Holly Williamson is the Director of Music at Ignition Creative and an award winning music supervisor. Possessing an incredible range of knowledge of motion picture advertisting, Holly has been instrumental in the execution of high profile trailers, such as The Hunger Games, 300, Watchmen, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Sully, and many more more. In our lovely conversation, Holly introduced us to the ins and outs of the trailer industry.
Let’s start with a personal question. I read somewhere that you are a David Bowie fan. Can you tell us what about him resonates with you?
Yeah... I am a HUGE David Bowie fan. I am still not over his death. It was really (and still is!) devastating to me. He is not only a music icon for me, but also a style icon and you know, a belief system icon. I admire how brave he was with his life and how he fought against stereotypes, sexism and racism.
He was a rare gem. When did you first realize you wanted to work in the music/advertising business? How did that transpire?
Well, I started off in music working as an assistant in the Music Clearance & Licensing Department at MGM. I was always good with being organized and getting along with people, but I knew I wanted to work in creative. After being at MGM for a couple years, it was rumored that the company might be sold, and somebody asked me if I wanted to produce music for TV commercials. When I was doing TV commercials, I soon realized that I wanted to work in motion picture advertising, especially trailers, because, that's where my love for music started. At the time in 2003, I don’t think anyone had a staff Music Supervisor at a trailer company, so I think I was one of the first in-house supervisors in the industry. I worked at Mojo for 10 years and then when we merged with Mob Scene, and I worked there for a couple of years. I started getting offers to move and I wanted to be more diverse in the projects I was working on and wanting to work on promos for HBO and Netflix and Amazon. So, coming over to Ignition was kind of a no-brainer.
Let's talk about your team at Ignition Creative. Who are they?
Well, I have two supervisors that work with me (Patrick Buchanan and Ian Shein), a music coordinator (Brett Weyhrich), two assistants (Landon Deforge & Cierra Flores) and then we have an in-house music composer (David James Rosen). I have a nice sized, very talented team of people here.
Can you give a little bit of background on your most recent projects?
We recently worked on the Loving and Arrival campaigns. We did some work on Passengers, Live By Nightand Allied, Gold, Tarzan.... We also did work on a Netflix series called Captive and some stuff for the HBO show called Animals.
If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Just to trust. Trust that everything is going to be okay. Continue to be kind and always do the right thing. I mean, if you think about it...worrying is a lack of faith - it doesn't help to solve anything. Worrying just makes you anxious and can drive you crazy! But if you just have integrity and faith in who you are, what you do and how you like to work, it is all gonna work out just fine. That's what I’d tell my younger self.
That's cool. That's a great line, "worrying is a lack of faith". What are some of the stand out highlights of your professional journey so far?
As far as my work in trailers, I am really proud of the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind trailer and how hard I had to work to get clearance for the song Mr. Blue Sky by ELO. I am also really proud of the music for all the Harry Potter campaigns. That was very collaborative work with the editors, producers and composers. It’s such an honor to work on movies that are so good and that so many people went to see. I’m also really proud of Watchmen, because finding the right song for that trailer took weeks, and it was like finding a needle in a haystack but it ended up turning out really great. But… I’m proud of all of my babies!
So, how much time does your team generally have to craft a trailer? You were saying for Watchmen, you had a lot of time to curate the experience.
A few months mostly. Sometimes you will have what I call "reincarnated trailers.” Trailers that come and then go away for a long time and then come back. I remember one time I worked on a trailer for a movie called Lucky You for almost a year. We ended up using the first song I pitched for it in the end but we went around in circles for nine long months.
What is your typical music selection process like?
If I get the head ups early, then I will start doing my music research right away. I'll talk to the creatives about what they envision for the trailer and then we'll start creating folders of music. I also try to always include a music folder of “Dark Horse Picks," where it might not be what the producer or the client really asked for but if they wanted to try something new or something out if the ordinary, they could take a listen.
Do those sometimes end up making it into the final cut of the trailer? It sounds like it’s out of the box, right?
They absolutely do! For example, we were working on 300: Rise of Empire and they had been wanting songs similar to the first 300 campaign. I was playing a new piece of library music from Audiomachine that had just been recorded with a live orchestra and my producer heard it through my wall and he came into my office and I said, "What about this instead of a song?” And he said, "Oh that's great - play it again.” We then cut a whole trailer right away and turned it in because we believed in the song and the new concept so much. They loved it too and it finished. So, sometimes those “Dark Horse Picks” really do end up working out.
And then the client gets something totally unexpected that they wouldn't have thought of before.
Yeah, and that's our job too, you know? To try to find something new that maybe they wouldn’t think of. So when that happens it is really rewarding.
I have got a musical question for you. Are there certain musical elements that consistently appear in almost every trailer?
Oh, sure... Textural pads, sound design, hits (on title cards). Those are the bits that are added usually after we find the right song or music. It is like a cake. The track is the actual cake and then frosting and sprinkles are all the musical sound design, and organic sound design that's made on top of the track as an overlay. So, it's like baking a cake - making it as delicious and tempting as possible.
For example, we worked on the movie Suffragette and Patrick, who I worked with here, found this beautiful cover of Landslide (Stevie Nicks). In the final trailer it is just that one song, sung by Robyn Sherwell doing a very emotional, stripped down, beautiful version of it. You don't need to hear the explosions and screams in the background. You just hear this beautiful song on top of the action and the story and it works - beautiful disaster.
I saw in an Instagram post where there was a band playing live at the Ignition Creative office. Is that normal in your work environment?
Yeah, we do showcases about every eight weeks with a band or artist, and they might be just signed or already established. We have had some really great showcases lately with Saint Hotel, Welshly Arms, Bleached, Bob Moses and Leikeli47. We usually have a table full of food and beer, and our goal is to get the editors and producers excited about music, and hopefully there is something that they really like and they’d be interested in licensing. I think we are the second largest trailer house or ad agency for motion picture advertising in the city, and there is really some quality people that work here. They are all very supportive, caring, creative. We make a great team.
Sounds like the perfect place to work! To end with a David Bowie quote, "I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't be boring."
Interviewer | Paul Goldowitz
Research, Editing, Copy | Paul Goldowitz
Extending gratitude to Holly Williamson.