An interview with Nick Redman by David Schecter © 1994/2008
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.13/No.51/No.52, 1994
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven and David Schecter
In early February, 1994, my wife and I visited soundtrack producer Nick Redman of Fox Records at his office on the 20th Century Fox lot. The whole Los Angeles area has recently been ravaged by a devastating earthquake, and we had been forced to re-schedule our meeting to accommodate the rumbling and its after-effects. In spite of the chaos that had enveloped the everyday problems associated with producing a remarkable line of soundtrack CD’s for a mostly indifferent public, and the fact that there were no STAR WARS box-sets to be found in any store in the country, Nick graciously kept the whole afternoon open for us. Before beginning the interview, we express a desire to see the infamous ‘Len Engel Collection’, which is stored in the room next door. Nick puts his jacket on before leaving, even though we’re only going a few feet down the hall. When asked why, he replies. “I’m not convinced of the longevity of this job, so I take my jacket wherever I go.”The ‘Len Engel Collection’ consists of film scores on reel-to-reel tape that were pilfered through the years by a Fox studio executive and were only recently recovered. One entire wall of the room is crammed with shelf after shelf of the tapes, and further boxes of recordings litter the floor. The tapes contain music from the 1930’s through the 1980’s, including WUTHERING HEIGHTS, ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, STAGECOACH, SPACECAMP, and many, many more.“Everything in this room is what we got back from Len Engel’s widow. Len was the supervising music editor here, so he had some clout, and he used that to take all these tapes piecemeal over a period of years. His favorite gimmick was to go up to the dubbing guys when they were doing TV recording here. He would say to them something like, “We’ve got to transfer some stuff from THE ROBE.” And they’d say, “What’s that got to do with THE FALL GUY?” or whatever TV show they were doing at the time. And he’d say, “One of the higher-ups wants it.” So THE FALL GUY production would be billed for the transfer. Then Len would put the tape in his car, drive away, and that would be it. And over the years, it built up to all of this.
“This is not Fox’s archive, of course. Nothing here is from any of the Fox vaults. That box labelled THE SEA HAWK – those are the Gerhardt masters. THE BLUE MAX masters are also here. Everyone keeps talking about doing a definitive, expanded version of THE BLUE MAX, but except for a couple of German releases, there’s nothing else to go on it other than what released on CD.”
After a few photos are taken, we return to Nick’s office. He keeps his jacket on for the duration of the interview.
Were not in the music division, are we?
No. This is the editing building, I’m glad I decided to contact the other divisions on the lot about finding a room. Otherwise, I’d be somewhere in the music division, but sitting in a cardboard box.
How did you first become interested in film music?
I had no musical training, although my father was a church organist. I remember seeing ZULU at the age of seven, and sitting on a swing in a garden and trying to remember the film through the music. In those pre-video days, I was trying to replay the film in my head from one scene to another by using the music as a bridge. I wasn’t thinking about it in any kind of grandiose musical way, it was just a way to enjoy the film all over again. I tried to do that with any movie that I really liked.
So, from a young age I was aware that music was an important element in the film-making process. As I grew up, I was interested in all forms of music, including rock. And occasionally there’d be a soundtrack I’d buy. Particularly John Barry when I was a pre-adolescent, and later on Lalo Schifrin and Jerry Fielding. It wasn’t until after the Gerhardt series came out in the late seventies that I actually thought there was something to film music other than just being a very enjoyable interlude from my more heavy rock listening.
What were you doing prior to being hired by Bay Cities?
For most of my adult life, I’ve been involved with films in various capacities. I’ve written scripts for film and television, and I’ve produced many forms of visual entertainment. In 1987, I had just done a series for the BBC called “The Best of British”, subtitled “The History of Rank Films”. I was thinking of making the jump from London to America, but I wasn’t exactly sure what I would do when I got here since I didn’t know anyone. So I asked myself, what area has never been covered in a documentary film that I would like to do? And of course it occurred to me that film music was the great unknown. Even many film buffs don’t know there’s music in movies.
I came over to the States armed with an idea for a documentary, and that enabled me to get into the film music community. However, that documentary languished, and in 1990, when Bruce Kimmel, who knew my wife, said he had started a record company, I told him about my connections with the film music community. At that time Bay Cities had done ten classical reissues, so we talked and I said I would come in for a six-week trial. I was there much longer, and I left Bay Cities around Christmas of 1992.
How did your job at Fox come about?
In the Summer of 1992, Richard Kraft, who’s always looking out for me, told me that Fox was going to start its own record company, and he had recommended me for the job. Richard and I wrote a proposal and sent it to Fox, but I didn’t hear anything for months, so I forgot about them. Somewhere around New Year’s of that year I got a call from Matt Walden, who’s the senior VP for the Fox Music Group, and he wanted me to come in and have a chat. They asked me to submit a more specific proposal, which I did, and about a week later I was offered the job.
My baby was born on February the 16th, and I remember coming in one week before, and Fox asked me when I could start. I said, “I can start now, except I’m about to have a baby. So you probably won’t see much of me.” They told me I had the job, so I went away and didn’t talk to them or show up for a whole month. I thought I was going to get fired before I even started! Luckily, the Senior VP from Marketing Promotion here also had a baby and understood what I was going through.
Richard Kraft has been a tremendous help to me. He’s a good friend and a very good agent. He’s always been very supportive of me in the 6 years we’ve known each other. His brother David was my first real friend in America, so the Krafts were responsible for my career turn. Before meeting them, it never occurred to me to get involved in film music on a professional level.
Whose idea was it to put out The Classic Series, and how do you decide what titles will be released?
