Happy Birthday, Mychael Danna!
Kristen. Tall, knits, writes. Film, television, film & TV music and other media.
Based in Boston, MA. Rhode Island native. Coffee milk all day long.
TRACK: Do You Think There's a Heaven ARTIST: Mychael Danna and DeVotchKa ALBUM: Little Miss Sunshine Soundtrack
Happy Birthday, Mychael Danna!
Eccleston Falls No More
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Best post ever.
Here’s a preview of my interview with Inon Zur about his score to Reclaim. This appears in the September 2014 issue of Film Score Monthly Online.
By Kristen Romanelli
Shannon and Steve (Rachelle Lefevre and Ryan Phillipe) are an American couple visiting Puerto Rico to meet Nina (Briana Roy), a Haitian girl they adopted through an international agency. When Nina disappears, the new parents are thrown into the dangerous world of human traffickers as they try to find their daughter and bring her home. Rather than embracing the drums-and-brass standard of action scoring, Australian director Alan White sought a more emotional connection with the music. Inon Zur (video games Dragon Age II, Fallout 3) composed a suspenseful acoustic score that relies on the strings of the Macedonia Radio Symphony Orchestra, guitar and piano.
Kristen Romanelli: So, what initially attracted you to Reclaim?
Inon Zur: Well, first and foremost, I’m attracted to storytelling and this is a story that almost feels real. It’s also derived from real events and I really liked that about it. It wasn’t about the action or the thrills or the tension—it was really something about humanity. We can see how this couple are going through a transformation and they become different people than they were in the beginning of the movie. This transformation made me identify with them, as a father, because I have three kids. The whole notion of children and family and the attachment to them is so strong—it basically takes over your life. Their struggle to fight for someone they just got to know really touched me. Something in them told them that she’s their daughter. They’re racing against all odds and against bad guys to save a girl who, two or three days before, they didn’t even know.
KR: Could you tell me a bit more about your approach to the music?
IZ: It’s very interesting because in the beginning, we looked at it more as a straightforward action film. Then, after lots of discussions with the director, Alan White, he understood that this was not the right approach for the film because it’s all about emotions. It’s not about what’s going on—it’s about what’s going on in their heads. So, we took a different direction and that was to always describe the emotions in the scene rather than describe exactly what was happening in the scene. For example, there is a very fast-paced jungle chase toward the end of the movie, and if you listen to the score, you’ll hear that it’s actually played very, very slowly—totally against the picture. It almost sounds like a requiem and it’s interesting because I started the movie with a requiem for Haiti. This was their own private requiem because at this point you understand that the woman who is being chased just doesn’t stand any chance. The other approach to the score was to focus on the string section. I didn’t use anything in the movie except for all kinds of stringed instruments. Even the percussion! Some of the percussion are real drums, but many of it is hitting on guitars. The string section plays the soft and emotional part and harsh strings—which I actually performed myself, bowing on an acoustic guitar—presented “the bad and the darkness” in the film. So these two approaches—good versus bad, dark versus light—just using strings is also something I really enjoyed exploring.
KR: I really appreciated that as I was listening—hearing just how versatile those instruments are.
IZ: Oh, it’s amazing. You can hit it, you can scrape it. I like to create my own improvised instruments and I wanted to get something that sounded like thumps or heartbeats, so I opened my grand piano, placed a very close mic and just hit it with my open hand. With that and the whole sound that happens in the piano, it created this very low, thumpy voice with a little zing of the string. You could hear the string but it was very ambient. It’s very ominous.
KR: In one of the cues that I particularly liked, “A New Family,” about halfway through, the tone changes from this warm lullaby-like melody to something a bit more foreboding. I like that, when music tells the story just as well without the picture.
IZ: It’s interesting because that was one of the favorite cues that the producers liked. It’s about the journey and this is how it starts and in the middle of this cue, you see some stuff that isn’t right. The music is going with it. At this point, it’s only memories but the music is following it.
The full article may be read at Film Score Monthly Online.
