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Utility player orchestrates ‘Miracle’

Eye on the Oscars: Song & Score

For the past 20 years, accomplished orchestrator Mark McKenzie has been the go-to guy behind-the-scenes for such top film composers as Jerry Goldsmith, Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman. But now the guy who’s orchestrated such hits as “Spider-Man,” “Ice Age: The Meltdown” and “Star Trek: Nemesis,” and a talented composer in his own right, is finally grabbing the limelight thanks to an obscure indie Mexican 3D animated spiritual film titled “The Greatest Miracle,” which recently won him the indie/documentary/short film score award at the Hollywood Music In Media Awards.

“The whole thing is a miracle,” says McKenzie of the faith-based family film directed by Bruce Morris and produced by Mexico City-based Pablo Barosso and Claudia Nemer, “as they had no money, and were also throwing out a previous score when I met them. And they thought I’d come in and save them with a relatively cheap synthesizer score.”

Instead, McKenzie insisted that the film, budgeted at just $1 million, deserved a full symphonic score — a costly proposition. “And amazingly, they called back and told me to go for it,” he recalls.

Following through wasn’t so easy. “For a start, they didn’t even have a copy of the film in English without the music of the prior composer,” he reports. “So I literally was writing music without any dialogue, and then I’d turn it up slightly, so I could hear enough of the dialogue to make sense of it all, but without hearing the music underneath it.”

McKenzie spent six weeks writing the new score and doing his own orchestration, and then experienced another minor miracle when he played the unfinished material to Morris and Barosso on three separate visits to his L.A. studio. “Without fail, they loved everything I played them, and I’ve never had that happen before,” he reports.

To record the score, McKenzie used an 80-piece orchestra, the acclaimed London boys’ choir Libera and a women’s choir. “And then I wrote a 15-minute suite based on the score, which premiered last August in Madrid, as part of World Youth Day, in front of Pope Benedict XVI,” he adds. “Everything about the film’s been amazing.”

Eye on the Oscars: Song & Score
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