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 Composer/Vocalist Dominic Lewis (Money Monster, Batman v Superman)

Dominic Lewis is a pure talent in the industry. He is a master vocalist, and composer of the new film “Money Monster”, directed by Jodie Foster and starring George Clooney & Julia Roberts. I had the privilege to interview him and talk about his career and the art of music in film.

dominic_lewis_3.jpgInterview with Dominic Lewis:

Matthew Toffolo: You were credited at “Featured Vocalist” on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. What did you do on that assignment for the film?

Dominic Lewis: A lot of vocals!!! Hans had created this incredible texture of a very distressed voice (in harmony sliding up to a single pitch and sliding back down to the chord) It was a long process and I couldn’t talk for a week after.

MT: How many instruments do you play? Do you have a favorite? And/or an instrument you’re most skilled at?

DL: I play a few, my favorite is the cello (which I’m rather rusty at these days) or singing. I also like to mess around on the guitar and keys when I’m in a pop-ier mood.

MT: Generally, how does one compose the music for a feature film? Do you receive the rough cut, and some guide music tracks for influence/inspiration? When do you generally begin working on the film?

DL: Normally its between 2-3 months for a feature. The last couple of movies have been a lot shorter than that. The usual process is that I’ll receive a cut of the movie (normally as its still being edited) and there will be a temp track to give an idea of what the film maker’s want. I’d also spot the film, which is the process of really nailing down where music is needed and what the specific tone and feel should be.

MT: Who do you generally report to when you’re working on a big budget film?

DL: Depends really. Normally it’s the director and towards the end of the process the movies producers will express any notes if they have any. But mainly it’s the director and editor.

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

DL: We are already hugely reliant on technology in film scoring. There aren’t many left who have a VHS watch and some manuscript. Everything is done on computers and the way things are going I think we are only going to rely on them more. Samples are getting better, computers faster it’s a natural progression in my book.

MT: How did you first begin? Was composing in the movies something you’ve also aspired to do?

DL: From a certain age yes. I started performing when I was young and as I became more and more intrigued with songs and composition I fell in love with the orchestra and film music.

MT: Do you have a favorite experience? What work on a film are you most proud of?

DL: Freebirds being my first big movie is a fond memory but I have to say getting to work with Jodie Foster and so many amazing people on ‘Money Monster’ has to top the lot so far. I’m also really proud of the score, it’s different and I was given a chance to push the envelope.

MT: Do you have a composer mentor?

DL: Many!! Rupert Gregson Williams was the first when I was starting out and then throughout my career I have had the amazing fortune of working with John Powell, Hans Zimmer and Henry Jackman. Those guys have taught me so much.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

DL: Weirdly, I think I’ve seen Gladiator and Back to the Future the most out of any films. They were my go to whenever I was sick as a kid.

dominic_lewis_2.jpg

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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 David Buckley (The Good Wife, The Town)

What a joy it was to chat with the extremely talented composer David Buckley. You can hear his music every Sunday on the hit TV series “The Good Wife”. He was also the composer on the upcoming film “The Nice Guys”, directed by Shane Black.

To learn more about David, you can go to his website: http://davidbuckleymusic.net/

davidbuckley_good_wifeMatthew Toffolo: The action/comedy “Grimsby” is out in theaters. What can we expect to see? How was your working experience composing music on that film?

David Buckley: Well, the truth is now out! It’s a total flop. Shame really, as a lot of people spent a lot of time working on the film. Maybe the problem was that too much time was spent on it and it started to lose focus. I’ve always been a fan of Sacha’s work. I can see it’s harder for him to make movies like Borat and Ali G because everyone knows who he is now. Grimsby was a brave attempt at coming with a new character, but clearly the cinema-going world did not love him. The experience on this one was a bit unusual as it was a co-score with Sacha’s brother, Erran. He was based in London a lot of the time and I am in LA. It was also tricky as there were a lot of re-shoots for the film – new material was coming right up until the end. But we divided the work up and got on with it!

MT: Generally, how does one compose the music for a feature film? Do you receive the rough cut, and some guide music tracks for influence/inspiration? When do you generally begin working on the film?

DB: Yes. One is sent a rough cut, and this often includes temp tracks. Sometime after getting it, one hopes to sit down with the director and producer and discuss their musical needs. Sometimes the temp is spoken about as a reference point. Hopefully the conversation does not dwell too long on it, however! It varies, but on the whole I’d say I’ve had an average of about 2 months to write and record most of the scores I have composed.

PHOTO: David Buckley in his studio:

davidbuckley_composing.jpg

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

DB: A good one! With the demands of modern film-making, it’s not always easy to physically sit in the room with a director as he/she will have many things to deal with other than music. When there is a moment, I think it’s important to try and absorb as much information one can from the director or any other film maker. Not just specific things but bigger picture issues too. Learning what they know and what they have experienced (be it on the movie, or life in general), will presumably help deliver a score that is to their liking.

