Chuck Martin, one of the busiest music editors in Hollywood took a moment to talk shop about what he does and how much he enjoys it.
WOODY: How did you get into post-production audio?
CHUCK: Music editing.Â That was my first and only jump into post-production audio, right into music editing.Â My wife was a music editor and myÂ career as a musician was coming to an end so she suggested becoming a music editor like herself.Â She trained me, and once she became too pregnant to music edit anymore, I took over her job at Hanna Barbera.
WOODY: So you are a musician and composer?
CHUCK: Musician and I consider myself -slightly – a composer.Â I played guitar, made a living doing that for 10 years.
WOODY: Music as a sole means of financial support?
CHUCK: Yes. Started a solo career in a restaurant playing guitar and singing, and then playing in a band in various bars in the Newport Beach area, then going into touring with Juice Newton in the early 80s.
WOODY: When you got into the Juice Newton thing, were you also a session player?
CHUCK: Noâ€¦I never learned to read music.Â For Juiceâ€™s albums, the Producers felt more comfortable using â€˜real guys.â€™Â The touring band didnâ€™t really record on any of the albums, although I did get to do a guitar solo because I was used to playing it live all the time.
WOODY: What venues did you play?
CHUCK:Â Universal Amphitheater which is now called the Gibson Amphitheater.Â A lot of arenas across the country.Â We did a tour with Alabamaâ€¦played at a couple stadiums.
WOODY: Have you worked in other areas of post?Â Or just music editing from the start?
CHUCK: Music editing from the start.
WOODY: Most people probably have no idea what a music editor does.Â What is the primary function of the music editor?
CHUCK: Number one is to serve the emotional needs of a film.Â That is broken up into two phases: One is the temp phase and the second phase is the final, where you are working with a composer.Â Even when you are working with the composer, you are still doing the number one function, which is to serve the emotional needs of the film.
In the phase called temp, that is when you consider yourself the first composer on the film.Â We look at the film, and with or without the director/editor, figure out where music should be, and what kind of music should go into those scenes.Â The music editors start picking pieces of music, and that could be from any score, any composer that we want to use.
WOODY:Â Just to get the emotional quality of the scenes?
CHUCK: Exactly.Â Is it tense?Â Is it romantic?Â Is it full of action?Â Then you go to the scores that work best for those scenes and for the film itself.Â If you know the final score is going to be by a certain composer, if you can find music from that composerâ€™s catalog that at least helps because there is a language already being spoken that the composer knows.
WOODY:Â You can do this temp process without the director?
CHUCK: Absolutely.Â Iâ€™m working on a movie right now where all they did was send me the movie, and I start sending them music.Â Iâ€™ve been doing this for so long and working with various directors and picture editors for so long, they trust me that I will find the right spots and put the right music in.
The picture editors are the first line of defense before it gets to the director.Â They sometimes send changes to me before they show it to the director.Â There are a lot of film editors that donâ€™t want to deal with music and thereâ€™s a lot of film editors that consider themselves music experts and put in music before the music editor even comes on.Â Other editors bring us on immediately, even while still shooting the movie.Â We can give them music for scenes; post production supervisors complain about that, but in the end it pays because you end up with a proper temp score.Â We do know our business.Â We are concentrating completely on one thing.Â More often than not, for a temp, I donâ€™t spot the movie with the director.Â Trust me to figure out the right spots.
WOODY:Â Â Do you find yourself going to music libraries as much as contemporary releases?
CHUCK: We have at our company over 2000 soundtracks of actual released movies rather than a production music library.Â We find very little value in production libraries, just because of the nature of the quality.Â Most of those are usually not large orchestras (if they get to use real orchestras) or they are synthesizers which donâ€™t give the quality that we want.Â A large majority are from â€œname any composer.â€
WOODY: Obviously you have a long history of doing this work.Â At this point there are specific composers that hire you or bring you on?
CHUCK: Personally, I only have worked recently (steadily) with Randy Edelman and whenever possibly Joel McNeely. Some other editors work exclusively with a particular composer.Â I have a bigger relationship with directors and film editors, thatâ€™s who usually comes to me.
WOODY: You are probably brought on even before they chose a composer?
