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Guest column - Recreating the sounds of The Stone Roses for new film Spike Island

Guest column - Recreating the sounds of The Stone Roses for new film Spike Island
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New movie Spike Island, which takes The Stone Roses‘ iconic 1990 gig as its backdrop, is set to screened as part of year’s BFI London Film Festival‘s Sonic series of music-inspired films.Ahead of three screenings next week (11, 13, 14 October – see BFI.org.uk/lff for details) the film’s musical supervisor Ian Neil has written us a guest column about his role and recreating the baggy era for the screen.

There is a misconception that a Music Supervisors role consists of picking some tunes, handing them to the film director and moving onto the next project. Nothing could be further from the truth!

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The role can be varied from film to film. From helping the director to select commercial recordings and negotiating the rights is probably the primary role in most cases. Assisting in finding and securing a score composer may also be one of your duties. Acquiring a commercial soundtrack is also part of the remit. Finally, handling all aspects of paperwork is the dull end of the role, but a key one.

Some of the key ingredients to be a successful music supervisor are: First and foremost you need a good knowledge and ideally experience of the music industry. You should also understand how the film industry works – the two work very differently. You need to be creative in finding music. The love and understanding how a piece of music works for and against a scene in a film. Knowing as much music from all eras and genres. Being able to research and find music from any walk of life. Estimating the costs of music whilst preparing and handling music budgets. Regular contact with all copyright holders, maintaining good relationships with them is also advisable. Without a strong understanding of music copyright and a degree of para-legal skills you will come unstuck. You need to be a solid negotiator understanding the value of music matched against the needs of a film co.

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Diplomacy and strong communication skills are a must, when working with editors, producers, directors, film financiers and music divisions. So all’n’all a bit of an all rounder is the ideal fit.

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My involvement with Spike Island started in October 2009. Fiona Neilson & Esther Douglas the producers of Spike Island contacted to discuss the script. They had secured some development money from the BFI and it was evident that without the music there would be no film and so in order to develop it further we needed to secure rights to The Stone Roses‘ music.

I then set about negotiating with the music publishers Imagem and Sony Music who controlled the recording rights. This process can be easy or difficult for numerous reasons. Firstly you need the writers/artists to like the project, how the music is to be used and then there is the issue of what it will cost. Fortunately, this was from memory a good negotiation in as much that we were lucky that the three above ingredients were all in our favour.

I had met the director Mat Whitecross in 2007 when we worked together on a Channel 4 TV series. Then by 2009 we were working together very closely on the Ian Dury film, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll which I was credited as music supervisor, executive producer and had a starring acting role (well for two seconds anyway!)

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It was not until 2011 the film actually went into production, by which time ironically I was working at Sony Music. The next phase was for the production company to find actors/musicians that were able to play the role of the band Shadowcaster. Then we had them tutored to play their instruments to a convincing degree so they looked good on camera, rehearse up in Manchester supply them with equipment, etc. As I was not able to be in Manchester to do this, I recruited another music supervisor called Iain Cooke who is based up North and he was key in helping the production put that element together.

In addition to all this we needed a film composer. I had introduced Mat to one of the best UK film composers Ilan Eshkeri and his music producer Steve McLaughlin when we worked on S&D&R&R – as we needed some help in the final stages with the score on that film. A friendship was formed and Mat asked them to work on his next film, Ashes, where Ilan then brought another friend of ours Tim Wheeler from the band Ash to help with the score. They then both boarded Spike Island and co-wrote the songs for Shadowcaster along with the score.

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The post-production involved Rael Jones who was brought on as music editor. Iain Cooke and myself then went about helping Mat identify some other affordable source music from the period to go alongside the Stone Roses music.

So all in all this was very much a collaborative affair and bringing together skilled people and trusted friends new and old to help Mat, Fiona & Esther make this the film that it is. Great music, on budget and without too much compromise, which is always something one faces on low budget UK films. Needless to say we are all proud of the outcome.

It really makes you realise how important bands like the Stone Roses were, how they change lives and inspire young people to want to make music. Oh and last not least, the band reformed this year purely by chance so that was kind of handy! I can’t take claim for that though.

Ian Neil

For more, and full details of this year’s festival head to BFI.org.uk/lff.


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