Category Archives: Film Composer

ESTEEMED FILM COMPOSER DAVID HEYMANN ON SCORING HORROR MUSIC FOR “GHOSTED”

Composer David Heymann
Film Composer David Heymann

Having started with playing the piano as his main instrument at the age of 10, David Heymann gradually got more interested in creating than performing, which eventually led him to compose and orchestrate music for films and other media. Ever since David has been involved in such productions as the video game hit “Elder Scrolls Online” as the lead orchestrator and the third installment of Sony’s “Smurfs” as part of the music department. As a composer, he has worked on countless trailers and films as the main orchestrator on a number of award-winning projects that have screened at diverse film festivals around the world. Last year David was recognized for his powerful music track “The Last Day of Hope,” for which he earned two Bronze Medal Awards from the Global Music Awards for Best Composition and Best Original Score.

His latest project was the horror-comedy film “Ghosted” by director Sevgi Cacina. “Ghosted” tells the story of an attractive woman who is being followed by a person only she can see and hear and tries to get help from a psychiatrist. Little does the psychiatrist know that he’s only being a puppet in a deadly game of lies and seductions. “Ghosted” strikes the perfect balance of jaw-dropping twists and hilariously funny moments that entertain viewers throughout the film. The film premiered at the Shriekfest Horror Film Festival in 2017, a popular festival that was founded in 2001 and is the oldest continually running genre festival in Hollywood. It’s one of the biggest and most important festivals for horror films in the world.

“It was an absolute joy to work on this movie! When I received and watched the picture-locked version for the first time, I already noticed that this wasn’t just an ordinary film. Sevgi, who wrote and directed it, has an incredible talent for telling stories. She makes everyone around her better,” David said.

“Writing music that needs to be absolutely synced to the happenings in the picture when it comes to building tension is something I love about horror films. In almost no other genre music plays such a significant part in helping to convey the feelings the director wants the viewer to go through. This not only applies when the music is supposed to enhance the picture but even more important when it’s contradicting the picture, an effect that directors sometimes are aiming for to mislead the viewer.”

Film poster for "Ghosted"

For a film like “Ghosted,” music plays an essential role, especially when it’s supposed to tell things that the viewer does not see in the picture.

“At the beginning of the movie we see the psychiatrist sitting in his office and looking something up on his computer. There’s actually nothing odd to see here, nothing that makes you feel scary or uncomfortable. But while you watch this scene the music is telling you a different story. Low cello and bass strings accompanied by a rising high strings cluster sound convey the message that something horrible, something very dark is connected to this character or is about to happen. These are things you cannot capture with the camera. That’s the composer’s task,” explained David.

Through the music he created for the movie David effectively heightened the intensity of some the film’s most thrilling scenes with his use of tension build-ups and “uncomfortable sounding” electronic synths.

“There was a lot of room for build-ups to create tension. In one scene the phone is ringing and the tension in the music keeps building until the character picks up the phone. Then the music is holding a note during the phone call and slowly builds again. Having the music buildup during the ringing of the phone and almost completely taking it out when the phone is picked up we get the viewer to pay closer attention to the content of the call,” explained David.

“As a composer, you also always try to keep the music light in terms of complexity and volume during a dialog so it doesn’t get in the way of it. Dialog is king in a movie. So having the high violins at that scene holding a note before the orchestration slowly starts growing again we’re able to get out of the way of the dialog without losing any of the subtle tension created by the high violins we’re aiming for during the call.”

The movie also provides a wonderful scene where the background sound is completely muted and the music takes over, demonstrating the power it creates in conjunction with the picture.

“Scenes like the seduction scene in ‘Ghosted,’ where there’s basically no dialog or any other sounds and your music gets prioritized to be a musical layer on top of the picture, is the kind of scene every composer loves the most in a movie because that’s where you can shine with your music and there’s no other sound that will distract from it. This scene had the ‘Basic Instinct’ theme as a temp track which worked incredibly well with the picture, so I wanted to create something similar to convey that kind of erotic but dangerous feeling that Jerry Goldsmith created in his track for ‘Basic Instinct,’” explained David.

The ending scene is an outstanding example of how David implemented synth sounds seamlessly into the overall orchestral, strings-heavy soundtrack. An electronic pad sound is mixed together with strings playing con sordino. The music is very static there with no sign of movement or any tension. This is intentionally done so the viewer doesn’t expect any sudden change. Only at the very last moment the music builds up for about one second and unveils the shocking twist moment of the film.

“Ghosted” director Sevgi Cacina said, “It was so pleasant to work with David. Even before I wrote the script I already knew I’d approach him for the scoring. It’s so important to team up with someone who understands you and your story, why and how you want to tell it and enhances it at times. David is so talented, and smart and yet so humble. He worked hard and delivered a great film score very fast. ‘Ghosted’ has so many twists in the story and I would ask the craziest things but also knew he could still find a creative way to make it happen. It was very exciting to sit down and listen to his creations whenever I received a new musical cue from him.”

 

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Leading Chinese Composer Min He transports audiences to North China in ‘Jin Zhu Xi Yan’

When watching your favorite movie, the score is what truly creates the emotion behind each scene. Check out videos on YouTube where iconic clips from films have different music in the background, completely changing the feeling you have when watching. As a composer, Min He sees her role in filmmaking as more than simply writing music. For the Chinese native, a score is a second layer of dialogue. Her notes strung together act as sentences in their own way, making you laugh or cry, and feel scared, happy, or suspenseful; she is a dramatist. This understanding of such nuances is what makes He so talented at what she does, and it is why she is so sought-after around the world.