I suppose it was Matt Walden who decided to start it. I’m glad he had that idea, since now Fox has become the first studio to attempt such a venture.
It’s a very subjective answer as to why we release what we do. Even if the music is great, that isn’t enough of a reason to put it out. 20th Century Fox is interested in what they perceive to be a line that will showcase the studio’s history in general, with the music being a part of that.
If I get a call from Jacquie Perryman, who runs the soundtrack division at Arista (they market and distribute The Classic Series), and she says “I saw a film on American Movie Classics last night, and it had an Alfred Newman score I really liked,” I’m going to listen to her more than I’ll listen to somebody who reads ‘Film Score Monthly’ or ‘Soundtrack!’. If someone who doesn’t actively listen to film music says she particularly liked a certain score, I’m going to really consider putting that out. Because if it can reach that person, it can reach other people as well.
I was playing a cassette of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL in my car around the time I was doing the transfer, and a friend of my wife, who wouldn’t listen to a film score if it was the last thing on earth, happened to be listening to it because he was in the car. He said, “This reminds me of an old science-fiction film I saw where this robot came down to Earth.” I told him that’s what he was listening to, and he said, “Wow! I saw that when I was twelve.” And he’s now forty. That’s the kind of thing that can be sparked in people: the nostalgia of film music.
I think ‘The Classic Series’ is a good title, and it’s got a nice look to it. It’s something you’d think that if people saw it, if they knew what it was, they might be interested in taking a chance on it. And if they listen to it, they might find something they’ll enjoy.
Is there a danger in focusing on classic films rather than classic film scores? Telarc’s IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE didn’t sell very well, and that’s one of the most beloved movies of all time…
I have a theory about that release. It had a terrible cover, one that was totally meaningless to the movies that were on the disc. The common denominator to the three film scores was music from Christmas films. And no one promoting it acted like it had anything to do with Christmas. I really believe that if they had packaged it differently and promoted it properly, – plus, you could never find it in the stores – it would have sold more.
And so with us at Fox, what we thought we would do is just simply treat this as classic memorabilia. Regardless of the fact that maybe you’ve never listened to a film score in your life, these CD’s exist because we believe in these films and this music. So we hope people will take a chance, in the same way they’ll take a chance on buying a lobby card or a poster. If this was just going to be done for film aficionados, we would be doing a limited-edition of 500.
Who chooses what will be released?
I picked the actual titles of The Classic Series myself, with the exception of STORMY WEATHER, which the Fox executives really wanted to do. To get to that first set of six, I probably put forward eighteen ideas. At that point, the people that can kill it are the legal department, because they’ll tell me if we haven’t got the rights to release something. It’s shocking to discover that Fox and other studios have forgotten to renew the copyrights of many of their films.
Other than that, if I get approval from legal, and if I’m told by studio operations that yes, the elements do exist, and that they’re in good enough shape to transfer, we can move on from there. It’s no good if I say that THE EGYPTIAN is my favorite movie of all time and I’m really going to put that out, because I know THE EGYPTIAN is screwed. There’s no way I can put it out. Once we’re past those two initial terrible hurdles, then we go to Elliot Lurie, who’s the head of Fox Music, and I tell him this is what we want to do.
What made you choose those specific titles in the first batch?
Besides STORMY WEATHER, the other 5 CD’s were chosen for a number of reasons. We knew THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL would be the most popular disc, as it turned out to be. I wanted THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL to be a stand-alone and not to be diffused by something else.
In the case of HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY and LAURA, those are beloved movies, regardless of whether people like the music a lot. And most people do know the tune to LAURA. Albeit not the original orchestral one, but they know at least one of the many versions of the song. JANE EYRE was simply stuck on that disc because I couldn’t put that one out by itself, and since I had room for it on the disc, why not include it?
Not only is the music to THE ROBE great, but it was the very first film shot in CinemaScope, so therefore it has a particular importance in the history of motion pictures. It was also the very first film ever recorded in stereo. So you get a hit in three memorabilia areas all at once.
I also have to reach the crowd who likes musicals, and they’re a completely different audience from those interested in instrumental film scores. In the case of STAR!, that would not have been my first choice. That was one of those situations where we tied-in to a Fox Video promotion. It was done as a favor to them.
I imagine musicals are costly to release because of the song royalties…
I had wanted to do a CD of songs from thirties and forties musicals, but that was kiboshed by the legal department, because they couldn’t get the rights to them. The disc I get the most requests for, after GARDEN OF EVIL and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, is an Alice Faye compilation. I’d like to do that, but it would be awfully time-consuming because I’d have to go to fifty different movies and transfer fifty films to get the album. And the amount of work you’d have to do for that one title versus its sales potential is disproportional.
What caused the delay in the release of STAR!?
We only got STAR! after an immense amount of difficulty, and that was done because of a tie-in with Fox Video, who was putting out a STAR! laserdisc. Julie Andrews was going to do a lot of interviews promoting the laserdisc, but she gets no royalties for the laserdisc. She would, however, for the CD release, so Fox Records accommodated Fox Video and said, “We’ll do this for Julie Andrews because she can get paid for the CD.” It was purely a political decision. But we went through such a hassle with Polygram to get STAR! that it hurt the possibility of obtaining any future licensing. If I’d known I was only going to get one title out of Polygram, it would not have been STAR! It would have been HELLO DOLLY – the only Barbra Streisand album not on CD.
