Randall Poster might have the best job in the world. For the past 20 years he’s been a music supervisor on more than 100 feature films, responsible for seeking out songs for some of the most musically memorable movies such as Velvet Goldmine, School of Rock and I’m Not There. He listens to music voraciously, discusses it with directors like Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese and Richard Linklater, and helps place it in their films so that it strikes the right emotional notes. As he puts it, “I’m there to help figure out the musical strategy for a film, and to execute it.”
They say music is the soundtrack to our lives, and for Poster this has never been more apt than with Boyhood, a film whose music is as reflective of its characters’ 12-year journey as anything in the script. As Ellar Coltrane’s Mason grows up before our eyes, period-appropriate songs from the likes of Coldplay, Arcade Fire and Bob Dylan hold his hand into adulthood.
“This is the fifth film I’ve done with Rick (Linklater),” Poster says. “(His films) usually are opportunities when you’re less bound by precondition, but this was a movie where Rick felt the music would help mark the passage of time. It was important that we followed a pretty strict rule: We were going to use songs that were reflective of the moment.”
So the film opens with Coldplay’s “Yellow,” released a couple of years before the start of shooting in 2002, putting audiences immediately back in the pre-iPhone era. “You get the sense of how certain relationships change, because music and song are abiding companions for all the changes we go through in life,” Poster says.
The collaboration on Boyhood extended beyond Linklater, who encouraged his cast to bring their own ideas about music to Poster. “It was important for Rick to allow Ethan Hawke—who’s music savvy—and other people working on the movie into the conversation,” he says.
At one point, Hawke’s character gives his son a specially curated mixed CD combining the best of The Beatles’ solo work—in the film, his character calls it “The Black Album.” Hawke himself chose the track listing, and the philosophy behind it. Poster secured Paul McCartney’s Wings hit “Band on the Run” to play in the film by example.
“It was important to us to have plenty of legendary voices and legendary pieces in the movie,” says Poster. “We wanted to enjoin some of the legends of rock and roll into the process.”
And while McCartney, Dylan and Chris Martin are all very cautious about how they license their work, Poster’s history and perseverance meant no licensing challenge was too big. “Both Rick and I have good relationships with artists that we’ve worked with over the years,” he says. “As these people saw the ambition of the project, they wanted to fall in and be a part of it.”
His favorites on the Boyhood soundtrack include Family of the Year’s defining track “Hero,” and the Jeff Tweedy song “Summer Noon,” which was written specifically for the film. “I first worked with Jeff in 1988 or 1990,” Poster reflects. “That relationship marks the evolution of my own boyhood, really.”