Finally, movie composers get their due in the forthcoming documentary Score: A Film Music Documentary by Matt Schrader (Director) and Trevor Thompson (Executive Producer). The documentary, while mostly finished, is turning to movie music fans to complete the journey, with a Kickstarter beginning February 15, 2015.
A feeling, an emotion barely remembered, and then your hear Howard Shore’s Hobbit theme, and you are suddenly back in Middle Earth. Such is the impact of movie music. Do the whimsical notes of Danny Elfman’s Jack Skellington theme make you yearn to find your copy of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas? Long before the “talkies,” movies were propelled by their scores. And yes, they’ve evolved from the simple rinky-tink of piano keys into orchestral extravaganzas fit for the best symphony orchestras in the world. This is the world in which the creators of Score want to take us: a bird’s eye view of the movie music score.
The movie will take us into the creative minds of our generation’s film music geniuses, including Danny Elfman (Batman, Spider-Man), Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit) and John Debney (Passion of the Christ, Elf, Star Trek: The Next Generation). Movie historian Leonard Maltin and movie legend Garry Marshall will add their insights into the mix. The producers promise “intimate access to Hollywood’s elite composers, and insight into why film scores give us goosebumps.”
Executive Producer Trevor Thompson and Director Matt Shrader “sat down with Blogcritics to talk about movies, music, their labor of love documentary, and, of course, the forthcoming Kickstarter.
What inspired making this documentary?
Trevor: We wanted to see something like this ourselves, and eventually came to the realization that there’d never really been an in-depth documentary about composers. So I suppose at the beginning of this process, light bulb went off. We said to each other, “why don’t we tackle this ourselves?”
Matt: We are used to seeing featurettes about composers four to five minutes at a time, but nothing something feature length. Score is about composers developing iconic melodies, and the creative struggles of designing a modern soundtrack from scratch. So we wanted to highlight some of the biggest names in the industry, from composers to orchestrators to instrumentalists, even directors. We want you to experience the inspiration and the majesty of what the film score.
What possessed you to take on a project like this?
Trevor: We’ve talked about getting together to do a project together since our days at USC. this is something that’s been swirling around for a while, and we finally had an opportunity over the summer, when we decided that this topic deserved more of an exploration in the documentary world. So we basically hustled our way into getting interviews with some of the major players, funding much of it ourselves. We finally realized that to make this movie the right way, the way it really should be done, would require a little more cash than we had immediately available. So we decided to do a Kickstarter, which would give us the funds to complete 90 minutes of a feature film.
The Kickstarter starts February 15th, and the response we’ve gotten on Twitter and on Facebook, it seems that the movie-going public–not just fans of movie music, but moviegoers in general–is ready for a film like this. We think we have a good base already established.
Matt: We both have a lot of experience when it comes journalism, and I think that is our strong suit. Our biggest task was finding people with the right technical skills put on film what we could do as journalists. At the end of the day we want great content: something powerful, inspiring, inspirational, and educational. We also wanted it to look very good. Luckily, Trevor and I both went to USC, which is one of the best, if not the best, film schools in the world, which gave us access to a lot of very talented people. We wanted to bring together a couple of the best people a project like this. So far it’s turned out really well, and we have a product that looks really good.
So, obviously, you’ve gotten some ways down the line in creating this project and now you’re gone to crowdsource funding through a Kickstarter to fund the remainder of the work.
Matt: The advantage of the Kickstarter approach is that you get a lot more buzz potential than if you have only a few private investors. On Kickstarter, you get hundreds or thousands of small investors, each creating buzz at the same time. Instead of having an one or two private investors [and at this stage no one else aware of the project], now you have thousands of eyes on your trailer on your demo, and that’s a good way to get the word out–buzz.
Fundraising and social media all at once! Tell me about the movie itself.
