Category Archives: Film Composer

The magic of James Horner: Casper (1995)

Thanks to everyone who has participated in the blogathon so far. Today is the last day and here is my contribution. Enjoy!

It’s been two years since James Horner was ripped away from us, his passing left a void that may never be filled. He had a gift for creating magical themes that stuck in the head for hours after the movie was over. And one of my favorite examples from the mid-90s was the main theme from Casper (1995).

Loosely based on the comics character Casper the Friendly Ghost, Casper follows a paranormal therapist, Dr. James Harvey (Bill Pullman) and his daughter “Kat” as they travel from state to state in an attempt to make contact with the spirit of Harvey’s deceased wife Amelia. The pair come to Casper’s former home when the spoiled heiress who inherited the home wants the ghosts (Casper and his uncles) removed so she can claim the “treasure” hidden inside.

Casper’s Lullaby

Casper’s theme, listed on the soundtrack as “Casper’s Lullaby”, is a haunting piano melody that comes to the forefront particularly when Casper remembers the events of his death, and also during the Halloween dance when Kat realizes she’s dancing with Casper (who’s alive for one night).

How Casper Died

It’s such a haunting melody, one that highlights the tragedy of Casper’s short life, and the fact that he “didn’t go where he was supposed to” but stayed behind instead. Actually, ever since Horner passed away, I’ve had a hard time listening to this theme, as it reminds me that one of the greatest film composers is gone before his time. I hope you enjoy listening to Casper’s Lullaby, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the blogathon today.

Composer Interview with Scott Doherty

Scott Doherty is a lifelong musician, though some might say a reluctant composer. After moving from his hometown of Maine to Los Angeles at the age of 18, Scott’s early musical pursuits included playing live music to large audiences at venues like the House of Blues and the El Ray and performing in the South Coast Repertory Theatre production ‘Against Oblivion’, among other productions. He was led to study and pursue sound and music composition and since then, has composed music for numerous film and TV projects, including ‘Weeds’, ‘Orange is the New Black’ and most recently, ‘The Holdouts’. We sat down to talk with Scott about his career as a musician and composer.

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How did you get into composing for television?
Looking back, I feel like it was something I didn’t directly aim to do. I was in the band world playing keys for other bands and I hit a point with where I felt somewhat stilted, which moved me away from the record format and more into instrumental music. From there I dove into the recording studio and was just fascinated by everything. It was over the course of a year that I was asked to write a couple of score-based projects. I was asked to direct a few shows, music for a documentary called ‘Becoming Santa’, and these projects felt more like a perfect fit, using music to tell stories. Not long after, I ran into a friend who was a music supervisor and she’d become the head of music for the E! Network. I began to work on a string of shows for them, doing theme songs for different shows. I was still craving writing music to picture,  and about that time is when the opportunity for ‘Orange is the New Black’ came in. I was asked to join in the series that would be on Netflix, and at the time, digital wasn’t what it was today – so it was really a leap of faith.

 

Yeah, I remember at the time it was announced it seemed really weird like, television on Netflix? How does that even work?  *laughs* Yeah, people were really unsure of the platform, but I saw the entire first season of ‘Orange’ before the rest of the world did and I fell in love with it:  the story, the characters, the incredible actors. I just had no idea how lucky we would become with this series.

 

With each season (of Orange is the New Black’) being released all at once, what is the schedule for creating the score for each episode, compared to a regular television series? Has everything already been shot?  There are a lot of similarities actually, in the way that we have a similar production schedule to a regular show on network cable. There’s about a week to do each episode, and production is usually about three to four episodes ahead of us, but it is still the same production flow. The difference is that we’re not getting feedback week to week from audiences. Because all thirteen episodes are available at once, Netflix encouraged us (in fact they sent a note about it about halfway through the first season) to think of it really as a thirteen hour-long movie, rather than a normal, episodic TV show. And that changed the way that I look at the character theme arcs and making sure that whatever happens in episode one, that same day the audience could be watching episode eight, so the continuity needed to be there.

 

Right, so if each season is like a movie, does that mean there is more there in terms of character motifs?
Yes, and with ‘Orange’ there is such a diverse cast, with so many “lead” actors and actresses, so we really try and focus in on a specific melodic theme or sonic world that is created to support each character, and some of that makes its way into their flashbacks. Some of those themes are in fact born in flashbacks because with some characters we don’t get to really know them until those moments. But it really does feel more like scoring a film than a television show in that regard.

 

So with Season 5 coming on June 9th, have any of the (musical) themes changed over the years?
Oh most definitely. One of the biggest would be Dayanara’s theme, which started as her and Bennet’s love theme and as their relationship went on the rocks, it created a flipped version of the same theme, but more dark. Suzanne’s (“Crazy Eyes”) theme starts off more aggressive, but as we get to know her, the innocence comes out. And then there’s a hybrid of the two, and also there’s some situational themes that come back over time. I really feel the prison itself has a real character to it, there’s an “essence” of what prison sounds like.

