-a-career opportunity to create the soundtrack without a composer or music supervisor. It gave me the closest proximity to the creative center of the film and its’ author I’ve ever had.
Comedy and music seem to be particularly conducive to one another – the tone of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping brings to mind another music-based comedy film you worked on, Malibu’s Most Wanted. Do you find that editing music for a comedy film is different from editing other genres, and if so, in what ways?
The technical aspects of our job remain the same on any genre, but of course you’re right that there are differences in the music for comedies vs. other kinds of shows. Malibu didn’t have much original song material because it was more of a straight ahead comedy than Popstar. In general, though, I think comedies (and action pictures) are more about the moment and dramas are meant to stick with you after the lights come up. So, in general, comedies tend to sacrifice certain musical attributes in order to sell the jokes, often broadly. Dramas are more conducive to music that almost becomes one of the characters.
If you could choose one modern artist to watch Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping with, who would it be?
There’s a ton of inside industry jokes in the movie so it’s possible it will be enjoyed most robustly by those it pokes a bit of fun at. Adele has a pretty wicked wit. Ask her to drop by next time she’s in Burbank.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping releases in theatres June 3rd (USA) and August 26th (UK).