Interview with Composer Mateo Messina (JUNO, BLOCKERS)

What an honor it was to chat with composer Mateo Messina. Such a talented and positive guy. I was inspired after our 30 minute chat, I have to admit. A total pro who teaches you in this interview many things, including that it’s not a bad thing to sneak into buildings in order to forward your career when you need to!:

Matthew Toffolo: When did music enter your life?

Mateo Messina: When I was 3 years old, I started playing the piano quite a bit and just remember really liking it from a first memory. At 5 years old, I starting coming up with my own compositions. My brothers used to play a game with me where a commercial jingle would play on the radio and I was able to go to the piano and play the song.

So you were a child prodigy then?

I don’t think so. Music was something I liked and was good at.

So you’re in your early years practicing on the piano. Getting better etc… I’m assuming you kept at it into your teens?

In my early teens I started playing at hotels, fancy restaurants, coffee shops. I had my CDs for sale at Starbucks. Had 30 copies to sell. I used to have fun playing these gigs where I would do jazz versions of any piece imaginable to set up the night. Then during the dinner hour, I would play popular heavy metal and alternative music on the piano. Soundgarden, Metallica, Pearl James. Many people didn’t notice where the song came from. It was a lot of fun.

Then I went to University and played drums in a lot of bands. One day a guitarist in a band suggested that we make a record. So we snuck into the school recording studio and….well, by the time I was 21 I made 3 solo piano records. I was about to graduate and I penned out a symphony. And this became a success as I would sell out events with 350 plus people. And I’ve been creating and doing symphony events every since.

When does composing enter your life?

In 2000, a young director asked if I would compose their short film. I didn’t know anything about it, but took a stab at it. I loved it right away. So in my mid-20s I moved to Hollywood to attempt to get into the industry.

Do you remember your first paying job?

Yes. It was a short film for MTV. I got paid $500. But for rent and to survive while I looked for my big break, I actually wrote music for commercials. It was never a passion of mine but it kept me in the loop and kept me busy.

What else were you doing to make connections?

I would do things like sneak on the Fox Studios lot and would try to take meetings and offer my music to studio people. Just do anything to get my music heard.

At that time you were composing a ton of short films!

Yes. A ton. I became the guy who composed shorts. That’s how I met Jason Reitman – which lead to JUNO (2007).

So it’s safe to say that JUNO was your first big break?

Definitely. It started everything.

I was actually at the premiere of the film at TIFF in 2007.

No way. I was there too. I remember standing behind the curtain while the film was playing with the cast and crew and hearing the audience roaring in laughter at all the right times and that energy of engagement. Michael Cera gave me a huge hug of “It’s a success!” feel.

Yes, I remember that day really well. It was a day time premiere at one of the side cinemas at the Ryerson University campass (in downtown Toronto). Usually that’s not a good sign that the festival or the distributors are really “pushing” this film, or believe that it will be successful. I guess they were wrong.

I remember that day too. Great feeling.

And you were on your way!?

Yes.

Let’s talk about the film that’s coming out this weekend: BLOCKERS. How did you get the job?

I didn’t know Kay, but I knew we had similar comedic sensibilities. I watched the film before we took our meeting and told her what I thought of it and what I would do in terms of tone with the music. About a week afterwards, I showed up to a screening of the film. There was about 60-70 industry people there. Just a screening for comedians and others to give their notes on the film. I was introducing myself and people kept telling me, “You’re the composer.” “Nice to meet you.” I didn’t know what was going on and I called my agency. They told me that I was hired but Kay forgot to tell me.

Listen. I work on a lot of comedies and I can honestly say that BLOCKERS is a very, very good film. Must see. Very proud of it.

I went to one of the previews. Sat at the back of the cinema, and there were scenes where the audience was roaring – like a rollar coaster. This film is the “American Pie” for this generation.

It all came together. One of my favorite films I’ve ever worked on.

How was your working relationship with director Kay Cannon? Her directorial debut, right?