CHUCK: That happens maybe about 50% of the time. The one I am working on now they already had a composer lined up and heâ€™s done several films with this director.Â He uses his own music editor so I am only going to cover the temp part of this movie.Â Which is fine.Â If I come onto a movie with Randy Edelman and if there is a temp editor I will take over.Â So it goes both ways.
WOODY: Tell me about the process after the temp, the actual collaboration between you, the editing team and the composer?
CHUCK: When the composer does finally come on, if Iâ€™m staying on the project, then we will definitely have a spotting session and go over all the places that weâ€™ve covered in the temps, and if thereâ€™s any new ideas by the composer.Â It will get more specific and thatâ€™s when the music editor becomes bit of a secretary taking exact notes of where each cue will start, so that the composer, when he gets our summary of all these cues, knows exactly what heâ€™s doing and how many minutes he or she has to record.Â During the final process we try to get the director involved with the composer; listening to demos, going to the composerâ€™s studio and going over individual cues; as many as possible before it gets to the scoring stage where there will be no surprises for the director; he can pretty much improve as many cues as possible before it gets in front of an orchestra.
It is nice when you have a relationship with the sound effects people, or the sound editors, because there are moments in the temp where a sound effect, whether a car driving or explosion or even sound of wind, if that is played an emotional part of the scene or it just takes over and there is no reason for the composer to do much, then itâ€™s nice to know that in the final there wonâ€™t be any kind of battles on the dubbing stage between music and effects.Â As a music editor, number one is serving the emotional needs of the film.Â If that means taking music out because the silence is more powerful, then so be it.Â Even if a composer has written music for it, donâ€™t fight the picture.Â If itâ€™s not serving the needs of the movie, as much as maybe someoneâ€™s bit of dialog or some creaky windmill, thereâ€™s cooperation and coordination between the sound effects and the music people thatâ€™s very important.
WOODY: So besides choosing and cutting in the temp music tracks do you also edit the final recorded score?
CHUCK: The music is represented fully by the music editor all the way through, whether itâ€™s the temp guy or the temp guy becoming the final guy, working with the composer, the music editor brings the composerâ€™s freshly scored and mixed music to the final dubbing stage. We protect the music all the way through the end.
WOODY: On a technical level, are you in charge of doing the music cue sheets and/or are you involved in any of the licensing of outside materials?
CHUCK: In the actual licensing of songs, or pieces of source music, other than from the composer, that comes from either the music department of the studio or an independent music supervisor.Â We are responsible when the movie is completely finished to give the details of the title of the cue and how long it plays and the usage of it (whether itâ€™s just playing in the background or if someone is singing in the foreground, then a visual and vocal cue) so we give a preliminary music cue sheet for the legal department in whatever production company you are working with.Â You turn over those times and lengths and names of cues and how they are used, then theyâ€™ll do the final cue sheet, because theyâ€™ll have all the other information, like the writers of the songs, publishers, all that stuff.
WOODY: What seems like a grey area to many is the distinction between a music supervisor versus a music editor; I know a lot of people juxtapose the two. Would it be correct to say that the music editor is in charge of score elements where as a music supervisor is in charge of outside or licensed elements?
CHUCK: Yes, that would be fair, except for the editing. The music supervisor is responsible for bringing the songs to us, and the music editor will take those and edit them.
WOODY: So you are tasked with cutting in all of the music tracks.
CHUCK: Yes. Once we get to the dubbing stage the music editor brings all of the music songs and score.Â From another rig (always using Protools pretty much) thereâ€™ll be the dialogue and then another rig will be sending sound effects and those will be coming into three separate places on the mixing board where youâ€™ll have two, maybe three mixers up there. There used to be three mixers.Â It used to always be a music mixer, a dialogue mixer, and an effects mixer, but as you probably know now a days thereâ€™s pretty much a dialogue mixer that switches over and mixes the music, and the sound effects person who deals pretty much just with sound effects. So those are the guys that receive all these different elements and those are the ones that make it into the final elements combination.
WOODY: Tell me about your company Liquid Music. How did that come about?