STAR! showed up 2 weeks after the other titles because of the battle with Polygram. Fortunately, it got out by the time STAR! was shown at the Director’s Guild of America. They gave a CD to everybody who attended the screening, and I had the rather surreal experience of watching 1,500 people ripping the shrink-wrap off the CD simultaneously. Julie Andrews was there. She was very nice and she still looks beautiful.
I was surprised that some of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL was in stereo…
It wasn’t in stereo; we only mixed it in stereo. The way they would record on three-strip nitrate optical was they’d use what’s called a close-up and along-shot, and then the theremins would be recorded on a different piece of film, and then the stingers, which are the sound effects used for Gort’s ray.
We took the long shot and the close shot and melded them together, which gives you a deeper feel of ambience, then we placed the theremin in center-left and center-right. And the stingers were able to be panned from right to left and back again. I played it for Steven Smith and asked him, “What do you think Herrmann would have thought of if?” He said he thought Herrmann would be shocked but would approve.
Where did ‘Solar Diomonds’, the unreleased cue on DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, come from? Will you try to include bonuses like this on future discs?
They found ‘Solar Diamonds’ on a spare reel, so I thought I’d put it on. I didn’t particularly like listening to it, and in fact we originally had it sequenced differently. It came between ‘Arlington’ and ‘Lincoln Memorial’, but I was told by the video guys who had a tape of it that it was so boring that they’d fast-forward through ‘Solar Diamonds’ to get to the track they liked, which was ‘Lincoln Memorial’. So I thought we’d do it differently on the CD, which is slightly out of sequence from where it should be.
Jerry Goldsmith told me that about 15 to 20 minutes of the score from THE OTHER were cut from the film. The film was scary, and if a director or producer doesn’t know much about music, he’s going to be worried about the effect it will have on his film. Directors are sometimes afraid of tipping their hand, so they just dial the music out in the end and leave the scene unscored, which was the case with THE OTHER. I watched the film the other day. It’s an awful picture, and many of the scary scenes have no score at all. They just lie there.
Even though your version of THE ROBE is sonically superior to Varese Sarabande’s, were you concerned that they had already released a CD of that score?
I realize that you’re asking people to make another purchase, but do you want the better experience or are you happy with what you have? And I would say that probably three out of five people are going to say that they’re happy with what they have. But it’s the other two I’m interested in. Those two will be loyal to the series because they’re telling you in no uncertain terms that the quality’s important to them.
What sales figures do you need to continue the series, and how many copies of each CD did you press?
They wanted to sell 7,500 copies of each title. If we can do twelve albums a year, and sell at that rate, you’re looking at 90,000 units per year, and they said that would be enough to recover the cost of doing it now, even though none of the titles in the first batch have reached 7,500 yet, they’ve already commissioned the second batch. The series hasn’t been released internationally yet, and the figure they want is worldwide, so we’re confident that we’ll exceed that amount on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. I feel that we’ll sell 10,000 copies. By the time we do the second batch, sales figures will probably be in on the first batch, and they’ll decide whether or not it’s equitable to go on.
We pressed 5,000 copies of each disc in The Classic Series. Only THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL is completely sold out, and repressing it now. A 5,000 initial pressing is a good safe number. If you went to 10,000 straight away, you could end up with quite a few coming back.
The other thing to consider is that unlike the score to a new film, these aren’t tied to anything. For example, Fox put out the soundtrack to THE GOOD SON, but when it leaves the theaters, sales stop. Maybe they’ll come up again when it goes to video, but for now it’s dead In the case of these, they’re selling because people remember them being good films, or whatever. If you can keep them in print for, say, five years, you’ve got five years of trickling, yet constant sales.
When I first came here, Elliot Lurie said he thought the majority of sales would not be at retail. And I agreed with him, that it would be better if you had an 800-number, or if you sold through the Fox Movie Club, or went to Columbia House Record Club and did it that way. But as far as I know, that’s never been tapped into yet. Unless you have a title that’s as big as STAR WARS, people don’t want to do anything with it. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL isn’t in that position, or any of the other titles, because they’re reissues.
How many of these 7,500 sales do you expect to come from the soundtrack collectors?
I don’t think that worldwide there are more than 5,000 soundtrack fans. So all our additional sales will have to come from people who may just remember THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL or LAURA, or maybe Julie Andrews is their favorite singer. We could talk about sales for weeks on end, and it still comes down to the fact that there’s just a small group of people that are interested in film scores. And it’s my job really to accommodate those people at the minimum financial risk to Fox.
Will you have foreign translations for the international market?
BMG International wanted to offer translations on the covers, but that would be totally impractical. The best thing we could do would be to put a sticker on it with the foreign translation. I know they do this for videocassettes, but they don’t do it for any soundtrack albums that I know of.
Is distribution less of a problem here than it was at Bay Cities?
You’d think distribution would be better here, but I’m having exactly the same problems with BMG that I had with the independent distributors. They’ve got a lot of product out there, and a lot of product that’s selling well. And those guys are going to push what’s selling well. Crash Test Dummies and Brooks and Dunn are going up the chart, and many other artists are selling 75,000 copies a week. So they’re getting more attention than the lesser-selling releases. They’re not going to spend the time going into record stores and saying, “You’ve got to carry THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.”
When the STAR WARS box-set first came out, it was difficult to find in record stores. What happened?
I’m a very firm believer that people will go into a record store with the impulse to buy something, but if they can’t find it, they won’t go back a second time. That’s why it’s crucial to get soundtracks for new movies out the week the film opens. If you go to see the film on the weekend, you might go to the record store on the way home. If you can’t find it then, you won’t buy it later.