Yes, her first time out, but come on, she’s a pro. From creating the “Pitch Perfect” films to helping running the show on “30 Rock”. She is a comedy expert. Kay is very smart. very funny. Patient. Thinks things through. She’s comes at things with so many angles. She’s super funny.

You’re also working on the film LITTLE ITALY, directed by Donald Petrie, who is a comedy pro (Grumpy Old Men, Miss Congeniality, How to Lose at Guy in 10 Day). So you go from a first time director to a veteran director of over 30 films.

LITTLE ITALY has a 90s sensibility and feel to it. There was an interesting moment working on this film. I didn’t want to dumb down the film and be on the nose with the tone of the music and was worried I was doing just that. One of the Producers told me, “NO, be on the nose. We are here to entertain.” It’s good to be reminded of that.

There are many ways to play the TONE. BLOCKERS and LITTLE ITALY are different tones but they are both comedies. Great to go from one extreme comedy to another.

In BLOCKERS, there are big percussions. Lots of drums. Horror tones. Sentimental tones. All kinds of emotions. We’re all over the place with it. With LITTLE ITALY you set the tone and let it play throughout.

How many instruments do you play?

Well I can write for a vast amount. I can play piano and any percussion.

I write everyday. Written everyday for the last 17 years of my career. Always play. Used to writing for all instruments. Can try anything someone throws at me.

What movie have you seen the most times in your life (besides the ones you worked on)?

National Lapoons Vacation.

I love films with heart.

What advice do you have for people wanting to be a composer?

Day dream. Set yourself up to succeed. What I mean by this is write, write, write and write some more. Find a film and write for it even if it’s already done.

Persistance is key. Relentlessness is key. Time and time again I’ve found the people I’ve worked with who are on top of their game are the ones who stayed after years and years struggling. Just keep at it.

And, you don’t play baseball unless you’re on a field. So you have to move to Hollywood, or a city that’s about making movies where you can land jobs.

mateo messina.jpg

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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Interview with Composer Jeff Russo (Emmy Winner FARGO TV series)

 Jeff Russo is one of the most talented musicians and composers working in the industry today. His list of credits in the last 9 years is loaded with successful TV series and movies. In the last 2 years alone his has composed for the series Bull, Legion, Counterpart, Star Trek: Discovery, Lucifer, and his Emmy winning work in Fargo. It was an honor chatting with him one afternoon in his office while he was taking a break.

Matthew Toffolo: Where were you born and raised? Was music something you always saw yourself doing as a career?

I was born and raised in New York City. As far as I can remember, I loved music and it became apparent to me that this was something I always wanted to do – to be a musician. From middle school on I was always playing in bands. It’s something I was better at than other things. I was better at music than math or science for example. And I loved it too! It was obvious very early on that this was what I was going to do.

Are you from a family of creative people and musicians?

My dad was in fashion. He died when I was very young so I’m not all that familiar with what exactly he did. My mom was a homemaker. Not a huge fan of music, but very supportive in my passion for it.

So you’re in high school – where did you think you were headed as a musician?

I always wanted to be in a Rock Band. Rock and Roll was my drive! I was in a band for 25 years. Only 9-10 years ago did I change careers and think about composing.

What was your first composing job? And how did you get the job?

In 2006, my band took a break from playing and I had to figure what I had to do with my life. A good friend of mine, Wendy Milette, was working on a couple of television shows and asked me to come by. I watched what they did for a bit, and then they asked me to come to work. Watching what they did got me intrigued and eventually they asked me to write music cues for them and from there I was hooked. I worked for them for about a year and a half and eventually I got hired as a composer for my first job which was a TV show called THE UNUSUALS. Then things took off from there.

Noah Hawley was the showrunner of that show, and also the showrunner/creator of the TV series FARGO. So you guys have a relationship?

Yes. Great one. He called me up in 2013 and said he’s doing a series based on the FARGO movie and told me I’m on board. Then we got to work.

How did you prepare for doing that show? Did you go back and watch the original film?

I didn’t see a need to. I just read the scripts and looked at the emotional places in the script. Saw that the same tone was involved.

You were nominated for an Emmy for best music composition for the first two years, and eventually won the Emmy last year for your work in season 3. What is the Emmy winning experience like?

