An EXCLUSIVE Q&A
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
A great movie will leave a distinct impression in the viewer’s mind. It remains etched in their brain like a tattoo that never fades. The visuals, the dialog, and the story become a part of their lives. They memorize and recite each line as if they were written by Shakespeare. They laugh at scenes they’ve seen thousands of times before and cower at others. The movie stays with them long after the credits have stopped rolling. They revisit the theater to experience it again. Eventually, they embrace it many more times in the comfort of their own homes when it arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray. Though we all can enjoy the same film in equal measures, it is an experience that affects each individual in very different ways. The same can be said of music – the emotional impact cannot be underestimated. This is why movie soundtracks can be so crucial to the film that is playing up on the screen. Whether it is an orchestral score - by anyone from Elmer Bernstein to John Williams - or a classic Pop song, the images and the melodies combined make a visit to the theater the ultimate experience.
There are many film directors who understand that the music played behind the dialog or on top of the action on screen has to be perfect. For example, director Steven Spielberg trusts composer John Williams implicitly and that working relationship has never hit a bad note (pun intended). But what happens when a director chooses existing music to enhance the visuals on screen? Many have done a great job, but it takes someone who really understands the emotional link between movies and music to make it a truly successful blending of sight and sound. Quentin Tarantino immediately comes to mind. However, film-maker Jon Favreau is right there with him at the top of the list. As a director, screenwriter and actor, Favreau has become one of Hollywood’s favorite renaissance men. He’s made some astounding films that incorporate great music to go along with the visuals including Swingers, Made, Elf, Iron Man, Iron Man 2 (which featured music by AC/DC!) and his most current film, Chef. Though Chef was an independent film, it has received unanimous praise across the board from critics and fans alike and is proof positive that Favreau can create magnificent work without the big budget provided by a major studio. And again, he has thrown together a diverse soundtrack that is every bit as enjoyable as the movie itself. With tracks performed by Pete Rodriguez, Liquid Liquid, The Martinis, Perico Hernandez, Gary Clark Jr., Lyle Workman and many others, the Chef soundtrack stands as a great collection on its own. If you haven’t seen the movie, you can still enjoy the soundtrack wholeheartedly. But you’re still going to want to see the movie - it’s a Jon Favreau film. ‘Nuff said.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to send off a batch of questions to Jon, who was gracious enough to answer questions about the soundtrack to Chef and more…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Your new film, Chef, has been receiving great reviews and now the soundtrack seems to be garnering similar praise. How are you feeling about this project and the reaction you’ve had to it so far?
JON FAVREAU: I’m very proud of the film. When you choose to make a film through the independent route, you don’t know if it will ever find its audience. I’m very grateful that this one has.
SPAZ: The music plays a pivotal role in the film. Prior to filming, had you already decided what songs you wanted to use? Or did they work their way into the movie after the filming?
JON: I had an idea for some of the titles but I went through hundreds of titles with Mathieu Schreyer that we winnowed down to the soundtrack as it now exists.
SPAZ: For Chef, is there a key song that inspired the others? Did you choose one and then move forward in a certain direction because of it? Or did they all come together naturally and totally unrelated?
JON: I was listening to a lot of Cuban music as I wrote it, but all of those cues evolved over time. The earliest cue that I remember choosing during the writing process was “Bang Bang” by Joe Cuba.
SPAZ: Music, food and film are three of the top things that many people find the most comfort in. Did you bring all three together for that purpose? Or perhaps a happy (and comforting) accident?
JON: I found that music and food complimented each other cinematically. Since you can’t taste the food, the music helped to fill in the sensory experience. Music and food both reflect their specific culture; they both include ingredients and can be deconstructed and recombined to make a creative statement.
SPAZ: How closely did you work with music supervisor Mathieu Schreyer on the Chef soundtrack? As a director/writer/actor, did you sometimes defer to Mathieu’s suggestions if you were on the fence about a certain track?
