By Kerri Danskin
WHEN TEENAGERS WISH their dads were just a little more hip, George McMorrow may be just the guy they imagine. The president of Cinecall Studios, McMorrow is a soundtrack specialist and a goldmine of musical knowledge.
He is also one of the major sponsors of Freedom Film Societys Red Bank International Film Festival, which is taking place now through Sunday at Clearview Cinema in Red Bank.
Creating soundtracks for independent films, taking film classes at NYU and attending rock concerts all over the area, McMorrow could, at 48, qualify as the epitome of cool. But the old wisdom is true even in his case. Theres no way to convince your kids you arent a dork, no matter what you do.
McMorrow said last week that his two daughters, aged 15 and eight, had to be dragged away from the backstage buffet at a Bob Dylan concert recently just to see the rock legend play for a few minutes. In twenty years theyll be able to say, I saw Dylan play live!, McMorrow said. At the moment, however, they prefer music like NSync and the Spice Girls.
In his business, McMorrow has got to be aware of different strokes for different folks, anyway, so he isnt panicking about his daughters.
When he was growing up, music was a huge part of his family. The youngest of four, McMorrow said he had the benefit of being influenced by his older siblings. Musicians like Jimi Hendrix reigned at the McMorrow house in Minnesota. When the family moved to Freehold, he was in high school, primed and ready to join the exciting music scene in Western Monmouth County. At local clubs like Left Foot and Hullabaloo as well as $1 CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) dances, he watched bands play, soaking in all the music he could before being drafted into the Vietnam War in 1972.
While in service, he encountered many other young men with a great appreciation for rock n roll. You have nothing to do but listen to music, he said. McMorrow traded sounds with them, hearing acts like Little Feat and obscure Korean artists for the first time. His wealth of knowledge grew.
When he returned to the U.S., McMorrow booked gigs for bands for a few years, making enough of a name for himself to be drafted again, this time as the booking agent for Big Mans West, the Red Bank Club owned by Clarence Clemons, the saxophone player for the famous E Street Band.
He calls Clemons a larger than life kind of guy. The job was pretty easy, he said. It was never a problem getting groups to play in there.
Artists like Bonnie Raitt would even just stop by after playing a gig at the Garden State Arts Center, he said.
In the mid-1980s, Big Mans West closed, but McMorrow continued his career in music. He produced the first two Holiday Hurrah concerts at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, the first including artists like Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny, Nils Lofgren and other New Jersey talents.
The second concert sold out in 20 minutes, with a two-ticket limit per person, and included comedian Joe Piscopo as the MC and (now David Letterman Show band leader) Paul Schafer as the musical director.
McMorrow continued with music until four years ago when he decided to pair up that interest with his other main artistic interest since childhood: film. He was always a frequent movie-goer and had managed to meet many television and film production people over the years. He realized that sometimes a band can have a totally unappreciated career until a song is included in a movie soundtrack. When an audience hears a song in a movie, sometimes the moment just brings a better understanding of that music, he says. Seeing an opportunity, McMorrow decided to give some of his favorite unappreciated musicians a chance to have their music heard through film soundtracks.
Getting started was the difficult part. It was a long, tough time, said McMorrow. He spent hours on the phone trying to convince production companies to try him out. I was about as wanted as a telemarketer during dinner, he said, calling his sales pitch a tapdance on the phone. He developed a library of songs from which directors and producers could choose and finally got lucky.
Just Lovers, an Andrea Fiest film, was the first feature film he landed, but only after many calls and a great deal of begging, he said. McMorrow was given the job of music supervisor on the film, which is still circulating at film festivals. That helped open some doors, he said, noting that getting that job gave him a little bit more credibility.
Now one of the biggest challenges is getting directors and producers to see things the way he and his staff do, McMorrow said. For one film, a director decided after months of songwriting and finagling, to accept the first song McMorrow had suggested. They dont have time to sit and watch the scene with the music playing like we do, he said.
When you make a movie, it can go in any direction, McMorrow said, which is why directors can be so picky about their music.
Another issue for McMorrow is music licensing. Each song on a soundtrack has to be licensed if it is to be used. If a license is not granted, the music supervisor has to be very careful not to find or create a song that is too similar to the one they couldnt obtain a license for because the filmmakers can be sued for copyright infringement.
So far, Cinecall Studios has made soundtracks for eight feature films. They have also worked on other types of soundtracks, like those his company created for corporate videos for companies such as Lucent Technologies, Merck and Sony.
Business is helped along a lot by meeting new people and by word of mouth, McMorrow said.
He now has a staff of five and a music library that includes local artists as well as musicians from other states and countries such as Canada, England, Ireland and Italy.
His office is in Red Bank, which McMorrow says is the only logical place I could work. He likes the proximity to director Kevin Smiths production company, View Askew, which is also in town. Although McMorrow has a chummy photo of Smith and himself on his desk, he said the director has not agreed to work with him yet.
He also likes Red Bank because of the music scene in town. Its an artsy town, he said. The proximity to New York City doesnt hurt either.
When asked to narrow down his favorite films and musicians, McMorrow gets anxious because he finds the question impossible to answer. He enjoys foreign films as well as recent American classics like Raising Arizona and older American classics like Clint Eastwoods Outlaw Josie Wales and John Waynes The Searchers, which McMorrow said is the best one Wayne ever did.
I could work until 10 every night, then go see bands play in the city and work seven days a week, McMorrow said, but he would rather be present for his daughters and his wife than put in that many hours.
He assists in the coaching of his daughters soccer team and has time to see both girls play soccer, lacrosse and hockey.
McMorrow describes himself as happily married, and said that he and his wife, a successful sales person, often talk about how lucky we are.
The rest of us may find George McMorrows career pretty cool, but he said that his home life is what its all about.