Prolific Composer Emily Rice Scores Complex and Moving Documentary

Much like film, television, novels, and theatre, music and song are also powerful forms of storytelling. In some instances they can stand on their own, while in others they are used as a means of enhancing and completing the expression of a particular story. Talented composer and orchestrator Emily Rice has been telling stories through sound for the past four years. Her framework of experience consists of a long list of accredited success stories, her work ranging from student films to Hollywood blockbusters. Most recently, Rice has been cordially attached to compose a new and exciting project; a documentary film called “100 Faces of Survival,” directed and produced by innovative filmmakers Jared White and Lilit Pilikian.

“100 Faces of Survival” focuses on the Armenian genocide, which had its 100-year anniversary in 2015. The documentary also partially follows the married couple, Pilikian, who is of Armenian descent, and White, as they travel to Armenia to see if they can uncover her family’s past home prior to them fleeing the genocide. “It’s a story of Armenian identity in general, but closely follows Lilit’s relationship with her own identity,” Rice said.

Elaborating on this, White added, “We had long thought about what we could do to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. We didn’t want to just make another genocide documentary, as there are many well-made ones out there already. So, we landed upon our hook into the topic: exploring Armenian identity, and what it means to be Armenian 100 years after the genocide.”

Composer Emily Rice

Prior to “100 Faces of Survival,” Rice collaborated with Pilikian and White on two previous films, composing both shorts titled “Clone Counseling” and “Kill Me Now.” The three have been working together for nearly a year now.

With as complex of a score as “100 Faces of Survival” is expected to have in order to help guide its viewers through a range of different tones and emotions, it was important that Pilikian and White selected the right composer for the job. The duo is confident that Rice has what it takes to bring the audience to those depths. “Emily strives to always keep the audience’s experience with the film in mind as she crafts her scores. She immerses herself in the films she scores, always works to help further the story, has a deep understanding of music of all genres and flavors, and adapts to best suit the needs of the project at hand. Her music often acts as a gateway into the emotional journey of the films she works on, so we knew she would be a perfect fit for “100 Faces of Survival,”” stated White.

Originally from Harrow, England, Rice received her Bachelor’s Degree in Music from the University of York in 2008. In 2014, she moved to Los Angeles and completed her Graduate Certificate in Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television at the University of California. “I did my undergraduate degree in music, so I always knew that I wanted my life to revolve around it. I’d spent a lot of time playing in orchestras so was always drawn to that sound, and from my experiences playing in bands I knew that I liked the storytelling aspect of songs. In many ways, film music is the perfect combination of these two things as it helps tell stories through the use of almost any combination of instruments,” Rice commented.

As a composer and an orchestrator, Rice’s responsibilities vary depending on what she is working on, though they always encompass a similar idea: to aid in telling a specific story. When it comes to composing, her main duty is to compose (or in other words, write) all of the music for whatever film it is that she is working on. “Sometimes, I perform on it and either record it or produce the final mixed mock-ups which will be used if live recording isn’t an option,” Rice explained of this task.

For orchestrating, Rice does this while simultaneously writing. “Orchestration is a slightly different and more complex thing to describe, but the two [orchestrating and composing] go hand in hand. Orchestration is about knowing each instrument inside out, whether they are orchestral instruments, synths, guitars, etc., and knowing which combination of instruments to use to achieve a specific sound or effect,” she said. No matter what Rice is working on, whether it be the music in a film or an episode of television, she states, “My role is always to enhance the story and emotion, not to ‘get in the way’ of it – especially of dialogue! It’s also important to me that the music has an opinion, or a ‘point of view.’ Music that blends into the background too much can seem like wallpaper, and I often try and imagine the scores I write to be another character in the story.”

For the score of “100 Faces of Survival,” this is exactly what Rice plans to do. “The consistent thread through the film is the issue of Lilit Pilikian’s identity as someone of Armenian descent,” Rice said. The film correspondingly addresses the different elements that make up ones identity, such as aspects of culture like language, religion, food, and geography. While the composer will be scoring the documentary alone, she is looking forward to working with a number of performers throughout the process in an effort to compose a number of themes based around these topics, as well as a recurring theme for Pilikian herself as audiences follow her journey. “Armenia has a number of indigenous instruments – the duduk has often been used in film scores and so I’m excited to have a legitimate excuse to use it in this score. The Armenian national anthem is also a fun piece of music, so I may weave a number of my own arrangements into the score, too,” she added.

Thus far, Rice has been reviewing rough cuts of the film in preparation for the composition work she will be creating throughout postproduction.

Composer Emily Rice with Kaushik Sampath

“I think that the score is likely to be very broad, and what I mean by that is I’m expecting there to be a number of themes to write as well as an underscore. It’ll hopefully show my capabilities composing music connected to a specific geographical place despite not being from that place, and as I’m also hoping to use live players, that should enhance the overall quality of the sound of the score,” said Rice.

With a prospective scoring deadline of mid-August, a final release date for “100 Faces of Survival” has yet to be set in stone.

“It’s really a privilege that Jared and Lilit have asked me to score such a personal story that must have so many feelings and emotions mixed in for both of them. I think that my ideas for this film are strong because the filmmakers have a clear vision and the storytelling thread through the film is also strong. I love working with them, and I feel that scoring something with such a cultural/national identity will be a huge challenge, but also a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Armenian music and have the chance to write themes, something I love doing in my scores whenever I can,” Rice stated.

Forthcoming, Rice will be involved in preparing for the scoring process of the renowned composer Brian Tyler’s (“Iron Man 3,” “Thor: The Dark World” and “Fast Five”) upcoming projects. Her work can also be heard on the hit television show “Underground,” where Rice worked with composer Laura Karpman (“The Tournament,” “Carrie” and “Man in the Chair”), playing the cello on several episodes.


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