The opportunities available for the press to interview film and industry people at Sundance are endless. The difficulty I face is scheduling interviews and choosing a focus strategy for my coverage. The whole festival music scene is electrifying. It is localized to Park City’s six-block-long, quaint Main Street with a line-up of musicians performing live mini-concerts. The atmosphere is ideal for varied music gigs and an honorable showcase for any musician. The groupies and festival attendees are ecstatic with the venue because it is fun to hang out and listen to quality talent.
Music is a huge part of what makes a film fly; therefore, it is natural for the two largest U.S. performing rights organizations (ASCAP and BMI) to make their presence known at Sundance. Theses companies jointly sponsor the music gigs all week long including discussion panels, interviews, lectures and parties. A highlight for the festival pass holder.
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) was founded in 1914 by composer, Victor Herbert in New York City. Herbert’s intent was to protect the copyrighted musical compositions of its members--mostly writers and publishers associated with New York’s Tin Pan Alley group since 1885. The Tin Pan Alley generally refers to the district of Manhattan where music publishers and music stores were initially located at the turn of century and the sound of piano playing was non-stop. The blend of sounds from the variety of piano noise created a tin-pan clanging sound never to be forgotten. In 1939, the Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) was founded by radio executives as competition to the well-established ASCAP group. In the early stages both organizations promoted a particular focus group; but, today each has a wide base of expertise representing all styles of music and media outlets.
The 2009 Sundance Film Festival allowed me audience with some of the movers and shakers in the music industry who were particularly devoted to hooking up filmmakers with composers. I had the privilege of interviewing, Linda Livingston--one of the senior directors for film and television with BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated). I attended the BMI Round Table Discussion Event and was invited to attend the annual BMI party known as Snowball.
My interview with Linda was held in the suite of a nice hotel located on Park City’s Main Street, where BMI associates reside for the duration of Festival. It is a central location for BMI staff attending Sundance and the cozy space is inviting for the multiple gatherings necessary for their festival business.
Since I was very naive to the business of BMI, I asked Linda to tell me how she got involved with the company and promised that I would try hard to refrain from making reference to BMI as BMX (you know, the dirt bikes used for extreme cycling). Totally mortified that my brain and mouth could not disconnect the two abbreviations, Linda laughed to put me at ease. Her graciousness paved the way for a very interesting interview:
KP: Prior to working for BMI, you were an agent for film composers and songwriters. How did you get that job?
LL: I have always loved music and supervised many people in the industry. I was impressed with a particular composer and loved his studio. I would bring people to see his studio because it was so unique. Unintentionally, I brought him work! The people who saw his studio would often hire him for projects. He told me that I would make a great Agent but I had never aspired to that position. In time, I did become an agent and went to work for MCEG which was John Travolta’s management company. It was at this job that I met Doreen Ringer Ross (BMI Vice President, Film/TV Relations) by introducing her to the composers I represented. Doreen invited me to come to BMI when MCEG folded and I have been there for the past seventeen years.
KP: Do you play an instrument?
LL: No, and I can’t even sing. But, I have a good ear…
KP: What is the history of BMI’s participation at Sundance FF?
LL: BMI Vice President, Film/TV relations, Doreen Ringer Ross came to Sundance about twenty years ago, long before any music people attended festivals. She simply came to view films. Taking it one step further, she would introduce herself to the filmmakers and composers who attended Questions and Answer (Q & A) sessions after their films. It was through those contacts that she started signing composers. Doreen started the Film and TV department of BMI with her vision that eventually built up a solid repertoire of composers.
KP: What is your involvement with Sundance Institute?
LL: We have participated in the Sundance Institute Lab for many years collaborating with student filmmakers and accessing our composers with varied experience. The students learn many things within the lab setting, i.e. scoring, conducting, learning how to choose a composer, etc. It is collaboration.
KP: How long will a composer teach in this setting?
LL: Usually a couple of weeks.
