Highland Park grad practices 'invisible art' as Hollywood music editor

  • Highland Park High School graduate Will Kaplan works with Hollywood directors as a longtime music editor.

    Highland Park High School graduate Will Kaplan works with Hollywood directors as a longtime music editor. Submitted photo

  • Highland Park High School graduate Will Kaplan says if people notice his work as a music editor, he hasn't done his job.

    Highland Park High School graduate Will Kaplan says if people notice his work as a music editor, he hasn't done his job.

Posted7/25/2017 5:30 AM

Will Kaplan prides himself on being the practitioner of an "invisible art."

"If you notice what I've done," the 1976 Highland Park High School grad said, "then I haven't done it well."


Kaplan has been employed as a Hollywood music editor for more than three decades.

He has worked side by side with such luminary filmmakers as Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Tony Scott, even the venerable Carl Reiner.

Kaplan's credits include the Oscar-winning "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)," "Super 8," "The Lego Batman Movie" and the upcoming "Death Wish" remake.

Explaining exactly what a music editor does can be a bit complicated.

Sometimes, Kaplan acts as a one-man audio SWAT team called in to help out with a troubled production.

Take the time Warner Bros. executives didn't like Alan Silvestri's music score to Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1996 thriller "Eraser." Kaplan said he solved the problem by cutting Silvestri's original score into shorter pieces, or "cues," then rearranging them on the soundtrack so they picked up the tempo.

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Even Silvestri liked it.

And the execs liked it so much, they offered Kaplan an office on the Warner Bros. lot as a freelance music consultant.

"Anytime there's a problem on the lot, my Bat-phone would go off, and I report to whatever show is in trouble and help," Kaplan said.

His metaphorical Bat-phone went off for the 2010 Warner Bros. horror western "Jonah Hex." To improve its unsatisfactory mix of heavy metal songs and music, Kaplan stripped the vocals out, then merged the songs' background tracks with Marco Beltrami's score.

Sometimes, Kaplan uses his extensive knowledge of movie soundtracks to create temporary, or "temp," scores for movies in production.

"Like right now, I'm doing a 20th Century Fox film called 'The Predator' directed by Shane Black," Kaplan said. "I'm putting in a temp score for test audiences. These guys gotta see it with music or they don't know how they feel about it."

Kaplan said that filmmakers sometimes become so enamored with the temp score, they use it instead.

Some filmmakers give Kaplan free rein to create his own sound cues. Others know exactly what they want.


"On 'Guardians of the Galaxy,' director James Gunn not only picked what songs to use, he indicated exactly when the song would play and exactly which lyrics we would hear," Kaplan said. "That doesn't happen very often."

After graduating from Highland Park High, young Kaplan set his sights on Boston University, but tuition costs led him to attend the less expensive James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Kaplan's switch proved to be fortuitous, for he met a fellow student named Ember Vaughan, who later married Kaplan and became a professional singer.

After college, Kaplan moved back to Chicago, where he landed a job with Robert Richter, a former creative director at Leo Burnett. Kaplan wrote Oprah Winfrey's first commercial jingle back when she hosted TV's "A.M. Chicago."

Curious, we asked Kaplan why the movies don't employ more classic themes such as John Williams' memorable ones from "Star Wars" or "Jaws" or "Superman."

"In current cinema, we no longer allow time for music to set a theme," he answered. "Back in the day, you could hum a movie theme and people would know which movie it came from.

"Can you tell me the theme from any 'Captain America' or Marvel superhero movie? Most people couldn't, including me!"

But why?

"If a film held a long shot -- for say 30 seconds -- to allow the music to take over the moment, I think a lot of studio executives would panic because they think the viewers would get bored.

"Music is an emotional art form. and can be used to great effect, as anyone who watches films knows."

-- Dann Gire

• Jamie Sotonoff and Dann Gire are on the hunt for suburbanites in showbiz. Know someone with a good story? Let them know at jsotonoff@dailyherald.com and dgire@dailyherald.com.

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