The STAR WARS box-set has managed to stay on the Billboard Classical Top Twenty for ten weeks in spite of some major distribution problems. The way it’s put together, the boxes are manufactured in one place, the CD’s in another, and the booklets in a third. When we sell out, everything has to somehow be collated. And right now the box-set can’t be found anywhere. It isn’t top priority, because Arista won 13 awards at the American Music Awards last night, seven for THE BODYGUARD. So which do you think they repressing and collating more of today? THE BODYGUARD, which will probably be the biggest-selling album of all time, or STAR WARS?
The box-set has been selling about 3,000 copies a week with very little advertising, and it’s already up to about 30,000. (As we go to press, sales are approaching 50,000 units). Since it’s a four-CD box, the way they figure it, that means it’s sold about 120,000, which is quite good. If we sell 125,000 sets, it’ll be a gold record with 500,000 sales. I’d like to get that and I think we should be able to. Right now we’re 8,000 units behind in orders. We shipped 11,000 over Christmas, and those 11,000 were gone in the blink of an eye. It wasn’t back in stock until the 10th or the 11th of January, and that was a huge period to be out of stock because it was right between Christmas and New Year’s.
Arista spent $10,000 advertising The Classic Series in ‘Entertainment Weeldy,’ and that reached an audience of 5 million people. But the very week the ad hit, you couldn’t find a single copy of The Classic Series anywhere in the country. Clive Davis’ art department did a very good job on the booklet and the presentation, but unless we can get the product out there and to the right market, it won’t have a chance of selling.
What’s involved in preparing the original audio sources for their transfer to disc?
Skip Lusk is the VP in charge of studio operations, and all post-production things that happen on the lot fall under his jurisdiction, so he is the person that I have to go to in order to get the elements.
GARDEN OF EVIL is an example of one of our most difficult jobs. And it’s unfortunate, because we have so many requests for GARDEN OF EVIL and I want to do it. They pulled the mag film and they found that it was in fairly good shape, although it had started to rot. If they waited too much longer it would be gone.
What these guys need in order to build the mag, as they call it, is maybe sixty boxes of music stems – just pieces of film that only have the music – all in different stages of decomposition. Now, in the case of all the CinemaScope mag stems in stereo, they were recorded on 6 tracks, so they have to find all 6 tracks per cue, and when they’ve found them, they have to be rebuilt and mixed to match the way it was in the film. So they pull them out and they think, “What’s this? This is X-5.” And they have to try to match it up with X-3.
To do that, they need a complex guide called the index file. There’s one for each film. In the case of GARDEN OF EVIL, they can’t find the index file, and without it, they don’t know how to put everything together. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle that nobody knows how to build. So that’s what caused GARDEN OF EVIL to be postponed.
LAURA, on the other hand, was easy to do because the nitrate optical had already been transferred, and there wasn’t much music. All I had to do was take the quarter-inch reels to Dan Hersch, who does my digital mastering, and have him transfer and monitor everything to digital. LAURA was relatively cheap to do and excluding re-use, it only cost three or four thousand dollars.
Any mag transfer is going to be much more difficult. Some guy here took the individual stems, following the index file, from JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. The index file told him how to build the music and he painstakingly put it all back together. It’s edited together like film, then it’s run through something called a magnatech, which is a machine that can play 35 millimeter magnetic film. And as it runs through the magnatech, they dub it onto 24-track analogue tape.
They’re not redubbing the picture, so they don’t put the cues in sequence. They’re merely picking up a box, seeing that this is one cue, building that cue out of the six-track stems, and using the magnatech to put it onto multi-track. Once it’s on analogue tape, every single cue that was written for the film will be there, including alternate takes and stuff that was not in the film.
I don’t supervise building the stems, and I couldn’t even if I wanted to, because it’s a union job and I can’t have anything to do with it. I also don’t know how to do it from a technical point-of-view. However, once it goes onto analogue tape, it’s in my domain, so then I take the 24-track, remix it back to a two-track master, and then give the two-track master to Danny to put the final touches on it.
Can you tell from looking at the film if it’s deteriorated too much to salvage?
You can get a sense of the quality of the sound very simply. If the smell doesn’t knock you over when you take the lid off the box, you’re probably okay. I’ve seen that stuff turn to powder. They take the lid off, the air hits it, and it’s literally like an effect from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. It just literally turns to powder, and you can’t get it through the machine once.
When they were trying to save THE EGYPTIAN, they were putting it through the magnatech, and it was flying apart, it was in bits. It was literally shredded as it went through, so if you didn’t get it in the first pass, there wasn’t a chance of doing it a second time. And they dropped 48% of it. So I’m faced with the possibility of releasing an abbreviated version of THE EGYPTIAN, which I have reservations about because I went through such a time with THE ROBE. People were calling and complaining about the fact that it wasn’t all there.
You also used Dan Hersch when you were at Bay Cities. What is it about him that you like?
Dan’s a really acerbic, cynical guy, and he’s fun to work with. He’s one of the best mastering engineers in the business. He’s got a great ear and he does everything well. He did all those beautiful Motown box-sets like the Hitsville USA series and the Smoky Robinson and Otis Redding boxes. I’ve never come across another engineer who’s as comfortable with orchestral music as he is with popular vocal music. And once you form a relationship with someone like that, it’s a bit like having a doctor. You don’t want to have another doctor, because then you’ve got to completely rebuild that relationship. I put him in my contract when I started here. I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t have to use another engineer.
Digital mastering is a funny kind of business, one that’s just come along in recent years. A digital mastering facility doesn’t look like any normal recording studio because it doesn’t record anything. It’s there simply to enhance the equalization – to expand the dynamic range of what has already been recorded.