It’s a feeling is disbelief. The Emmy sits on the shelf in my office and it’s a crazy reminder. The feeling going up there and accepting the award is hard to describe. That moment – incredible. People will now say to you, “You’re an Emmy winner”. People have that in their minds from now on. My peers acknowledged me. It’s an honor.

What are you currently working on right now as we speak?

Season #2 of LEGION. And a Mark Wahlberg films coming out this summer (MILE 22, directed by Peter Berg). It’s been a lot of fun working on that film.

Besides the films you’ve work on, watch move have you watched the most time in your life?

Empire Strikes Back. I’ve seen it over 40 times.

Is there a type of project that you would like to work on that you haven’t yet?

I’d like to work on a Western.

What advice do you have for people who would like to work as a composer some day in the industry?

Most important thing is for someone to create their own voice. We are all unique and original in our own way so we all have a voice. Find it. It’s the only way to move forward.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Composer Alexei Aigui (The Young Karl Marx, I am Not Your Negro)

Alexei Aigui.jpgIt was an honor chatting with the multi-talented musician and film composer Alexei Aigui and chat about his one and only passion in life: music!

Listen to his music on Soundcloud

Matthew Toffolo: Where were you born and raised? Was music something you always wanted to do as your career?

Alexei Aigui: I was born and raised in Moscow, as they say, in an artistic family. My father was a poet, and was representing the so-called unofficial art – meaning he was under control of the Soviet authorities, and his works couldn’t be published, so our life wasn’t exactly an easy ride. When I was six, mum took me to an ordinary music school near our place, to play violin. Learning to play the piano was more prestigious and cost about 15 times more, so we didn’t really have a choice in the matter. God bless, accordion didn’t cost less than violin. I don’t remember if I wanted to study music, I think I didn’t even ask myself that question – it just happened. So I studied there until I was about 15, not reflecting a lot on why I needed it. However, in my teenage years, I became a rock music fan – Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, then quite quickly became interested in more complicated stuff like King Crimson, Frank Zappa, etc. Maybe then, through rock music, I decided to become a musician, form my own band. Or maybe it was already late to think about doing something else, after all the years of exercise? Through avant-garde rock, having played in my first bands and already starting to study professionally at the conservatory, I became interested in academic avant-garde – [Anton] Webern, [Gyorgy] Ligeti, [Pierre] Boulez, [Karlheinz] Stockhausen, [Igor] Stravinsky, [Sergey] Prokofiev.

Afterwards, I took to improvisational music and minimalism. In 1994, I set up Ensemble 4’33’’ in Moscow, and we performed pieces by John Cage, Earle Brown, La Monte Young, and others in that spirit. Gradually, mainly due to the fact that there wasn’t enough sheet music available [in Russia], I started to compose music, and turned out one’s own pieces were nicer and easier to play than others’. That’s how I became a composer. The band has existed for 24 years, we play 30 concerts a year, have released a lot of CDs, the band is my foundation for film work, with either the entire band taking part in soundtrack recording, or some of the Ensemble 4’33’’ members.

What has been your most proudest work of your career?

I’m proud of many works, when it comes to non-film-related music – the cantata ‘Salut to Singing’ to my father’s poems, almost everything I do with Ensemble 4’33’’. Of course, cinema works: my very first OST, for ‘Country of the Deaf’ by Valery Todorovsky, and for ‘Wild Field’ by Mikhail Kalatozishvili, ‘The Horde’ by Andrey Proshkin. Of my latest collaborations outside of Russia — ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ and ‘The Young Karl Marx’ by Raoul Peck.

Tell us about your working relationship with director Raoul Peck on “The Young Karl Marx”?