Matt: And we want the majority of the documentary to follow the process of creating, shaping and producing high-end film music. We’ve been shooting sequences with different composers, showing some of the past work they’ve done, showing elements and the cool behind-the-scenes stuff that explains how those sounds come to be. Actually seeing some of the raw thought processes that come together when they’re holding a guitar or playing some strange new instrument when they have some sort of “eureka” moment. And that’s the really cool thing we’re trying to capture, not just the intellectual side of it, but that moment when it all clicks. That’s what we want to uncover and showcase, because that’s what we want to do in helping people really understand this craft. Enable them to really see…”this doesn’t work…this doesn’t work…this doesn’t work,” then finally…”wow! That really works!” and the “why” it does. That’s what we’re trying to capture.
What’s Leonard Maltin’s role?
Matt: We interviewed him several weeks ago. an He talks about film history–film music history–and the way that music helps shape so much of film now. He went back as far as the early days before there was any talking in movies at all, and discussing how music changed the meaning of what people were seeing on screen. He put it very eloquently, and he’s very authoritative on the subject. We were really pleased to have him.
Trevor: He’s a legend. I think he’ll provide a good backdrop and framework for the film. The evolution of film music, which we want to focus on, is something a lot of people don’t know about. But I think to understand why film music sounds the way it does today, you have to look to the past and I think Leonard Maltin does a good job of framing that for the audience.
Comparing modern movie music with some of the classics, even going back to Robin Hood with Errol Flynn in the 1930s, and that lush Erich Korngold film score, film scores now are much different, often subtler.
Matt: Film scores try to tap into your emotions; in a way, they try to manipulate you, and I think we want to be manipulated so we can be part of that experience. But, there’s not as much “listening” as there is “feeling” in modern scores–compared with the classics.
That subtle “into your brain” thing...
Matt: The music sort of tells you what you should be feeling: what to expect, how to react…
Sometimes that’s good, and sometimes neither audiences nor critics like it when it’s too obviously manipulation. I noticed that among the people involved in your film, there are people involved in feature film making and television or other mediums. Will Score focus on scoring feature films or reach into TV, gaming, etc.?
Trevor: The primary focus is definitely film composers, specifically composers who score major motion pictures. But there are huge parts of the composing world now in related industries: television, video games… video games have become a massive market for composers. But the really big stuff is still [all about] movies, especially those composers who craft movie scores that can change all of Hollywood. we’re talking about John Williamses, the Thomas Newmans, and the Hans Zimmers. Those are such iconic sounds they’ve created–sounds we all kind of know. People who haven’t even seen the movies for which those scores are famous, know the music. And that’s pretty cool. We’re going for a full well-rounded overview of the industry, but we’re also trying to highlight what has made it stand out so much.
The iconic figures in movie music: Zimmer, Howard Shore… The stuff…you just hear it and you go “Ahh.” Brings you back to that feeling of first having seen that scene…what was happening in the movie. You can sometimes play an excellent soundtrack and relive the entire movie…just by listening to the music. Like Shore’s Hobbit theme takes you right back to the Shire. It’s almost like opera music for our time: you may never have seen the opera, but a clip of a particular aria will trigger the emotion, if not the scene, intended by the composer. Clearly, a lot of movie music can be considered classical genre–symphonic.
Matt: Absolutely. And music often outlives the movie in which it originate in the same way that some classical music outlives the original works from which they came. It will be interesting to see 100 years from now how some of [today’s] movie music is used.
In doing all the interviews and prepping the film, what was your big “aha” moment?
Matt: I think the coolest thing we’ve had was experiencing [the moment that] something just clicks [for a composer]. When we were watching somebody at work, just observing, and they’re explaining something to somebody else. And suddenly you get how a certain few notes they’re playing now makes sense, when it didn’t just a few seconds before. The experience of [the composer’s] “aha” moment. And now it just “purrs;” it just “works,” as perfect as you could possibly imagine.
It’s in those kind of moments [once transported to the big screen for which] you once needed lines of dialogue or specific action to guide the story a particular way. What’s cool about this music is that you can hear a conflict kind of resolve itself without dialogue–solely through the music.
And when you’re watching someone try to accomplish this by playing a few notes, it’s cool when they finally get [that moment perfectly]. It’s not only that the composer hears it, but so do we. We understand it somehow, intuitively, what these guys are creating. We experienced a couple of these moments while filming, observing composers demonstrating different parts of their scores to us, and showing us how things come together. What we’ve done with Score is to reveal how this stuff (of movie music) all works: show people all of the gears and levers behind the final product: the big feature film.
