Alumni Interview with Jeff Lingle
What are the major achievements of your career to date?
I have received two Golden Reel nominations from the Motion Picture Sound Editors, but I think that the bigger achievement is to have been able to work closely with so many different composers on a variety of films and TV shows.
What made you decide to pursue film scoring as a career?
Prior to attending Berklee, I had been a "hired gun" in numerous live bands that played throughout the Midwest. After several years, I became restless and began to look to Berklee as an opportunity to stretch my musical mind. When I first arrived in the fall of 1993, I took a several introductory courses offered by the different majors and found that composing was a strength of mine. Film scoring seemed like an exciting outlet. I think I was hooked once I began actually scoring scenes in the classes offered by the (Film Scoring) department. There can be so many ways to approach a scene musically, capturing a wide range of very specific emotions, and I find that fascinating.
What is a normal day like in your line of work (assuming there is such a thing as a normal day)?
Well, of course there is no such thing as a normal day, but usually I'll get up and find out when the next versions of tapes for each (film) reel will be ready. Then, I'll sit down with the new versions of the reels I already have and start figuring out the changes. I'll then take the composer's sequencer files, apply those changes and then e-mail them back to the composer for approval. If the changes are minor, I'll get on the phone with the orchestrators and tell them what the changes are and send the sequencer files directly to them. Throughout the day, I'll stay in touch with the picture editor and/or assistants as well as the postproduction supervisor to make sure I'm up to speed on any plans for future temporary screenings and future changes to the picture. I'll then relay that information to the whole music team and then together with the composer to further strategize and plan for the scoring sessions. After that, go to bed for a short while, get up, and start the process again.
Can you take us through the entire process you go through in scoring for a new film?
The first task at hand happens during pre-production, which is when all the planning takes place (or should take place) for scenes that are to be shot to a playback track (dance numbers, on camera lip/instrumental sync). The director, producers, music supervisor, and music editor get together and decide how musical scenes should be shot in order to get the best dramatic effect, taking into consideration a variety of technical issues so that there are no problems during post-production. After those meetings, the music editor prepares time code DATs, or whatever the production engineer requests as a format, with edits of the musical selections to be shot to playback. Most of the time, the music editor is on the set during the shooting of those scenes to make sure that the actor ‘s performances will be believable, as well as to make sure that all of the technical considerations are being dealt with in the correct manner.
During the first stages of editorial, the film can be in pretty rough shape and is usually changing constantly. The music editor has to stay on top of the changes while working closely with the director, picture editor, assistant editors, and music supervisor to find a musical direction for the film. If a composer has been chosen, the music editor usually tries to track scenes with pieces of music from that composer in an attempt to get everyone used to his/her style.
There are usually a series of temporary dubs that the studio arranges so that the film can be tested at audience screenings. Since there can be a lot of nervousness and insecurity stemming from the director, as well as the studio, the musical approach may change many times, creating quite a few long nights and tense moments preparing for the temporary dubs. At the temporary dub, the music editor brings an editing rig to the mixing stage and makes changes to the music as necessary. The temporary mix is then screened at an audience screening. Depending on how well the film screen tests, this part of the process may happen several times.
Once the film is "locked," which is supposed to mean that the film won't go through any more picture changes - we have a saying: "locked in jello" - there is a formal spotting session with the composer, director, and picture editor. At this meeting, it is precisely determined where there will be music and each cue is given a number. Often, the composer will have been chosen long before the film is locked so chances are, they've been in the loop regarding all of the temporary screenings and may have already started composing for certain scenes. After the spotting session, the music editor generates spotting notes, which include specific start and stop times, cumulative time, and detailed descriptions for each cue. They are then sent to everyone who attended the spotting session, helping to keep everyone on the same page.
As the composer continues to compose, the music editor's job is to keep up with any additional picture changes, continue to cut and demo song spots with the director and music supervisor, and work with the composer to formulate the best technical strategy for recording the score. This often means preparing prerecorded synth tracks, click tracks, streamers/punches, and a recording order that makes the most logistical sense. The music editor has to be extremely organized throughout the remainder of the scoring process, making sure that everything that needs to be recorded gets recorded, and that it is done in a way that will make for easier editing, should that need arise later on the dub stage.
