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Music man who sets the mood

ARTS & BOOKS / POP MUSIC

November 23, 2008|Geoff Boucher | Boucher is a Times staff writer.

Every intense music fan presumes he or she has what it takes to be a TV or film music supervisor, and they have a box of clattering mix tapes from high school to prove it. Yes, it was clever how you started with "Please Come Home Baby" by Tom Waits and finished with Mel Torme's "Comin' Home Baby," but there's more to the job than making "High Fidelity" lists.

Or is there?

Meet Gary Calamar, a man whose hilltop home has a garage with sliding shelves three-deep to handle just the old stuff in his CD library. Calamar is a sort of Mr. Sunday Night when it comes to handpicked music; there's his KCRW-FM (89.9) show "The Open Road," and it's also the night HBO airs "True Blood," the vampire show that has music in the, uh, spooky vein but also songs speaking to the Louisiana setting.

"True Blood," which has its season finale tonight and has been renewed for a second season, is part of a string of shows Calamar has worked on, along with "House, M.D.," "Six Feet Under," "Weeds," "Dexter" and "Entourage."

On some, such as the 1970s-steeped "Swingtown," he looks for time-capsule hits viewers will recognize instantly, but with something like the quirky "Weeds," the soundtrack is far more of a pop-culture safari.

"Sometimes things are too right on the nose, you want to go off of that sometimes and surprise people. You certainly don't want to ever bore them."

Calamar's was a familiar voice to KCRW listeners a decade ago -- and that resonates in Hollywood -- but when he pursued his first major supervising gig, the film "Slums of Beverly Hills," the producers were skeptical. Calamar still got the job by teaming with veteran G. Marq Roswell ("The Commitments"). "I learned a lot about the whole business . . . then I just kind of ran with it."

How does the job work? "You get a script early on, often before they're ready to shoot. You map out where songs are going to be. Oftentimes the writer will write in some songs. . . . Rarely actually does that song end up in the final cut."

After the shoot comes the spotting session with the producer and director, where Calamar says he hears, " 'We love this song,' 'This one doesn't work, we want something more melancholy' or 'More upbeat or regional.' "

Sometimes the perfect song doesn't make it, especially if sung by the Beatles or Stones. Calamar works on shows with a music budget of $8,000 to $130,000. "The budget plays a huge part of the whole game. So you decide to put the Led Zeppelin song in one spot and go with an unknown version of the next song."

--

geoff.boucher@latimes.com

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