What Our Members Do: Ethan Stoller

Member Profile: Ethan Stoller, Music Editor

Where are you currently employed?

Kinowerks in Chicago.

Current Project?

I am the music editor and additional composer for Sense8, a Netflix original series.

Describe Your Job.

During production, I create temp cues with the picture editors as they assemble key scenes. Our composers write and record much of the score before production begins, so the temp score incorporates the actual music that you hear in the show.

In post-production, I conform the music to any picture changes. I choose some of the source cues, and I craft transitions (and sometimes marriages) between them and the score. On the mix stage, I deliver the full music Pro Tools session to the re-recording mixer, and then serve as an ambassador for the music.

I also write and produce additional music for the show. It’s unusual for a music editor to be credited as an additional composer, but the sheer quantity and variety of music on Sense8 almost makes it a necessity.

How did you first become interested in this line of work?

I always enjoyed writing and recording music but I was uncertain how to turn that hobby into a career. After my sister-in-law, Meema Spadola, hired me to score her documentary, Red Hook Justice, I scored a few other independent films and commercials. I enjoyed the entire process, especially cutting music to picture.

Who gave you your first break?

In 2005, my longtime friends the Wachowskis (Lilly and Lana) wanted to include a mash-up I’d made in the closing credits of V for Vendetta. When the licensing deal for that song fell through, I created an original replacement track, “BKAB,” which they loved. After that, I started to invest my time, money and effort into doing more music for pictures.

What was your first union job? 

I was an assistant music editor on Ninja Assassin, produced by the Wachowskis in 2009.  

Which of your credits or projects have made you the most proud and why?  

I am especially proud of my work on Sense8, my first show as music editor, and I am still learning things every day. The premise of the show (eight strangers around the globe gradually becoming intimately connected), combined with the Wachowskis’ penchant for experimentation, leads to some extraordinary musical challenges and rewards. I may cut a Beethoven piano concerto one week, produce an original hip-hop track the next, and then research popular music in Kenya after that.

What was your biggest challenge in your job (or on a particular project) and how did you overcome/solve it?  

For the recent Sense8 holiday special, the emotional centerpiece of the episode was a beautiful montage using a choral version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Days before our deadline, the licensing deal for the recording fell through. Panic morphed into despondency when we realized that no other existing recording of the song would fit our cut.

I told Lana, “We’ll find the best choir in Chicago and a great arranger. We will write our own arrangement, fit perfectly to our cut. I’ll contact my favorite singers in the world, who will record lead vocals exactly to our time and pitch specs. In a few days, we’ll have a version of the song so much better than what was there, you’ll forget how it sounded.” Within five days, it came to fruition. It’s the most beautiful track I’ve ever produced. Everyone was thrilled with the result, including Netflix, who used the song prominently in their marketing campaign.

What was the most fun you’ve had at work?  

There was a Bollywood dance sequence in Episode 102 of Sense8. I remixed the song they had chosen and wrote an additional piece of dance music for the end of the sequence. Seeing the rehearsal footage of those energetic young people dancing to my music was one of the most joyful moments of my life.

Jobwise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?  

My career has been so closely tied to the Wachowskis, I’d be delighted if the collaboration continued five years and beyond. My experience solving musical problems editorially and compositionally with them would translate well to other shows, too.

What are your outside activities, hobbies, passions?  

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love vinyl records. I’ve curated a large collection of female jazz vocalist and mambo recordings from the 1950s and ’60s. My wife and I also love traveling to cities around the world. The perfect trip includes indulging in local cuisines and depleting record stores of their coolest records.

Favorite movie(s)? Why?  

I love movies that are imaginative, beautifully shot and use music in interesting ways. Some of my favorites are Rear Window, Brazil, Repo Man, Three Kings, Being John Malkovich, Tarsem’s The FallWild Tales and You, the Living.

Of course, I’m biased, but I love every film the Wachowskis have made. Whether their characters are confined to two apartments (Bound) or spanning centuries and solar systems (Cloud Atlas), they pour so much ambition, energy, intellect and emotion into telling great stories.

Favorite TV program(s)?  Why?  

I watch a lot, but my top favorites are the ones where I grow to feel true affection for the characters. Some of the ones I love are Deadwood, Community, Louie, Flight of the Conchords, Enlightened, Party Down, Rick and Morty, Better Call Saul, Baskets, Detectorists, BoJack HorsemanThe Americans and Transparent.

Do you have an industry mentor? 

I’ve worked with some of the top music editors in the business and each has been so generous: Joe E. Rand, a living legend widely loved for his great storytelling and his supreme musicality; the dynamic Joseph S. DeBeasi, who was so patient with me as I fumbled my way through my first union gig; and Dan Pinder, who is so competent at his job that it’s near mathematically impossible that he’d be as personable as he is. I feel so lucky to count these guys as friends.

What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?  

I’ve met some aspiring film composers, including some enrolled in academic programs. It surprises me that pursuing a career in music editing is not even on their radar. I’d like to assure them that it’s a great career choice and it does not preclude you from composing.

Was there ever a circumstance when you had to rely on the Guild for help or assistance?

I have not required assistance, but I am grateful to be a member.

Is there anything you’d like to say to your fellow Guild members, some words of encouragement?

Now more than ever, it’s imperative that labor unions keep fighting for the rights of workers. If we stay vigilant, smart and agile, we can emerge from this period as hopeful and compassionate a society as ever. Movies and television will play a vital role to help realize this goal.

 Compiled by Edward Landler

 Editor’s Note: To recommend a member (including yourself) to be featured on the home page of the Editor’s Guild website contact edlandler@roadrunner.com.

About Edward Landler 113 Articles
Edward Landler is a filmmaker, media educator and film historian. He made I Build the Tower, the definitive feature documentary on the Watts Towers, and is currently completing a cultural history of film. He can be reached at edlandler@roadrunner.com.