MT: You created the theme music for “The Good Wife”. A song that keeps on giving! Do you remember how you got inspired to create the music for the extremely successful TV series?

DB: Well, these days, I write a different opening title each week. There is not a lot of score in the show, so we thought to keep it interesting and relevant to each episode I would crescendo into the main title from the preceding scene. These have been some of the most enjoyable cues I have worked on for the show.

MT: You’ve composed a lot of music for action films? How is this genre different in terms of themes and tones than working on a straight up drama?

DB: I find one of the problems with action scoring is making sure the music is more than just functional. It often has some very specific jobs to do – keeping up energy, maintaining tension, heightening certain moments, etc, and this can either be done in a very plain fashion, or with some interest. The problem is that paranoid/fear-mongering film makers are not always going to allow for the interesting approach and will settle for the safe.

MT: You’ve also worked on a few video games. How has been your experiences working with this format?

DB: Fun. A lot of work but an interesting to genre to try my hand in!

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

DB: Not really sure about this. Clearly technology has helped composers be able to realize their musical ideas and editors cut their movies a million times until the director (or a test audience!) is happy with it. I suppose for music, samples will get better and better and more realistic. I would wager that no technology will ever be able to beat human performance. I certainly hope not.

MT: How did you first begin? Was composing in the movies something you’ve also aspired to do?

DB: For a long time, yes. When I was a boy, I sung on a soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Chris, and a flame was ignited. I went through a couple of decades of classical training before moving to London and starting to compose for jingles and crappy tv. I was learning as I was going though, and building up my studio and knowledge-base. I got the opportunity to come over to LA just after I turned 30, and jumped at the opportunity.

MT: Out of all the TV shows, films, and video games you’ve worked on, do you have a favorite experience? What do you think is your best work?

DB: I really enjoyed scoring The Forbidden Kingdom. It was the first score I composed. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was lucky enough to have a big orchestra and solists at my disposal, and quite a fun movie to be inspired by. Just about every project since has provided me with some form of musical pleasure.

MT: Do you have a composer mentor?

DB: Richard Harvey was my initial mentor. He was the person who encouraged me to come to LA, and he set up a meeting with Harry Gregson-Williams. I had actually known Harry since I was 10 – we both came from the world of cathedral music. At the time we met in LA Harry was fantastically busy and he extended an invitation for me to come out and help him for a bit. From there he helped me find my own career and let me do my own thing. We remain good friends today (I’m supposed to meet him for a drink tonight!). So I can safely say I would not be doing what I am doing today with Richard and Harry. I have also been very fortunate to work alongside some other distinguished composers including Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, John Ottman, and Harry’s brother, Rupert.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

DB: The Day After Tomorrow. Not my favorite film by a long way, but whenever I see it on the tv I get sucked in. A guilty pleasure for sure!

PHOTO: David Buckley working on a film:

davidbuckley_studio

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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 http://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Music Editor/Composer John M. Davis (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies)

The music editor is a type of sound editor in film responsible for compiling, editing, and syncing music during the production of a soundtrack. Among the music editor’s roles is creating a “temp track”, which is a “mock-up” of the film’s soundtrack using pre-existing elements to use for editing, audience previews, and other purposes while the film’s commissioned score is being composed.

John M. Davis is one of the most talented people I have had the pleasure to interview. Just go to this website http://www.johnmdavis.com and explore his world of music.

Matthew Toffolo: I love the photo of you on your website. It describes who you are in one picture. Composing attire. The dog you obviously love. Cup of coffee. Piano. A rocking chair for thinking. Art Work. And a relaxed but determined look on your face. As they say, a picture says a 1000 words, or in your case a 1,000,000 words! 

John M. Davis: I’m glad you like it.  I don’t photograph particularly well, so I find all the accoutrements more interesting than me.  I do like that piano; it’s a 1954 Steinway we inherited from my wife’s grandfather.  The dog is a whole Russian novel in himself.

Matthew: From an outside perspective, it seems like you’ve mastered the balance of working on your pet projects while being a successful Music Editor for Hollywood productions. How does one do it? 

John: I wish I knew.  I like the camaraderie and diversity of different projects.  I would like more jobs as a composer, but composers don’t have a union while music editors do, with pension and health insurance.  If I only composed for the small films and documentaries that I do then I couldn’t support a family.  I love playing live music for silent films, but only a handful of humans on the planet can make a living doing that.  When I retire from music editing I’m planning on composing large scale works for orchestra.  Whether anybody wants me to do that is an open question.

Matthew: Do you have a musical mentor? 

