Memorable Music for Films
Everyone agrees that “the music score should serve the film.” No arguments there. But there are major disagreements about how music should serve the film. Some people say that music should be an accompaniment in the background, that it should not explicitly be noticed by the audience. It should help set the emotional stage, the atmosphere and mood, but it should not impinge on the viewer’s consciousness. People should leave the screening, and if asked how they liked the music, they would be compelled to answer, “Was there music?”
The other school of thought is that the film score should be memorable. The idea is that distinctive melodies can adapt to the moods and emotions that each scene evokes. This is music that can be hummed or whistled as the audience exits the theater. Distinctive, memorable melodies from a host of great movies help make the movies themselves memorable. (Think, for example, of “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Star Wars”, “Superman”, “The Good the Bad and the Ugly”, “Lord of the Rings”, “The Pink Panther”.) This is the school of thought that I believe in. Personally, I cannot fathom why a filmmaker wouldn’t want people to remember their film score.
Film Drama: "A Summer in Winterbury"
John Romanos wrote and directed this stunning film about an elderly stranger who arrives at an isolated farm town with a brutal past. Will his lost memories be the key to the town's redemption, or drive them further into despair? The film serves as an allegory, examining when it is morally right to seek revenge.
You can read my blog post about how I scored the film to maintain a subliminal sense of unity, with a somber tone throughout. There is an sense of foreboding and despair, sprinkled with bits of mild humor. It was enjoyable to repeat the main melody, transforming a simple rhythmic motif the to fit the mood of each scene. I also added some of the sound effects that emphasize surprising points in the story.
Short Drama Film: "The Best Gift"
Joshua Pitney directed this short film about a high school senior who is auditioning for various college drama programs. The problem is that he is autistic, and becomes very nervous, finding it difficult to get all the way through the audition without breaking down. I enjoyed composing the music score for this film. I tried to unify the film using a consistent style and recurring themes.
Documentary: "Listen to Britain"
Stephen Noorshargh of G22 Studios directed this beautiful documentary film about people who immigrate to Great Britain. With so many people moving around the globe for many reasons, the themes about assimilation, racial bigotry and social activism are universal.
I composed the music soundtrack in a "world music" style. Using instruments from around the world, the music evokes the cultures of the countries from which the immigrants come. I had a lot of fun scoring this film, because of the diversity of images, cultures, and the long gaps between dialog--perfect for creating evocative music!
Spooky Comedy: "The Missing Cat"
Randy Nundlall wrote and directed this hilarious film about two young women who dabble in witchcraft. The film has some very nice sound effects produced by Lucy McLellan. I am particularly tickled by the performances by the actresses Samantha Laurenti and Victoria Sanders, who play cold-hearted, bumbling, clueless dilettantes in witchcraft.
I composed the music soundtrack in a spooky-comedy style. There is a leit motif (a recurring theme) in parts of the score; a six-note melody that the women sing at time 05:51. This same melody occurs at several other times, such as in the piano part at the very start of the film, and in the pizzicato strings during the credits at time 06:54.
This film was so much fun to score! The spooky humor just lends itself to ostinatos that fit right into the moods of the film.
Short Drama: "Confini" (Borders)
Andreea Albu, Anna Audrien, and Anastasiya Zharkoy produced, and Anna Succol directed this beautiful, tearful film about a young woman with an unwanted pregnancy. In this story, abortions are illegal. She is torn by her lack of choices.
The music I composed for this film is for string quintet; it reflects the sad, dark, and tormented emotions of the young woman. I also composed the song My Liberty toward the end of the film.
Strings (Silent Comedy/Horror)
Caitlin Richardson of Route 78 Productions, wrote, directed and produced this short comedy/horror film, Strings. In this story, a hard worker is abused by his over-the-top terrible boss. Then he figures out how to take revenge. This is a fun silent film; the soundtrack is solely my music, consisting of piano, violin and bass. This project gave me the opportunity to compose an extremely sarcastic music score--so much fun!
WARNING: This film contains some very graphic visuals, that may be distressing. It also contains flashing strobe visuals that might cause distress. It is not for young audiences.
"In the Name of God" recently won a "Best Music" award from the Screen Power Film Festival
Supernatural Morality Story: "In the Name of God" (Trailer)
Stephen Noorshargh and Sulymaan Hameed, of G22 Studios, directed a short film, In the Name of God. In this story, a pious woodcutter learns of a group of heathens who worship a tree. Intending to cut down the tree, the devil intervenes. The film is wonderfully atmospheric, and evokes a story from a distant time and place.