This is a snippet from my interview with Jan A. P. Kaczmarek about his score to the Polish documentary Joanna. This appears in the September 2014 issue of Film Score Monthly Online.
By Kristen Romanelli
In 2010, Joanna was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She started her blog, “Chustka,” in the hope of sharing her daily life and her conversations with her son, Janek. “I appreciate simple things,” she says in one entry. “folk wisdom. and art, utility design, architecture, clothes. natural resources. simple food, one-dish meals. country nature: poppies, cornflowers, phloxes, mallows, forget-me-nots. primary colors. clear situations, straightforward messages, concise utterances. as little form as possible, as much meaning as possible.”
Her wisdom and mindfulness made “Chustka” one of the most popular Polish blogs and she was soon approached with the proposition to document her life on film. Director Aneta Kopacz met Joanna at the Warsaw Bookseller’s Club, where she was a special guest. Joanna was reluctant at first—she had already turned down several other filmmakers—but Kopacz’s captivating vision for the story changed her mind. The film became Poland’s first fully crowdfunded documentary.
For the score, Kopacz contacted an acquaintance: Academy Award-winner Jan A. P. Kaczmarek (Finding Neverland). Kaczmarek was moved by the request and by Joanna’s life and so he composed a quiet, introspective score that features solo piano and soft layers of electronic tones.
Kristen Romanelli: Although the documentary is short, it’s so touching and deeply emotional. In fewer than 40 minutes, we see how beautiful and extraordinary Joanna and her family are. There is sadness underlying the story but we can still see her thoughtfulness and her sense of humor. How did you become involved in the production?
Jan A. P. Kaczmarek: Well, one day, the director, Aneta [Kopacz], who I knew through common friends, she called me and she asked in a very shy fashion if I would—and could—be involved in the project. As always, when you you do documentary, there are shrinking budgets and all those things. She really wanted me to do it and this is the best way to get the composer—if you really want somebody to score the movie, I think if anybody has a very strong, convincing desire to work with somebody, then it opens the most important door: the door in their heart. Then, I saw the movie and I was completely moved and inspired, so it happened.
KR: Did you feel any personal attachment to the movie? I know that the subject is so personally touching to so many people.
JAPK: No, I didn’t have any personal stories related directly to it but, you know, we have friends and friends of friends. It’s quite common to feel empathy and in this case, as you put so eloquently, this is not just a story of a person who goes through the devastating illness but somebody who really has an incredible spirit and who conducts her life in a very inspiring way.
KR: Now, we don’t hear your music until a bit over 17 minutes into the film. When we first hear you, Joanna and her son, Janek, are picking mushrooms in the woods and it’s underscored by a gentle piano, which is joined by some tonal string sounds. What was your approach to the music?
JAPK: I was as careful as possible. When there is such a topic, you don’t want to be overly expressive or sentimental. The movie already has such a strong emotional impact on the viewer. The music had to be very careful, very sensitive and by no means trying to go too far. Maybe one exception is one cue at the very end that has the ambition to be a bit more dramatic.
KR: I did notice that, at some points, that it blends in with the ambient sound. For example, there’s a scene where we hear the rain the piano seems to become part of the rain.
JAPK: Yes, I needed to find that sound. I didn’t want to use classical instruments except piano, so I was creating a combination of piano and different, gentle electronic sounds, which were a perfect vehicle for those emotions—for kind of a careful penance and helping us move from one step to another, being a good friend of the whole situation.
The full article may be read at Film Score Monthly Online.
Here’s a quick look at my interview with Dario Marianelli about his score to The Boxtrolls, his first animated feature. This appears in the September 2014 issue of Film Score Monthly Online.
By Kristen Romanelli
There’s a terror that lurks beneath the streets of beautiful Cheesebridge. They come out at night to scurry through the streets and dine on human flesh—especially that of children! Or so say the stories and songs at the annual memorial for “The Trubshaw Baby,” a boy who was allegedly murdered by the boxtrolls 10 years ago. However, the boy, dubbed “Eggs” (voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright), is alive and well and lives with the boxtrolls in the sewers of Cheesebridge. In fact, the monsters are lovable tinkerers who are now endangered after years of being hunted by the city’s Red Hats—exterminators lead by the ruthless Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley). Eggs ventures back into human society to rescue his friends and clear their reputations.