What happens when you have a film that’s a classic and the music is great, but the sound quality is sub-standard?
I never want to drop below HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY and JANE EYRE. To me, JANE EYRE is actually worse. It has quite a bit of surface noise. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL was slightly ‘No-Noised’, again because it was a part of the compromise with Fox Video. They knew they were going to do a new slam-up laserdisc, so we did the laser transfer and the CD transfer on the same day. And therefore there was a little bit of noise-reduction employed.
Do you think you’ll have trouble appealing to an audience who might be turned off by less than state-of-the-art audio?
To Lukas Kendall’s followers (Film Score Monthly), the old stuff is a turn-off. Most of his readers who are under the age of 25 and grew up in the CD age, they’ve never had record players; they never listened to anything prior to STAR WARS. They probably don’t realize that music, just as a form of pleasurable listening, is actually something that should be divorced from the manner in which you listen to it.
I’m putting this music out because I feel it’s a part of film history that has to be addressed. It would be an awful shame if 25 years from now, you’re not going to be able to find anything of Alfred Newman’s and he became a forgotten person. That’s what will happen if you don’t do something now.
People discover things at their own pace and they come to things from different angles. It may be two generations from now that people will warm up to it and maybe it will come back in fashion in the year 2025. All we’re doing is laying the groundwork and saying it’s here if you’re interested.
If you remember when CD’s first came out in the mid-eighties, every label carried a disclaimer similar to what we’ve used on The Classic Series, because the imperfections of analogue tape are going to show up on CD. I went into more detail on THE ROBE because I wanted to explain why the crucifixion music wasn’t there.
I think the CD era has done a lot to damage music. The CD has taken people away from appreciating things that don’t sound perfect. You need to accept the sound as part of the game. Yet people who were not old enough to listen to music prior to the incarnation of the CD are not going to be able to accept that. They’re going to pass up things that they would like and that would be of great value to them, because they can’t get past something that doesn’t sound like it’s recorded in digital.
People call me complaining about hiss, like hiss is the worst possible thing they can imagine. Hiss, to me, means that real people played this music. The completely silent and sterile DDD format has an inhuman quality about it. Again, this feeling of people who don’t really care about the quality of the music – they only care about the quality of the sound. We could reduce the background hiss more, but that would be at the risk of losing that clear high-end. Danny and I don’t want to do that.
When you think about it, THE ROBE sounds much better on CD than it ever would have sounded in a theatre in 1953, because of the Academy curve and things like that – they would roll off the top of the sound.
One of the people who reviewed The Classic Series made a little bit of a meal about the noise. His reviews were very enthusiastic and positive, but he took time out to make sure to tell everyone that there was something screwy about the sound. If people dwell on those aspects, nobody will be encouraged to buy them. You’d think there’s something wrong with it rather than it’s great for something fifty years old. And 99% of it sounds remarkably good.
In fact, I think our only competition is Disney. When I was working on the first series, Disney put out SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. I bought it and thought, “We’re in trouble,” because I thought it sounded great. Then I read the liner notes and discovered they spent $40,000 getting it to sound like that, and I thought, “No, we’re ahead of the game, because there is not $40,000 worth of differential between them and us. There’s only about $2,000 worth of differential.”
It’s hard to believe you’ve been getting complaints, because these CD’s are superior to practically everything on the market of the same vintage. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL was astounding.
Even though the audio overall in the first batch was not bad, I still think we could improve it a bit. But you’re still dealing with 1940’s recordings, and no matter what we do, it won’t be good enough for some people. I’ve even had some people complain about THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. They’ve told me they’ve been waiting for it all their lives, and now that they’ve got it, they don’t like it. But again, I can’t be responsible for that. All I can do is try to make it available on disc in the best possible way we can.
Considering the number of Goldsmith fanatics out there, I was surprised by the lack of a Goldsmith score in your first batch…
We know that genre stuff is going to sell better than average. Anything that is sci-fi or horror-related by someone you never heard of, or Bernard Herrmann, that’s always going to be better. I thought it was important to kick off the first batch with the older composers. I asked Jerry Goldsmith what he would like, because he’s so pernickety about what stuff of his comes out. He liked the idea of THE OTHER coupled with THE MEPHISTO WALTZ because they’re two of his favorites. They go together because he likes them and they go together because they’re both horror-oriented films. THE MEPHISTO WALTZ is violently atonal, and THE OTHER is fairly tonal. So it shows the yin and the yang of what he was experimenting with in those days.
Many Jerry Goldsmith fans love his tonal material but they complain that they can’t take his atonal works. Bay Cities’ LOGAN’S RUN sold about 7,000 copies, while COMA sold about 4,500, which was still decent for a reissue. COMA works very well in that film, and it’s a very nice Schönbergian sort of score. Again, to reject something purely because you don’t understand it is something I always have a problem with.
I wish I could have done something for Hugo Friedhofer, but apparently almost all of Friedhofer’s mag stuff is defunct, except THE SUN ALSO RISES which we could do, but that’s on four-track.
My pet project at the moment is to completely reconstruct THE SOUND OF MUSIC. The laserdisc and CD presently on the market are terrible. The original analogue tape that was recorded from film was used for the 1965 LP release, and another set of tapes was probably duped from that, which brought it down a level in quality. And over the years, they’ve done that so many times that when you get to what RCA has now, it’s probably ten generations away from the original. We’re going to go back and reconstruct the score from the original mag stems.