 

 

Definitely. What about Piper? Because she’s the one who’s really thrown headlong into all of this at the start.
I feel like the way we’ve worked with Piper through the seasons is more situational in terms of themes. Some of them have been more whimsical, a theme to reinforce the isolation she was feeling (in the SHU), then in – I think it was season three –  there was the “Piper 2.0” theme with an aggressive Piper finding her voice and that carried over into season four. There really isn’t one central theme for Piper, it really changes from season to season for her.

 

I actually misunderstood what this show was going to be about. Because when the preview for the pilot came out, I saw that Piper was being sentenced to this relatively short time in prison, so I thought ‘Orange is the New Black’ was meant to be a one-off, a one season and that’s it sort of deal. And then I saw articles about season two, three and I’m like “why is this show still going?” And that’s when I read the summaries and realized this show was a lot more complex than I imagined.
*laughs* Oh yeah, but it’s really something like ’24′, which plays out in real time. And it’s also hard to gauge how much time is actually passing in these seasons. We’ve seen one Christmas and one Valentine’s Day so far. But it really does feel like we haven’t even covered a year yet. No one is too specific with covering sentences. But this latest season (season 5) will cover exactly three days. That was the story motif for this season.

 

Wow, so there’s a lot of stuff packed in to this season?
Yes! It starts off with a bang and keeps on going, I wish I could talk about it but there’s only a week to go now. What’s great about the first season though, is it uses Piper to introduce us to prison, to what it would feel like to have something from your past that you may have forgotten come back and affect you. And also what it would feel like to be one of those people outside of the walls and suddenly find themselves inside it. And so I think they were able to use her story to get us into prison, and as soon as the 2nd season started, the focus is now on every other inmate. It’s no longer about the singular struggle of this woman, it’s now more about the life of women in prison.

 

So in theory this show could run indefinitely?
Absolutely!

 

So, one last question, you said it was the same production flow as a regular television show. So is recording the music anything like film where you have the footage playing out in front of you?
Yes, it’s exactly the same. The way it breaks down is, we go to a spotting session where we sit down and watch the editor’s cut with temporary music put in. And we discuss it and say, “what do we like? Are there any character themes missing? Does it need to be funny or sad?”  And then we have about five to six days to complete twenty-five to thirty pieces of music for the show. We go to a music review and watch the cues one by one, and it’s usually “love it”, “change this one thing” or “try again”. Then we have another day to review it before we start all over again. I tend to write and record the music at the same time. The best-case scenario for me when writing is to turn the music off and watch the same scene five or six times to see if a natural pace or rhythm comes through. And a lot of times the performer’s work is so strong that I begin to hear the music in my head straight away. I try to capture that emotional reaction as quickly as possible.

 

Wow, that is so amazing! Well thank you very much for sitting down to talk with me about Orange is the New Black
No problem! Thank you.

Brian Tyler conducts The Mummy (2017)

One thing that never fails to get to me is when a wonderful film score is attached to a terrible film: a recent case in point being the most recent box office bomb, The Mummy (which I ripped to shreds earlier this month).

Despite the film being an abysmal failure (and hopefully the death knell of the Dark Universe before it really gets going), the score, composed and conducted by Brian Tyler, is really beautiful. An amazing thing about Tyler is that on his Facebook page he will release footage of himself conducting pieces from his film scores (I have a confession, that’s where I find most of Tyler’s material to share with you). And when I saw that he had posted video of himself conducting the score at a special premiere, I had to watch.

Brian Tyler conducts The Mummy (2017)

It was beautiful!! Brian Tyler is a very talented composer and it shows in this excerpt. The music begins relatively subdued, with an iteration of a particular theme (I suspect it is Ahmanet’s). But as the music goes on, this theme gains intensity and power, until the full orchestra and chorus is backing it.

Unfortunately, I fear the abysmal reviews of the film will prevent many people from experiencing the beauty of this film score (a similar thing happened with Gods of Egypt; Marco Beltrami composed a great score, but the bad reviews meant that many people never heard it). Thus, I am sharing this performance with all of you and I hope you enjoy it. On a side note, when I commented on Facebook that I loved how the theme built in power, Brian Tyler liked the comment!!

If you feel that I should give this film a chance when it’s available to rent on Redbox, let me know in the comments below (I’ll consider it if enough people think so). Don’t forget that the Remembering James Horner Blogathon begins Friday, this is the absolute last day to sign up, after midnight tonight I will consider the submissions area closed.

If you’d like to learn more about the film scores of Brian Tyler, see here

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

Coming up: two composer interviews

Hey everyone, so as of yesterday I have completed two composer interivews, the first was with Scott Doherty, the composer for Orange is the New Black (an enlightening experience) and the second was with composer/orchestrator/performer Paul Henning, who, among other things, orchestrated The Force Awakens, performed in the orchestra that recorded Moana, Frozen and Rogue One and is currently scoring a documentary about George Foreman.

I learned SO much from these two composers and my appreciation of the film scoring process has risen to an entirely new level. I also learned a lot more about the actual recording process, and for the first time I think I thoroughly understand the scoring process from beginning to end.

