Supervisor Spotlight: Laura Bell

This month we feature an exclusive interview with Music Supervisor and GMS Board Member Laura Bell, who shares insight into her career to date and what inspired her to pursue a career in supervision.

Laura Bell is an Australian Music Supervisor for film and series based in Europe.  
Credits include Steve McQueen’s OCCUPIED CITY, Netflix’ STROMBOLI and HAPPY ENDING, Amazon Series MODERN LOVE AMSTERDAM, Cannes-nominated drama series CHILDHOOD DREAMS, Dana Nechushtan’s PIECE OF MY HEART, Aaron Rookus’ GOODBYE STRANGER and Sacha Polak’s SILVER HAZE. 

When did you first learn about music supervision and decide it was something you wanted to pursue?
I was a massive music nerd at school in the 90’s (and still am). I played in bands, orchestras, sang and hung out with musicians. The whole class would talk about Dawson’s Creek (and later The OC and Grey’s Anatomy) and the tracks in the show. That really spiked my interest in how the songs were landing in there. Alexandra Patsavas’ needle drops were just so good, every time! When I was studying music at the Conservatorium, I remember getting more into film and just loving the sound world of the likes of Tarantino. I called Kim Green, a music supervisor in Australia, who was working on Baz Luhrmann’s productions. She told me to learn about every single side to the music industry first. I took this very literally, and there’s a lot to it, so it’s taken me a long time to tick all the boxes (plus I was having so much fun whilst doing it…)

What were you doing before?
I’ve been a professional musician, music teacher, A&R, marketing coordinator, record label manager, consultant, sync manager and then managing director of a major production music company.

Was there a particular ad/film that inspired you to explore music supervision?
It’s funny, when I use examples, I tend to reach for the really well-known references, but I also remember all the small moments that have impacted me too. Like watching The Red Violin (Le Violon Rouge) by Francois Girard and thinking: are the actors really playing? Did they get cast as actors and learn violin, or were they cast as violinists? How much is being faked? Was there a music consultant (I finally just checked – it was Joshua Bell!) Did the writer write all the works into the script? I was 12 at the time, so I’ve been curious about this all for a very long time I guess.

Tell us about a project you’ve worked on which you’re particularly proud of and why?
I’m really proud of Occupied City, directed by Steve McQueen. This was a 4 hour documentary with over 80 diegetic and non-diegetic cues throughout, as well as score by the wonderful Oliver Coates (go have a listen on Spotify!). The subject matter is really tough (suicide, genocide, execution…), it was a relatively small budget, and a very difficult one-of-a-kind concept that was difficult to explain to rights holders, so almost everything was initially denied. But in the end, we got there! My team and I are now working on the 40 hour artwork…
I’m also really proud of Zara Dwinger’s feature film “Kiddo”, in which we used Dusty Springfield’s “Stay Awhile” 7 times in different ways… sometimes the mum and daughter are humming it, blaring it out loud, and sometimes it just plays in the background on the car radio. At one stage the song literally blows up with the car. I also just really love the moments generally when indie bands light up a scene, which happens over and over again in the Netflix film “Happy Ending”.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the job?
I personally find it quite hard coming in halfway on a job for “the big fix”. It’s also a lot of fun, but having to fix a score because there have been too many opinions in the room, or miscommunication, can be incredibly intense. Also when there has been a song used on set when there was no music supervisor from the very beginning. Always a “yay but why…” moment. And when you realise a rightsholder doesn’t actually represent the % that they claimed at first. Oh and when you search for 8 months for a writer of a song who is called “David” and you track him down to the linguistics department at a Californian University because you think that he wrote the lyrics of this song in the 70’s and linguistics are kind of in that realm…. haha, so many challenges in music supervision!

What’s your dream project? Are there any particular directors, brands, artists or composers you’d like to work with?
I used to have dream projects, but the more I work on, the more I realise that every single project is special. We’re making films together and that is just a feat on its own. I learn so much from writers and directors about the inner workings of the human psyche, and from producers about navigating difficult situations, strategy and getting the job done. But Greta Gerwig, you may still call me.

What’s the best/your favourite use of music in a film or advertising?
Flashes of music and scenes rush rapidly through my head and I get all hot and sweaty and I just can’t. So many brilliant moments and creative people out there.

What advice would you give someone looking to become a supervisor?
Set your ego aside and enjoy the exploration. Read, listen, watch, soak up all the greatness out there…

Thank you Laura for taking the time to speak with us at GMS, we wish you all the luck in your future work!

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