Stephen and Sully asked me to compose an evocative film score, with exotic music that would help set the stage for the story. They developed a film that may someday become a short-film classic. The film has already won an award on the film festival circuit for "Best Music"!
Activist Documentary: "Cutting Corners" (Trailer)
Jason Sherman, of Delphia Entertainment, has made several award-winning feature-length documentary films about Philadelphia. His newest film, "Cutting Corners", documents the tragedies that befall neighbors and communities, when unscrupulous developers demolish and build structures in the city. These contractors have no regard for the lives they disrupt, the suffering they cause, or the welfare of the communities.
This short trailer gives an idea of what the film is about. I composed the music score for this film, primarily in an electronic genre.
"Cutting Corners" won the "Best Feature Film" award from the 2021 Los Angeles Motion Picture Festival, and the "Best Documentary Feature" award from 2021 Pinnacle Film Awards.
Dark Comedy: "Gone Fishing"
Jonathan Hawes, of One Door Films, is a serious filmmaker who is steadily building up a number of credits to his name. "Gone Fishing" is a striking film about a young journalist who is assigned to a story about an old fisherman. The journalist assumes that his weekend will be boring while working on this "fluff" piece. He is about to find out differently.
The music score that I composed for this film is minimalistic. The mood and style of each cue mirrors the personalities of each of the three characters; the intimidating fisherman, the gentle journalist, and his arrogant boss. By the way, this film received a glowing review from Midlands Movies.
Green Olive Tours: Jerusalem Revealed
This is a short documentary film by Green Olive Tours. This company specializes in tours of Israel and the West Bank, showing the points of view of Israelis and Palestinians. This film outlines some of the human rights issues that face Palestinians in the outskirts of Jerusalem.
Moran Barir is the filmmaker. She is also an activist and educator. She uses videos to help her communicate activism for Israel and Palestine.
The music that I composed for this documentary uses Middle-Eastern instruments, to give to the film an authentic flavor of the region around Jerusalem.
Green Olive Tours: Jordan Valley
This is a short documentary film by Green Olive Tours. This company specializes in tours of Israel and the West Bank, showing the points of view of Israelis and Palestinians. This film outlines the history of Israel and the Jordan Valley, focusing on some of the important human rights issues.
Noa Ben-Shalom is the multi-talented director of this film. She is a recognized filmmaker and photographer. She explores the condition of conflict and its effects on both people and landscape in Israel and Palestine.
The music that I composed for this documentary uses Middle-Eastern instruments, to give to the film an authentic flavor of the Jordan Valley region.
Quirky Comedy: "Hairball"
In Hairball, a guy wakes up with a hangover. He starts coughing, and begins to spit up ... well, just watch this hilarious short film by One Door Films, directed by Jonathan Hawes! The music oscillates between two styles; a comedy-waltz played by a tenor saxophone quartet and an Indian style featuring sitar, bansuri flute, kalimba and percussion.
Humorous Fairy Tale: "The Shivering Tale"
In The Shivering Tale, a young idiot, Tyler goes on a journey to discover what shivering means. This story is adapted from the Grimm Brother's Fairy Tale, "The Tale of the One Who Travelled to Learn What Shivering Means". I composed the music for this short film, directed by Mason Aks. The music is classically-oriented, and its serious style juxtaposes the hilarious story.
Animated Fantasy: "Ara's Tale"
Ara's Tale is a computer-animated short written/directed by Martin Lubich. His web site is at aras-tale.loramel.net. Martin Lubich was very kind to register his film with Creative Commons, with permission to modify it. He has two versions available; one with a beautiful soundtrack composed by Phillipe Rey, and one with no music, for composers to practice developing music to film. I used the version without music, and added my own original soundtrack.
Here is a summary of some notes written by Martin Lubich about the story in the film:
The era of dragons is coming to an end. Dragons and their spirits cannot survive much longer.
Ara is their keeper, and with this comes the duty to collect all of them before they cease to exist and
are lost forever for all ages to come. Only she has the gift to summon them and extract the pure
spirit for keeping them safe for a long time. The task is enormously dangerous. One slip of concentration,
dedication or power of will, may break the magic and Ara faces death, and with her all the dragons
caught so far. As we join the story in the film, Ara is on her way to summon the last of the dragons, the oldest
and strongest. It is an incredibly sad thing for Ara, and no knowledge exists when the dragons
may be able to roam free again.
