An invisible role

Special to The Times

Brian Reitzell is not a music supervisor. Never mind the fact that he’s been instrumental in creating, collaborating on and overseeing the soundtracks to three feature films (he’s currently working on his fourth). Brian Reitzell is not a music supervisor.

“To be honest, I still don’t even know what the term means,” says Reitzell, who is credited as the “music producer” for director Sofia Coppola’s sophomore effort, “Lost in Translation,” which opens Friday.

“It all just sort of fell into my lap.”

Reitzell’s first movie assignment came about the time the 37-year-old drummer and veteran member of the L.A. band Redd Kross was hired on as the percussionist for Air’s touring band.

“I had been friends with Sofia for a long time, and when she first started working on ‘The Virgin Suicides,’ she asked me to help with the music,” Reitzell says. “All we knew was that we just wanted to be true to the book, to the musical references it made, to the period it was set in. She was also listening to a lot of Air’s first album, ‘Moon Safari,’ at the time.”

He went on to collaborate with Air on the eerily beautiful score for Coppola’s debut. Then Reitzell was tapped by Coppola’s brother, Roman, to create a score for his own film, “CQ.” For that project, he enlisted the help of the French band Mellow. Together, they created a giddy, buoyant soundtrack inspired by the ‘60s bubblegum of Gainsbourg and Bardot.


“Mellow and I just sent each other MP3s and we would play around with them and send them back,” Reitzell says. “Most of the time we only communicated via the Internet, but they really had a sense for what would work.”

After the completion of “CQ,” Reitzell teamed up once again with Sofia Coppola.

“I trust Brian,” she says. “He’s got an incredible knowledge of music. I mean, he knows everything. It’s encyclopedic. I knew I wanted him involved from the start, so I told him a little about the story I was about to write, about the characters, and about the kind of feeling I wanted to create around them.”

“Lost in Translation” is set entirely in Japan, primarily amid the bustling, brightly lighted backdrop of Tokyo. The story of two American travelers (played with sly humor and subtle grace by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson), “Lost” is a quiet meditation on isolation and unexpected friendship.

“I wanted to create this sense of disassociation, of being in this kind of unfamiliar, alienating world,” Coppola says, “but discovering something there that was relevant. I want to create a very moody, kind of melancholic movement to the narrative, so I asked Brian to make me some mixes to listen to while I was writing.”

Says Reitzell: “I had been to Tokyo, and I knew what Sofia meant, about the way the city feels and the way you feel as a traveler -- the kind of strange, floating, jet-lagged weirdness. So I made three mixes called ‘Tokyo Dream Pop 1, 2 and 3.’ ”

Reitzell’s homemade CDs were filled with a selection of ambient tracks, everything from the Jesus & Mary Chain to Brian Eno. “It was amazing,” says Ross Katz, the movie’s producer. “Sofia listened to these mixes while she was writing and then we took them with us to Tokyo while we were location scouting.”

When it came time to score the film, Reitzell licensed many of the songs from his mixes for the final soundtrack, including tracks from Squarepusher and Death in Vegas, and the Jesus & Mary Chain classic “Just Like Honey.”

Eager for a collaborator to help compose original music for the film, Reitzell tracked down My Bloody Valentine’s infamously reclusive singer-songwriter, Kevin Shields.

“I knew he’d be perfect for it,” he says. “I knew he could capture that droning, swaying, beautiful kind of feeling that we wanted.”

Shields agreed and the two began tracking, utilizing both daily footage and Coppola’s script for inspiration.

“When you’re making a record, the end result sounds pretty much like what you started with,” Shields says. “With a film, they were playing with the original concept, doing different takes and allowing the actors to improvise. It was really a revelation to see how conceptual it was. It was amazing to see how it evolved from the first idea to the final product.”

One of Shields’ original songs, “City Girl,” ended up on the soundtrack, which was released last week by L.A.-based indie label Emperor Norton.

“We just tried to capture, as purely as we could, what Sofia was trying to convey,” Reitzell says.

The result is a film whose narrative appears to float on its score, a subtle, lilting, musical accompaniment.

“In the end,” Katz says, “we had to find a new title for Brian. ‘Music supervisor’ just didn’t convey what he did with this film. We went with ‘music producer’ instead, because we wanted the audience to know just how much he had done. He conceptualized, he gathered, he composed, he had immense hand in the tone of the film.”

Says Coppola: “He captured something beautiful with the music that I couldn’t convey with just words and images. He made it magical.”