JON: This was Mathieu’s first film, but he has great musical tastes from being a DJ. He brought a fresh perspective to the process. It took some time for him to get used to the experience that a music supervisor and director go through, but he worked very hard and offered up a lot of creative and inspired choices that we together evaluated. We ended up with a soundtrack that we’re both very proud of and reflects the intersection of both our tastes.
SPAZ: Often times, a movie soundtrack just seems to be thrown together for cross-promotion purposes by the record label and movie studio, but your films have never felt that way. How important are the song choices to Jon Favreau?
JON: Music has always been a big part of the creative process for me. Swingers was the first time I assembled a soundtrack and it reflected the swing music movement of Los Angeles in the ‘90s. Each soundtrack has its own personality. Putting together the soundtrack is one of my favorite parts of the process of filmmaking. I feel like a DJ.
SPAZ: The flow of this soundtrack is outstanding. Isn’t this the same order that the songs appear in the film? That, in itself, is a new concept that most companies don’t take into consideration when putting soundtracks together. Don’t you think that it can be an anti-climactic listening experience to hear the ending theme as the first track on the soundtrack?
JON: Mathieu and I wanted the album to give you the feeling that you got when you watched the movie. Featuring the songs in chronological order seemed like the right thing to do for both of us.
SPAZ: When you are filming a scene for a movie, do you already have an idea of what song you will be using and you pace the scene based on that song? Or does that happen in the editing room?
JON: I usually have something in mind and will often play music on the set for a sequence that has a musical aspect to it. More often than not, we end up swapping out songs for different choices as we explore the music in the editing process.
SPAZ: Has there ever been a time that you wanted a particular track for one of your films but couldn’t license it so you had to replace it with something else that would fit the scene? (“Oh, we can’t get A Flock Of Seagulls? Well, OK, I guess we’ll go with Martha & The Vandellas then!”)
JON: Other than the soundtrack for Swingers which I had hoped would feature a lot of Sinatra, which was too expensive, I have been pretty effective in getting all of my first choices. It often requires moving money around in the budget and reaching out to people to give permission with persistence, but it usually can be done.
SPAZ: Before you entered the world of film-making, how important was music to you personally? Which artists did you find inspiring?
JON: My musical tastes have shifted throughout my life as I discover new things. I always liked music but never enough to actually learn how to play an instrument.
SPAZ: Do you remember the moment when you realized that the music was a key component to the movie you were watching on screen?
JON: Music usually disappears for me as an audience member and I’m drawn into the storytelling. I do however enjoy when a soundtrack stands out to me. But that isn’t often the case. Filmmakers like Scorsese and Tarantino have a particular knack for creating soundtracks that stay with you.
SPAZ: Do you have any favorite film composers?
JON: There are so many talented composers around today that it’s hard to make a shortlist.
SPAZ: In regards to using pre-existing or newly penned ‘songs’ in a film, are there any particularly powerful ones that you feel ‘worked’ better than others in some of the films you’ve seen over the years?
JON: There was a trend in the ‘90s whereby a film would feature a new Pop song in order to market the film and the soundtrack through a music video. That process doesn’t always land you with the best soundtrack.
SPAZ: Being a film-maker and having to deal with the business side of things, has that changed your view of music? Are you still able to listen to things and separate business with pleasure and not think “Oh, this might work well for this scene in this movie…?”
JON: I can usually separate things but every once in awhile, I’ll be listening to music and it will spark an idea in the movie. I remember coming up with the opening sequence for Iron Man 2 while watching an AC/DC concert.
SPAZ: A great film has the same power as a great song – it stays with you long after the first time you experienced it. Does it feel good to know that your work has connected with so many people?
JON: It’s the best part of the job.
SPAZ: You do so much great work in front of and behind the camera. You’ve become somewhat of a renaissance man. Can we expect a Jon Favreau solo album any time soon?
JON: Unfortunately, music is not one of my skills.
SPAZ: What’s next for Jon Favreau?
JON: I’m directing Jungle Book for Disney.
SPAZ: What are you currently spinning on your CD and record players?
JON: The Chef soundtrack.
Thanks to Jon Favreau
Special thanks to Karen Gilchrist, Melissa Cohen, Joe Bucklew, and Dave Garbarino