John: Not really.  Music is something I’ve always done.  I was arranging for bands and choirs from junior high on.  I went to NYU film school with the intention of becoming a director or screenwriter, but over time I discovered that my musical abilities were more unique and more marketable.

Matthew: Out of all your personal projects, what are you most proud of? And what would you love to share to our audience? 

John: Next Saturday I’m performing a live score with a quartet to the 1929 Dziga Vertov documentary “The Man With a Movie Camera” at the American Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. I’m very proud of my performances at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy.  Early filmmakers saw cinema as the synthesis and apotheosis of all the arts, and live silent film music is the purest manifestation of music to picture.  Everything else we do — recording, editing, mixing under dialogue — is all a diminution of that ideal.

Matthew: Out of all your Music Editor work, what film was your best working experience? 

John: Working on a musical is the best.  “Black Nativity” was a film that almost no one saw, but I was on the set every day during the shoot, and I was involved in the entire post-production.  Nothing is better than having Jennifer Hudson in a church singing her heart out, capturing her live performance and using that in the final mix.  There were a lot of technical challenges involving playback, using earwigs (tiny radio controlled ear pieces), microphones hidden in her hair.  Then there was the tap dancing, the modern dance, choirs, the works! “The Producers” was also fun, especially when we could use the singing recorded on set and not the pre-records.

Matthew: What is the difference, if any, between working on a narrative film compared to working on a documentary? 

John: Some documentaries are very narrative, so you might score a montage the same way in either format.  A very dry talking heads type of documentary usually doesn’t support much music.  Some of the greatest scores of all time were written for documentaries.

Matthew: How do you choose your jobs? From working on short films to doing (more) paid work? It is all about the story? 

John: The more important consideration is the people you’re working with.  That said, in my experience the jobs choose you.  My phone rings just enough to keep me working throughout the year.  If I hit a dry spell it doesn’t last too long.  A few years ago when “Flight of the Conchords” was shooting in New York I thought “this is the perfect project for me!”  Unfortunately I had no idea how to get hired on it.<

Matthew: Ideally, where would you like your career to go in the next 5 years? More passion projects? More sound designing? Working on bigger productions? 

John: I would like to have composing be a more regular part of my work.  Right now it seems like it’s about 15% to 20% instead of 50%.  However, part of that is preconceptions.  If people see you as a music editor then they don’t think of you as a composer.

Matthew: What are the key qualities to be a great music editor? 

John: Surprisingly it’s not musicianship.  Being a musician is a help, but some of the more mad-scientist musicians I know would be terrible music editors.  The main requirement is being organized.  You have to keep track of the music, know which version is where, know how to fill out a cue sheet.  If you’re a musician who keeps their hard drive very tidy and doesn’t have a lot of files on your desktop, then you could be a music editor.  It goes without saying that you have to be able to cut on the beat, and you have to know something about musical structure.  You also have to get along with the director and the composer.

Matthew: What film, besides the ones you’ve work on, have you seen the most in your life? 

John: I’ll say “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”  That’s the only film poster I have in my studio.  John Williams has said that it is his favorite score, and I can see why.  The music is the means of communication between worlds.  It goes from drama to action to the most modernist and atonal to romantic, and the story is more ambitious and multi-continent expansive than almost any film before or since.

Matthew: What is your favorite era in music history? 

John: Despite my love of silent film, the best music was written later, in the 40’s to the 70’s — the Golden and Silver ages:  Steiner, Korngold, Herrmann, Mancini, Williams, Goldsmith, Morricone.  The fact that two of them are nominated this year for an Oscar is amazing.

Matthew: Do you see your job as a Music Editor changing because of technology in the future? 

John: Well, Pro Tools 12.5 will make my life easier, if it works as advertised, because I’ll be able to update a co-worker with the push of a button.  The new Melodyne 4 has a tempo detection function that I plan to put through its paces.  I’m always extremely up-to-date, and I’ll upgrade the very day something is released.

On the other hand, technology can make music too rigid, which works for a very few films.  I look forward to the day when technology makes it easy to capture the inspiration that happens in a spontaneous silent film performance.  It should be as fast to write notes in a notation program as it is on a piece of manuscript paper.  We’re getting there.  Technology should become more intuitive and bend the learning curve back to the humanistic.  It should capture lightening in a bottle, not turn out glass bricks.  Music is emotion.
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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.

SOUND Design, Effects, and Musical Design in Film. Tips

SOUND DESIGN
FILMMAKING NOTES

Film Post Production and What Is Sound Design?

The process of creating the soundtrack for the visuals of a film. Since silent films began to talk, filmmakers have been looking to improve the post production of their film. It has become a whole new creative world as people like George Lucas proclaim that “It is 50% of a film.”

