Dracula and Ninja Turtles: What Is Temp Score?

careers, Culture, Interview, Media, Music Business

What is temp score? I was not aware. But I have been obsessed with film score for a long time. Someone once told me that the success of sound design or film score is when your hard work is not noticed.

What’s that, now?

Simply put, the sound and music is so seamless that the audience is not pulled out of the film experience. The sound design in Gravity, for instance, did a wonderful job. The film score, while great, felt a little jarring to me when it gained or swelled. It knocked me out of the moment. Of course, everyone’s experience is different. I still think the music and sound were, overall, fabulous.

Film score is something I tend to get hung up on. I love listening to it, talking about it, picking it apart. Same with sound, or any music selection integrated into a piece. It’s been discussed before, but being a music editor, composer, or music supervisor on a film is a hefty job that many moviegoers simply aren’t aware of.

Scooby-Doo, Dracula, City of Angels, Hocus Pocus, Father of the Bride, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles…these iconic films are all part of Katherine Quittner’s resume.

Katherine is a composer who studied in LA and in Europe, and then worked as a music editor specializing in creating temp scores for Hollywood films. Her most well known score design was used for Wojciech Kilar’s score to France Coppola’s “Dracula” (1992).  She took the eight cues Kilar wrote, orchestrated variations for the film scoring sessions, and edited them, along with some her own compositions, together creating the entire film score. Thus began her work on certain musical concepts which she further pursued in City of Angels, used by Gabriel Yared. She continues her work today as a composer, and was kind enough to correspond through email, seeing that she currently lives in South America.

Film score and semiotics was a major focus of study for me in my last year of college. I believe that the music in a film can influence the audience just as much as any visual symbolism. You’ve worked on many action and suspense oriented films, such as Dracula, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the Halloween favorite Hocus Pocus. What is your method of applying symbolism and suspense through the music?

Music has an enormous and unconscious effect on the audience’s experience of the film. The unconscious aspect of this can be dangerous to people making a movie, since often people will say: “Oh, I hate this movie” when in fact, they hate the music.  Comedies are especially vulnerable to being ruined by music that tips or points at the jokes instead of setting them up properly for a pay off. Film music that serves its movie well can elevate a film, insuring that it expresses its potential. After a film has been scored up to its highest level intellectually and emotionally, what you have left is the movie you made. I work with directors at a highly vulnerable stage in the process.

 When I put music into a movie, this is not symbolic in any way. It is simply itself. This process is quite direct and requires nothing between the film and the music. Music does not begin in a process that one would call “thinking”. I watch the movie, and the music comes into my head, and that music is a reaction to the film itself. What I put into a movie is the result of my knowledge base, my abilities as a composer and my direct emotional response to the movie. I am the audience.

I also found that many well known pieces of music are so similar to classical pieces. Scores from Star Wars could be likened to Holst’s Planets, and a major piece of music in Atonement was very reminiscent of Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Does having a good knowledge of music history help you with temp score?

Film music is unlike any other. What is helpful in doing temp scores is having an excellent knowledge of the literature of film music. Film music gives you small pieces of less than thirty seconds that have beginnings, middles, and ends. Film music, when set up properly, can make you cry in a few beats of the heart. Try editing some Mozart down to a 30 to 45 second piece and, after a few hours, you will want to kill yourself.

You are listed as a music recording supervisor for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Can you explain what your duties are in this role, for readers who are unfamiliar?
These various credits that I accumulated were the result of my doing many jobs that were not the music editor’s job. These credits are not a reflection of the standard use of these terms. The Turtles would be an excellent example of this. On The Turtles, there was a lot of confusion on the part of the producers and the director who took this picture for a movie that teenage/college people would flock to see. They were certain of this. However, the reality was that The Turtles was a children’s movie. The producers did not understand that the Turtle fans were “non-ironic” three to twelve year old kids. Further, they failed to understand that since The Turtles faces were crudely articulated animations that barely moved, that the music would be unusually vital in evoking the emotional intentions of the film. This movie could not just ride on the beats of some repetitive pop songs, it needed a score. I fixed this problem in their temp music by throwing out everything they had done.

The director was replaced by the collective decisions of three people who shared equally in the process, which is highly unusual. This cooperative group consisted of the producer, the picture editor, and myself, the “music editor”.  After they fired the director and the composer, I found out that I still had the job. John Du Prez became the composer when I presented the idea of him and his music to the producers. We had worked together similarly on UHF.  He made a score like the score I made, everyone was happy, and the movie was a huge success. The budget was incredibly tiny.

