Frankie Pine & Mandi Collier
Frankie Pine and Mandi Collier are the multi-faceted and sensational powerhouses behind Whirly Girl Music. Responsible for the country jewels of Nashville, the dramatic soundscapes of Mozart In The Jungle, the timeless intrigue of The Newsroom, and the party rocking anthems of Magic Mike, Frankie and Mandi are detail oriented and gifted in their approach. In Sherman Oaks, the pair discuss the never ending quest for perfect songs and the key to understanding the taste of your collaborators.
You've enjoyed such prodigious success in your field that it's difficult to highlight any particular project as emblematic of your work. Please describe some of the shining moments of your career to date.
Frankie: Gosh. You know, I think one of the things that makes Mandi and I a little bit different is that we don’t really have a forte. It feels great to understand the business of music supervision to the degree that we can do anything. There have been moments where we’ve watched something and felt excitement, then prayed to God that your director and producer are going to love it.
I think one project that stands out for me was Nurse Betty. We had to truly believe that Renee Zellweger's character was totally in love with this soap opera star. She was in love with him, not as the actor, but as the character. It was kind of kooky, but we also didn't want to make her appear to be super crazy. So, we ended up choosing music for the movie that was very symbolic of her innocence.
We followed those criteria for almost every other character as well. Morgan Freeman's character had this beautiful moment where he was dreaming of Renee Zellweger's character, Betty being in love with him. It was set in a gorgeous desert landscape as if they were going across country. We put in Della Reese’s Don't You Know. It transitioned into a whole dream of them dancing. She was looking into his eyes longingly and the song worked so perfectly. It has this delicate quality, but also showcased the over the top of oozing love that he had for this character.
Can you tell us about the events that led to the creation of your company, Whirly Girl Music? How did you first meet Mandi and how has your working relationship developed over the years?
Frankie: I came up with the name because I have curly, big hair and a whirly, big personality. I started the company in 2000 after working for PolyGram Filmed Entertainment. Universal bought us and a big group of us were displaced. Everyone went their separate ways.
I started off on my own. I’ve had different assistants over time, then I found Mandi through a mutual friend, who she was interning for at the time. Over the past six years, Mandi has grown so much in our field. She has such a strong sense of music. Now, we work on everything together. She knows me and I know her. It makes for a really great partnership.
When you are hired for a new project, what are the first steps you take to get acclimated with the show or film's musical identity?
Mandi: You read the script and decide what you think the best musical tone is, then you have a discussion with your writers and the showrunner. It’s important to say "This is where my head is at. This is what we think. This is the tone of the show in our opinion. What are your opinions? What do you think? What is the most important thing that you're trying to say with music?”.
After that, we create a general compilation for the project and send it off. It’s usually based on our first notions of what we think the show’s going to sound like. We welcome feedback from everyone involved. After that, it is just trial and error.
Frankie: It’s important to assess the taste of the person that’s making the ultimate decisions. Whether it’s the director or the producer, we need to know what their preferences are. It’s our job to identify their “music personality”. We all have one and know what resonates with us, so we gravitate towards those likes when listening for the project. We find that most directors and producers want to stay within that palette, so we engage in a little bit of a sociology as well, in trying to figure out what they will respond to.
Mandi: You definitely have to figure out what their flavor is in that particular genre that you're looking for. Above all, you need to make them happy. We always find great things no matter what side of the spectrum we're looking on, but the more you know about the person, the more you can dial your selections in. Frankie always talks about finding out what the person listened to in their heyday.
Frankie: I always check and see when the person graduated high school and think about when they were in their early twenties. What was happening during that time period musically? I find that those are experiences that we always want to relive. When you make a soundtrack album, you want to relive the experience of the movie. I believe it goes hand-in-hand.
Music is the focal point of Nashville. It is such an incredible platform for original country songs in an array of sub-genres. Can you describe your working process on the show and tell us more about how songs are specifically selected for each character?
Frankie: The process has been kind of an evolving experience, you know? We're now going into our sixth year on the show. When we started out, we came up with a description of each character’s musical style and where their personal story would propel them. At the beginning of each season, I’d put out feelers for new, unreleased demos. We were looking for songs that weren’t on a hold list for Tim McGraw, Faith Hill or Carrie Underwood. Listening through them, you pinpoint what sounds like a Scarlett song versus a Juliette song or an Avery song.