The work took quite a long time, the film was in all stages of production for almost 10 years, with the shooting taking part in 2 or 3 countries. The company’s office was in France, editing took place in Belgium, and mix in Germany. Raoul wanted the music to be, on the one hand, relevant to the demands of period drama, orchestral and melodic, on the other hand, to feel ‘uncomfortable’ and edgy. The first draft of music was far from what you hear in the film, there were a lot of corrections. There were some temporary tracks in the first cut, the scene of police chasing Marx had a Haitian folk piece that, surprisingly enough, worked very well, it wasn’t easy for me to compose new music for that bit, in ‘Irish style’. Raoul, along with the film’s editor Frederique Broos, came to Moscow for the orchestra recording, and made a few corrections during the recording itself. Our following project, ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, was recorded without him, because Raoul was working on the final mix of ‘Marx’ in Germany. For ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, we recorded completely different music, with my band – we recorded a few semi-improvisational takes, and Raoul chose the most suitable.

What are you generally looking for in a director in terms of guidance and tone for your music?

When I was starting to work in Russian cinema, almost no one used references (temporary tracks), and you were, so to say, on your own. Director was only able to use words while describing what he wanted in terms of music, which isn’t always translatable from the director’s language to, well, human. These days the use of references is quasi-total. It makes the composer’s job easier and quicker, but also sets up some borders and limits the composer in his or her work. I’ve seen all sorts of director-composer relations – from close friendship to composing music without knowing the director, and I believe that there should certainly be personal contact, a sort of mutual tuning is supposed to happen. Often, the editor plays an important role, offering his or her opinion.

What do you think a producer/director is looking for when they bring on their composer to score the film?

Often, when I see the result (not in the films, on which I had the chance to work), it seems to me that producers and directors wanted to save money. Perhaps the perfect option is to find the music that would create a unique sound for the picture, the music that would add a dimension to the film, another layer, and wouldn’t just underscore the tension or hint that we should feel sad. Music can be omnipotent, it’s like an undercurrent, sometimes we don’t even realize that it exists side-by-side with the action and tells the story, accentuating some points and adding depth to the movie.

What is your passion in life besides music?

I’m completely handicapped in that respect – only interested in music. Well, maybe also alcohol. I can’t even normally rest or travel – every time I’m at a bar and I see a stage, I go, ‘Why haven’t I played here before?’ and ask the owner is it’s possible to perform at their place.

Anyway, I’m not purely a film composer, concerts take a lot of time, and if I don’t perform for a few weeks, I get a bit crazy. I also used to paint when I was young, but now don’t have time to devote to that.

What movie have you watched the most times in your life?

Usually, I don’t want to re-watch the films that made the biggest impact on me, I kind of want that first impression to stay as it was. So it’s most likely that the films I saw most times are those you come across while watching TV, and just don’t turn off. I can’t say I’m a cinemaholic, I’m not too eager to see everything people talk about, and I skip many films. And this huge pile of ‘to-watch’ movies is growing. Thanks to my 13-year-old son, I finally saw all the Star Wars movies (never watched those before, sorry to say) and the Harry Potter series. We watched all the films in strict order, spending about a week on each series.

What advice do you have for young musicians who would eventually like to compose movies for a living?

Forget about it. Okay, if we’re being serious (although ‘forget about it’ is also me being serious), it’s best if you’re primarily a musician, and then a businessman. However, I’ve always wanted to earn my living with music. A lot of people try to become film or TV composers, having failed at performing their music on stage. This phenomenon stems from how easily available the music-making programs are. Certainly, new talents can emerge, but these programs standardize musicians, unique and interesting sound in cinema has become a rare sight, irony intended. Everybody tries to copy copies, and you wonder where the search for something new is? Last but not least, entering the tricky and rocky path of a musician, be ready to die homeless and poor, how did the best of us composers.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Composer Gilde Flores (Total Divas, The Wolverine)

Gilde has been in the business for over 20 years and has over 80 credits to his name. It was an honor to interview the extremely talented musician and composer:

Matthew Toffolo: Where were you born and raised? Was music something you always wanted to do as your career?

Gilde Flores: I was born and raised in Hereford, Texas. Music was something I’ve always loved and occasionally dabbled in some with a few instruments, but saw no future in. That was up until the age of 14 when my father decided to recruit me into his band. I tried desperately to play awful, in hopes of being booted, but found myself advancing to other instruments. In time, I grew into having this love for music, which eventually led to me play/touring the US with various bands in various genres.