Photo credit: CarolinaMosca.com

Photo credit: CarolinaMosca.com

So….what was my job as “music supervisor”? I did everything relating to music on this movie possible, because I didn’t know that most of those things were not my job. No one trained me as a music editor, so I made the job what I could do, not what I was “supposed” to be able do. I was clueless. I even did the vocals of all the baby turtles on our cut for the record one night at 1 AM, just so we could go home. For nothing. They made $50 million in children’s tickets the first weekend. On Turtles 2, I was not hired because my *quote  had gone up in the intervening two years, and the producers refused to pay the $400 per week difference.  Hollywood – short memories, no gratitude.

* A quote is what people paid you on your last film….your rate is what you ask for. Studios call each other’s post production depts to get the figure of exactly what you made on your last movie.

Is there a a particular scene from a film you have worked on that you found to be the most difficult for temp score?

That was an entire movie, and it was Robert Redford’s Quiz Show.  I had to teach myself the music of the 40s and 50s. That time zone was totally outside my knowledge base. They had Mark Isham copy my temp score, like on The River Runs Through It, and if they had just bought the whole thing, that movie could have been a cult classic. I used all the really great music of the times, including real movie music from French New Wave flicks which had been scored by Miles Davis and Art Blakey in Paris….that stuff was amazing.

The opening sequence from Hocus Pocus is memorable for many in my generation, and the music truly carried it. I know it was a while ago, but can you recall how that scene was scored and worked with, in terms of music editing? I am fascinated!

This movie was scored by James Horner and he deserves all credit for how well it worked. My job was finished when the preview process was over and he scored the movie. My job was to keep the lovable, kind and generous director, Kenny Ortega, on track with music that would serve his previews and his editing process. All questions regarding this movie in the final version should be referred to James Hendrikson, who is Horner’s most admirable music editor.

Also, I noticed that the music from Hocus Pocus was then used in many other film trailers for a few years after its release. Was this due to temp score, and finalized scores not yet being ready for the official soundtracks to these other films?

Hollywood uses music in its trailers when it is effective as shorthand signifying whatever their marketing department tells them will hook the audience they believe is the group for their movie. Obviously, the score to Hocus Pocus was good enough to work well for a variety of films. This is about advertising, and should be understood as such. Usually, when the advertising for a particular movie is created, the score is not yet recorded, or the score can serve the movie well, but may not be useful as a shout!…which is what trailer music does. Trailers need to “signify” their movie quickly and clearly.

Has using ProTools altered your work flow in a negative way at all? What is the advantage to using film?

In movie music, there is no advantage to using film at all. ProTools enables me to multitrack my ideas, and mix them myself. It opens a world of possibilities that make creating much easier. For others, ProTools offered a way to edit music visually, and thus relieved them of having to rely on their ears to cut music. When I first had ProTools on The River Wild, I had a headache for most of the year from having to use my eyes constantly to watch these wave forms scroll by.

City of Angels also received much attention for the songs used in the film. Were you part of that process?

In part. The score to City of Angels, which was composed by Gabriel Yared, is a pretty exact copy of my temp score. This score had a big effect on the songs, since it worked extraordinarily well, and was very unconventional, and there were few spaces without music. Some people on the movie were against the use of songs at all. It was a delicate matter to put songs into a movie of this nature…but for me, the movie needed emotional breathing room; a diversion of energy, a pulse, a ride on a beat, because the score and the movie were really intense.

The songs, which made that hugely successful CD, were edited by Carl Kaller, who was the “music editor for songs”, except a few I did, or had to re-do, for some picture editing during the temp process. I believe those choices were presented by Danny Bramson, “music supervisor”, who worked at or for Warner Bros.  Once we knew what was working, I think the real source of the songs in the final version of the film was the intriguing and diverse producer, Charles Roven. He managed many of the people on the record and he brought those artists to the table.

The song choices were made intelligently on this movie. We tried songs out in the editing process and in the previews. Seeing the movie with an audience was insanely helpful. Everyone on the movie worked in concert, and we all had a good feel for what was working. Everyone involved in that movie was at the top of their game and working for the best interests of the movie.  It was Hollywood’s unique musical, editorial, and preview process working at it’s best. Absolutely.

Your work on Coppola’s Dracula sounds so inspiring! You are also credited as a music supervisor on that film, and I know some of my readers are very interested in music supervision as a career path. What is your advice for individuals who would like to become music supervisors?

People who wish to be Music Supervisors should acquire a broad knowledge of the literature of current film scores and the composers who are writing them, a knowledge of the scoring and music editing process, and study what songs can can make a positive impact on a movie. Frequent places, virtually or otherwise, where one can find breaking bands, new artists, and new anything. They should take care that their influence on a movie is not outside their knowledge base. Giving opinions on subjects outside one’s knowledge base can be risky, since one can be held accountable for statements that are not supportable. Everyone has “feelings” about music…people that work in music for movies need to have more than this at their command.

Good luck to everybody!


Featured image, credit Ned Sloane

*Note: Youtube clips are used as examples of the films and scores mentioned in this interview

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