Score: A Film Music Documentary
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. Over an intense twenty-four hours, I chatted on CBS This Morning, Good Day New York, podcast / radio outlets such as Marvel, Entertainment Weekly and Sirius XM, and with the audience at a post-screening Q&A. I was continually reminded that casual audiences adore film music, but actually know little about the composers who write it. In this unusual context, I felt surprisingly qualified to talk about the contemporary state and history of my industry. After a while, I began to feel like an ambassador to a foreign country, a citizen of the nation of “Film Music,” here to introduce the public to our strange customs! Every conversation made clear to me that film music has a grip on the public’s imagination, even if most people are unaware of it.
The Score documentary is ambitious, and sprawling at times, covering the eighty or so years of recorded music existing in motion pictures. The filmmakers strove to boil the narrative down to the most essential scores, interviewing dozens of relevant voices in the field. To a casual audience, this movie presents a vital film music crash course (despite a few inevitable omissions).
(Backstage with director Matt Schrader)
To a composer, the documentary operates on a deeper level. I found myself nodding in agreement with basically every word everyone said. I have always enjoyed talking with other composers about our shared experiences, but it wasn’t until seeing this film that I began to suspect that every successful composer is, perhaps, the same person. We are driven to create music with an obvious passion, and we all strive to preserve and define our creative identities while simultaneously adapting ourselves to the needs of our projects. We are a strange, rare breed.
I first discovered film scores when I was about five years old. Composers were my heroes. However, information about them was scarce. To me, they were essentially names associated with styles. (Watching Scrooged for the first time, when I was about nine, I turned to my mom in the first thirty seconds and proclaimed that someone named “Danny Elfman” must have written the score. She was stunned to see that name appear on screen a few seconds later.) I wanted to know more about who these composers were. I flipped through album liner notes to catch a glimpse of their faces, or images of their batons raised before an orchestra. I felt like I knew them somehow, even though I knew next to nothing of their personalities, their struggles, or their philosophies. Had a film like this existed back then, I would have gasped at such a treasure trove of information.
At last, a feature-length documentary about film music finally exists, and I am struck by the surreal fact that I am included in it. Life is a strange, wonderful journey.
(I got lots of questions about this scene in the movie. Black Sails fans know what it is!)
Over the last three decades, I have discovered an ever-deepening appreciation for the music that initially defined my creative interests. I still absorb the scores of my favorite composers, now through digital playlists, years after my cassette mix tapes wore down to shreds. Every week, nearly every day, I actively listen to the music of Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Bernard Herrmann, Elmer Bernstein, John Williams, Basil Poledouris, Danny Elfman, Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone, Alan Silvestri, and others. I hope I might one day contribute something to the legacy of film music that is even remotely as important as they did. In the meantime, I will do whatever I can to help the public recognize the profound influence that film music has had on popular culture. Every one of those names I listed deserves to be a household name. I truly believe the world would not be the same without them. I can safely say that my life would not be the same without their contributions.
(Had fun at Marvel. Couldn’t manage to get any S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 spoilers though.)
Score: A Film Music Documentary is screening in select cities now, with an expanded release, including VOD, planned for later this year. Check out their Facebook page to keep updated.