Interview with music supervisor Nora Felder (Californication)

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Check out my little chat with music supervisor Nora Felder, president of Picture Music Company. She’s been the music supervisor for Californication for 7 years, and has many other film/TV projects under her belt…

You’ve worked on Californication for 7 years with Tom Kapinos. How much creative input do you have on this particular show?

On Californication I have a lot of creative input. I also have had 7 years of pleasure collaborating with Kapinos who is a music lover in the true sense of the word so it’s great fun bouncing ideas off each other into the wee hours.

You also work / have worked on other TV shows such as Unforgettable and Necessary Roughness. They’re all very different and must therefore have very different music requirements. How do you go about juggling several projects at once?

Although it’s great when you’re able to completely throw yourself into a project, the story and the musical exploration process, the juggling part is always a challenge. Aside from managing the admin aspects of the job, it’s definitely not easy to train your brain to constantly switch gears in terms of keeping your radar open for songs that would/could be appropriate for each individual show all at once.  You just do it though working longer hours, it’s part of the gig. I just keep my head clear and bury myself in my music cave.

You recently described every Californication episode as a mini-movie with up to 12 songs. As well as lots of smaller artists you’ve got some huge names like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan. Do you have a pretty flexible budget or is it still a struggle?

Our budget has been adequate for the show in that we love using a lot of independent music, and on occasion we are able to use larger artists in some key moments. It’s pretty much exactly what we had in mind to do creatively so although it was a bit of a juggling act to keep our ideas in check with the budget, things worked out pretty well each season and what is meant to be always happens.

There’s a lot of, shall we say, risqué scenes in the series. Do you ever get artists objecting to having their music placed in these scenes?

No. I guess we were lucky as we never had that problem. Some artists even approached us to have their music used in these scenes if you can believe that (laughs). Most of the music used behind sexually charged scenes tended to include indie artists that had an interesting music element that would essentially underscore the scene.  There are certain classic older artists that wanted to make sure there was no frisky-ness going on in the scene in which their music was to be used.

You travelled and worked throughout Europe and Asia for 5 years – how did this shape and influence your understanding and knowledge of music? 

Being able to intimately experience different cultures definitely enhances one’s outlook on life as a whole, which includes music and arts. Experiencing music in the actual environment it was created leaves an imprint on your brain and in your ears. That was / is invaluable on so many levels. Even going to live shows all over the world and watching the locals taking in the music of their culture and reacting to it both visually and with dance is a wonderful thing to watch.

What’s your own personal favourite use of music?

That answer changes on a daily basis (laughs). There are situations where it feels like the song was almost written for the scene (both musically and lyrically), and when you’re able to make that connection with the song and the scene it’s a glorious thing. There are so many I’m proud of! So I’d like to say that in general I strive for each placement to be meaningful whenever possible.

What song has been the most challenging to license for a TV show / film in your experience?

Dazed and Confused (Led Zeppelin) was a bit tricky because Robert Plant and Jimmy Page are very careful in what they will allow their songs to be used for, as they should be. The process in clearing that particular use definitely caused some sweat as it basically cleared in the final hour. Of course we were ecstatic. As much as we tried, it was really hard to imagine another song in the scene, so I’m so glad it worked out.

What project do you wished you’d music supervised / what would be your dream?

Shows / projects like Breaking Bad or The Life of Walter Mitty are always intriguing to me in that it’s NOT looking for the obvious piece to fill the musical puzzle. On the other hand “classic” music driven films like High Fidelity and Almost Famous were always classic favourites of mine that I imagined would have been great fun to work on as the stories in themselves are like love letters to music.

What do you think is in store for the future of sync / music supervision? 

Music and songs will always be important aspects of the story for any moving picture. The hope is that the music industry will thrive again and budgets can increase, providing more resources in order to paint a better picture of each individual story.

What upcoming projects are you excited about?

I’m just starting Unforgettable Season 3 and the scripts are phenomenal so I’m excited about that. Also I’m in Paris right now for the Sync Summit Conference and it’s fun seeing all the press on the show over here. They love it! The Night Shift will start airing soon on NBC so looking forward to positive reviews for its premiere season. I also have a movie announcement to make very soon that is a very compelling project so stay tuned on that.

Thanks to the lovely Nora Felder for a great interview.

E x

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