Since season one, I have had this running list of songs I absolutely love. If there is a great song that has never been used, I will keep it on file and continue to pitch it when it feels appropriate for a character’s story at the time. Once the scripts start coming in, I go through and listen for each character, thinking about what they might be singing about at that particular moment.
One of the other things we’ve done is hold songwriting camps to source material since season 3. We invite the Nashville songwriting community, where we divvy people into groups to write. I will come in and say, "Here's the overall arc of where Juliette's character is going to go over the next 20 episodes. Here's where Scarlett's character is going to go." And then they'll go off and write whatever appeals to them, which is based on what I’ve explained. It’s a lot of fun in a super relaxed environment. I float around from room to room, offering to listen or bounce ideas. We also do another one in L.A. We’ve been very blessed to use a lot of the songs that have been written during these camps.
Mandi: Working on Nashville has probably been the most rewarding experience of my career thus far. We aren’t just finding songs to use, these songs become characters in the show. It is an entirely different process of how to execute music in a television show. It starts from the script stage and goes all the way through to the mix stage.
Let's talk about Amazon's Mozart in the Jungle. Another series that is focused on music on the opposite side of the spectrum: classical! You worked on Season 3. Tell us about the challenges and rewards of licensing classical music in a 21st-century context.
Mandi: On Mozart In The Jungle, we were challenged by the scale of players to find music for. When we first started on it, we were thinking we’d be handling public domain classical pieces, but it’s honestly one of the most difficult things we’ve ever done. We worked with an orchestra of 40 to 60 people. A lot of the time, there wasn’t already a master that existed that matched what the writers wanted to the orchestra to play. If they wanted a tempo change or certain instruments involved, we had to go and create those things. Thankfully, we were lucky enough to work with brand new classical composers, who ended up coming up with original pieces for the show.
Frankie: Another thing to mention is that in season 3, they hired a new showrunner, who was really enthusiastic about writing storyline within the songs. For example, it would be decided that one of the characters would mess up a cello line. That made it difficult because how do you do that in an existing master? You can’t.
We ended up using a lot of songs as score. We never actually hired a composer for the show. We had an executive music producer that we brought on on the show who would be there to create whatever needed to be created, but then there would be licensed classical pieces to play as underscore for the show.
This was also the first season that featured people singing. We had an actress pretending to be an opera singer, so we had to hire an opera singer to actually be the voice. We had pre-recording sessions of that. We had original music that we had created for it, we had existing masters, we had lessons, and all the episodes were filmed in Italy. There were a lot of challenges, but it was incredible and we made it happen!
After working on Mozart In The Jungle, did you come away with new classical music tastes or new found knowledge?
Mandi: We learned so much about classical music. It was a very educational experience for everyone involved. The writers did a phenomenal job at finding interesting anecdotes to place throughout the story. As you know, opera isn’t always sung in English, so that was also new territory to explore.
Frankie: Yes. We had to dig into the meaning behind the pieces. We wanted those operas to play into the drama of the show. Lyrically, it was important to make that connection even if everyone watching wasn’t picking up on those details.
Mandi: Some of the viewers pay attention to those consistencies and it was meaningful to the producers as well. Growing up, I played in a band, so having that musical background made it more fun for more to explore the works in depth. The German opera, Die Junge Nonne was such a beautiful piece. We also had an opera consultant on the show named Elena Park. She was a great resource and we got better at labeling things as we went along. Sibelius was another piece we used, which was such a lovely moment. We really immersed ourselves in the work of composers we didn’t know much about.
Frankie: As a music supervisor, I find the research to be the most compelling aspect. Learning is what keeps this job exciting and interesting for us. As much as I love the production, I love learning about the history of the music and the dynamics of the characters to be able to make the most appropriate and powerful selections. On this show, we fell in love with everything.
Magic Mike featured such an eclectic soundtrack. Everything from Ginuwine to Toro Y Moi to Foreigner. What were the initial ideas for the musical direction of the film and how did it progress?
