John and Patrick Houlihan at Newsman Scoring Stage at 20th Century Fox Studios (pic: John Houlihan)
The Movie Brothers – Part 2: Patrick Houlihan
Last month we spoke to John Houlihan, Senior Vice President of Music at 20th Century Fox film studios, and this month we’re going to get the other side of the sibling story by seeing what his younger brother Patrick (who also has the same job at the same studio!) has to say for himself.
Patrick was born in Waukegan, Illinois (just outside of Chicago), and the family moved to the East Coast when he was very young. Like John he was largely brought up in New Jersey, and he also agreed that “rowdy” was a “very accurate description of our childhood. I am still not sure how our parents survived the chaos,” he laughed.
Today Patrick lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two young teenage daughters, but he still remembers growing up hearing some legendary stories about the Houlihan’s Irish ancestry.
“As far I am aware, we are direct descendants of Fionn mac Cumhaill himself,” he said, adding that his brother John has been investigating their lineage. “He keeps promising that we will need to go scour every pub in Ireland to verify his findings, so I keep a bag packed, my passport close to hand, and I patiently await his call to action.”
Patrick has visited Ireland before, spending a summer taking some courses at University of Galway during his college years.
“While pretending to study, I spent most of my time trying to see and experience as much of the country as I could. Some memorable moments took place at the Cliffs of Moher, the Guinness Factory and the Dingle Peninsula, but most of all I enjoyed spending time at local pubs meeting the incredible folks of Ireland – friendliest people on the planet. All in all, it was an incredible experience.”
Asked about his job as a music supervisor, Patrick said that “most days I’m on urgent conference calls from the moment I pull out of my driveway. Then I may go to a “spotting session” with a composer and set of filmmakers to figure out the best way to use songs and score throughout each scene of their film.”
There could be many other tasks, including going to vocal sessions to work with an actor who must pre-record their singing for an upcoming music scene, “grinding” on song deal negotiations to get prices down, or simply convincing the owners of a song to approve a clearance request.
There are of course lots of meetings – “sometimes I even have meetings about meetings!” – and every couple of weeks there is usually a test screening “where 400 people from the real world are watching a rough cut of a film and rating all of the elements including the music.”
No two days are the same it seems, but Patrick reckons he is fortunate to have a job that provides him with so many varied experiences. John and Patrick work together regularly, and Patrick says that “while we don’t know absolutely everything about all music, we do know how to discover it all and how to apply it to a film.”
Aside from the huge moments like the Disney takeover, the music business has changed a great deal over the last few decades too, going from vinyl to online streaming.
No matter what the format is however, Patrick says he “still enjoys looking for the needle in the haystack. I think that the digital age and streaming has really opened up a ton of incredible access to music and artists that 15-20 years ago I might not have ever been privy to. They’re very powerful tools.”
He admits that he misses holding CD artwork and thumbing through liner notes, but streaming and the internet is “such a deeper and quicker dive into a new artist. With just a few clicks you get videos, live performances, additional photos, interviews and more. Honestly, I find it pretty mind blowing.”
Unusually, Patrick and John work in the same job and at the same place – but both have different stories of how they ended up where they are today.
“Out of the Blue” by Electric Light Orchestra was the first album I ever bought,” said Patrick. “I was 10 years old, and my brother “co-financed” the deal with me – I guess you could say that is when our collaborative spirit began!”
He admits that the pair have always loved discovering, creating and exploiting music, and that “it has always come naturally to us. One of us is always spouting out song ideas or suggesting composers for the other’s latest film project.”
As mentioned last month, it was John who was the first to move to Los Angeles with the express purpose to get into music supervision. The year was 1992 and he had just $200 in his pocket, but in time he hired Patrick at the small company he co-founded. John’s wife Julie and another of their brothers, Kevin, works with them today too.
“Yes,” said Patrick. “I do credit John with giving me my start and mentoring me through the dark art of music supervision when old dinosaurs like him roamed the earth, and it is a blast to be able to work closely with him every day.”
“However,” he adds ominously, “in regards to some of John’s “superiority” claims in his interview… well, that is just the drink talking!”
Both brothers have had some memorable moments, and while John told us about using psychic powers on Aretha Franklin and tip-toeing past bodyguards to see a famous rap artist, Patrick says that he has to pinch himself all the time on what he calls a “rollercoaster ride.”
He did mention a couple of times though.
“I have had the privilege to score Ridley Scott films at Abbey Road Studios, shoot music videos with Celine Dion and Ryan Reynolds in Las Vegas (the famous “Ashes” song from Deadpool 2, which went viral and has close to 60m views on YouTube), and I taught Emma Stone how to play bass. It’s all a dream!”
Outside of work, Patrick is soccer-obsessed. “Whether it is watching Liverpool inch closer to the EPL Title, coaching my girl’s teams, playing pick-up games, or googling “best goals ever scored,” I love everything to do with the sport, and it is what fills most of my time away from film music.”
As for his favorite project, Patrick said generously that his best moments come “when an original song and original score intertwine,” singling out one especially: the collaboration between film composer Teddy Shapiro and singer/songwriter Jose Gonzalez on their score to the Ben Stiller movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which included the “stunning” original song called “Stay Alive.”
As far as the worst one project he had even worked on, he was more discreet: “My mother taught us that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!”
Finally, we asked Patrick about his most unusual interest. John had mentioned his love of painting houses, a habit he had picked up working for a company during college breaks, and Patrick had a similar outdoorsy hobby.
“I have a great affection for landscaping – specifically lawn mowing. As a kid, I monopolized the market in our neighborhood, and professional landscapers despised me because I undercut their fees and would end up doing a better job than they could. I find it to be incredibly soothing and get such instant gratification from the end result. In fact, the high art that I bring to lawn mowing is often compared to Michelangelo!”