What has been your most proudest work of your career? Or, what has been your favorite project?

My proudest work would definitely be the time a music cue of mine was used in scene for Marvels, The Wolverine. Being a geek, this was instantly a highlight for my career, and I personally consider so…..for now.

You’ve been credited as being a “Composer: Additional Music” on many films. Explain exactly what that means?

A composer for additional music basically accounts for work from someone who’s not the hired/lead composer of the project, similar to taking the role of an assistant Composer. In the TV realm, it identifies as any of my music that is used aside from the main themes or recurring music. I’ve had the honor of working on many projects in this manner, especially when first starting out, which helped earn the credits I’ve received, in turn, opening many door and countless opportunities.

What are you generally looking for in a director in terms of guidance and tone for your music?

What I look for in a director is their ability to give me as much info as they possibly can about their vision. From the emotions of the characters, the emotions that can’t easily be seen by the viewers. I really love to get the full in depth of what the director is trying to portray from the inside out and help being that to life, especially the intangible elements.

What do you think a producer/director is looking for when they bring on their composer to score the film?

I really feel the producer/director is looking for the composer help them tell their story, or to fill in the gaps of what can’t easily be seen. They want the audience to capture/feel the full experience of what’s being put out in front of them, and music can move them in a way that perfectly pairs with what they are witnessing, or guides their imaginations to possibilities and uncertainty.

What is your passion in life besides music?

My passion in life besides music would simply be life and all its experiences. I try to stay passionate with every little thing that makes sense to in life. it’s how I tend to stay on the creative side and always looking for new colors to add to my palette. I know that’s a bit vague, so I would say family and helping others. Family, because they are the ones who cheer my on and help pick me up through this long journey, and helping others, that’s something I’ve always gravitated to, mostly due to my academic studies a few years back at Texas Tech University in Lubbock Texas where I studied to become a counselor; however music pulled me in a completely opposite amazing adventure.

What movie have you watched the most times in your life?

The movie I watched the most times in my life would be extremely hard to try and identify. Being a huge fan of comics, video games, and exploring into different genres, I’ve watched so many titles over and over again; especially in my traveling days. To maybe narrow it down, one of my favorites I tend to watch anytime it’s on, aside from the original Star Wars trilogy, would be the first Matrix; mainly because at the time it was released it completely blew my mind. I remember seeing it in the theater and was so impressed with the visuals, the pacing, the cinematography, storytelling, just everything, that it imprinted on me till this day.

What advice do you have for young musicians who would eventually like to compose movies for a living?

The advice I would give to any young musicians who want to eventually compose movies is to be PATIENT, always work on your skill set/stay teachable, have an amazing work ethic, have consistency, have respect, and learn how to take a “no/pass on your work.

This career, in my experience, is something that takes much time and lots of patience to pursue, and being that passion is usually poured in at some point, if one doesn’t know how to filter a “pass up” on their work, it can really devastate and discourage one moving forward. There are plenty more “no’s” than “yes’s” we all get on projects, and learning to understand that the pass up on one’s work usually comes from the music being submitted does not fit the project, not necessarily meaning it’s bad/horrible. Just feed the passion, knock down the self made barriers, and stay focused and it will eventually happen.

gilde flores

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Composer/Musician Michael Abels (GET OUT)

michaelabels.jpgMichael Abels is an African-American composer known for his orchestra works Global Warming, Delights & Dances, and Urban Legend, and choral pieces such as Be The Change and Limitless. “GET OUT” was his first foray as a composer in the film industry, and it definitely won’t be his last. It was great interviewing this extremely talented musician.

Matthew Toffolo: Where were you born and raised? Was music something you always wanted to do as your career?

Michael Abels: I was born in Phoenix AZ, although I lived on a farm outside Aberdeen, SD with my grandparents from infancy through age 6. My earliest memories are of music — seriously, I can remember my grandmother’s recording of Edvard Grieg’s In The Hall Of The Mountain King terrifying me in the crib. Ironically, that’s now my job.