CINEMATIC SOUND DESIGN MULTIPLIES TWO OR THREE TIMES THE EFFECT OF THE IMAGE

IT HAS FAILED IF IT DISTRACTS THE AUDIENCE

SOUND DESIGNING IS ABOUT EMOTION, STORY AND RHYTHM

QUIET IS GOOD – THE BEST SOUND DESIGN IS THE SOUND INSIDE SOMEBODY’S HEAD

THREE COMPONENTS IN SOUND EFFECTS AND SOUND DESIGN
SPOKEN LANGUAGE
MUSIC
SOUND EFFECTS

SPOKEN LANGUAGE
-An actor can emphasize one word over the other and thus change the meanings of the sentence completely.
-It all depends on the dramatic contract
-Two types of spoken language- MONOLOGUE AND DIALOGUE
-Interior monologue-what the actor is thinking

MUSIC
-Directs channels of emotions that are already present with the audience
-Propels the action and increase the audiences emotional involvement in a project
-Powerful and manipulative art form that never needs translation into a foreign language
-Effects the entire spectrum of emotions
-Moves us to think and feel a certain way
-Can take us into realms we have never experienced
-Can provide ironic contrast
-Characterization can be suggested. Certain characters have certain music
-Underlines speech, especially dialogue

If you’re a DIRECTOR, remember the MUSIC when there is silence in a shot. At times you can hold the shot longer as the music will give it a greater effect

-Music can take awhile to make its statement. HOLD THE SHOT

MUSIC PERFORMS THREE BASIC FUNCTIONS IN SOUND DESIGN
1) To play the action in a scene
2) To play obliquely or play the subtext of a scene
3) To play against the action in a scene

MUCH LIKE THREE PRIMARY COLORS -These three functions can be combined and manipulated to create many gradations of MUSICALINTERPLAY
The best music taps into the core emotion of a film
-Moves plot along
-Enhances cohesiveness of the drama
-Reflects what’s obvious on the screen, what isn’t
-Speaks to the deepest levels of emotion the audience is suppose to feel

GOOD FILM MUSIC BECOMES A CHARACTER ALL ITS OWN

Give film a THIRD DIMENSION

MUSIC SHOULD ONLY BE IN THE FILM WHEN THERE IS A DRAMATIC REASON FOR ITS EXISTANCE

“So much of what we do is ephemeral and quickly forgotten, even by ourselves, so it’s gratifying to have something you have done linger in people’s memories.”
-John Williams, Composer (Star Wars,Superman,Jurassic Park)

SOUND EFFECTS IN SOUND DESIGN

The first thing in approaching a new project for the DIRECTOR is to make a list of sounds which they think might be effective. Thinking about the characters in the film and the environment in which they move.

Finding moments in the story where sound can add to the character. Their motives and the story

The pitch, volume and tempo of sound effects can strongly effect meaning of film

HIGH PITCHED SOUNDS often employed in suspense sequences
LOW PITCHED SOUNDS often emphasized the dignity of solemnity of a scene

LOUD SOUNDS tend to be forceful, intense and threatening
QUIET SOUNDS delicate, hesitate and often weak

SOUND EFFECTS WORK ON A SUBCONSCIOUS LEVEL
-Also serves sympbolic functions to the characters

ABSOLUTE SILENCE tends to call even more drama. Audience not used to it.

QUALITIES OF SOUND

LOUDNESS
-Film sound constantly manipulates volume
-Loudness will be effected by perceived distance
-Often the louder the sound, the closer the take will be

Some films exploit radical changes in volume for shock value. When a quiet scene is interupted by a very loud noise

PITCH
-The perceived “highness” or “lowness” of the sound
-Pitch is the principal way we distinguish music from other sounds in the film

TIMBRE
-Gives each voice, musical instrument and sound effect its unique coloring and character
-The harmonic components of a sound, given in a certain tone quality
-At the most elementary level, loudness, pitch and timbre enables us to distinguish amonng all of the sound in a film

DIMENSIONS OF FILM SOUND IN SOUND DESIGN

RHYTHM
-A recurring sound that alternates between strong and weak elements
-All three types of sound on the sound track have their own rhythm. Possibilities independent of one another
-Sound usually accompanies movements and often continues over cuts
-Sound many motivate movement in the camera

FIDELITY
-Whether the sound is faithful to the source as we conceive it
-Purely a matter of the viewers expectations-A slammed door gets a slammed door

SPACE
-The source of the sound
-From actual actions in the PICTURE or outside source like the film score
-Often a filmmaker will use sound to represent what a character is thinking

TIME
-Sound relates temporarily to film images in two ways
-VIEWING TIME – length of fim
-STORY TIME – length of time in film

“The power of sound to put an audience in a certain psychological state is vastly undervalued. And the more you know about music and harmony, the more you can do with that.”
-Mike Figgis, Director (Leaving Los Vegas, Timecode)

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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 Fesival 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.

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