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Universal Music Publishing's Phil Canning on the challenges of music supervising for film

Phil Canning is the Creative Manager for Film at Universal Music Publishing and a nominee for this year's Music Week Sync Awards in the music supervising for film category. His career has seen him release albums for Aphex Twin, Grizzly Bear and Vincent Gallo and perform music supervising duties on feature films such as Four Lions, Submarine, Berberian Sound Studio, I Am Not A Witch and many, many more. Here, Phil talks Mandy News through his latest project Skate Kitchen and the life of a music supervisor.

15th October 2018
/ By James Collins

film music supervisor phil canning universal music publishing PHILCANNING

How did you get become a music supervisor? Where did your interest in music and film come from?
I worked for many years for the amazing, progressive record label Warp, who release so many incredible, alternative artists with cinematic leanings. The label then started the film company, Warp Films, and I began helping arrange music on their movies. I was in a good position to help, having built up many friends and contacts at labels/publishers over a few years, and some directors were involved in videos for the label releases. The magical musical moments within a film are an endless source of inspiration.


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How did you get involved with Skate Kitchen?
I’m working with one of the producers of Skate Kitchen on an upcoming documentary about Chelsea Manning, and after connecting with the director, Crystal Moselle, and her story, I knew it would be a brilliant, music-heavy project that would be great to be part of. Each of the producers are working on a number of amazing projects and I trust them to make great things


There is a lot of music in the film and a lot of different styles/genres. What was your approach to the music placement in the film and, how much time did you have?
Much of the music is what the girls were actually listening to at the time, last year, as they were going through similar situations to the ones in the film itself. So I could supply a lot of music similar to their requests. Often it’s a case of replacing something that is not clearable for either cost or another legal reason, but also I shared several new interesting artists that I thought the team would like. 

The whole process took over a year, from the in-camera pre-shoot music decisions, to Interscope Records coming on board and finalising more music for the album. There were a few cues that changed many times, plus some begging to do, getting labels to agree to be involved for more artistic benefit, than financial.


What makes a good music supervisor?
Obviously being able to understand, articulate and then realise the directors vision is the most important thing, plus having an extensive knowledge of not just a variety of music, but also how music affects the scene. However, its also essential to be organised, focussed and impartial. There is usually plenty of paperwork, chasing around & detective work, and losing sight of that can be fatal. 

The creative side of the job is fantastic but attention to detail and experience with various catalogues and rights holders is ever more handy, I find.


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What are you currently working on, that you are allowed to tell us about?
An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn (Jim Hosking) is a hilarious trip, starring Aubrey Plaza and Jemaine Clement, about to come out in the US. Possum (Matt Holness) is a brilliant and bleak supernatural horror film, out October 26 and featuring a score by the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop. I’m supervising on an epic documentary about large scale installation artist Christo, called Walking On Water (Andrey Paounov) which features music by Steve Reich, Carl Orff and Daft Punk! 

I have helped on the new film by Kim Nguyen The Hummingbird Project about greedy Wall Street high frequency traders, starring Alexander Skarsgård, Jesse Eisenberg and Salma Hayek – playing at the London Film Festival this week. Finally, a film that is also keeping me busy is Make Up, the dark debut of Claire Oakley, a psychological thriller set on a caravan park in Cornwall.


What advice do you have for anyone thinking of becoming a music supervisor?
Study films and music as much as possible, and consider how each piece of music is helping to shape the scene. Offer to help with film maker friends that will inevitably need music (and budget), even though they claim not to. Short films are a good place to start helping, and look into bodies such as the BFI and their many programmes for upcoming directors/producers that could need assistance. Watch Good Time by the Safdie Brothers.

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