Frankie: Working on Magic Mike, we knew right away that all the music would have to be geared towards the dance routines. They were kind of all over the place. Somewhere along the line, Steven Soderbergh put it into his head that we didn’t have to show every routine in full. Things developed into montages or other ways of helping propel the story through music and visuals as opposed to story lines and dialogue. We had a very limited budget on that movie, so we wanted to dive into the underground underbelly of Tampa, Florida, which is where the film takes place.
We did a lot of research to find unique and outside of the box songs to reinforce the life of Channing Tatum’s character. The film didn’t reference any specific period, so we didn’t have to worry about that aspect.
Mandi: The beginning had an indie film type of treatment. It had the visual texture, which lent itself to that indie rock feel. We had the opportunity to showcase so many great new bands and artists.
Frankie: There was no composer on the film, so the story was told strictly through source music.
Mandi: Looking back, I think there were about 36 songs that we placed in the film.
Were there any particularly memorable aspects from working on Magic Mike?
Mandi: We definitely enjoyed the eye candy.
Frankie: We did enjoy it! It was not horrible to be on set, I can tell you that much. We got to hang out with Matthew McConaughey. I ended up writing a song with him. Steven called me up one day, and he goes, "Talk to Matthew. He wants to do a song. He wants to sing." I went to meet with him and brought a guitar coach along 'cause Matthew doesn't really play guitar either. He had the idea to do a real swoon-y song for ladies for his character’s final performance in Tampa before he moves to Miami. So we sat in his backyard, drank wine, wrote the song, and got him to record it.
Having worked on so many television series, what are your tricks for remaining consistent from episode to episode and season to season while keeping freshness and innovation in mind?
Mandi: The key is staying current with what’s happening in the world. You have to know the current music and new artists. You have to dig for what’s current and search for someone thing different. With each season, you have the opportunity to introduce new sounds, but stay true to the original concept you’ve curated. It is always a balance to serve the project to the best of your ability.
How have your methods for music discovery evolved over time?
Frankie: Oh my god, everything has changed. Back in the day, I would sit down and come up with music ideas for the director by putting little post-it notes on CD covers, have to specify “track two”, and write a small description to explain why it was the song I wanted. You had to go into the world and seek the music out. You were watching bands or taking a risk on buying a CD. You found out about new and upcoming releases in magazines or received submissions from labels or publishers.
Nowadays, as a music supervisor, you have the ability to find new music on demand. You can find it anywhere by combing the internet…iTunes, Spotify, YouTube. All of the traditional methods still exist, but it's a very different process now.
Mandi: We are almost experiencing the opposite problem now. Because there are so many avenues to find new music, we’re inundated. It’s difficult to be the one to find something nobody else has seen or heard before. The internet also makes it easier for people to get music in front of you, so you are required to put in so many extra hours to get through it all.
In your opinion, what is the most tricky emotion to convey through music?
Frankie: Sadness and love are the easiest. I think happiness is more difficult. Come on, let's face it. A lot of songwriters don't write things that are happy, because otherwise, what else is there to write about? Your life has to be shit in order to write a really great song. Songs that reek of happiness are the hardest ones to find.
Mandi: You can source happy songs. In fact, most of them are in advertisements. Finding GREAT songs that aren’t about sadness or a yearning emotion? That’s tough.
Frankie: I think comedy is easy. I love doing comedy. If you're trying to make someone laugh, you can really do a lot with a song.
If you could live in the reality of any project you've worked on, which would you choose and why?
Frankie: Well, I think I'd want to be a character on Nashville. Because I've always had this longing to be a songwriter and the desire to be the kind of person sitting on a stool, strumming a guitar and singing. I can't do any of that, but that's the thing that I would want to do, plus there's a lot of drama in Nashville, so who doesn't like drama?
Mandi: I think I'd pick Mozart In The Jungle. I think I'd want to be a classical musician. I don’t know what instrument I’d want to play. I wouldn’t want to be Hailey because she’s constantly struggling. There is crazy drama in every show.
Frankie: Of course. It wouldn't be television if there wasn’t!
Interviewer | Paul Goldowitz
Research, Editing, Copy, Layout | Ruby Gartenberg
Extending gratitude to Frankie Pine and Mandi Collier.