MT: How did you get the job composing the film “Get Out”?

MA: Writer/director Jordan Peele heard an orchestral piece of mine, Urban Legends, on YouTube. It’s a very dynamic piece in which all hell breaks loose, even though it’s also quite tonal. Jordan said this piece convinced him I could bring a fresh voice to film music. He wanted someone who could use the film harmonic language with an African-American perspective.

MT: How was your working relationship with with director Jordan Peele?

MA: Jordan is whip-smart, unbelievable talented, and refreshingly modest. He knows what he wants, and is extremely capable of communicating what he’s hearing and feeling. At the same time, he respects his team as artists, and enjoys the collaborative process. Did I mention how funny he is? A dream to work for.

MT: What are you generally looking for in a director in terms of guidance and tone for your music?

MA: It’s helpful when a director can communicate the feelings a piece of music brings up for them, or the feelings that a character is feeling, or that they want the audience to feel. Most people who are drawn to directing are great at this, since they are storytellers.

MT: What do you think a producer/director is looking for when they bring on their composer to score the film?

MA: The director is looking for someone who can bring the music they are hearing in their imagination to life. The producer is looking for someone who can bring the director’s musical imagination to life on time and under budget. It’s great when these priorities align!

MT: What is your passion in life besides music?

MA: I appreciate home design, I’ve seen my share of home improvement shows. I also love riding my bike, and try to bike at least once a week no matter how stressful the rest of my life is.

MT: What’s next for you? Will you be composing more films?

MA: I have a wind orchestra commission that I’m working on. Yes more film is in the works.

MT: What move have you watched the most times in your life?

MA: The Sound of Music. Do Re Mi changed my life forever. “One word for every note, by mixing it up, like this…” Rogers & Hammerstein taught me that writing music is simple and fun! Been striving to make that lesson true ever since.

MT: What advice do you have for young musicians who would eventually like to compose movies for a living?

MA: Write the music that inspires you, because writing music purely for money will make you hate your creative life. Try to remove your ego from every piece you write. It’s so difficult to be inspired-yet-unattached, but it’s required to remain in a highly creative state. And you are a composer, regardless of whether you have a high profile project to your credit or not. Be the person you want others to see.

GET OUT Movie:

getoutfilm.jpg

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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Interview with The Newton Brothers (Composers – Ouija: 2, The Runner)

the_newton_brothers.jpgWhat a great time I had chatting with the extremely talented Newton Brothers (Andrew Grush & Taylor Stewart). A composing team that has already “scored” an impressive resume. I talked with them while they were in the midst of promoting their composing work on the horror film “Ouija: Origin of Evil.”

Matthew Toffolo: You guys are called the Newton Brothes but you’re not actually brothers.

Taylor Stewart: Yes, we wanted to write under one entity. Whether that is writing for film, TV, or an Opera. So we named ourselves after the great Isaac Newton.

MT: So not the bank robbers then?

Andrew Grush: We found out about them after we named ourselves..but we just decided to go with it.

Have any of you ever played with a Ouija board?

AG: That scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. I stayed away from all of that stuff. Only since we came aboard this project is when we have played with them. And we’ve now played with a ton of Ouija boards.

Do you believe?

TS: I personally think that people believe what they want to believe and things manifest. I do believe that there are things beyond us – and whether people want to believe that a Ouija board can bring that out is up to them to believe or not believe.

Did you play the board to inspire you to write the score?

AG: The sound designer was playing with the board in the post studio to grab folly off of it and it was laying around. So we did play with it.

We attended a few parties leading up to the premiere of the film and the played on different boards that some of the fans had. Some people had these amazing boards. Very old and artistic. I think I may be done with them. Don’t want to tempt faith.

I heard that you recorded the score of the film in an old church and that it got a bit creepy.

TS: Lucky enough we recorded it in only a day. It had a vintage feel. A traditional sense that others things have gone on there in the past. The owner of the church mentioned that “things” have gone on. So that brought another feeling. The church was beautiful and it definitely helped bring the emotions needed to execute the score.

