Success has gone to the dogs, and SOCAN members Cal Brunker and Bob Barlen couldn’t be happier about it.
PAW Patrol: The Movie – which Brunker directed, and co-wrote with Associate Producer Barlen, and Billy Frolick – achieved such boffo box office ($130 million worldwide since its August 20, 2021 release) that a sequel and a spin-off TV series have been commissioned by Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, and Spin Master Entertainment for 2023.
The ultra-popular, pre-school, animated franchise – originally created by Keith Chapman – attracted a stellar guest-voice cast to the tale of a 10-year-old and his crew of first-responder pups in charge of Adventure Bay’s rescue operations: Iain Armitage, Marsai Martin, Randall Park, Dax Shepard, Tyler Perry, Jimmy Kimmel, and Kim Kardashian.
But it’s also created some additional opportunities for a plethora of SOCAN members: the aforementioned Cal Brunker and Bob Barlen, of course, but also Rob Szabo, who served as the film’s music editor, and added a few cues of his own; songwriters Alessia Cara and Jon Levine (for writing the song “The Use In Trying,” sung by Cara, for the film); and CCS Rights Management, which administers PAW Patrol for SOCAN member and toy manufacturer Spin Master – a company founded in London, Ontario, that boasts more than 28 offices, and achieves more than $1.6 billion annually in gross sales.
For Szabo, it provided entry into a brand new world. “I’ve done music for films, and I’ve had songs that I’ve written appear in film and TV, but I’ve never done custom music in the way that I did it, and I haven’t done music editing, either,” he says.
“In a nutshell, the music supervisor usually sends a bunch of tracks for any given cue that’s not scored, and you chop them up to fit the cue. Then the team, which is the director, the writer, and other people, audition eight to 10 tracks for any given cue, and they decide on what they want to use.
“That’s what I did for all that wasn’t scored in the film, but there were some instances where we auditioned those tracks, and the team wasn’t satisfied with the options they had. So at that point they asked me to write something custom for those cues. I got three tracks into the movie that way.”
Szabo, who’s enjoyed a professional relationship with director Cal Bruckner that’s lasted two decades, says his previous experience as a producer stood him in good stead for the conversion to the editorial role. “What I realized doing the job is that I’ve been in training for this for the last 10 years, producing records in many different styles,” he says. “It was exactly what this job requires; you have to really know many genres, and you have to be comfortable chopping things up pretty finely.
“There was an Adam Levine track composed custom for the film by Shellback. That was the big song for the film, and we did lots of re-edits. If you listen to the version that’s on Spotify, and you compare it for what’s in the cue for the film, the stuff’s all out of order, and some of the things don’t exist in the track, because I was working from stems – and that’s part of the job.”
According to the Toronto Star, the Kitchener-raised duo of Cal Brunker and Bob Barlen were tapped for PAW Patrol: The Movie thanks to a lifelong cinematic obsession that bonded their friendship around the medium. They made films in high school and carried that love into post-secondary education, with Barlen earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Video at Ryerson University and Brunker studying animation at Sheridan College.
Post-graduation, the duo focused on making commercials, and got their big break in 2013’s animated Escape From Planet Earth. Brunker was hired as director, brought Barlen aboard for script contributions, and the film – featuring the voices of William Shatner, Brendan Fraser, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Jessica Alba – put them on the map. After partnering as writers on four more animated children’s films, Spin Master came calling.
Brunker and Barlen pitched PAW Patrol as a film rather than an extended TV episode, with a twist. “We wanted to focus on one character’s main story and go on an emotional journey with them,” Brunker explained to The Star. “It would be familiar for fans of the show, but also an elevated experience to go see at the theatre.”
Spin Master and Paramount green-lit the project, and Brunker and Barlen told the Star that they’d found an extremely supportive partner. “We’d be showing them stuff constantly, and they were as excited as we were and wanted us to keep going,” Brunker told the paper. “We were all totally on the same page. There was no creative friction at all.”
The film’s popularity has also been a boon for SOCAN member publisher CCS Rights Management, which administers the music rights around the world for the property – in whatever form it takes. “We administer 100 percent of the music that they own and control, and they own and control the publishing side of all of those songs,” says CCS founder and President Jodie Ferneyhough.
“For the most part, the songs in that movie are direct pulls from the TV show. There’s some variations on those songs in the film, but those fit with Spin Master and we still control those. Spin Master has a partial ownership in the Adam Levine and Alessia Cara songs.”
The music rights also extend to Spin Master toys. “We license a lot of music into toys, and a substantial amount of PAW Patrol songs are used in everything from balloons to ride-on cars,” says Ferneyhough. “Those types of opportunities for new uses in products goes a long way.”
Ferneyhough says handling the music rights for a huge company like Spin Master also does wonders for CCS’s credibility. “It definitely does help us as an administrator when I go to a conference, or I call up other production companies,” he says. “The fact that we’re being trusted to administer for that kind of a juggernaut opens doors for us.”
Perhaps Rob Szabo gives the best paws for thought [Groan – Ed.] when it comes to future participation in the potential PAW Patrol movie franchise. “It’s amazing to be part of something at this scale,” he says. “To get music in a movie like this is fantastic.”