Trevor: I think back to the moment we followed John Debney (Iron Man 3, forthcoming The Jungle Book), and we saw how he worked with the engineers, and producers, and sort of connect the score as it was being recorded. There’s an amazing amount of creativity in someone who can harness the sound of a 100-piece orchestra on the fly like that. Until we actually saw it, we didn’t realize how much talent these guys actually have.
I’m a writer and musician, but that part of the craft is so beyond my ability to even comprehend how it’s done. It’s like magic to me. Once you’ve raised the funds–the $40,000 you’ll hopefully raise with your Kickstarter, what’s next in making this documentary see its way onto the screen?
Matt: We still have a little bit to we’re missing a few final elements that will really help us tell a narrative that follows the score itself. It’s not any one person, or any one struggling composer, or anything like that; it’s actually the story of music being developed at each stage, and showing the progression and how everything comes together in different stages. So there’s a couple elements we’re still missing, and a few more people we’re going to want to interview. And a couple of them we’ve yet to reach out to, but looking forward to the next several months, we’re going to be shooting the remaining elements we need, and then putting together a rough-cut edit. And at that point, we’re dealing with distribution. The end goal is to get the film up on a Netflix or Amazon Prime as fast as possible. We definitely want to go the independent route, and make sure it’s as accessible to the public as possible.
So much in arts is going the independent route these days: TV, music, books, films… Venues like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube: so many different ways to get projects in front of people now. It’s great, some in the business have called it a bit of a double-edged sword as far as quality and production values.
Matt: It definitely is easier now to get a documentary out there, but because of that, a lot of documentaries that don’t [necessarily] look very good–that aren’t that polished; that aren’t that controlled, and don’t really possess a narrow, specific focus to uncover and present–weave the storytelling within it. Because it’s so easy to get something out there, we [sometimes] lose a sort of quality that used to go into what we know as “the documentary.” I think we’re living, now, in the Golden Age of the documentary. Above all, as long as you have a really good story; as long you have a really good educational and informational and interesting product, it doesn’t always have to look that good. I think a lot of people who enjoy documentaries maybe don’t care that much for how the film “looks” [its production values]. In our case–for Score–what we hope is the most definitive film on this topic, it’s really important that it looks and sounds as good as any of the content we discuss and present.
Trevor: We’re working on a cinematic subject, so we want Score to look and sound cinematic. We can’t rush things; we want to make sure every time we go to shoot an interview or recording session we’re making sure that people watching Score aren’t taken aback jumping from a beautifully shot clip of a major motion picture to a less-than-perfectly shot documentary. We want it all to be very seamless. We’re definitely taking our time with the project.
Do have a date by which you’d like to see Score released?
Matt: Yes. Right now, we’re shooting for a late 2015 release. But, at this point, we’re focused on the Kickstarter launch,which is when we launch Score’s trailer, something we’re putting the finishing touches on. We’re hoping to make the finished film available as soon as possible. But above all, we want to make sure we have a really powerful end product, and we’re getting there. We’re pretty close.
Now to the all-important Kickstarter! Details, please! Often, with a Kickstarter, investors get premiums for their investment, etc. Can you talk about that as well?
Matt: There are cool rewards built in, including some unique ones. We are offering people the ability to write their own question to be used during an interview with one of the composers. It would go into the film, pending our guidance on how it fits with the main storyline. The investor choosing that option would then be sent a clip of a composer discussing the topic or issue raised by the question. We’re also giving away some of the more standard rewards, including T-shirts, DVDs, Blu-rays, posters.
At the higher end, we’re offering an opportunity for people to have a role in the actual production of the film. We have a couple levels in which someone can become a consulting producer on Score, and be part of the film behind the scenes. At that point, obviously, we’re still the ones crafting the move, but this Kickstarter premium would allow an investor to actually see how we’re putting the film together.
As someone who really enjoys a beautifully done movie score, I’m really looking forward to seeing Score come to life and watching it on my screen. Good luck with the Kickstarter!