With this score you went full out with your score – lots of intruments, with lots of layered emotions. Your rough cut. Then you scaled back and removed a lot of stuff. Is this your general process with scoring films?

AG: Yes that’s our usual approach. To take it too far just to see how far we can take it. Then go backwards and ween things out. We found that in the end that it worked out nicely. In the original score we had a lot of brass and ended up removing it entirely to have a more timeless feel. So it’s now more of a woodwind score. It now has the quality of the era of the film.

It’s almost like it was too busy with the brass.

AG: Exactly. To enhance the themes of the film and the amazing cinematography, less was definitely better.

Speaking of that. When I was researching you guys you were talking a lot about silence. To set up your score, you need silence first to enhance things.

TS: That’s true. There are so many movies with wall to wall music and usually when that happens it’s a student film or a young filmmaker’s film. They want to push the emotional buttons and many times they go too far. Silence gives more reality to the film. It’s a mistake that many student films make.

Sometimes the composer just wants their music in the film and they don’t think about the entire scope of the film. And sometimes to get the best overall score, a score isn’t needed in certain moments of the film.

AG: It’s very true. There are so many themes in so many films we do. We write music for all of it. Sometimes we work a week on a cue in a scene that just doesn’t work and no music is needed for that particular scene. But you have to try it. Explore the themes in the film. And doing that makes the rest of your score better.

It’s very important to know what we aren’t making an album. We don’t need to paint our sound all over the place.

What do you look for in your director?

TS: We welcome as much input as possible from the director. Getting to know what they want to relay what they want to give the audience. Whether that’s a two note score, or a very detailed score with many counter points. We want to work on the story with them and interject our talent onto the film.

The more that director gives us, the better it is for us.

How did you guys meet?

AG: We meet through a mutual friend in 2001. We started working together on songs and bank stuff. That turned into working on films. We decided to work on it together and came up with the Newton Brothers. Then we just started jumping into stuff.

It’s really nice to bounce ideas off each other. To work alone and go down out own natural roads. Then collaborate and bring those ideas and feelings together.

So you guys are basically a creative married couple?

AG: Yes we are. Good call.

What movie have to seen the most times in your life?

TS: E.T.. Star Wars. Back to the Future. Predator.

AG: The film I watched the most is Aliens. I recorded it on VHS in 8th grade, and I would watch it over and over again.

What type of movie would you want to score that you haven’t scored yet?

TS: Sometime futuristic and electronic. Or a period epic movie like Braveheart. We write a lot of stuff like that and I guess people will hear it eventually.

AG: Same. That is our goal.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Composer Henry Jackman (Birth of a Nation, Captain America 2 & 3)

henry_jackman_1.jpgWhen I called up composer Henry Jackman’s office to do the interview, I was put on hold. Fittingly, while I was waiting I got to listen to the music of Henry Jackman. It was a great way to start the interview as his music is moving even when it’s “on hold” music from the phone.

Henry’s list of credits is already legendary, and he’s just getting started. He has composed Captain America 2 & 3, X-Men: First Class, Kinsman 1 & 2, and the upcoming Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, just to name a few. And I didn’t even mentioned his Animation movie composing (Go to his imdb profile).

In this interview, we centered on his score on “Birth of a Nation”, which should definitely lead him to his first Oscar nomination.

Matthew Toffolo: When did you first come aboard “Birth of a Nation?

Henry Jackman: The very early stages. My agent was friendly with Nate Parker (director of the film) and he introduced us. He initially suggested Nate get in touch with me, stating that I’m not just a big budget composer.

I read the script and I knew this needed to happen. Nate was a man consumed with purpose and whatever was needed to get this film done, he was going to do it. So I was in right away. There was no financing completed, and he didn’t even have a studio on board yet, but I knew that Nate was going to make it happen.

The story of Nat Turner in “The Birth of a Nation”:

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MT: How did the process work with you completing the score of the film? Did you receive a rough cut at first?

HJ: By the time I got the picture, it was about 85% completed. He didn’t have the luxery of doing an extended cut where I score the music and they cut that. He knew what he wanted in production and shot it. So when I began working on it, it was almost already done.

