Chris Mollere has supervised many television shows including Kyle XY, 10 Things I Hate About You, Pretty Little Liars and Vampire Diaries. His films include The Box, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, and War Games (The Dead Code). He’s interviewed by our Director of Creative Operations Julius Robinson.

Julius Robinson: Hey Chris, so can you give me a quick wrap up on what your latest projects and/or credits are?

Chris Mollere: Sure, currently I’m working on the Vampire Diaries for the CW, Pretty Little Liars for ABC Family, a couple movies in the works that we’re prepping on, but currently just those two TV shows are the big things I’m focusing on.

JR: What is your favorite moment in the process of music supervising? Do you think it’s going through the script, is it the editing, licensing, the premiere? At what point do you say, “This is cool!”

CM: That’s an easy question. My favorite part definitely is taking the episode, working with the editors to find the right songs to work into the shows. Sometimes that is pre-production, sometimes that’s during post-production. Sometimes we have on-camera music that we need to arrange before the shoot. But I think working with picture in post-production is definitely my favorite part, because it’s sitting there on your own and editing music to picture to try
to make it work as perfectly as possible.

JR: What do you find are the differences between working on a comedy or drama, whether it be TV or film — do you find a difference in what the music requirements are for those kind of shows?

CM: TV is so quick that you have to find stuff at a quicker pace. Then you have the different kinds of genres for TV whether it be a drama, dramedy, comedy etc. But it seems like there is one common theme on a lot of the shows, especially for the shows I’ve worked on. We’re trying to keep the heart in it. Also it seems like every show I’ve worked on is a very musically driven. I don’t know if that’s one of those things I’m known for, or just the projects that I have happened to work on.

JR: It seems lately that music — especially in TV — has become as important as any character in the show.

CM: Yeah definitely — even on Vampire Diaries. I feel like we’ve added music as an additional character in addition to the cast. We’ve used music to kind of tell a story whether it be a big break up, a big first kiss, a moment that two people are sharing or when a character has a new revelation. We’re trying to intertwine and make it work hand-in-hand with the score. It’s a challenge and I think we’ve succeeded pretty well with that.

JR: Can you explain how you had to find the right song for a score? That’s an interesting point, how those two fit together.

CM: You don’t want songs that stick out so much. “Oh they just pushed this one in there.” We try to make it feel organic so it’s not as noticeable, so it’s accentuating and not overtaking the score.

JR: How do you deal with a champagne music taste on a beer budget? How do you serve the film without going breaking the bank?

CM: Well there is good champagne out there that isn’t that expensive!

JR: Oh really are you finding champagne is more affordable now a days?

CM: I think so, ha! There are many great artists out there who aren’t on the major labels — making it more possible. There are plenty of artists I’ve worked with whether through or other high quality catalogs. There are great ones still on major labels, but there are also a bunch that were signed who decided to take their own path. So, I’ve had very small budgets that are challenges to make work, and I’ve had decent budgets that are fun to play with. But at the end of the day you just make do, figure out what you need to make it happen. From there, you just get the best music as possible for working on that project.

JR: Right, so how do you tell a director or producer they can’t afford what they say they must have?

CM: When they tell you the budget, probably the best thing you can do is just be as involved as possible from the beginning. That way when we’re going through the process, I’m giving them options for music that could work, music that they might not know about. ‘Oh this is awesome, what is this? This is cool.’ You don’t get into the whole situation of ‘Oh we put Led Zepplin in and we can’t afford that.’ Or a song quote is maybe denied or not approved in the timeline we have. You just try to be as proactive and aggressive as possible to get what they want to fulfill their musical visions for the project. You’re trying to get stuff in there that they want, and that pushes the boundaries. It’s just part of the job. It’s trying to find what we can’t live without — and what can we change out, and then going after everything as hard as I can.

JR: Are you finding that the major publishers and record labels are willing to deal a lot more especially with TV because the exposure is so good for their artists?

CM: Yeah, I think they’re more open minded now, because it used to be here is a set of rules — if you can’t afford this, then we’re not even going to talk anymore about it. These companies are looking more and more on a case-by-case basis. They are looking at it project by project instead of ‘Oh this is a TV show so it’s doing this.’ What’s the music budget, what kind of ratings is it getting, what’s it airing on. Honestly it just takes having a conversation or two to get people to understand exactly what the project is, and also getting them excited about it. If it is something that gets them and the artist an opportunity to get a little bit more exposure, it’s good for everybody.

JR: The impact of being on some of these shows, that’s got to factor in and help you as a supervisor.

CM: It definitely does. Our goal is to get the best music we can for our show, or movie or whatever. But at the same time we love music to be something more, something bigger, where the artists are getting good exposure because artists are kind enough to allow us to feature their music. I’m happy to do whatever I can to try and get them get as much exposure as possible out of it. That includes twittering after episodes air on the West Coast, to shooting out a list of songs, to doing whatever possible to make sure fans know. The CW, ABC Family, and ABC websites have put up lists of songs aired. Things have definitely changed, record sales aren’t what they used to be and people are selling more singles now than they are albums. So I’ve seen artists that have sold 5,000 units throughout their career, and then a couple weeks after they air on one of the TV shows, sell 20-30,000 downloads of one of their songs. It’s awesome. That’s my goal you know — I started as a music fan and musician first — so seeing that happen and to be able to help in the process is exactly what I love to see happen. It’s the ideal situation.

