Music Supervisor Gary Calamar
For most of us, music is a pleasant addition to our daily events, a concentrated expression of our own feelings and a pretty revealing source of information regarding our attitudes and individual tastes. The songs that fill up your iPod are very much a personal statement and they delineate a specific music genre or thematic that are you keen on, from goth rock and heavy metal to bubbly pop and acoustic folk, all the way through energizing and exciting tunes, as opposed to cute and soft love ballads.
There are, however, some people for whom music is more than just a pastime, who, unlike you or me, do not spend most of their lives between a couple dozen CD’s of their favorite bands. These people know as much about the music scene as we might now about our college major, if not more. With a keen eye for emerging artists, a sharp ear to survey all the different vibes and an educated mind that is the music industry’s equivalent of the Yellow Pages, these people make the best music supervisors. And, if you’ve ever felt the vampy sexiness of the atmosphere in True Blood or were awakened to a sad truth by the intricate cases of House M.D., then you know exactly what it’s all about.
Gary Calamar’s love affair with the effect of music in movies began at an early age in his hometown of New York via the sounds of West Side Story and continued in the country’s leading entertainment metropolis, L.A., where he acquired valuable expertise as a record store manager, witnessing the transfer of authority from vinyl to digital discs. After doing everything from attending gigs, hosting radio shows, making mixes and listening to every album right off the racks, in the late 90’s Gary tried his hand in the business of music supervision with the movie Varsity Blues. The movie was a box-office hit and so was the soundtrack, but this was only the beginning.
HBO has always been a source for some very out of the ordinary, but down right fascinating TV shows, and Six Feet Under was one of the sturdiest building blocks that created this reputation. The story of a family of undertakers and how they juggle their day to day lives among dead people and casket models, it quickly fired up the public’s attention with its quirkiness. Quirkiness, however, demanded a special musical accompaniment.
The All-Seeing Music Supervisor
For Six Feet Under, Gary Calamar, alongside fellow music placement expert Thomas Golubic and with the support of the show’s producer, Alan Ball, devised an emotional, insightful and symbolic soundtrack that probed the depths of the specific events in the characters’ lives and amplified the importance of the turning points that came along. Death Cab for Cutie, Interpol, The Arcade Fire and even Coldplay contributed to the eerie and airy feel of the dramas inside and outside the funeral home run by the Fisher family. The marriage between script and songs proved so fortunate that the two music supervisors were nominated for Grammy awards, as an acknowledgment of their merits.
Just when you’d think two Grammy nominations would justify keeping the same track that got him there in the first place, Mr. Calamar’s next big project was hardly a chip off the old Six Feet Under calm and soothing style. Another HBO production took the spotlight and, this time, he had to use some different tools from his wide-spanning music placement arsenal. “Entourage” was all about the rags to riches story of a young actor’s rise to Hollywood A-list status and the dynamics of his childhood friendships along this joy ride. For such a glamorous environment, some more flashy tunes were in order. A mix of rock and hip-hop, the show had a very urban and contemporary soundtrack, sporting the likes of Outkast, Jane’s Addiction, Mos Def or Slimm Thug, with a focus on money and fame, friends and foes. As it turns out, this particular music placement genius had more than one card up his sleeve.
The Icing On The Cake
Gary Calamar’s career as a music supervisor has been, throughout the following years, showered with projects, but what he’s currently working on is the best proof of his versatility and potential for outstanding placement. Dexter, House MD and True Blood are the tip of the iceberg.
If Dexter’s compelling midnight crime sprees are located in Miami and, thus, the music is accordingly attuned to the specific, intense Latin tunes, the light-hearted creations of Kinky, Eric Carmen or Beny Moré also help take the ease off the basic reality of the main character being a killer and pave the way for viewers to empathize with him.. On the other side of the map, there’s the intriguing, irregular and thought-provoking music line-up of House MD.
With its wisely chosen Massive Attack intro and comprehensive mix of rock and blues classics in the same melting pot as deep and soulful songs from Jeff Buckley or Bird York, the complex soundtrack provides an outlet for the implacable doctor’s emotions and a much needed seclusion, where he can do his thinking. Hailed as one of the best television show soundtracks in the business and benefiting from a talented and passionate music loving main actor and leading man- Greg House/Hugh Laurie plays several instruments and is inseparable from his iPod- it is mature and profound and never ceases to spark revelations into the public’s consciousness.
And then, there’s, of course, True Blood. In the post-Twilight vampire frenzy, this particular show stands out not only because it is realistic and more down-to-earth, but also due to its specific sound. In keeping with the spirit of the imaginary Louisiana town, Gary Calamar admits that “there’s a built-in sound to ‘True Blood’ because of the regionality”(Mary Colurso, ‘True Blood’ tunes provide HBO series with extra sustenance), as the shadowy bayou atmosphere is given by some amazing pieces of blues and Southern rock.
With the sexy guitar riffs and raunchy lyrics of the main theme “Bad Things” and equally slick participations from C.C. Adcock, Allen Toussaint or Dr. John, this soundtrack was bound to strike some chords. Although it’s not the epic vampire music one might expect, it has a more witty and subtle approach, with sensuous, bordering cheesy songs that charm their way into getting under your skin; the smooth sultriness that comes from them help make the vampires more humane, with less drama and pain and more action and attraction. The collaboration between Gary Calamar and Alan Ball is proving successful once more.
The Jukebox And Its Clones
The process of selecting the musical excerpts to fit each moment is as intricate as it is astounding. With the aid of his long history in the business, extensive range of incoming music samples and his three-shelf deep CD collection, Mr. Calamar selects up to ten tracks for each turning point in the script, which he then narrows down to three or five and pitches them to the series producer, who, after all, is the one with the final word. He does this with the incredible ease of a person who doesn’t seem so much to have a preference for a particular type of music, but is more like a music encyclopedia, a jukebox or a gigantic filing cabinet with the added bonus of knowing how to make the different pieces click, not to mention how to do so within a budget.
In its essence, Gary Calamar’s unique talent is what one might call “shapeshifting”. A genuine chameleon of the music placement and, at the same time, one of its wise veterans, his music supervisor job has taken him everywhere from the demystified suburban America of “Weeds” to the fun-loving 70’s mood of “Swingdown” and promises much more opportunities to come, especially when new music is coming his way everyday. When asked about how he copes with the ongoing flux of newcomers, he answered: “I only wish I had more time to go to more shows and listen to ALL of the CD’s that come my way. I’m closely following the research on cloning and planning on adding a few more Gary Calamar’s when the technology is ready.”(SEEN, Exclusive: Interview with music supervisor Gary Calamar). We’re all looking forward to it.