CHUCK: Well for 17 years I was a part of Segue Music which was probably the biggest music editing company in town for a long time. One of my bosses, Jeff Carson, he and I started Liquid music about 5 years ago, and that happened because Segue Music was purchased years ago by Zomba Records who saw a benefit of having a music editing company within their own record company. Then Zomba Records was bought by BMG publishing â€“ that was over 5 years ago â€“ and BMG was just a huge, huge company and they just had no idea what a music editing company did and for a company as small as us compared to all the other companies that they owned it just didnâ€™t mean anything so they folded the company. Thatâ€™s when Jeff came to me and said â€˜hey, I still like this idea of how we work. Would you like to start up another company?â€ And we picked three music editors from the other company and started Liquid Music. And we have a sixth person who does all our bookkeeping and that stuff. So thereâ€™s a total 6 people from the outset and weâ€™re still 6 people strong.
WOODY: How long has that been?
CHUCK: Over 5 years.
WOODY: Thatâ€™s great you were able to turn the situation around.Â Tell me about the facility itself do you have Protools bays, orâ€¦
CHUCK: We do. We have six offices all looking out at trees, and today thereâ€™s a pretty blue sky, and five of those rooms are Protools rooms. Three of them are mobile units so that for dubs, and temp dubs and finals or mixing sessions we could ship any one of or all three of those out if weâ€™re that busy. There are five editors and five Protools stations here.
WOODY: Are any them set up like a mix stage or are they editing stations?
CHUCK: Definitely editing. Each one does have a little 16-track mixer but itâ€™s all very rough mixing against whatever dialogue picture editorial has put into the picture at this point. We get nothing from the sound effects editors unless it goes through picture editorial and they may have some special sound effects that theyâ€™re using otherwise weâ€™re just dealing with the music that we cut in and the production dialogue and effects.
WOODY: You have had a long and accomplished career and youâ€™ve worked on some really terrific things. Are there any specific gigs that youâ€™d like to discuss?
CHUCK: There are a lot, but I thought that Iâ€™d just jump to three. â€œAmerican Pieâ€, mainly because that was the beginning of my relationship with Paul Weitz and Chris Weitz, the directors on that. Not to mention the fact that itâ€™s â€œAmerican Pieâ€! I love those guys, and theyâ€™re great people to work with. The other one that probably not many people know of, and not many people care about is â€œThe Mirror Has Two Faces.â€
WOODY: Wasnâ€™t that Streisand?
CHUCK: Very good!
WOODY: I took my mom to see that; she loved it.
CHUCK: Oh! Well fantastic! The main thing about that one was just going to her house to meet her and Marvin Hamlish, and – itâ€™s Barbara Streisand for God sakes! It doesnâ€™t matter what kind of music you like, you know, itâ€™s Barbara Streisand. So I got to work very closely with her at night doing mixes over at what used to be A&M records up till 3, 4, 5 in the morning, just me and her and the operator over there and just having a blast. It was a really fun time. Another one that comes to mind is â€œRed Dragon.â€ I worked with Brett Ratner on pretty much all his films from the past 10 years, and â€œRed Dragon,â€ that was one where I temped the movie and then Danny Elfman wrote a great score for it.Â Actually during the temp music phase the film got previewed, somebody got into the screening and then put up a review on one of the geek websites.Â The review said that â€œDanny Elfman did a great job with a new score for Red Dragonâ€ and didnâ€™t realize that actually I had just temped it. So I got my first review.
WOODY: Review on a temp! Perfect.
CHUCK: Yes. I got a great review for a temp that Danny Elfman supposedly scored. So that was a memorable moment for me.
WOODY: So tell me about â€“ obviously youâ€™re a big fan of Juice Newton, but tell me about other composers or types of music that you enjoy.
CHUCK: I like all types of music. I mean, you know Iâ€™m old enough that Motown was a part of my life.
WOODY: I tracked a bunch of songs for Lamont Dozier.
CHUCK: Oh! You did?
WOODY: Heâ€™s an amazing guy.
CHUCK: I actually got to meet him last year at the academy when we nominated songs. And he was there, and I mean my god. The credits that guyâ€™s got.Â I also like of course the English stuff, Beatles, Stones, all that stuff, as well as the newer stuffâ€¦The Killers - my sons bring newer music to me, Animal Collective, I really like. I shut nothing out.
