'Babel,' 'Brokeback' composer talks music, film

Offering equal parts comfort and alarm, film composers Gustavo Santaolalla, Moby and BT (Brian Wayne Transeau) addressed a packed theater of filmmakers, musicians and fans at downtown’s Regal Cinemas on Saturday to discuss art, commerce and film as part of BMI’s Coffee Talk series at the Los Angeles Film Fest.

Santaolalla explained how creative control is often directly proportional to the money at stake. Film budgets of more than $15 million for example, often make studio execs hesitant to take risks on edgier, non-orchestral music.

“The bigger amount of money it is, the bigger people’s worries are about recuperating that money,” said Santaolalla, Oscar winner for “Brokeback Mountain” and “Babel.”

Advances in electronic music technology, however, have lowered costs for many experimental and indie filmmakers.

“For some directors and composers, that’s license to be more idiosyncratic,” said Moby, who has enjoyed working on offbeat projects that, he says, “no one will ever see.”

The group sympathized with the difficulties faced by indie filmmakers, too, many of whom find themselves charged with unaffordable fees for songs by lesser-known artists.

“Their biggest complaint is how difficult it is to license music,” said Moby of his indie and experimental film colleagues. Because of this, the veteran musician provides free songs on his website for non-commercial use.

While Santaolalla explained that what compels him to score a films are “the script, and the director,” for the Grammy-nominated Moby, the reasoning was more diffuse: “Honestly,” he said, “someone just has to ask.”

If their reasons for choosing projects might vary, none of the composers underestimated the power of a movie’s music. “It really helps propel the story through supporting the emotional aspect of a film,” said Santaolalla. BT, who has scored such films as “Go” and “The Fast and the Furious,” put it more bluntly. “It’s manipulative,” he said, “and not necessarily in a bad way.”

The Coffee Talk, now in its seventh year, assembles industry veterans to discuss the state of film music and trends. This year’s panel was moderated by BMI’s Hanna Pantle.

Afterwards Santaolalla, surrounded by eager composers with demos in hand, offered creative advice for fiscal success. “For an artist, one of the most important things to look for is your own sound that will make you different.”

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