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.

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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 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 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.

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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.