Unrest marks my first score for a documentary feature. Scoring this film for Jennifer Brea was a completely new experience, and expanded my perspective on the vital relationship between composer and filmmaker.
A young Harvard PhD student with her whole life before her, Jennifer Brea, was suddenly struck with a fever that left her bedridden. Medical tests proved unsatisfying and inadequate. When doctors finally told her it was “all in her head,” Jennifer began documenting her experience with myalgic encephalomyelitis (M.E.). This affliction, misleadingly called “chronic fatigue syndrome,” affects millions of people around the world, disproportionally women, and yet research pertaining to it is tragically underfunded. Unrest expanded beyond Jennifer’s own experience to include stories like hers from around the globe. It heralds the growing movement to have this condition recognized and properly funded and studied. Unrest debuted at Sundance, where it won a Special Jury Prize for editing. (more…)
I was raised by a novelist. My entire childhood was accompanied by the incessant percussive tap dance of my mother’s fingers against typewriter keys. Those sounds flooded back into my mind when I first read Danny Strong’s visceral script for his directorial debut, the J.D. Salinger biopic Rebel in the Rye. I was struck by the story’s focus on the internal struggles universal to all creative people. Though I express myself with notes instead of words, I could relate to Jerry Salinger’s experience. I knew instantly I had to be involved in with this film. This week marks the end of that journey. The film has opened in New York and Los Angeles, will expand to wider markets next weekend, and the soundtrack has just been released by Sparks & Shadows.
Even before he began shooting, Danny Strong felt that one of the composers whose music was relevant to his film was Elmer Bernstein. Hearing that, my agent, Richard Kraft, enthusiastically recommended me, since I was Elmer’s last protégé and worked with him for nearly a decade. Danny was intrigued, but ironically, my own credits – predominantly science fiction, horror and fantasy television – worked against me. Even I knew I was not an obvious fit for Rebel in the Rye. Determined to convince Danny, I wrote and produced several demos, over the course of six months. These works ultimately served as the creative catalyst for the score. (more…)
This weekend, I flew to New York City for a film premiere. That, by itself, is not unusual. Just a year ago, I was in the city for the world premiere of 10 Cloverfield Lane. This time, however, I was there not in support of a film I scored, but a film in which I am featured! Score: A Film Music Documentary, directed by Matthew Schrader, is the first feature-length documentary to explore the world of film music. As one of the dozens of composers featured in the film, I attended the premiere to help spread the word about this unique film.
The weekend was fun, exhausting and surprisingly illuminating. (more…)
In Colossal, the visionary new film from acclaimed director Nacho Vigalondo, Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, a recovering alcoholic who moves back to her hometown and reconnects with her childhood friend Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis. This well-constructed character drama operates on multiple levels, tackling alcoholism, peer pressure, and gender roles, while offering an insightful commentary on the dynamics of abusive relationships. Oh, and Gloria can manipulate a giant lizard monster that rampages through Korea. That happens too.
Richard Hatch was my friend. And tonight he is gone.
I first met the dynamic actor, who played Captain Apollo in the original Battlestar Galactica and Tom Zarek in its reincarnation a quarter century later, while I was scoring the new series’ second season. He was the first actor on the show I had the pleasure of meeting, when he interviewed me for a fan website. He quickly put my starstruck nerves at ease with his obvious passion for storytelling. I instantly recognized him as a man for whom art was a spiritual experience. A genuine curiosity about life, music and story radiated from him.
I have long dreamed of hearing my music in a film at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. I can safely say that this last week, attending Sundance in support of not one, but three, unique films, is literally beyond my wildest dreams!
My journey to Sundance began two and a half years ago. The month my daughter was born, I realized that my career was not all I wanted it to be. My television career was at an all-time high, but my progress into in other mediums, especially film, videogames, theater, and live performance, had stalled. I partnered with Richard Kraft and Laura Engel and began pursuing every film opportunity I could. I wanted to work in new genres, to reach into both studio and independent films. (more…)
I am inspired by the opportunities presented by making music in the digital era, a time in which musical ideas can reach millions of fans instantaneously thanks to the internet. However, I am grateful that the recent resurgence of vinyl as a medium for music, in particular score albums, allows me to communicate with fans in a timeless, analog manner. I have always felt that owning music means possessing something you can hold in your hand, and holding a beautifully mastered and pressed vinyl album feels pretty damn good!
While Outlander fans wait with bated breath for 2017 to deliver new episodes, I can perhaps ease some “Droughtlander” anxiety with today’s release of my new soundtrack album, compiling tracks from the epic second season. The album is available today, in both digital and physical formats, in a collaborated release from Madison Gate Records and Sparks & Shadows.
“Outlander: Season 2” is without doubt my most diverse album yet, and presented a real challenge to pull together as a satisfying listening experience. The score ranges from the ornate halls of Baroque Parisian courts, to muddy Scottish battlefields during the Jacobite uprising. While I do not always feel soundtrack albums must play in sequential order, I found that this season absolutely had to be sequenced that way.
The album feels almost like two different albums played back to back. The first half presents music from Paris, beginning with the French version of the “Skye Boat Song.” Track 11, the “Jacobite” version of that same song, shifts the tone radically to music from the Scotland episodes. Some tracks don’t perfectly fit the structure, such as “Leave the Past Behind,” a score cue that is not French in any way, coming from the premiere episode before we saw Claire and Jamie arrive in France. However, it still fit the flow of the musical storytelling, so I left it at the beginning. To me, that track almost feels like an opening overture before we dive into the Parisian material. (more…)
I have two new projects hitting streaming platforms this week, Black Mirror on Netflix and Chance on Hulu. These two projects mark my first foray into streaming series. Before I dive into them, I want to step back and look at the seismic shifts in the television industry that made these series possible.
By scoring the 2004 Battlestar Galactica reboot, I entered the television landscape right before it began to shift tectonically. Six years later, Battlestar ended its run at a time when fans still collected DVDs, and shared them with their friends. This feels like a lifetime ago, but I’m only talking about 2009!
What I did not realize at that time, however, was that the medium itself was about to undergo a massive transformation. Almost overnight, mobile devices, streaming services, social media and binge-watching changed the way audiences consume media. Series can now exist without the need to justify massive ratings. ‘Cool’ has become currency. How many people actually watch your favorite streaming series? It matters less now. What matters is that people are talking about the show, driving subscriptions. (more…)
I was honored last spring to be the Outstanding Alumnus and Commencement Speaker for my alma mater, the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California. I took very seriously this opportunity to offer advice to a new generation of musicians, determined to communicate something practical to students they could use to kick-start their careers. In the fourteen years since I graduated from USC myself, I have learned many lessons, the most profound resulting from humiliating mistakes. From these I learned that “Attitude is Everything.” That universal message is applicable to any career in any field.
With that in mind, I am sharing my USC Thornton School of Music commencement address with you all. The following is adapted and expanded from my speech, given on May 13, 2016.
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You are about to embark upon your professional career, armed with the skills you have honed during your education. You are good at what you do. You might even be the best at what you do. Building a successful career, however, relies on more than talent or skill. Being “good” isn’t enough. Even being “the best” isn’t enough. In the music business, as in life, attitude is everything. A successful career emerges when the person with the right talent and skills also has the right attitude at all times. (more…)