Born Into Music
Lynn Fainchtein’s name is linked to the best Mexican films of the past few years and, more recently, she has worked as music supervisor for foreign films such as Precious, currently nominated for six Academy awards.
When she was born, Lynn Fainchtein was given The Beatles’ first single Love Me Do/P.S. I Love You (1963) –the only time Ringo Starr did not play drums on a Beatles’ track. That marked the beginning of a symbiotic relationship with music that she has maintained ever since.
As a young girl she preferred opening up a new vinyl record and learning the lyrics than playing with dolls. So it is hardly surprising that she cannot remember how many records she has at home and that she has almost 100 thousand tracks in her digital music collection. Music is her work, her life, but she herself only plays a little saxophone and flute.
Fainchtein is a music supervisor for movies and advertisements. She and her team make suggestions for film soundtracks, handle licensing and do the production work for whatever is necessary (original music and bands on screen).
She has worked on 38 films made between 1992 and 2009 and she has about a dozen projects in production. One of the most important, and the reason for her particular excitement on Monday February 1 during her interview for Negocios, is Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009), which that morning had received six Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture.
“I’m thrilled. The director is an incredibly important person in my life, I think he’s wonderful and we get on great together. Successful directors are those that accomplish what they set out to achieve, those who have a clear idea about how they want things. That gets them funding and everything else,” says Lynn, who worked on the production of 30 songs for Precious.
Fainchtein’s career is closely tied to the development of Mexican film. She began by helping the musical supervision of Danzón (María Novaro, 1991), one of the first films that began to be labeled as “the new Mexican cinema.” Since then, she has worked on Mexico’s most important cinematic releases, such as Todo el Poder (All The Power, Fernando Sariñana, 1999), Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices, Luis Mandoki, 2004), Una Película de Huevos (An Egg Movie, Gabriel and Rodolfo Riva Palacio, 2006), and Amores Perros (Love Dogs, Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2000), which catapulted her onto the international scene with 21 Grams and Babel.
But it has not all been film work. Fainchtein graduated in Psychology from the National Autonomous University of México (UNAM), and has also been successful in radio, with the Salsabadeando and Descelofaneando programs on Mexico City’s Rock 101 music station. Subsequently she worked on other radio projects with her characteristically relaxed and intelligent style: Dimensión 13.80 and Espacio 59.
As MTV Latin America’s program director from 1994 to 1999 she immersed herself in so many music videos that she began to develop a distinct visual and musical sense that eventually led to her film career taking off with Altavista Films.
—Where did you find your musical vocation?
I’ve loved music ever since I was a young girl. I was never into dolls or toy cars. I loved records instead. We always listened music at my grandparents’ house.
Two memories from my childhood stand out. My grandfather owned a hotel in Puerto Vallarta called Posada Vallarta, and once, while I was in the swimming pool of the hotel I listened to a trio singing La Gloria eres tú. It seemed to me like the trio was putting on a soundtrack for paradise.
The other time was with my parents in a synagogue in the Colonia Condesa in Mexico City. Men and women are separated in synagogues but as a child you’re gender-less and they let you be in the men’s section until you’re thirteen. I remember that the first time I went, a man they called “el cantor” (the singer) appeared. I was really amazed by the deep notes that man reached.
Those two moments have stayed with me. That was when I started buying records.
—What was the first record you bought?
The first records I bought were Hemispheres, by Rush, and IV, by Led Zeppelin.
—Did you ever want to play an instrument?
I have tried. I play a little sax and transverse flute but I’ve never been disciplined enough to study every day. And now I’m getting a little old and life has caught up with me. It takes a lot of dedication.
—How do you work?
I get the script and I read it. I speak with the director to find out what he wants and where he wants to go. Music for a film is usually divided between what already exists and what still needs to be made. For what has to be made, you need to make a deal with a musician and I produce it. If you have to record with an orchestra, I also produce the orchestra recording. There is a lot of production work.
For songs that already exist and that need to be recorded for a film, I create a songbook. Normally I suggest the songs, depending on the budget and the story. Once I have that, I start getting the licenses to use the songs.
—What is your favorite part?
When I put the song in the right place. Most of all I like using my creativity to place songs.
—Do you always like the end result?
No, of course not. I don’t usually expect the end result to please me but the director, because he is the one with the idea for the film. I try to persuade him on some things but everything comes down to the budget. If you want a Leonard Cohen song, for example, you’re going to need money. All these things need to be weighed up. Truth be told, I haven’t been pleased with all my work but I have only been really disappointed with a few things, about four or five projects.
—You have worked on almost every Mexican film.
No, that’s a myth. I don’t do more than ten films a year. It’s just that I work on many films that come out at different times. I can be working on a film that ends in April this year and then is released next year because they want it to come out at Sundance. Last year around seventy films were made in Mexico, I took part in just ten. It’s not so many, there’s a limit to how much you can do.
—How much is your work appreciated?
I worked intensely for two and a half years on Precious. Songs run through the whole film... That was thirty songs in over two years.
On some projects, music groups form part of the filming process. For example I’m in the middle of working on a Luis Estrada film. For the music we need to go to Matehuala in San Luis Potosí, look for musicians in the markets, film them, license the song and wait for the cut to see how it turned out.
If you look at it like that, I don’t get paid much at all. That’s why I have to do ten films a year. I couldn’t make a living by doing just one film.
I think my work is properly appreciated because I get a lot of it. But it could be better paid! Sometimes I’d like to do fewer films but earn more, although I’d never pass up on a film that I like no matter how much work I’ve got on. I’ve even done some films pro bono because I’ve liked them a lot.
—Do you always listen to music?
Yes. I have masses of music to listen to. I’ve got tons of songs that people have sent me and that I haven’t been able to listen to.
—Is it hard to get licenses for songs?
I’ve got a whole network now. I know whom I need to speak to for a song and I know which musicians I can talk to depending on the film. My address book is huge.
—Was it hard to set up this network?
Yes, especially after I left Altavista Films. It was the first time I was working independently. Before that, I had worked in radio, for MTV, for CIE and Altavista. I had spent a long time working for companies, so it was hard to begin with. Now I think the wind is in the sails, the captain has learnt how to use GPS, the barometer, the thermometer, and the altimeter.
—Technology must help a lot
I can easily spend fourteen hours in front of my computer. I live in this amazing Disneyland! I also see and listen to new music all the time, I can send music from my computer to anyone, make suggestions, do a whole recording for a film’s opening sequence. We’re about to try to do a remote orchestra recording, with the composer directing it via Skype to save on the transport costs of the whole orchestra. I can be anywhere on my telephone answering emails. I don’t need to be set in an office, hating my boss.
—Is it very different working on a Mexican film compared to a foreign film?
Mexican productions are much more friendly. Working on foreign films can be quite an antiseptic experience and more hassle because the lawyers –there are about 25 on a single production– want all kinds of contracts running to 40 pages each. First they want to set a price in one way, then it gets passed into a kind of contract and then the final contract. Working on a big studio production in the US can be a nightmare. Among the materials producers must submit to sell their movies is the folder containing all the music and all the associated paperwork.
For some reason, in the US they like doing everything in triplicate. Normally in Britain, France, Mexico or China, one contract is enough to say that you and I agree about something. But in the US they need more. First they want a letter establishing that there will be a contract and then there is whole lot more paperwork after that.