The third feature film out of Laika’s animation studio, The Boxtrolls is a stop-motion adventure based on the novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow. The film is sweet and dark, in a Roald Dahl sort of way, and to score the off-kilter film, Laika brought on Dario Marianelli for his first animated feature.
Kristen Romanelli: I just saw The Boxtrolls a few days ago. It’s such a creepy-cute film! Tell me a bit about how you became involved with it.
Dario Marianelli: I had admired enormously Coraline and ParaNorman, Laika’s previous two movies. These people are mad (in a nice way) and their brand of madness really appealed to me. I loved the storytelling on those other movies and also the stop-motion technique at which they are the unsurpassed masters. Laika approached me before they were about to start animating the first few scenes: The first task was to create a tune for the music box, which Fish finds in the street. The music box becomes part of an increasingly complex music machine, and all those elements had to be worked out in advance so the animators could sync to the music.
KR: The very beginning of the movie has a very Franz Waxman-like, “classic monster movie” sound. From there, the music blossoms into this beautiful, quirky score. What was your approach to the music and what inspired you in the story?
DM: The prologue of the movie is a homage to the “classic monster movie” and I followed suit but I think it is the only straight quotation of a particular style—a kind of tongue-in-cheek reminder of Bride of Frankenstein, or perhaps more appropriately, of Young Frankenstein. Then, it was important for me to find a musical equivalent of the quirky world of Cheesebridge. I started by looking for the nocturnal, hopping sound of the boxtrolls as they go on their scavenging expeditions, all whispers and furtive skipping in darkened streets. Some of that sound was directly inspired by the way they walk, or rather hop.
KR: Tell me a bit more about the themes and motifs that you developed.
DM: As I mentioned, the very first motif was needed for the music box. It became quite an important one later on, as it started taking on meaning from the developing stepfather-son relationship between Fish and Eggs. Since it had to work together with the vinyl record in the music machine, that little tune also imposed a number of intriguing restrictions on what the barber-shop song could be.
Very early on I also developed the waltz for the party which happens later in the story, as it was needed early to animate to. Out of the waltz I derived two related themes: one for Eggs himself, which appears when we see him the first time and then often in relation to his gentle bravery; the other was a slightly more unsettled and quirky little tune, which got attached to the boxtrolls. There is also a very simple, but very useful darker motif, which in my mind represented the idea of “evil.” Snatcher also got his own tune, a bit of a twisted and grotesque, militaresque idea. As often in my music, sometimes the themes overlap, and there are moments where you can hear them playing concurrently.
KR: Did you pull from any classical influences? I’m especially thinking about that waltz at the Portley-Rind party.
DM: I thought it would be fun to play with the party in that way. First, when we arrive at the party, we hear a trio: a slightly out of tune piano with a fiddle and a cello, playing somewhere for the guests. It’s the party of the aristocracy and there’s an attempt to be classy, although I purposely made it a bit off, tuning-wise, and also the music is rather pedantic—these are boring people. Later, as the waltz starts to take on a more important role in the story and the trio gradually swells into a full orchestra, accompanying the moments of romance, tension, rage etc. as they come, fast one after the other.
The full article may be read at Film Score Monthly Online.
The September issue of Film Score Monthly Online is live! My editorial this month takes an all too brief look at the upcoming television season.
Summer has gone! (At least it has in Boston. Sorry, Los Angeles friends.) School has started, the sweaters have come out and it’s the most wonderful time of the year for television addicts. Over the next two months, new seasons of television will begin and as TV is increasingly the place to find creative storytelling, it has also become an intriguing venue for scores. Just as the small screen has attracted film directors like David Fincher (House of Cards), Guillermo del Toro (The Strain) and Steven Soderbergh (The Knick), many composers have found a comfortable place in the niche of television—whether it be network, cable or streaming. The medium is notorious for its grueling schedules but this is balanced with increased freedom for experimentation.
