Curtis Roush has been working as a music editor on many of the movies we see on TV and in theaters for over 30 years, some of his more recent notable projects include The Hunger Games, Alice in Wonderland and X-Men, just to name a few. He's also a graduate of the Berklee College of Music ('80) with a B.M. in Film Scoring.
Nick Dolan: How did you get started working as a music editor? What was your first experience like?
Curtis Roush: I had just moved from Boston where I had just completed my Bachelor of Music degree in film scoring (in 1980, back in the old days) and moved to L.A. where a friend let me stay in his apartment for a month while I looked for a job. He was working as a sound FX editor at a post house which had a music editing department. He introduced me to the head of the department and they offered me a job. Amazing, no? The tricky part was that it was a union house and, unbelievably, they had me start working in spite of the fact that I wasn't in the union. Within about 6 months, someone reported it and I got busted, or I should say, the company got busted and they brought me into the union under the semi-guise that I had specialized computer experience (this was true to some extent) that was not available to them by any of the union members on the roster. These were the days in Los Angeles when it was next to impossible to get into the union, so I was very fortunate. They were also the days when there were very few music editors who actually had musical training. In those days, most music editors had moved into the job from some other department, usually sound editing. My employer was also musically trained and had even written a book on film scoring so he was attracted to my background and that's how I got the job. The computer classes that I had taken at Cal State Sacramento before I went to Berklee also helped.
ND: What is a normal schedule for you when working as a music editor on a film project?
CR: The first 4 to 8 weeks are spent on tracking and mixing the temp dub (the editing of a temporary score for the film, made up of music picked usually from other film scores). The next few months are maintainance of the temp throughout the editing and screening schedule and scoring prep for the final scoring sessions. The last 4 to 6 weeks are the score recording dates, the editing and conforming of the final score and the final mix of the film where all sound and music eliments are mixed together to make the final soundtrack. The working hours are generally 12 hour days, 5 days a week with many overtime hours and days depending on the deadline schedules.
ND: What is your most memorable experience?
CR: A musical called Across the Universe which was a story of the connections formed between some youth from the Viet Nam War years with all the songs being new arrangements of Beatles songs. Julie Taymor was the director and her partner and my client, Elliot Goldenthal was the composer and one of the musical producers along with T-bone Burnett. I was on the film for 1 1/2 years from before the shoot, all the way to the end. It was the hardest but coolest project I ever worked on. We shot about 85 percent live vocals on set and the amount of work in preparing the film for the final mix was beyond description.
ND: What has changed in the industry since you started your career?
CR: Are you kidding? What hasn't? I started in the film days. In those days, there were electronic click machines for scoring to a steady tempo, but if a tempo needed an odd meter, say switching from 4/4 to 3/8 for a bar or a tempo change, the click had to be build on mag (film) by either cutting together recordings of the set click tempos needed or by punching holes in the film along the optical line and playing back with an optical reader. It was a combination of math, measurements, and mechanics. The tempos were based on click loop lengths not beats per minute, so a 12 frame click loop is equal to 120 BPM since at 24 frames per second, the loop goes through the reader twice a second. The tempo increments are 1/2 a perf or 1/8 of a frame or 1/192 of a second. As timecode came into use more video (tape) was being used and post production went through a phase where it started to move off of film onto multi-track sound machines locked to video via timecode. This technology was more practical for television than feature films, but the tech spilled out to all areas, eventually. Edits were done in the old "assemble" style where the picture or sound was build from left to right by re-syncing a source machine and then auto-recording onto the assembled track from the newly synced source machine creating an edit. Not a great system as inserting different shots or sound into the middle of an edit was too complicated to go into here and also, everything was a generation older than it was in the previous film days. (When I say generation, I'm referring to deterioration of quality when one analog medium is recorded to another). Next came digital and that was very cool from a working environment point of view, and it pretty much solved the generation problem, but it still took several years (pretty much up til now) before digital actually started sounding as good as film.
ND: Where do you see the future of the film music industry going?
CR: I always been aware of the cyclical aspect of film making and I think we are moving into another era (thank goodness) of more orchestral music with actual composing as opposed to pattern programming. Of course, it won't be like the last cycle (think John Williams and Star Wars) because the cycles still move forward and include whatever technology and pop influences that exist at the time, but I think we are seeing many more European composers being hired to do film scores and the Europeans just have a better affinity with orchestral music.
ND: For young musicians trying to pursue a career as a music editor, what would you say are essential skills to have?
CR: The more music training, the better. It's all about music and solving musical problems. Beyond that, I think a good music editor should have a good working knowledge of MIDI and good working skills in at least one sequencing platform (MOTO, or Logic, or Cubase, etc.) To date, Protools is the default DAW for music editing and should stay so for some time, so a deep knowledge of that program is essential. A good music editor has to develop an acute sense of drama and what music elements create the correct emotional pallets for various dramatic needs. Organizational skills and good work habits are essential, obviously. Social skills and psychological savvy are needed since the music editor is invited on to the film, usually by the composer, but is paid by the producers, and working on the director's film. Often these forces are in contrast to each other.
ND: What's next for you?
CR: I just finished the Mob City 6 episodes directed by Frank Darabont and scored by Mark Isham.
I'm currently on a film called Child 44, directed by Daniel Espinoza.
Thank you Curtis for such an in depth look at your career!
Film | Music
About the Author