WOODY: So with all the availability now of popular music â€“ you know, the myspaces and that stuff â€“ do you find yourself reaching for that or spending time trolling and looking for that kind of stuff?
CHUCK: Not really. Once we get the film in our hands we just really are focused on scoring the film, temp scoring it.Â The stuff weâ€™re looking for is really more score.
WOODY: The other stuff really more the domain of the music supervisor.
CHUCK: They get the upfront credit, so let them troll through everything that exists!
WOODY: Yeah they get the head credit!
CHUCK: Yes they do.
WOODY: So where does the music editor fall within the hierarchy of audio post?
CHUCK: That all depends on where you are in the process. The music editor is the most important person in the world for – several weeks. And then when the credit rolls, we are not that important. So it just depends on whatâ€™s going on in the movie and how much trouble itâ€™s in.
WOODY: Regarding the technology, you’ve worked in the movie business a long time and the gear is always changing.Â Obviously today it’s all about computers, Protools and digital audio.Â Has this changed your way of working or has it changed the work that you are required to do now?
CHUCK: The work is the same, as far as finding the right music for each scene, but the technology has made it so much easier searching for it.Â Before we used to listen to vinyl, LP Soundtracks, 1/2 and 1/4 inch tape of scores that we kept after working on a project.Â That was our library, LP and tape, and in some instances audio cassettes.Â We would send those out to be transferred to mag, and that could take a whole day turnaround just to get the order in.Â Now itâ€™s just at our fingertips.Â That has been a huge change.Â And of course the editing portion of it is ridiculously good.Â No more pops to deal with if you make a bad edit.Â There is no such thing as a bad edit because you can always fix it.Â The technology has made it a wonderful medium to be in.
WOODY:Â And also since the technology has made things easier and more accessible it creates the idea that â€œOkay, you have a day to turn this thing around.â€?
CHUCK:Â Absolutely, that has happened for all of us in this industry; the post-production schedules have shrunk as they see it doesnâ€™t take as much time between reels to load at a dubbing stage, same thing at a scoring stage, donâ€™t have to wait for the projectionist to rewind to the beginning of the cue, itâ€™s just instantaneous.Â They expect less time for the same amount of work that you used to give them.Â Sometimes it puts the pressure on, but at the same time the speedier technology does help us.Â I donâ€™t know whether itâ€™s hurt us overall, or not yet. Iâ€™m not really 100% sure yet.Â After doing this for this long, I still love doing what Iâ€™m doing.
WOODY: What is it that you love about the work?
CHUCK: Itâ€™s two things. Itâ€™s the creativity.Â As I said before, we are like the first composers, and the things we can do now with ProTools, rather than just taking, finding some piece of music from a certain score, just tossing it in and making a few edits, we can enhance it with little toys that ProTools provides.Â Pitching things so that you can have something from one score laying on top of another piece from another score and if itâ€™s a half step off musically, or a whole step tone-wise, you can pitch one or the other to match the same key and have two different things going on that creates a whole new cue.Â So thereâ€™s the creativity part of it, the other part of it is working with great people.Â Iâ€™ve been really lucky over the years to work with great directors and editors and mixers and sound people who are just a pleasure to work with.Â Just nice people.Â Thereâ€™s an occasional jerk out there once in a while, but I count myself very lucky to not have to deal with that very often at all.Â Thatâ€™s a big part of it.Â And my coworkers here at Liquid Music; I love coming to work with them.Â It does not suck.
WOODY:Â Is there anything you donâ€™t like about it?
CHUCK: If anything, itâ€™s the politics within the studio or within a project itself.Â Just trying to figure out whoâ€™s really in charge of the project.Â Is it the director, for sure?Â Or is a producer thatâ€™s really running the show?Â Sometimes you just have to balance the two personalities or sometimes someone at the studio is really running the show and neither the producer nor director know it yet.Â Itâ€™s dealing with the politics sometimes that is a little unpleasant.Â Itâ€™s finding your way in that forest and making sure you donâ€™t get lost.
WOODY: What qualifies someone as a really great music editor?Â What qualities?