Hopefully the first interview will be up early next week, as I will be spending this week transcribing the audio. But for now, here’s a little tid-bit that I learned from Paul Henning that blew my mind: when orchestras record for film scores? They’re completely sight-reading, which means no rehearsals, they’ve never seen this music before.

I can’t wait to share everything I’ve learned with you, until then, have a great Monday!!

There’s just about a week left to sign up for the 2nd Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon here , it should be a great time!!

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

The 2nd Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon begins two weeks from tomorrow!

Hey everyone! It’s almost time for the 2nd Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon, which will run from June 23rd-25th, in memory of the late film composer who passed away two years ago this month. I’m so excited to see all the entries, there have been so many sign ups for this year! If you’d still like to sign up, it’s not too late, just follow the link to the sign up page and add your information by the end of the day on June 20th and you can join in!

Announcing the 2nd Annual Remembering James Horner Blogathon

A few notes on the blogathon: there is no set order for who posts on which day. When you DO post, please make sure to tag my blog at the top (i.e. this post is part of the Remembering James Horner Blogathon, etc.) and include a link back to my blog so I can tell who has posted so I can include you in each day’s recap.

Also, if you haven’t claimed a title yet, I made it so that each film can only be talked about twice, so as of right now Casper, Willow and The Land Before Time are all completely spoken for.

I should also note that you do not HAVE to talk about the entire soundtdrack, you may simply pick a specific piece of music, or just talk about why you liked this film and score in general, whatever feels right to you.

If you have any questions, please let me know before the blogathon gets started, and I can’t wait to see what everybody has in two weeks!

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

Bernard Herrmann talks The Bride Wore Black (1968)

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Bernard Herrmann talks The Bride Wore Black (1968)

Normally when I share composer interviews, it’s for a relatively current film. But when I found an interview for the 1968 film The Bride Wore Black that was given by composer Bernard Herrmann, I just knew I had to share it with you.

The Bride wore Black (released in France as  La Mariée était en noir) is a revenge film directed by Francois Truffaut. It tells the story of a woman named Julie Kohler, whose husband is killed on her wedding day as they’re leaving the church. The crime occurred because five men were horsing around with a loaded rifle in a building across the street and it went off, fatally striking the newly married groom. After learning the identities of the men responsible, Kohler sets out to kill every last man responsible.

The new widow is completely ruthless in her pursuit of vengeance:

  • victim #1 is pushed off a balcony
  • victim #2 is poisoned
  • victim #3 is locked in a small closet where he suffocates to death (she sealed the door shut with duct tape
  • victim #4 would’ve been killed with a handgun but the police arrested him before she could get him
  • victim #5 is shot in the back (fatally) with an arrow as she posed for a painting of Diana, Goddess of the Hunt. After noticing that he’s painted her on the wall in a mural, Julie decides to leave the painting as is, knowing the evidence will lead to her arrest. After arriving at jail (where still-alive victim #4 is also serving time), she ends up working in the kitchen where she is last seen taking a food cart towards the men’s side of the prison (a scream implying she’s completed her task of vengeance).

The music for this film was written by the legendary composer Bernard Herrmann (perhaps best known for his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock on four of his films, including Psycho). I haven’t found many interviews with Herrmann thus far, so it is fascinating to hear him talking about his work with any film. I admit I haven’t actually seen The Bride Wore Black (not yet anyway), but after watching this interview and reading more about the plot, I definitely need to check this film out.

What do you think of Bernard Herrmann talking about The Bride Wore Black? Have you seen the film? And if you have, what did you think of it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below, have a great Monday!!

If you’d like to learn more about the film scores of Bernard Herrmann, see here

The 2nd Annual Remembering James Horner blogathon is coming in June, check out the sign up page here

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

 

Brian Tyler scoring Partition (2007)

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Brian Tyler scoring Partition (2007)

Partition is a very sad story, set in 1947 during the partition of India (when Pakistan was created as a Muslim nation). It is based on the Romeo and Juliet story type, where two people fall in love even though it is forbidden. In this case, a Hindu man, Gian Singh, slowly falls for Naseem, a Muslim girl, even though all the rules of their respective religions forbid this.

What makes this film notable for me is that it features a score by Brian Tyler, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite film composers. This behind the scenes video shows Tyler at work in the studio, annotating his score and recording with a rough cut of the film playing on a screen in front of him. He also worked with the Hollywood Studio Symphony for recording the score as well.

One big thing with the music that Tyler wanted to create is, that while there is a sense of Western music in the score, there is also a frequent callback to the sound of India as well. He wanted to create the feeling that you (the audience) have been transported through time to this very traumatic period in the history of India and Pakistan.

There is something magical about watching Brian Tyler on the podium conducting his music, I definitely need to hear more of this score now. If you’ve seen Partition, I would love to know your thoughts on the film and the score in the comments below.

If you’d like to learn more about the film scores of Brian Tyler, see here

The 2nd Annual Remembering James Horner blogathon is coming in June, check out the sign up page here

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