Carol Farhat has over 35 years of experience in music production and administration for film and television. Mentored by world-renowned composers Lionel Newman and John Williams, she currently serves as a Vice President for 20th Century Fox Television Music Production.
Q: Can you describe your job here at Fox?
A: As the Vice President of Television Music Production at Twentieth Century Fox TV, I currently produce the orchestral scoring sessions. Over the years, I've had many different positions throughout the music department. In short, my current job is to make the “Work-For-Hire” deals for all the composers, songwriters and music supervisors for our TV shows. I negotiate their deals with their agents, supervise their work, and approve budgets and payments on an episode basis. I also supervise and implement the musicians and singers for on camera work on our TV shows as they are in production.
Q: Did you know as a child that you wanted to work in music?
A: As a child, I was very music driven. I probably knew song lyrics better than I knew my history lessons. I could recognize the title of a song after hearing only the first three notes of the music.
Q: What got you interested in music?
A: Growing up, everyone in my family danced. We had a lot of music in the house, every kind of music: ethnic, classical, opera, ballet, Latin, ballroom. When I was in high school, we kids lived by the song lyrics of contemporary music; that was our means of communication. Throughout my education, I found myself most curious about music than anything else, so eventually I decided that I wanted to become a recording engineer. While in college, a friend took me to a session at The Village Recorder, and it changed my life. From that moment, I knew that I wanted to be around creative music and songwriters. I worked at the Village for 12 years. At the time, the music industry was heavily male-dominated, so I was very proud to be one of the first female recording engineers.
Q: How did you get your career started?
A: I attended the Institute of Audio Research, which was a recording engineering college in New York at the time. I was finishing my BA in Ethnomusicology and Music Business Law, and in the evenings and weekends, I worked at The Village Recorder as they were just building their studios. Eventually, I accepted a full-time position there and managed the studio for 12 years, but my dream was to work on Film and TV music at Fox. One of my best friends, Jennifer Newman, was married to one of the rock stars that recorded at The Village, and her father, Lionel Newman, was the head of the music department here at Fox. One day, she suggested that I send him an application to work in the music department. I did, and I never heard back from him with a response until a year later. When Lionel Newman called me back, he was New York and said, “When can you start working?” I said, “Well, what do you want me to do?” I had never even met him in person. He said, “I'm in New York right now, but meet me in my office at Fox in a week.” I said, “I have to give two weeks’ notice to my longtime employer Geordie Hormel.” He said, “Well in two weeks, I'll be back in LA.” So that's how it started… I started working on the lot with John Williams and Lionel in their music bungalow. Lionel needed me to do the music clearance for all the shows and features. I started there, and then he taught me everything I know today. It was really an interesting time because Lionel had people like Frank Sinatra and Henry Mancini in and out of his office. Every major music personality you can imagine in the classical world stopped by our office. This was not rock and roll by any means, but it was so interesting and exciting. As the years passed and Lionel retired, he asked me to help train his replacement, Elliot Lurie. Elliot was busy with feature films, so I was in charge of the Television Music division. I became head of the TV Music Department as it grew from five TV series a year to almost 50 series and pilots for all of our different divisions.
Q: Who has inspired you?
A: My mentors were Lionel Newman, John Williams, Henry Mancini, and Bob Dylan. They were all so great. Lionel had great sense of humor. Mancini was such an inspiring person, very friendly, kind, and talented. John is an amazing composer, eloquent speaker, writer, and person and Bob, of course, was one of the greatest poets of our time. I truly was inspired by all of them and their knowledge of music.
Q: How do you get involved in projects?
A: Here at Fox everything is script driven. I work on music production and post production for all the television shows we produce. I'm one of the people who gets a call when a show is greenlit. After the script is written, we get involved to determine what kind of music deals are needed for each TV series, together with Jeremy Summers we figure out a proposed episodic music budget. He works with the shows’ producers to identify the composers and lets me know when to make the deals.
Q: How many projects would you say you’ve worked on so far?
A: I’ve been at Fox for 35 years, so if you count by features and television episodes and pilots, I would say about 30,000 titles. Right now, we are working on 50 television shows and pilots per year, so approximately 1000 episodes per year. Most of our shows have between 18 and 22 episodes per season.
Q: What was the defining moment in your career?
A: At the beginning of my career at Fox, I used to work on features with Lionel and Elliot. We were working on a film called Rising Sun that Fox was producing and scoring in Japan. The composer, Toru Takemitsu, was composing the music and since Elliot didn't have time to travel, he sent me to produce the scoring session in Japan. I was very interested in the Japanese culture and music, so it was exactly what I wanted to do. Plus, Toru was one of my favorite composers. He was brilliant and I loved the way he married together the sounds of Western orchestra with Asian instruments, for example, he included Tyco Drums and section of 8 or so Shakuhachi bamboo flutes with the Western orchestra.
At the time, in Japan they were not accustomed to women producing music or having authority. They couldn't understand why this short little blond person was there with the money. They wanted to be paid upfront with cash, and they wanted signatures for everything. Luckily, before I left LA our finance department had advised me to take my rubber stamp with my name and title on it. I remember being in the middle of a session and a contractor came to me and asked for some proof of payment. I would tell them, “Oh, don't worry.” I just got my stamp out and endorsed the documents very loudly with the rubber stamp. It was really funny, and after that they never doubted me again.
