From ‘Hey Jude’ to ‘Speak Now,’ Music Supervisor Randall Poster Breaks Down Movie Song Choices

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Jazz Tangcay
·6 min read
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Two-time Grammy winner Randall Poster has served as music supervisor on more than 180 films and TV shows over 25 years, providing audiences with countless memorable moments.

Cultivating close relationships with directors and producers, he works to meld creativity with business, securing rights to license the music
audiences hear.

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Late last year, Poster saw the music supervision company he founded in 2004, Search Party, merge with Josh Deutsch’s Premier Music Group, with Poster assuming the role of Premier’s creative director.

Listening to songs that were written and performed before he was born, and watching them come to life on 1973’s “American Graffiti,” suggested to Poster a way to lure people into another era. “I felt the music put me in that place,” he says. “At that age, I wasn’t familiar with those period pieces, and it allowed me to time travel.”

Below, Poster reveals the story behind some of his iconic needle drops:

“That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra for Todd Phillips’ “Joker”

“In the best scenarios, I get to work very closely with the director, and while I have influence, I bring certain specific pieces of music or a broader collection of songs. It’s really the director who ultimately gets to make the decision. Todd had a very strong sense to use music as a counterpoint, and it was his comedic instinct that brought us to certain pieces of music, such as this.”

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles for Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums”

“In decades past, the Beatles were very difficult to license. They hadn’t licensed a song for a movie for decades, and we wanted to use two of them [‘Hey Jude’ and ‘I’m Looking Through You’]. At that time, you had to present your request to a board of directors who’d vote on it.

It was a complicated process. We had gotten support in ‘Rushmore’ from Yoko Ono. We showed [‘Royal Tenenbaums’] to Paul McCartney, and he said he would approve it. Unfortunately, George Harrison got sick and passed away. Once George passed, the word came back that there would be no movement for some time. So we created our version of ‘Hey Jude’ with Mark Mothersbaugh.

The Beatles are like kryptonite. Those songs are so embedded in people’s minds and so powerful, I think they draw you away from the movie rather than pull you in. I thought that we made a really great adjustment.”

“Life on Mars” by David Bowie for Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”

“Todd [Haynes] had wanted to use a lot of David Bowie music in ‘Velvet Goldmine.’ We had been talking to [Bowie’s reps] about it, and a few weeks before we started shooting, we got word that David Bowie apologetically said, ‘I can’t license this music to you because I have a Ziggy Stardust project in mind that I want to do.’

Jump to years later, and Wes was living in New York. He let me read the pages from the script of [‘Life Aquatic’]. There was one line that said, ‘Pelé comes on deck and plays a David Bowie song in Portuguese.’ We connected with Seu Jorge [who plays Pelé] and he had the musical genius to make these Bowie songs bossa nova, and Wes had the foresight to place them in all the various places he put the songs in the movie. That was born out of a single sentence in the script. It was such an elevating process in working with Seu because he had to teach himself the song.

We showed David Bowie the movie and sent him the soundtrack. He loved the fact that the songs became something else.”

“Speak Now” by Sam Ashworth for Regina King’s “One Night in Miami”

“My friend and producer Jody Klein asked me to work on the film. The notion was to create a song for the end of the movie. Leslie Odom Jr. [who plays Sam Cooke] had worked with Sam Ashworth previously, and we searched for a collaborator. It was Jody Gerson, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group, who was Sam’s advocate.

‘Speak Now’ is such a compelling song that fits the movie. It’s a period piece and you have this original song, but I feel they captured the spirit and emotion of the movie. It doesn’t feel contrived. It feels organic to the movie.”

Poster’s first project was as writer and producer of 1990’s “A Matter of Degrees,” which follows a student working at a college radio station who becomes disaffected with Reagan-era policies suppressing the liberal spirit of the ’60s. Also collecting the songs for the film, he realized he wanted to make music his focus. He felt it would be a way “to work with great directors.”

Here are some of his most frequent collaborators:

Wes Anderson

“With Wes, a lot of the work gets done between the movies. He’s going to start shooting a new movie in late spring/early summer. We are going back and forth about songs, about worlds of music and influences on the music that we’re talking about. There are projects where Wes has a very clear idea about what he wants to do, and there are others where we have had to build and discover. It doesn’t work the same way on every movie.”

Todd Haynes

“I primarily work with Todd on his music-driven films, and he has the Peggy Lee story in the works. Todd’s scripts read like an architectural blueprint. They are very precise, to the point that he will time out a shot to go along with a specific sequence. He does a lot of research and is open to collaboration. We had a lot of fun doing ‘Velvet Goldmine’ and ‘I’m Not There’ because we recorded a lot of new music, and it’s always fun to work with great musicians.”

Richard Linklater

“I talked to him the other day about a movie that we’re going to work on together. With him,I would say ‘School of Rock’ was a lot of fun. This band the Mooney Suzuki wrote the [title track] that the [school] band plays, and the audience had to think, ‘That’s really a great song.’
I was with a friend and we went to their rehearsal space, which was in a storage locker in Newark, New Jersey. And they wrote such a great song. It was very satisfying to deliver that.”

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