JR: Are you seeing more step deals, and are some of these major labels willing to do a step deal for a lower budget production or even a TV series?

CM: Most of the TV studios are actually starting their shows off at five to six year rights, with bumps for the different media. They start off at five years TV only, and then they move into more options. This used to predominantly be done with films. Twenty-five years ago a TV show like WKRP had so much music in it, but you could never imagine somebody would want to buy a DVD set. Nobody knew what a DVD was. Now we have new online downloading and new technologies that make these episodes live on for eternity. So it’s been interesting to see how they have tried to utilize the step-deal structure so they can to get the show going. But once it’s going to stick around, they switch it over to the AMXT in perpetuity, which is all media excluding theatrical.

JR: I’d love if you could get specific on this question, and give me a specific example. You can leave out some of the names if you think it’s too embarrassing, but what was your biggest nightmare as a music supervisor? The one time you went “Oh my God am I going to live through this?”

CM: We did an on-camera performance on one of my shows, a UK band, really cool guys, great music. Got them to the set and everything like that, except nobody had checked their visas to make sure they were valid. They didn’t have their work visas completed yet, so they were unable to perform on set. So we called legal and they came down, and made them sign something.

JR: Oh wow, so what happened, were they able to do the on camera? Or did you have to replace them?

CM: We actually had some extras that we’d just put up on stage mimic them. They signed away likeness rights.

JR: That’s a great story, that’s insane. So the moral of the story is check your work visas.

CM: It wasn’t not my job to check the work visas, but it is now. Now it’s one of the first things I ask for — drivers license, passport for US citizens or work visas etc. At that particular studio, now that’s one of the first things they do if they do an on-camera with musicians.

JR: Good tip, and on the reverse side, what is the one gig where you just stood back and thought this is amazing, the music works brilliantly, everyone is high fiving each other — do you have one of those to talk about?

CM: I would say Vampire Diaries is the most recent one where we’re all ecstatic
about the music. But we’ve also worked very hard on the music too. It’s one of those things where we push ourselves until the mix is done. Until we’re on the stage and we finish the mix, the music search continues because we still want to up the level of the show as much as possible. That’s how strongly everyone feels about it. We all go that extra mile to try and make it as good as possible. On Vampire Diaries, whether it is a PA up to the creators of Julie and Kevin, every person is busting their ass to make it that much better. And Pretty Little Liars, we are very proud of that one too. It had a great soundtrack after 10 episodes; it’s been cool to feature a bunch of up and coming artists, artists that haven’t really had much exposure. On Greek we got to feature great up and coming music too. There are a bunch of other shows that I’ve been fortunate enough to work on that have had a great musical identity, and we’re all very proud of and happy with the final product.

JR: Can you name a band or two that has come out of your shows that you feel like you’re really proud of, and you have played a small part in getting them out there?

CM: Florence and the Machine, Temper Trap, Airborne Toxic Event, I don’t know there are probably so many more. We hit them up and found them very early. We just dug the music and got them into the shows. I know we didn’t do it all ourselves, we just helped with the exposure. Maybe somebody working on another show saw it. Or maybe a fan saw them on TV and went to a live show and took two of their friends, and the next time brought more friends — and it just exponentially grows. Yeah I think there are some bands we’ve definitely helped along the way, in the process they’ve helped us a lot too by adding great music to the scenes we’re trying to accentuate.

JR: Great, what do you see as the future of music supervision and as a career, an occupation? What do you think is the future of that and the importance of that position?

CM: In TV shows, films, even trailers for big films, music is playing a vital part in telling the story. As the music industry is in the limbo trying to figure out what to do and how they’re going to sell records, how the major labels are going to stay in business, how the major publishers will make money, how the indie labels will make money, how the indie bands will survive and go on tour — I think the way it’s going to proceed is film/tv placements. Music supervision is going to be a very huge part of the music industry. It’s become more of a primary piece of the industry puzzle, compared to when it used to be more of a secondary piece. For music, film and TV is more of a primary source of income instead of secondary as it used to be. The supervisor will become even more of a music producer. With technology it’s become simpler to record a track. Basically music will start to be more tailor-made for these projects, by bigger and bigger artists. We still find those great songs that come out on records and that’s always great, but I think music for film/tv is going to become even more hands-on and even more unique to whatever project people are working on.

JR: In terms of music discovery I think film, TV and the internet have become as important, if not more, than radio.

CM: Yeah, and wait until Apple announces next week about the iCloud with four major labels signing on to stream music so you have it at your access without having to store it anywhere. That’s where people are going to be finding more music. “Oh I love that song” so go check it out, and from there click on who else would I like. I think even as a music fan it will become more interactive throughout.

JR: Do you think there should be an Academy Award for best music supervisor?

CM: Yes I definitely think so. Music plays such a vital part in films especially now. And what is the one thing people buy in addition to a movie ticket or DVD or BlueRay? it’s the soundtrack.