A decade ago, Cliff Eidelman was scoring big-budget studio films like “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” and “Christopher Columbus: The Discovery,” and earning the big paychecks that come along with such assignments.
These days he’s apt to be found toiling quietly on indie and arthouse fare like last year’s “An American Rhapsody” (Paramount Classics) or the upcoming “Harrison’s Flowers” (Universal Focus). But, says Eidelman, smaller films can be even more rewarding.
“The material often has a deep resonance,” he says. “It’s very heartfelt, very truthful and usually comes from a strong point of view.
“Because there’s less money at stake, it also seems to make the filmmakers, and me, a little more relaxed about taking chances and exploring unexplored territory.”
In the case of “An American Rhapsody,” a moving fact-based film about a Hungarian-born American-raised teenager who finds herself torn between two families and two cultures, Eidelman had to walk a fine line musically.
“Usually, it’s either a big film or an intimate film, but it’s not often that it’s both at the same time,” he notes. “The biggest challenge was the whole idea that this is an intimate story about a particular family, but they are surrounded by a much larger historical event (the Soviet invasion of Hungary), a really dark event that tears the family apart.”
Eidelman subtly evoked the colors and flavor of Hungarian music throughout, a reminder of the character’s childhood past even though the girl was in Elvis Presley-era America.
“The score’s job,” he explains, “was to keep the audience aware of her inner struggle and soul searching. The score needed to create that world, that connection with her past.”
The composer, whose last studio pic was Meryl Streep’s “One True Thing” in 1998, has been on both sides of the business and is a realist about the opportunities.
“There are a few A-list people that everyone seems to go to over and over,” he points out. “You have a much better chance in independent film to get these kinds of heartfelt, profound stories.”
Eidelman has found ways to make scoring in the indie world, where budgets are much smaller than with studio films, work for him. Both “American Rhapsody” and “Harrison’s Flowers” (a drama about the Bosnian conflict starring Andie MacDowell) are orchestral scores, as is his upcoming Imax film “Ocean Men,” about competitive free-divers.
In the case of “Rhapsody,” he was able to retain ownership of the music (something that rarely happens in the studio world).
Eidelman also has broadened his musical horizons, working regularly in the concert world. He is currently adapting “Wedding in the Night Garden,” his 14-minute piece for mezzo-soprano and string orchestra, for performance by the L.A. Master Chorale later this year.