I can justify THE SOUND OF MUSIC across the board, because until STAR WARS, it was the biggest movie hit of all time… Everybody hates the CD, and everybody wants to have the incidental music and the instrumental bridges to the songs. But even though it’s a popular film, it’ll still be going primarily to the collector audience: the people who know what you’ve done is different from what’s already out there.
Fox Video is going to release new transfers on videocassette of all their musicals, including STATE FAIR. The 1945 STATE FAIR never had a soundtrack album – it was only released as a bootleg – so we’ll be giving it an official release. We’re going to do SOUTH PACIFIC, too.
Will you continue to release one or two scores per CD, or will you offer more compilations in the future?
Part of the problem is that within the limited soundtrack market, there are these different groups of people. There are those who only want things that are complete. Then there are those who basically don’t want to listen to anything that’s over five years old. And there are people who would listen to anything if it was on acetates – they don’t care what they get. What I don’t want to do is a compilation album in the old sense of the word, where you have fifteen different films and you listen to only two to three minutes of each individual one.
A lot of 20th Century Fox albums are in great demand and sell for vast amounts of money: DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, BARBARIAN & THE GEISHA, ROOTS OF HEAVEN, and INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS, to name a few. Will you go into reissues at all?
I’d like to put out some of the Jerry Goldsmith stuff, but we can’t get that because of Polygram. Polygram owns all of the old Fox catalog, and I don’t think they’re going to be licensing anything to us. However, Jerry is going to be doing some film music re-recordings for Fox, but of what, I have no idea. Probably some compilation albums of his and other people’s material.
They’ll have to make more money on these than they do on The Classic Series, because they’ll be hiring an orchestra. Whether they’re going to market them differently, I don’t know.
Is The Classic Series tied in with any preservation program that Fox might have?
Because Fox Records is a new division of 20th Century Fox, right now it has to stand or fallon what products it has that make money, not on what we do on archival preservation.
All of the music at Fox is in proper archives, and they’re spread all over the lot. In addition, much of it is in Kansas City. They have all the stuff from pre-1952 that’s been transferred from the original nitrate optical onto quarter-inch tape. The mag stuff, however, is in jeopardy, because it’s crumbling. Like THE ROBE. THE ROBE is gone now. It’s in the dumpster, because it cannot be salvaged.
Ten years ago, the post-production department undertook the nitrate optical preservation program because it was a fire hazard, so they transferred the nitrate optical to quarter-inch tape, and they threw the nitrate optical away. There are many, many reels of that. ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM, for example, along with THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR, are now one generation away from the original source, because the film doesn’t exist anymore. But the quarter-inch transfers do, and they’re a lot better than JANE EYRE. They’re comparable to STORMY WEATHER, which came from nitrate.
I don’t know whether the line is drawn about what is archived and what isn’t. When they found THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, it had never been transferred to quarter-inch tape and was lying in a box, buried under some flotsam. It had been there for 35 years, but it still played pretty well.
If I were to try to preserve something purely on the basis that Fox records wants to put out a CD and has to pay for all the costs, there’s no way in hell we could recover those expenses from the sale of the CD. And Elliot Lurie can’t afford to lose the money out of his budget.
The divisions here work like a medieval fiefdom, where each division guards its annual budget fearlessly and has to be seen to be making more money than the others. So they’re not going to give you any breaks, because if you take away from their budget and go south, they’ve lost that money and they have to try to make up the difference in other areas.
One of the ways that Skip Lusk has been very cooperative with me is that he has mentioned to the particular division of executives that he reports to, that he wants to do a preservation program for Fox. I’ve been trying to make a case that with the forthcoming HDTV and wide-screen television, where the resolution of the picture is going to be much greater, the audio should match it. What’s the good of having the picture if the sound sucks?
So, they’re saying, “Good idea. Why don’t we preserve as much as we can, transfer it all onto 24-track, and then you can remix it from there?” So if we pay half the cost and we can get another division – Skip’s division – to pay for the other half, then it becomes a studio asset that’s in both our interests to keep. So you have to unite several divisions that don’t want to be united into cooperating on this general “let’s keep the studio assets in one piece” kind of program.
So I was able to bill Fox Video for half of the transferring costs of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, because they’re doing the laserdisc. Again, with THE SOUND OF MUSIC, Fox Video will pick up half the tab because they’re going to be utilizing it. The other way that laserdiscs help us is that Fox Video wanted FOREVER AMBER to be released for the first time on videodisc this October, so they said, “If we go back and rebuild the nitrate optical and do a THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL job on it, we can split the costs.” So not only does Fox Video get a new transfer for their videodisc audio rack, but David Raksin will get a CD of FOREVER AMBER.
Video two-packing is also becoming more and more popular, which means having the CD or cassette available with the videocassette. For example, when THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL laserdisc comes out later this year, it’ll contain the CD. While that doesn’t count as a “sale” for us, it does help Fox Records in a very practical way, because those will never be returned to us.
The AFM (American Federation of Musicians) re-use fee has stymied many a soundtrack label from releasing certain scores. How do you deal with the AFM at Fox? Do you choose a score with few surviving musicians, or does the money go to their estate? I find it hard to believe there’s actually a list of every musician who played on every score…
It’s not in my purview to deal with the re-use fee. That’s done by business affairs. They worked out a deal which we thought was ultimately equitable, but then after the first batch came out, the AFM sent a letter to Matt Walden saying, “Don’t forget that this deal was only for the first six. If you want to do any more, it will be a whole new renegotiation.” So they don’t cut you any slack. It’s a shame.