The end result was so beautiful and creative! When I got back to the US, the score was changed a bit because the studio wanted to add some extra cues, however, Takemitsu’s score was exceptional and very precise.
Q: Which project has been your favorite so far? Are there any in particular that you are the proudest of?
A: Right now, I'm really enjoying working on Fosse, it’s such a fun project. I also really liked working on the musical, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Rent Live, we had never done anything like that before, so it was fun.
I am also really proud of the scores for The Orville television series. The composers are exceptional, and the orchestra has been so amazing. When I’m in those sessions, it's like being inside of a Swiss watch with many jewels. Seeing all the parts working together is simply amazing. Nowadays, a lot of television shows just have synthetic scores, but we're fortunate enough to still have some shows with an orchestra.
Q: How many shows are still playing with an orchestra versus synthetic scores here at Fox?
A: We have about five or six series like The Orville, Family Guy, American Dad, Empire, and a few others that still use a live orchestra. I produce those sessions here on the lot with about 30 to 40 musicians. The Orville is the exception. We have anywhere between 70 to 95 musicians for the large battle scenes, depending on the episode. Most of the other shows are recorded in the composer's own studios.
Q: Who is your favorite composer?
A: They're all great! Really! They're all very different and talented in different areas and styles, so it's hard to pick a favorite. I did really love working with John Williams. Just being in the room with him while he was conducting was amazing.
Q: Do you have a genre/type of project that you have not completed yet and is on your wish list?
A: I’ve done everything from rock & roll, to ethnic music, classical, jazz, modern, hip-hop, choral and contemporary. I've even produced a ballet album. However, I’ve never worked with opera music. The instrument of the solo operatic voice is just amazing, so I would love to do that.
Q: Can you describe your process when you’re working on a project? Walk me through how you tackle a project from start to finish.
A: First, I start with the script, then we hire a music supervisor to go through the script and break it down for the music scenes. Then, the producers meet with our creative team, and decide which composer they want to hire based on the style of music they want. Then, I get a call to go ahead and make the deal with the composer. Once the episode is shot and the composer spots the picture, I go ahead and begin to book the scoring sessions if we have an orchestral session. If the composer is doing a synth package, they will record the music in their own studios, and will turn in the music elements at the end of each episode. Finally, we issue the approvals for them to get paid.
Q: What would you say is the most challenging part of your job?
A: The most challenging part of my job is to juggle the scoring sessions to fit within the schedules of all the different composers, producers, scoring crew members, orchestra members, and contractors. It's like a giant puzzle to get everyone to record on the same day and time. It’s challenging, interesting and fun.
Q: How do you handle creative differences between collaborators?
A: You have to be a really good politician. You have to assess the situation from all viewpoints and suggest solutions without insulting anyone. I try to guide all the collaborators so that the project runs smoothly, and everyone is happy with the end result.
Q: Do you think technology has positively - or not - helped your field? How?
A: I think that technology has been positive in our field. It’s true that when technology was not as advanced people had more time to craft their work, but things didn't move as quickly. There were no computers involved so everything took longer and was done by hand. Back then, the quality of the sound was a little bit more three-dimensional, but today we can be so much more intricate and make modifications quickly. Also, there are many new sounds and textures that can be added and mixed in with the orchestra.
Q: What has the Fox experience been like so far for you?
A: Fox is like a family. Many of us actually grew up here as children as I did. We are really fortunate to have people who have been working here for a long time. Our kids grew up here, and everyone is a team player, cordial, polite and respectful. The environment doesn’t feel like a big corporation where there is a strict code.
Q: What makes your experience here stand out?
Let me tell you that recording on the Newman stage is a unique experience. I've recorded all over the US and the world, but I think that the Newman stage offers the best sound. The room is so seasoned. The wood makes the music sound so incredible. It's like being inside of an amazing violin. In my opinion, the Newman stage is the best sounding orchestral room I've ever worked in or experienced.
Q: Where do you see the industry going in the next five years?
A: I think that the industry is going to continue to grow. Today, there are so many new options, and online streaming is offering new avenues and outlets.
Q: Do you have any words of advice for anyone who wants to “make it” in your field?
A: First of all, I think that everyone who wants to be involved in music should go to law school. When you’re involved with original music, it helps to understand the legal side. I also encourage them to study ethnomusicology, music, piano, and music business as much possible. They'll understand more about what you can and can’t do. Musicianship and music law are everchanging so it would help to have a good technical knowledge as well as an understanding of copyright law.
Q: When you’re not working, what do you do for fun?
A: When I'm not working – if that ever happens – I like to travel, spend time with my family, and visit my friend’s ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley. I love going up there, I feel like I can get out of the city and walk around in the fields and scream.
Q: Please tell us one fun fact about you that most people don’t know!
A: Oh my God, I'm a car freak! I love great cars and good food. And I love to dance.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: I really enjoy working with Stacey Robinson, here at Fox. She runs a very efficient and great ship. She's the best and she puts up with me.