MT: What kind of direction did you get? What kind of thematic were you told to create?

HJ: Nate just told me that he loves the human voice and it would be a great way to connect with the audience for this story. I had the budget contraints on my mind and thought we could get really creative and use a solo singer, and a solo celloist and just a few other intruments. But to Nate’s credit, he said to create the score like we have all the money in the world, and he’s figure out the budget. And that really helped me. By the time we got to the ending, I knew we needed a big musical score with lots of singers and Nate got it done. We ended up with what we needed.

MT: From a practical and creative standpoint, working on this film must have been apples compared to oranges in comparison to you working on the Captain America films?

HJ: It’s funny you say that. Ultimately, yes, there are differences, but the differences are only surfaces. The process of coming up with the thematic score, writing the music etc… is the same on both films. The budget is there and of course I had more financial freedom with Captain America, but the creative process was exactly the same.

MT: I was at the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) screening of “Birth of a Nation” and the energy was amazing in the cinema. When the film ended, it received a standing ovation. But of course there is a controversary with the director (if you do not know, please Google it) that the media keeps bring up that, and some can say, has tainted the film. Do you have any opinions of the conversary surrounding the film? How “Birth of a Nation” is probably not getting the attention it deserves?

HJ: The only thing I can say is that I encourage anyone to go see this film. Speaking about myself growing up in a European heritage, I didn’t even know about this part of history and the story of what happened in 1831. Everyone knows the basic history, but this film tells a story, without being heavyhanded about it, about what happened then and the legacy this time still holds for us today. That’s such an important thing. So if anyone has any hesitation, please keep that in mind.

MT: The controversary is kind of a 2016 problem. The film itself is never just the story and promotion now. It’s the social media influence and how the personal lives of everyone part of the film get mixed into what the film is trying to say. So Nate’s personal history, some can argue, taints what this film is trying to say.

HJ: That’s true. People make their own opinion and judgements. Whatever tweets that are flying around now is part of our present day communication and there’s nothing wrong with that. The story of Nat Turner is definitely something people should also be talking about – and going to see this film.

MT: What type of working relationship do you like to have with your director?

HJ: I think the best relationship is a consistent vision and they are never flip-flopping. An overall vision that’s in the costumes, editing, acting etc…, but with sufficient space that allows each artist do what they need to do.

For example, all the conversations with Nate were about the film and it’s themes. What each scene is about. So all the little conversations, like what’s not working etc…, is about the overall vision. So there isn’t any conversations that are NOT about the film and its visiion. Which makes for the best working relationship.

Edward Zwick (just finished working with him on Jack Reacher: Never Go Back) is an example of a great director/composer experience. He brought the tranquility to the process. Everyone is pulling on the same rope to create the vision. When films get in trouble is when the vision changes.

MT: Tell us about the CAPTAIN AMERICA experience? Working for MARVEL?

The Russo Brothers are also great directors to work with. It is different because we’re working on a franchise and all of the films in the Marvel universe need to connect. What makes the Russo’s amazing is that they can do their own film and make it connect with all of the other films. They are masterful directors in capturing their own unique voice in this massive franchise.

Captain America: Winter Soldier was such an amazing experience and many regard it as the best comic book movie made.

MT: Because it wasn’t a comic book movie. Tone-wise it was a spy/thriller?

Exactly. But they didn’t go so far in that direction and leave the fans behind. They mastered the circle. So by the time we did the 3rd film (Captain America: Civil War), Marvel left them completely alone to do their thing as they trusted them. And I have to say they nailed it.

MT: And you nailed it with the score of that film?

Thanks. I am proud of that film.

MT: From a technology standpoint, where do you see the future of composing in the movies?

The future is always a guess. If you go back 30 years in music in film, the tolerance then is different than it is today. There is more variety in music in film today. Film scores are now a broad church. Producers are less freaked out by a wide score of music composed in a film. People now listen to a wider range of music so in relation there is more freedom for the composer to add a wider range. So the future is probably going to simply go wider as access to all kinds of music that people listen to become less judgemental.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go tohttp://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.