I don’t think there’s a list of who played on all these scores, and this is a very touchy subject. Louis Kaufman played on several of the things that I’ve put out so far. He’s even the principal violinist on THE MEPHISTO WALTZ, from 1971. If Louis Kaufman was waiting for his check, I fear he was waiting and waiting. And I don’t think his estate will be seeing any of it, either. I think it’ll go into some kind of slush fund and that’ll be the end of it. It’s a joke. They won’t let us have it for free, so we have to pay something.
I heard it through the grapevine that there’s some new proposal for new releases. They’re now coming up with what people have been asking them to do for years, and that’s to have a ceiling: a sales platform.
So with a release like Bay Cities’ MISERY, instead of having to fork out the entire $52,000, which is what it cost, we’d only be giving them about $10,000 up front. And when we’ve sold 1,000 copies we’d give them another $5,000, and when 20,000 copies were sold, we’d give them a bit more. It seems fair.
Of course, most soundtracks aren’t going to sell that many. Bay Cities usually sold three or four thousand copies of every issue. Even for a major label, like Giant Records or Big Screen, the average sales figure for an instrumental score is 12,000-15,000. Very few sell above that. And 12,000 copies is not normally enough to get you out of the re-use hole, so they might be losing a bit of money on their releases.
The actual cost of putting out the first batch of The Classic Series was negligible except for the re-use, which is a significant amount of money. If the AFM would roll over, we could really be quite courageous about what we released.
Could anyone ever sue the soundtrack labels that put out limited-edition releases for the collector, but don’t pay the re-use fee?
There is a chance that one of these companies could get sued. However, I think the following would have to happen: You would have to take the soundtrack disc to the head of business affairs at the studio who owns the film. You’d have to put it on his desk in front of him and say, “This is an illegal release of one of your pictures.” He would say, “I’ve never heard of this movie.” You would then say something like, “It’s one of your studio’s most famous films.” He would then reply, “And what is this?” And you’d respond, “It’s the music from the film.” He would then say, “Well, who’s done it?” You would say, “It was done by such-and-such a company,” and he would then say, “What’s their telephone number?” You would then give him the telephone number. And if he got a busy signal, that would be the end of it. The bottom line is, nobody cares about film music. It’s sad but true.
What was it that ultimately caused Bay Cities’ demise?
I’ll give you a nutshell answer about Bay Cities. We had four people involved in a company, and we had different ideas about how things should be done. We were dealing with rampant ego problems. Also, the person who was running the business side of Bay Cities didn’t want to be in the recording business – he was a film producer. He didn’t like records, and he didn’t want to be doing recording contracts.
My perception of Bay Cities was that you had an identity problem. People were unwilling to take a chance on you because you were all over the board regarding your releases.
Bruce Kimmel was a talented guy, but he’s your archetypal “I’ve got to have it” collector who’s in Tower Records every Tuesday as soon as they open, and he’s scooping all the new releases up. He’s in soundtracks; he’s in Broadway shows, in jazz, in classical. He’s a consumer of music, as I am. But this is not the way to run a record company. You can’t say that because I go into Tower Records and buy twenty albums every week, that the average person is going to buy even one or two records a week. If thirty new soundtrack CD’s come out every Tuesday, your average person is going to buy one or two and say, “I don’t need the other twenty-eight and I can’t even afford to purchase them.”
Bay Cities was all over the board because of Bruce’s very wide-ranging musical interest. He had good musical taste, but not much of a business sense. If we had released THE BODYGUARD, it would have sold 2,000 copies.
How did you handle promotion and distribution at Bay Cities?
There was never any budget for promotion. Bay Cities did not flounder because it ran out of money or because we lost money on projects. We did 93 albums in four years, which is a lot of albums. But what happened was that we didn’t ever service any of those albums. It was as if we created 93 bastards. We had these poor orphans that were cast out into the storm. Bruce and I would kill ourselves getting these records made, and then what? They’d come out and nothing would ever happen. And then we’d immediately be trying to get the next one out. It just doesn’t work like that.
We were always very generous with promo copies, and we’d send out hundreds of free copies, because we felt that would get Bay Cities’ name around so more people would know about us. I always used to joke that we gave away more copies than we sold.
Bay Cities had four different distributors over the course of its life. First we had Koch, then Albany, then Landmark, and then Koch again. For some reason they pulled the plug from Koch and went to Albany because they felt Koch wasn’t doing enough with the classical titles. Bearing in mind that Albany had no idea of what to do with the soundtrack or show releases or anything like that…
And then we got MISERY, we asked Albany to solicit pre-orders, and they told us they had sold 93 copies. That’s how many orders they were able to get! At that point I decided we’d have to find another distributor. So I just picked a Wherehouse Records store out of the phone book, and I asked the buyer of soundtracks, “If I wanted to be in your store, who should I have distribute me?” And he said to call a company called Landmark, which is a kind of boutique company that does soundtracks, hip-hop records, rap, and all that stuff. So I called the guy at Landmark, and he said, “I know all about Bay Cities. You’re a great label and I’d love to distribute you.”
And he came right over to our office and the deal was done in about twenty minutes. He really helped as far as MISERY was concerned, because suddenly it went from 93 orders up to about 12,000, which was basically enough to get Bay Cities out of the hole we were in. If we’d stayed with Albany, Bay Cities would have ended in 1990.
So we stayed with Landmark, but the nature of the business is that no one is ever satisfied. It doesn’t matter how successful you are or how popular you are, if your agent is doing a good job or whether he isn’t, you always want more out of the person, So the pressure was put on Landmark to do more and more. And Bay Cities eventually went back to Koch. (Postscript: In early 1994, Landmark went out of business).
