Industry Pro: President of Film Music and Publishing Mike Knobloch
As today’s profile subject points out, there are only six people in his position in the industry. For him, this means a deep appreciation for where he is and what he gets to do on a daily basis. For us, this means a deep appreciation for this glimpse into the career path of someone at the top of the heap. Over the course of his career, Mike Knobloch has worked on the music for well over 100 films, including Romeo + Juliet, Fight Club, and Crazy Heart, in addition to the projects he mentions. His passion for movies, for music, and for his position at the intersection of the two should inspire anyone as they set out on their entertainment journey.
Current position: I am President, Film Music and Publishing at Universal Pictures. Before that, I was EVP, Film Music at Fox Music/20th Century Fox.
College & degree: Northwestern, BS, Communications.
Internship: I had a very short internship at “The David Letterman Show,” but my main internship came out of the best happy accident ever. While I was in college, my close friend, Kim Williams, went on a cattle call audition for a role in FATHER OF THE BRIDE and ended up getting cast as the bride opposite Steve Martin. I visited her on the set and, through a bizarre twist of conversation, ended up talking to (writer/producer) Nancy Meyers and (writer/director) Charles Shyer and having them ask me what I was doing for the summer. I jokingly said, “Why don’t I work for you on this movie?” They ended up hiring me for an internship which ultimately turned into a PA job.
When the movie was over, Nancy & Charles held an assistant spot for me while I finished school in the spring. I came back and worked for them for the next two years, until they got into serious prep for I LOVE TROUBLE. It had been a great job in terms of the boot camp perspective on how the business worked, seeing the process of filmmaking from beginning to end with FATHER OF THE BRIDE. I got to see all the different jobs at the studio and the production company, as well as freelance positions and craftspeople. But for me, the coolest thing was seeing the music being made for the film, seeing the scoring and the editing and the songs being added. I wanted to be at the intersection of music and film. That was the area that spoke to me most.
I’d met Steve Tyrell through Nancy and Charles. He’s now known more as a performer, but back then he was primarily a songwriter and music producer. I left Meyers/Shyer to go work for him on projects at his recording studio. That got me a step closer to where I wanted to be.
Where did you go from there? The next opportunity that came my way was working on a TV show, Channel One News, which was a daily news program broadcast into junior high schools and high schools across the US. It was an impressive organization. Anderson Cooper and Lisa Ling were some of the on-air talent. I started as a staff/segment producer and ultimately worked as the line producer.
After about two years, as I was starting to think about my next move, I was in one of the offices and, completely out of the blue, I spotted a special “film & TV music” issue of The Hollywood Reporter on the coffee table. It contained a directory of who’s who (studio and production company music heads, top music supervisors, etc.) with contact information.
I ended up writing a form letter to every single person in the directory. And I got one call. Robert Kraft, the head of film music at Fox, called. We had multiple meetings. At one point he told me how much he liked my stationery (which my wife, a graphic designer, had made for me) so I have a feeling he didn’t even really read the letter I’d sent. But somehow, I parlayed the work with Steve Tyrell on TV projects, as well as on FATHER OF THE BRIDE and at Channel One, into the job as Director of Film Music Production at Fox. And I applied what little I knew to become what was then the technical production guy. I worked my way up over the years to the position of Executive Vice President of the department.
Big break: My big break was actually a series of four breaks: getting hired on FATHER OF THE BRIDE, meeting Steve Tyrell, the opportunity to work for Channel One, and then the phone call from Robert Kraft that led to getting my dream job. This is good news and bad news for anyone who wants to follow in my path. You can create your own opportunities by being industrious and smart, but these steps couldn’t be replicated. There’s no way to do what I did. But everyone who is a working professional becomes the beneficiary of a series of happy accidents.
Eureka moment: Two things come to mind: The first was on FATHER OF THE BRIDE: the first time I set foot on a scoring stage. I grew up in NY and was a fan of music already. But I didn’t really know anything about the behind the scenes of filmmaking. This was a huge room with more than 100 different people doing what seemed to be the most magical part of the movie making process. A more minor eureka moment was at Channel One news when I stumbled upon that issue of The Hollywood Reporter.
How do you describe your current position when someone asks, “What do you do?” I tell them I oversee all aspects of music for the films at Universal. I am quick to point out that I have a department of people who contribute to the process, being that I’m a big fan of collaboration.
What is a typical work day in your current position? My typical day involves going to work at 9:00 thinking I know what 27 things I need to get done that day and then, at 9:01, getting a phone call involving something that wasn’t on the list, but takes priority. I play a variety of roles in my position. Sometimes I am a fireman putting out fires, other times I am a conductor, keeping the trains running on time. I am a big fan of being proactive, but a big part of what I do is reactive. A typical day is an adventure unlike any other day. The stakes are high. I am managing a collective of a variety of personalities and politics on a lot of different projects.
What was your most challenging job or day or project in the entertainment industry? I’ve worked on some pretty complex music movies, including MOULIN ROUGE, WALK THE LINE, and DRUMLINE. On DRUMLINE, we had to record live marching bands and make them sound good. There’s no handbook for that. You have to assemble the right team and figure it out.
What was your best job or project or day in entertainment industry? Getting the job to be the head of film music at Universal. Getting that phone call and having them say that they believed I was the right guy for the job. There are only six major studios. That’s six heads of music total and the position doesn’t turn over often- maybe one opening a decade. To reach the point where I’ve been selected… that was big.
What is the best thing about your current job? I get to work with these amazing cool and talented people in my department and at Universal as a whole, not to mention the community of artists, producers, composers, editors, and supervisors I get to meet with and often work with as well. These people are the cream of the crop, so talented it’s like they’re from another planet. I do not take for granted how lucky I am.
What is the most challenging thing about your current job? That it’s new. I just left one company where I worked for fourteen years. The work itself is remarkably the same, but the culture and people are very different. I’m building relationships from scratch with people at the company who don’t know me yet.
Brush with greatness: My tenure at Fox was bookended by TITANIC and AVATAR, with James Cameron and James Horner collaborating on two of the most historic movies of all time. But I hesitate to isolate one “brush with greatness” because, whether they are world famous or unknowns, all of the artists I have worked with are great. To me, they are household names.
Secret of your success/your advice to the newbie: Secret of my success? I have no idea. I try to make the best decisions I can on a moment-to-moment basis. My advice is to be intuitive and put yourself out there. Identify the path you want to be on and learn as much as you can. Read magazines, get online, ask questions. There is really no excuse not to be ahead of the group in terms of knowledge. When you call someone like me and are able use levels of specificity to reveal that you have done your homework, it makes me want to call a music publisher or executive or producer and put in a good word for you. Because not only am I doing you a favor, it ends up making me look good to be able to provide one of my contacts with a potential intern or assistant who would be of value to them.
What is your next move? To have a long successful, healthy, and prosperous career at Universal Pictures.
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