KP: Do you follow up on those Sundance lab filmmakers?
LL: We connect with them at the Festival. Some will be on the BMI Round Table panel discussion. We observe their progress. We provide workshops regularly for those in the business who want to learn more. For example: we offer a workshop on conducting, run by a wonderful man, Lucas Richmond. For two weeks he teaches how to conduct a film or he will teach about using orchestration in a film for those who have never used or composed orchestration.
KP: Can you assess your influence during a film festival?
LL: Music is very, very important to a film! It sets the mood for films’ messages. Our main focus here is to help the independent filmmaker. Sundance loves our presence. We are connecting with filmmakers throughout the duration of the festival. Some are still working on their films and attend the festival for contacts. The natural process of working on the music comes at the end of the film, so we meet filmmakers who are excited to meet us expect us to help them work within their budget or finish their project. It is collaboration! The bottom line is that our assistance means lot to filmmakers. The people involved with Independent films usually don’t have the big budgets. They need to know how to get the music when they can not afford the big composers. They desire that certain music to address their film, so we step in and guide the process. We play a very important role connecting the right composer to the filmmaker. New filmmakers come to BMI for help for film and TV.
KP: Is there a difference between in seeking music for film and either media?
LL: (a pause for thought) Often composers are trying to get their music heard for television. There is more opportunity but it is still not easy. If they land a television theme it could be an in-road to film. If they land an independent film, they are very fortunate. If they find a director that loves what they have done for their film, then the director will be loyal and give them more work. It’s all about connecting the composer and the filmmaker to produce the right feeling for their narrative. This is extremely important!
KP: Is price a factor to a young filmmaker?
LL: A question we often hear is, I have no money, what do I do? That means that they are telling the truth…they have no money….if the filmmaker has something to show, it is easier to assess with a composer (even major composers) what price they can work with…sometimes, they will collaborate for free. Some composers might have a “backend” agreement; meaning that if a movie does well at the box office they would get paid at that time instead of upfront. There are a number of ways to negotiate this aspect.
KP: Are the young filmmakers, nervous or scared?
LL: Oh yes! They understand that a bad musical choice could blow-it for their film. Sometimes the work of major composers will not match their film and they will have to get another composer to get it right.
KP: What is your favorite part of the business?
LL: The relationship building. We love to connect a filmmaker to a composer, to an attorney, to an agent or to a manager, etc. We are keen to invest time in developing the relationships with our composers. We do it well and it is our favorite aspect! We take a special interest in the lives of our clients. It is very gratifying and a pleasure to get to know their families. When we are at Sundance and see our clients’ films/music, we are very proud! It is a great venue for our composers to to see the results of their labor after working hours in a small room day after day to see the result of their labor. Their eyes are opened to a very exciting world at a film festival like Sundance. We like sharing the experience with them.
KP: Is there a part of the technical side that is gratifying for you?
LL: No, because I am not a technical person. The pace of this world is very fast—something new every day. I can’t keep up with that…but, I sit, listen and watch the excitement.
KP: Is there a fun part of your job?
LL: Oh! Going to the festivals and caring for the composer/filmmaker team by putting on dinners and parties in their honor. Every year we sponsor a sit-down dinner for roughly sixty people who are chosen to show their projects at Sundance. We do fun ice-breakers to allow those attending our events the opportunity to meet someone new. For example, at our dinners we arrange eating with a different set of people at each course. At first, the attendees are comfortable and don’t want to move to a different table, but by the end of the meal they are happy to have participated. It is delightful to see new friendships form that otherwise never would have without hosting relationship building events.
KP: BMI is a good because…
LL: It is a wonderful way to give and receive information. If you are a filmmaker and need any kind of information with reference to music, we want to help. Go to www.BMI.com and do some research, then email or call us for guidance. Our job is to help people get ahead. We are proud of our accomplishments connecting artist to artist. Give us a chance!