In Perfect Movie Music, Filling Space Is An Art If Brian Reitzell does his job right, you'll enjoy the movie you're watching a lot more — without knowing why. He speaks with NPR's Rachel Martin about being a music supervisor for Hollywood films.
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In Perfect Movie Music, Filling Space Is An Art

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In Perfect Movie Music, Filling Space Is An Art

In Perfect Movie Music, Filling Space Is An Art

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Putting music under a movie scene can add a new interesting emotional element to that scene. And there are basically two ways to do this. You can get a composer to write you a sweeping score from scratch - say a big name, like Hans Zimmer - or you can look through all the music that has ever been written, and then pick a song that captures the essence of that moment. Take, for example, the airy pop music playing as Scarlett Johansson strolls through Japanese temples in the movie "Lost In Translation."


MARTIN: ...Or the early jazz that accompanied the 2010 indie film, "Beginners."


EWAN MCGREGOR: (As Oliver) For the first, I saw him really in love.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing) And I am once again with you.

MARTIN: ...Or the rock music behind the modern telling of "Marie Antoinette."


JUDY DAVIS: (Comtesse de Noailles) This, Madame, is Versailles.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Signing) The problem - I'm a...

MARTIN: The person who picked all those songs is a guy named Brian Reitzell. And he works as something called a music supervisor.

BRIAN REITZELL: I do think that music supervising is harder than scoring.

MARTIN: Really?

REITZELL: Yeah because you have to - it's like a needle in a haystack.

MARTIN: Brian Reitzell has been the music supervisor and composed for dozens of movies and TV shows. And later this month, he's releasing his first solo album called "Auto Music." When we spoke recently, I asked him about his day job, and how much of a certain film he gets to see before picking music to go with that.

REITZELL: You know, it depends on the project. My first jobs were working with Sofia Coppola and with Sophia - what I like to do and what I do most often is start before a film is shot.

MARTIN: Really?

REITZELL: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: So you're not using scenes for inspiration and then going to find music that matches the mood of said scene?

REITZELL: Well, you do get a mood from a story and from a place. With "Lost In Translation," which was my third film, and my second one with Sophia, she was writing the script.

And as she was writing it and sort of fine-tuning it, I made her two mix CDs. And she was listening to it while she was location scouting in Tokyo. The cinematographer was listening to it. The actors, you know, everybody was kind of getting into the sound world that I thought was right for the film. And Sophia and I have this sort of chemistry to where, in the end, 80 percent of the music in that film came from those two mixes.

MARTIN: You bring up "Lost In Translation," which is - for the record - one of my all-time favorite films. There's a really poignant scene at the end where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson see each other for the last time. It's this kind of crowded Tokyo street...




MARTIN: And the music that accompanies that moment seems perfect but random at the same time.


MARTIN: Did you have anything to do with the placement of that? Had you already chosen this song? It was a Jesus and Mary Chain track called "Just Like Honey."

REITZELL: Yeah. That - I remember the moment. I was working with VHS tapes and a turntable. And I had "Psychocandy," The Jesus and Mary Chain, on vinyl. And I had tried it in another scene, and Sophia was over at the house and just dropped the needle.

MARTIN: People still do that?

REITZELL: Yeah. I still do that.

MARTIN: Drop the needle?

REITZELL: Yeah. I like using records. I used to spin - 'cause this is before iTunes. You know, nowadays, if you're a music supervisor, you can type in final kiss, Japan, Tokyo street or, you know, whatever it is and something will come up. And I don't like that.

So I like to actually sit on the floor in a record store or sit with my record collection and look at records and connect things. But The Jesus and Mary Chain track - that was a pretty special one. I think I was in my pajamas 'cause I worked at home at the time. And it was just - man, it just worked so well.


THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN: (Singing) Just like honey. Just like honey. Just like honey.

MARTIN: You compose your own music. And you are coming out with your very first solo album. It's called "Auto Music." Let's listen to a cut called "Auto Music 1" and then we'll talk.


MARTIN: So what was happening in your life that you decided that now was a good moment for you to go in this direction and do your own stuff for a solo album?

REITZELL: Well, this record took almost 10 years to make. And I listened to music in my car. Living in Los Angeles, one spends quite a bit of time in the car. My drive to work is through a park, mostly - through Griffith Park. And I liked having pieces of music that were a bit like that drive - not based on sort of pop structure, more based on the events going by. You know, when you're in a car, something comes into focus in your windshield. You pass it, then something else comes in. You can drive fast. It's this great sound booth. I mean everybody likes to roll the windows up and crank the stereo.


REITZELL: It's special for me, this record, though because it's stuff that I made for myself. And I wasn't having to look at a picture and do stuff to the picture necessarily. You know what I mean? So it was a bit therapeutic for me in a lot of ways.


MARTIN: Well, Brian Reitzell, it's been such a pleasure. Brian Reitzell is a music composer and a music supervisor. His debut solo album is called "Auto Music." Thanks so much, Brian.

REITZELL: Thanks a lot. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

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