Familiar faces like Brian Tyler and Bear McCreary have returned with even more programs than last year. Sleepy Hollow is back, which Tyler co-composes with Robert Lydecker, with its brash cellos and mysterious strains. Tyler is also taking on the new CBS drama Scorpion, which is based on the life of real-life computer genius Walter O’Brien and directed by Tyler’s Fast & Furious collaborator, Justin Lin. McCreary also has a busy autumn with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Walking Dead as well as the continuation of the time traveling romance Outlander, which premiered in August, and NBC’s Constantine, based on Vertigo’s Hellblazer comics.
Comic book heroes will further take over the TV schedule this season as Arrow’s Blake Neely also scores The Flash. While nothing will surpass Shirley Walker’s thrilling music for the oft-overlooked 1990 series, Neely has proven his superhero chops with the kinetic and visceral Arrow. The inherent sense of fun in Barry Allen’s character, however, will bring an interesting challenge and I’m very interested in hearing how he approaches it, especially considering that these two programs exist in the same universe. Also out of the pages of DC Comics, Gotham explores the story of a young Detective James Gordon and the origins of some of the most notorious members of Batman’s rogues gallery. Graeme Revell returns to television scoring after a two-year hiatus to tackle this new installment in the Dark Knight mythos. Revell is familiar with the world of comic adaptation, having scored the likes of Tank Girl, Daredevil and Sin City, so working on a television show with about 10 hours of narrative should prove to be an opportunity to explore the grit and madness of Gotham City.
Personally, I’m already rapt with the new series of Doctor Who, with Peter Capaldi taking the Gallifreyan mantle and Murray Gold, once again, reinventing the sound for a character who no longer possesses the mad swagger of Matt Smith’s Doctor. “Twelve” is more straightforward and cutting. His motif is simple, yes, but its chords mimic “I Am the Doctor,” though in a different key. The Doctor’s new theme mirrors the character’s change in manner—dropping the twirling and hand wringing but retaining the bones. The sweet flute motif for Clara remains unchanged, but perhaps the most noticeable update is the drastic rearrangement of the show’s main title. Gone is the orchestral treatment and its variations from the past nine years. Instead, the program opens with and electronic theme that recalls Delia Derbyshire’s original realization with manipulated analogue tape. It oscillates and ticks while retaining the steady bass line and percussive beats—the Time Lord heart rhythm—thumping beneath that alien warble.
Although it is becoming less of a rarity, it’s my hope that the attention that quality television (and quality television scoring) has received will encourage production studios to ease their budgets and afford their composers the resources for live musicians and more complex arrangements. Programs with access to an orchestra, like Doctor Who and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., are enriched by the character that musicians breathe (and bow and strike) into a composer’s writing. Samples may be evolving and are no longer the obvious “boxed tunes” they once were, but the added dimension of the human touch is hard to replicate. While we may not be able to relive the golden days of broadcast orchestras, I’m optimistic about the turn television has been taking over the past several years and I’m eager to see where it takes us next.
This month, it takes us to Tim Greiving’s interview with John Debney, who scored History’s Houdini—an exciting look at the legendary illusionist; and Catherine Garcia chats with Daniel Licht about life after eight seasons of Dexter. On the big screen, Dario Marianelli ventures into the whimsical world of animation with his score to The Boxtrolls and Jan A. P. Kaczmarek pens the music for Joanna, a Polish documentary about an extraordinary woman. Score Restore takes a look at a cut David Shire cue from Pelham 1-2-3 and Tim Burden catches up with mixing master Dennis Sands. Perhaps most exciting, however, is the return of our Gold Rush column. For its first installment, Michelle Flowers explores the roots of Golden Age film scores and the use of leitmotif. So get comfortable, order a pumpkin-spiced whatever and enjoy!
15 Favorite Disney Films (Including: Live Action, Pixar, and other Disney owned films)
#09: A Goofy Movie;
"She looked right through me, and who can blame her? I need a new me, plus some positive proof that I’m not just a goof."