The other major problem Bay Cities faced was that we were always under siege from other labels. I could bore you with stories about how they tried from Day One to put us out of business. It’s a thinking I can’t understand. Why would anyone bother?
If another label found out that we were going after something, they would call whoever owned the music and say, “Whatever Bay Cities offers you, we’ll give you three times as much.” This happened time after time. I originally made a deal with Arista where we were going to put out CASINO ROYALE, THE FURY and 1941, and I only got 1941. On the very day we signed the contract with Arista, an offer was made to try to get 1941, too. MISERY was a nightmare for the same reason. Every day Castle Rock was besieged with calls trying to take the deal away from us. And we’re not the only label that these things happened to.
So to get away from these problems, because we were getting beaten up on soundtracks a lot, we had to get into other areas that we weren’t getting beaten up on. And once we got in those areas, we felt obligated to stay there because we were making lots of contacts.
We started getting more diversified doing pop records. We did ‘What might Be’, a Mare Winningham record. I fought hard for that because I thought she was great and I thought the record was terrific. But we couldn’t get the record going because we had no ways or means to reach the kind of radio stations we should have been able to reach.
And gradually we began to have too many releases. 93 albums in four years was too many. That’s a problem with some of the other soundtrack labels. They’re just a kind of factory for putting out as many soundtracks as they can. They don’t seem to be in it for the music.
Bay Cities had a lot going for it. We were the only independent label to get a Stephen Sondheim record. We had A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM. Bruce used that to create a relationship with Sondheim, which has enabled him, now at Varese Sarabande, to produce a record of Sondheim rarities, entitled Unsung Sondheim, which I gather has done quite well. We had the support of people like Sondheim in the show area, and we did several new shows, including EATING RAOUL. I did albums of new film composers like Daniel Licht and Marc Shaiman. We released Richard Gibbs’ first record, BINGO. A lot of people got their break through Bay Cities.
It was a shame what happened to Bay Cities, but it did not have the capability of being a long-term thing. It began as a hobby for three people who had other things to do. During the course of those years, Bruce produced at least two TV series. Alain Silver produced a couple of movies. I was involved in about twenty other projects. We were doing Bay Cities in our spare time. That’s not really a way to run a company. We got to be too big to be a small label, yet we were not able to make the jump to being a bigger label, because nobody really wanted to.
We lacked the unity and direction that companies need to survive. Bay Cities was like a pop group with four very different personalities, who all wanted to be solo acts.
You mentioned other soundtrack labels becoming music factories. What has caused this glut of soundtrack recordings, with labels producing what I feel are, in many cases, inferior recordings? Is anyone buying this mass of product?
When you go into Tower Records, the soundtrack bin is about a mile long. Whereas only five years ago it was only two feet long. There are now bad soundtrack albums to almost every film made. A third-rate horror film released by Cannon now has a soundtrack album. Why? Who’s buying them? I don’t think anybody. And I believe that not only is nobody buying them, but they have a diminishing effect on people who might be interested in good film music. You’re overwhelmed when you go into a record store and you can’t make a choice.
A lot of these compilations we’re getting from overseas are embarrassing. I happen to think that the new series of edel and Silva Screen recordings of the past couple of years are setting film music back – in terms of wrong notes alone. Have you listened to the Pragueian version of STAR WARS? And there’s that Marco Polo version of REBECCA. You only have to listen to the Selznick International logo on that disc to know it’s terrible.
One of the edel compilations used a track from THE WILD BUNCH, but they picked the one cue in the Fielding score that Jerry didn’t compose – that was a traditional Mexican folk tune. And besides that, it’s played abominably. Camille Fielding feels so strongly about these discs and she doesn’t like any re-recordings of her husband’s music. When you factor in the nostalgia avenue, re-recordings just don’t suffice. I recently went out and bought the THUNDERBIRDS laserdisc because I loved the THUNDERBIRDS puppet show when I was a kid. Here I am, a grown man buying THUNDERBIRDS on laserdisc! Why else would I be watching a THUNDERBIRDS film other than pure nostalgia?
You want to go back to when you were a child and you didn’t have any worries about things like studio executives. When everything was simple and nice. To me, film music is very much that. It’s absolute nostalgia, pure and simple. So a re-recording of it would be worthless to me, personally.
I guess people buy them to get previously-unreleased music, such as THE ILLUSTRATED MAN.
If you want to hear what THE ILLUSTRATED MAN really sounds like, I have a tape with the original tracks. I also have the original tracks to BLACK SUNDAY on cassette, and when a recent John Williams CD was released, which contained a suite from BLACK SUNDAY, I bought it. You listen to it, and you think, what did I buy this for? It sounds like a caterwauling. It sounds like an orchestra which has ten different conductors all in different parts of the room, all going at different speeds.
They’re actually taking ignorance to a new level. And ironically, younger fans will think it’s better than THE ROBE because it sounds audiophilish. And yet the pacing and performances on these discs are awful. The film music market is not big enough to support these kinds of calamities. I fear it will have a negative impact on soundtrack sales in general.
What do you think the future holds for you and Fox Records?
Who knows! There are a lot of things available that we could put out on compact disc in a perfect Universe. The amount of material is staggering. You could put out, without any difficulty, two or three hundred CD’s. The question is, will we ever get to the next batch, let alone two or three hundred?
My contract’s only on a project-by-project, batch-by-batch basis. I’ve lived my whole life without really knowing what’s going to happen next Tuesday. If I were to know exactly what’s going to happen next Tuesday, and the Tuesday after that, it might cause me some anxiety. There are two scary things in the world. One is being unemployed, and the other is being employed. Both are equally frightening.