As Ara walks further she comes to the end of the canyon and sees the ledge, where she knows the
final confrontation has to take place. This is the time where sadness has reached its peak and she
overcomes this and uncertainty and fear takes over as predominant emotion.Ara sings with the growing strength and confidence,
and with this her magic to summon the dragons grows too and encompasses the whole
area and is so powerful that the dragon is perfectly caught and comes to her.
Once the magic touch is done, the enfolding spectacle is a
direct display of the spiritual strength the dragon possesses. And awe is now a dominant emotion as
Ara watches the dragon dissolve and finally flow into her hand.
The end is again dominated by affection and sheer sadness.
Battle of Chantilly
The Battle of Chantilly is a Civil War docudrama produced by Bert Morgan. On March 4, 2006 the premiere of the film The Battle of Chantilly (Ox Hill) was shown at the Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax, Virginia. It was a sell-out! And I wrote the film score! You can listen to a few excerpts from the soundtrack:
Opening credits and opening scene is a dramatic beginning to this tale of an important battle during the Civil War, which took place in the heart of what is now Fairfax County.
Banjo & Fiddle: Stevens and Walcott get their bearings as they revisit the battlefield.
Skirmish accompanies the New York Highlanders who begin a skirmish, then the scene cuts to a large line-up of troops. Confederate troops wait and open up fire.
Heavy Fighting continues, including hand-to-hand combat.
A Grim Aftermath is accompanied by guitar. General Lee in his tent dictates a letter.
Monument: After dinner with Stevens and Walcott, John and Mary Ballard discuss building a monument.
Mosby's Combat Operations in Fairfax, Virginia
In this Civil War documentary produced by Chuck Mauro, six local historians take you to forty-two locations in Fairfax County where "Mosby's Rangers" conducted combat operations and describe in vivid detail what happened at each. Through on-site video, hundreds of historical photos, and an accompanying map, this documentary presents a unique visual history of the Civil War.
Opening credits and opening scene
Confederate spy, Laura Ratcliffe warns Mosby
Raid on Thompson's Corner
Ranger Jack Barnes
Michigan Cavalry raid
Raid at Goodings Tavern, Mosby is wounded
Valley Camp: Dixie
Fight at Fairfax Station
Raid at Oakton Church
Cemetery and Closing Credits
Spies in Crinoline
This film, produced by Bert Morgan, tells the story of a Confederate spy, Antonia Ford during the Civil War. This is a fascinating story detailed in the Encyclopedia Virginia. She lived in Fairfax City in Virginia, which passed between Union and Confederate hands a number of times. Since Ford lived in a nice house, it was often occupied by officers, who often talked freely about their plans. Ford passed on this information to Confederate officers, including John Mosby. The Union accused her of spying and sent her to prison in Washington, DC. One of her captors, Major Joseph Willard, lobbied for her release, and later married her. (This is the Willard who established the Willard Hotel in Washington DC.)
So, this is not only a story about the Civil War, but also a romance between two enemies.
Notice how the main musical theme, introduced in the first "Opening Credits" excerpt, is repeated several times throughout the film. But, each time it repeats it is cast in a new light, sometimes distorted, sometimes played in a different style. I believe that this repetition helps to give an overall impression of unity in the film's score.
Opening credits and film opening scene
Everyday life in the Ford home.
Start of the Civil War
Traveling by train
Antonia in prison
General Lee's surrender and Lincoln's assassination
Closing scene and credits
Canyons and Casinos
This is the first travelogue film I co-produced with Paul Silverman. He gave me the draft video with a temp score. The first and last sections were in a classical style (the largo from Dvorak's ninth symphony), while the middle section in Las Vegas was in a jazz style. I mimicked the style, beginning the soundtrack with a majestic orchestral theme while viewing scenes of the Grand Canyon. In the following section, scenes of Las Vegas are accompanied by the very same melody in several jazz styles, including big-band and small ensembles. Toward the end, the scene returns to a desert memorial with orchestral accompaniment. Some very clever and subtle things going on with the music. Check it out!
It's fun to compose scores for travelogs, because there is a great opportunity for the music to speak for itself. There is no need for the music to be simply incidental to the action on the screen. The visuals and the music are on an equal footing. In this video, splendrous scenes from the American Southwest are accompanied by my original sound track with western-style themes played by a large orchestra. Paul Silverman filmed the video, and I composed the music.
My favorite aspect of the film score is its iconic American Southwest character. Even without watching the video, the music evokes the grandeur of the landscape. The melodies and the phrasing of the wind instruments, especially the horns, are idiomatic of American West music. I also like how the melodies interplay in counterpoint, heightening the overall interest in the score.