CHUCK:Â Fortunately when Jeff and I both started the company we both admired each other enough and we both agreed on the three people that we wanted to bring with us.Â For their various strengths, which was not only the ability to match the best scores with each scene and temping, but also the ability to get along with just about anyone.Â Also the ability to communicate with them, whether theyâ€™re the director, producer, other editors, heads of post production, just getting along and communicating with them is a huge part of being a good music editor. Weâ€™ve got that with our company.
WOODY: Are they musically inclined or a musician themselves?
CHUCK: Whatâ€™s really interesting is that three of us are musicians. The other two have no musical background at all. My partner Jeff is not a musician, and heâ€™s been a great music editor for as long as Iâ€™ve known him. He has the intuition and the ability to do this work. And heâ€™s really great with people.
WOODY: Thatâ€™s so key, isnâ€™t it? It doesnâ€™t matter that you know Protools cold. That wonâ€™t get you the job.Â The social aspects play a huge part in the collaboration of making films. Knowing Protools and knowing how to run a room with a lot of different personalities is not the same thing.
CHUCK: Well I can guarantee you that there are a lot of people out there who know how to operate protools and know how it works way better than I do.Â But there are just other things that are more important in the whole picture. Youâ€™re absolutely right about that.
Thatâ€™s what Jeff and I have been trying to do with Liquid Music, and were succeeding at it.Â When people call and they ask for me, or ask for Tanya, or Andy to be their music editor, what weâ€™d like them to know all of us during the project, so that when they call they go â€œis anyone there availableâ€ and we are.Â Over the five years weâ€™ve been doing this, weâ€™ve really improved that. So that a post production supervisor will call and say â€˜is Andy available?â€Â â€œIf not, then who is, cause I need this temp done nowâ€ and thatâ€™s really a great thing.Â Each one of us represents the company.Â The five of us here are it so at least we know who we have to work with and weâ€™re not afraid to send any of them out anywhere.
WOODY: What advice do you offer someone who says â€œHey, Chuck, I want to be a music editor. What should I do?â€
CHUCK: Wow. That is a good a question. Because of the technology a lot of the jobs that used to get you into music editing are gone. Thatâ€™s apprenticing and assistant positions. Here we have neither. We have no film to wind up anymore; we have no transfers to go pick up so we donâ€™t even need a driver anymore.
WOODY: There are no fly on the wall opportunities?
CHUCK: Right. There are so many people who want to intern here, once they come to our office and see how cool it is.Â We have to unfortunately turn away people who want to work for free because they would just be doing nothing. My advice would be to get in a sound house that can take you in just so you can get your hours and just keep cutting music and tracking things on your own, and get to know post production people. Jeff and I made a concerted effort over the last 5 years to get to know all the new post production people we havenâ€™t worked with before just so they could see what we do here. That might just be an edge that music editors are starting out that we can give them if theyâ€™ve got their hours and theyâ€™re in the union just to get them going. Just work on your personality. Try to get along with everybody.
WOODY: Do you have any advice for a composer?
CHUCK:Â Â If theyâ€™re brand spanking new, let us help them.Â Let us help you see what your powers are as a director, as a composerâ€¦let us help you avoid political landmines that can happen within a project â€“ between a project and a studio itself, or personalities within the producers or production companies and studios â€“ let us help you get through the process more than telling you how to compose or telling directors how to direct. I think that would be our best advice. Itâ€™s on an individual basis, depending on the personalities of the new director or new composer cause thatâ€™s always a part of our job and itâ€™s part of Jeff and my strengths â€“ feeling out â€˜what is this person like, what is the best way to deal with this person.â€™
WOODY: Right. The thing I often tell people is donâ€™t discount your sound person. While this might be your second feature film, this may be your sound person’s twentieth.
WOODY: You do music editing everyday. Youâ€™ve done it every day for decades, and so the experience level is so vast. To not take advantage of your expertise doesnâ€™t make sense.
CHUCK: Thatâ€™s the thing. Even working with directors who have been doing this a while, we still have done more movies than they have. We do 3 or 4 films a year, and you add that up with how many a director does itâ€™s not going to come close. But the ones that are really new to it, those are ones you can help if theyâ€™re open to it.
WOODY: Thanks Chuck for all the great info.