When writing for film, ASCAP Workshop director Richard Bellis told the 12 participants to remember, “It’s not a musically sophisticated audience; it’s a movie-going audience.” On the last day of the workshop, we were that audience as the composers saw how their orchestral scores worked to picture in a DGA screening room.
The four films’ scenes from “Bruce Almighty,” “Dreamer,” “The Incredibles” and “Hidalgo” would first play with the workshoppers’ scores, followed by a reveal to the ones used in the films. In essence, this put the workshop composers on the same playing field as John Debney, Michael Giacchino and James Newton Howard. It was a level playing field, too, since the composers worked with a 60-piece orchestra consisting of many of the same players who created the original scores.
Ireland’s Anna Rice was first up with her quirky score for the “Bruce Almighty” scene in which Jim Carrey makes a monkey emerge from the butt of a thug. Afterward, the lights came up and Bellis asked Anna if she wanted to say anything. Rice joked: “Anna couldn’t be here tonight, but as her twin sister…” and then went on to detail various technical fixes and improvements she learned from this experience. Bellis discussed the importance of looking up from the score when conducting, saying, “What you do with your face and eyes is geared to get that empathy. You know musicians; you have to look at it as they’re over to your house for wine and cheese.”
One of the guests on hand was Charles Bernstein, composer of the iconic score to “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture’s Board of Governors. He found Gerrit Wunder’s “Bruce Almighty” score to be a “veritable thesaurus of orchestral techniques.”
The workshop visited John Debney’s studio just two days before, but now the participants got to see his monkey-butt score vs. their own. Debney employed an African-American church choir to give angelic overtones to the powers Bruce Almighty decided to use in a baser fashion. This musical conceit got audience laughter without a word written on the page.
Austin Wintory’s aleatoric score to the horse race in “Dreamer” ran about a second off picture. Wintory joked afterward, “I wrote it like a Gallup Poll – with a plus or minus factor for error.” Jeff Kryka (whose “Hidalgo” score got a lot of mileage out of a violin solo by concert master Endre Granat) was one of several workshop composers clearly taken by the orchestra’s ability to instantly interpret their written compositions. “I was impressed with the performances,” he said.
Bellis said that Jaebon Hwang’s score for “The Incredibles” sounded like “your version of the death star.” Tilman Ritter’s “Incredibles” score harkened back to classic film composition in which a theme would be developed and reinterpreted by a variety of different instruments with slightly different shadings.
In the end, the 12 scores were as varied as the participants’ country of origin, with Ireland, Korea, Austria, Canada, Germany, England and the US represented. World-class talent for a program that began 20 years ago as a labor of love by the late composer Fred Karlin (“Up the Down Staircase,” “Westworld,” “Greased Lightning”).
Texan Patrick Murray’s “Hidalgo” score was the last screening of the night. As Hidalgo joined the herd of horses running free to Murray’s big-as-all-outdoors western theme, it meant the same was in store for the 12 participants. They would leave the confines of a program that handed them the keys to the kingdom on many levels — world-class orchestra and recording facility, private audiences with world-famous film composers — and return to the world, hopefully at full gallop.
With that in mind, I posed one last question: “What are you going to do on Monday?”
Austin Wintory: “Continue on the movie I’ve been working on the whole time I’ve been here.”
Eric Hachikian: “I will get back to the work on the films I’ve been neglecting, then take a week and figure out if I should be moving to Los Angeles.”
Jeff Kryka: “Work on compositions – revise pieces, working on a student film at UCLA. Relax. Do what I’ve been doing, but do it harder. I’m still in school and planning to go for my doctorate.”
Luke Richards: “Start employment at Remote Control. Seriously, staying here two more weeks and continue networking.”
Adam Langston: Start networking. (Adam composed several cues on the Colin Farrell pic “In Bruges.”)
Tilman Ritter: “I have a TV series coming up in Berlin, put that into play – who knows, I might come back.”
Anna Rice: “Hanging on to this, applying that level of expectation of seeing all these top-top guys, taking it seriously, so that for whatever frustrating situation I’m in next — to retain this level of professionalism.”
Sascha Peres: “See family again (in Austria); I have a 16-week-old son. The program amplified lots of things we knew and other things we didn’t know. Gerrit [Wunder] and I are coming back to LA at the end of November.”
Patrick Murray: “Work on more demo pieces and all of the publicity things I need to do.”
Marc Baril: “Gonna go back to work.”