During the scoring sessions, the music editor is in charge of running the clicks, streamers and punches, and often, the synth prelay tracks. He/she usually sits in the scoring room right next to or behind the composer and makes changes, if necessary, to any or all of those elements. After the score is recorded, it is then mixed, with careful consideration to stem (any) splits of certain individual (or families) of musical elements, making it easier for editing purposes. After the music mix, the music editor prepares all of the music, songs and score, for the dub stage, making the layout as easy as possible for the dubbing mixer (engineer) to deal with.
At the dub, the music editor's job is really to be the ambassador for the music, making sure that the music supports the film in the best possible way, taking into consideration the director's requests, and making changes as necessary. Upon the completion of the dub, the music editor has to fulfill any delivery requirements that the studio has, including submitting final cue sheets, CDs, backups, tapes, etc.
What are some of the technological tools (hardware and software) that you use, and must have knowledge of in this field?
The most common platform for music editing continues to be ProTools so an extensive knowledge of everything that makes up a ProTools rig is a must (there are a few composer/editor teams that use Sonic Solutions, John William's team, for example). Digital video is a time-saver so knowledge of Adobe Premiere, as well as video capture cards, is helpful. As for sequencer applications, Digital Performer, Cuebase, or Logic are the favorites that are used out here in LA. In order to generate streamers and punches for scoring sessions, either Auricle (PC based), or a new piece of gear called the ProCue, which can be triggered from any MIDI sequencer application, are the two systems used. Cue is the software that is still used heavily for creating timing notes and spotting notes, although some editors prefer to use their own templates created in File Maker Pro or Excel.
Since a music editor has to coordinate with the various scoring, mixing, and dub stages, it is important to be familiar with the gear found at those studios (mixing consoles, analog to digital and digital to analog converters, etc.) and fully understands the processes that will be used to exchange audio to and from the editor's rig.
What is your favorite part of the job?
The scoring sessions. There is nothing quite like sitting in front of a full orchestra and feeling the power and energy that is created by the musicians.
What are some of the personal rewards that have come with your job or career
Definitely, the relationships. After finishing a project, there is a sense of comradery that glues everyone together, a sense that everyone has been through (and hopefully survived) an inherently complicated and subjective creative process. I think that the process can bring out some of the best and worst qualities in people and the bonds you make tend to be strong ones. Also, the many free movie going opportunities are a nice perk.
What do you think are the requisites for someone entering this field?
A likable personality helps. Creativity, musicianship, a good knowledge of the technology, endurance, and an ability to multitask are all requisites for the job.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job and/or career?
I think the political aspect to the job is probably the most challenging. It is important to be a "big picture" thinker so that you can try to see who is REALLY in control of the situations that erupt and what agendas people are bringing to the table. My job is really to be an ambassador for the music. Many times as a music editor, I've been stuck in the middle between the composer's, director's, and the studio's wishes. Generally, I've found it best to keep my mouth shut until I'm specifically asked about a political issue.
What are the skills that you are called upon to use daily in your work?
Musicianship, diplomacy, technical savvy and organizational skills.
How did your education at Berklee train you for what you are doing today?
It opened my eyes to the technical aspects of scoring to picture as well as dramatic considerations and how music influences them.
What are the current trends in the field of composing that will most likely shape your future and the future of this industry?
Probably the shorter schedules, smaller budgets, advancing technology and the proliferation of many new composers. I think that the trend has been, and will continue to be, for the majority of films and TV shows to be scored cheaper and faster. With sample technology advancing, it will continue to become easier to put together sample scores that sound good enough to satisfy many directors and producers, although nothing is as good as real musicians. Producers will probably continue to be more reluctant to pay for live players, especially for television scores. The supply and demand element of many new composers looking for work will probably continue to add to the shrinking budgets. I don't think that these factors however, affect the big budget films as heavily, but the big budget films only make up a small percentage of the films being created.