In a nondescript building just north of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Los Angeles’ famed Hollywood Boulevard resides a suite of offices whose occupants have an integral part in the success of many of Hollywood’s blockbuster hits. In this simple square building, film professionals known as music editors work in the film trade.
After a film has finished principal photography and much of the actual visual editing has taken place, a film is given to an individual who layers one of the most important aspects of cinematic art: the music score.
Music Editor John Finklea, a film editor with extensive Georgia roots, occupies a studio at the end of a long hall in the simple building. His work space is filled with film and music editing equipment, monitors and enough hard drive space to satisfy the needs of the most demanding technophile.
Finklea has been a major figure in film production for a number of years. Beginning his career as a film editor, he eventually found his way into the specific art of music editing. He has found much success in the field, and his work is associated with movies that have become household names: The Rock, xXx, and many, many more.
Finklea recently spoke with Georgia Music about the film business and his connections with Georgia music and film.
HM: Tell us about your Georgia roots.
I was born in Southern California, but when I was ten, my family moved to Roswell, Ga., when it was just a small town of 12,000. After a couple of years at film school at Ithaca College, I finished up studying Medieval History at The University of Georgia in Athens. I have deep Southern roots as my father’s side of the family has a long history in South Carolina since the late 1600’s.
What was your first big break in the film business?
As strange as it may sound, my first big break was to move to Wilmington, N.C., after finishing up at UGA. At the time, Carolco (which produced such films as Total Recall and Terminator 2) had a studio there. Oddly, it was the largest studio facility outside of Hollywood in the U.S. back in 1991. I had been making super 8s and 16mm films since I was 11 and I knew I wanted to be an editor. I figured I would move there for a couple of months and see what would happen. I later found out that when I moved to Wilmington, I was the only person in the town that had the desire and any experience in being an assistant editor. So, after passing around my very weak resumé, I started getting calls for work. I was fortunate enough to work on Amos and Andrew, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Super Mario Brothers, The Hudsucker Proxy and The Crow.My plan was to work on whatever I could and eventually a production would want to take me back to Los Angeles with them. The Crow brought me to LA.
How has music influenced your personal and professional life?
Music has influenced almost everything in my life. My father gave me a piece of advice when I was a kid that my career should somehow be one of my hobbies. Good advice. I can’t think of a time when music has not been a part of my life. Playing and studying music has been the link between my understanding of art and the ability to express my feelings and my creativity. It has helped me understand peoples and cultures from around the world and throughout time. It is this experience that aids me in my professional work. The main goal of a film score is to help tell the story of the film without getting too much in the way of the actors and their craft. I am able to bring my experience and insight (however limited!) to this exploration of how music can help and hurt a film.
Is there a typical day in the life of a music editor?
Well, long hours are the norm. My personal record for the longest I have been at work straight is 56 hours. The longest I have gone without a day off is over four months.Depending on what phase of the production you are involved with, the needs of the production will really dictate what you will be doing. The best part is when you are recording the score. To be standing in a room with as many as 110 musicians playing the score you had a hand in helping to create is one of the best feelings in the world.
Tell us about some of your most memorable music editing experiences.
I am very fortunate to be part of a generation that is bridging the passing of the second generation of great film composers and the coming of the next. The two that stick out in my mind are the work I’ve done with Jerry Goldsmith and Elmer Bernstein. I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to talk to Jerry about 12-tone composition and then to go to a session with Elmer where he sat at his piano and played for the director for the first time the themes he was going to use for a film. That is the way it used to be done. Now, I think you’d be fired off the film if you were to do only that.
What projects do you have coming up?
I just finished working on the remake of the horror cult classic Black Christmas. I am currently working on a Kevin Costner film called Mr. Brooks and the new year will bring Michael Bay’s Transformers.
Do you have a feel for the Georgia music/film scene as observed from Hollywood?
I am sure some folks might be surprised by this, but the influence of Georgia on the film world is great, especially from music. While acknowledging the importance of music that came out of Athens in the ‘90s (and today for that matter), the incorporation of hip-hop into film scoring is a target that a lot of people have tried, but no one has really been successful in doing. The hip-hop that is coming out of Georgia, especially Atlanta, has a quality to it that makes “fit” the main job of film scoring: story telling. Films like ATL are really noted for their music and I know a lot of my friends and colleagues are studying that film to find the hip-hop elements that can be brought into their work. Atlanta is a city that seemingly everyone loves and they look forward to going to work there. With festivals like The Rome International Film Festival, the way, the exposure of local filmmakers and their talents will only increase out here.
Update: Since this story was published, John Finklea has worked as music editor on numerous films including: Blades of Glory (2007), Hitman (2007), She’s Out of My League (2010), The Karate Kid (2010), X-Men: First Class (2011), Larry Crowne (2011), Jack Reacher (2012), 42 (2013), World War Z (2013), Noah (2014), Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) and more. In 2010, he won an Emmy for his role as music editor on the television mini-series The Pacific.