“I wanted to be a professional composer because music is such a beautiful thing in my world. I wanted to be able to create any kind of music I felt like,” said He.

Although He is a classically trained composer, she has created a distinctive and unique sound that separates her from her peers. She composes in a hybrid style, combining tradional instruments with a synthesizer, and even designs her own sounds to feature in her compositions. Examples of this can be heard in her work for the popular iPhone game Pursuit of Life 2, and the films Princess Eun Hwa, and Snow. Her work on the animation film Ever Star lead to outstanding success, and resulted in the film being an Official Selection at the Official Selection- Northwest Animators Showcase, Animex Awards 2015, 10th Annual Children’s Film Festival Seattle 2015, Sarasota Film Festival, International Animation Festival CHILEMONOS 2015, Festimation Festival, The World Animation Celebration, and the Geneva International Film Festival.

“I had the immense pleasure working of working with Min on Ever Star. I like how delicate her music is, and all the melodies she composed are all from deep within her heart, it was so touching, and many audience members approached me after watching the film to ask to listen to more of Min’s music. Without Min’s beautiful music, my movie is nothing,” said Yawen Zheng, the animator and director of Ever Star.

This trend of captivating fans with her music occurs with every project the award-winning composer works on. On the film No Smoking (Jin Zhi Xi Yan, 禁止吸烟) He once again provided audiences the wonderful sense of escapism that comes from listening to her compositions. The film, directed by Xinwen Dong and Gang Wu, was an opportunity for He to work in one of her favorite genres: comedy.

The film premiered in January of 2014, and was released in theatres in China. It was extremely well-received, screening at the Shanghai Film Festival 2014 where the directors were nominated for the Asian New Talent Award. The film then went on to be broadcasted on the very popular Chinese television station CCTV-6 (China Central Channel). Now, it is on the famous live streaming service, 1905.com, where it holds a record of 1,750,000 views.

When the directors were looking for a composer to help bring their film to great success, they immediately thought of He and the esteemed reputation she holds not only in China, but internationally as well. She is not only a composer, but also an orchestrator, and knowing this, they approached her to work on the film. They had immense trust in her work ethic and music, and that faith was justified. Without her, the film could not have achieved what it did. Her music brought the audience into the world that the movie presents, and because this is a comedy, many funny scenes that make audience laugh out loud did so with He’s compositions. She tried to make funny sounding melodies to add a fun part to the movie, and she succeeded.

“I really like to explore new area of music style that I never touched and working with different instrumentalists and learning new instruments are very fun parts of music creation. Every time I delivered some cues to the directors, I not only got approval, but also praise. It was very satisfying,” she said.

The story of the film takes place in North West China, an exotic part of the country with beautiful natural scenery, and a different culture than the rest of the country. He wanted her music to represent the geography in the film. She extensively researched the area’s music, including their folk songs, and native instruments. The composer enjoys expanding her realm of knowledge, learning about new styles that she has never encountered before, keeping her humble. This research was fruitful, and her score truly transports audiences to the area of China. To find out more, however, He says you will have to watch the movie.

“I think the film is such a good story and everyone should see it,” she concluded.

Head to 1905.com to laugh out loud watching No Smoking and listen to He’s beautiful work.

COMPOSER CREATES BEAUTIFUL MADNESS: SAI SRIRAM MADDURY

Anyone who has been driving around town at night with their friends when that “perfect” song comes on the stereo…the own which causes everyone in the car to go wild (it’s a universally shared experience) has a deep understanding of the ability of music to take any experience into the stratosphere. This is the same concept filmmakers apply to the score of their film, regardless of the genre. They may not want head banging of chair dancing but said filmmakers definitely want to use music’s power over the human psyche and body to deepen the impact of what they are exhibiting on the screen. Michael Helms, director & screenwriter of the film “Madness” did not originally want a score for his film about a military officer returning home and dealing with the psychological aftermath and trauma of what he’d seen and done. He felt that the solemnity that a lack of music communicates would be more disturbing to the audience than anything a composer could muster; that is…until he heard examples of composer Sai Sriram Maddury’s work.

“Madness” is about feeling out of place and the isolation and personal disruption to one’s psyche even when surroundings do not support this sense. In the story, a Military officer returns home while a radical militant group’s merciless killings continues to haunt him and his memory. On leave from a deployment Cliff (the main character), visits home to experience normal life with his pregnant wife Liz. During this time, his battle experiences monopolize his thoughts. Unable to integrate into “normal” life, Cliff discusses this with Liz and returns back to the army front.

Helms wanted to communicate Cliff’s inability to find a comfortable place in his life and his mind. He explained to Sai that the score for the film should be as minimal as possible in order to not disturb this isolated environment. While the two did not share a vocational language, the discussions were in no way cumbersome. Maddury describes, “Michael was very good in describing what he wanted. It’s always something of a challenge to understand what a director wants but I did not have that problem with Michael as he is very good in articulating want he needs from the film and story point of view. Music is a part of the storytelling process. When a filmmaker like Michael speaks to me in terms that discuss emotion and the mood that he wants to create, we become collaborators. For example, when he needed the score to underplay a particular scene in which a character reveals his past, Michael explained the reasons why the score needed to underplay and why that particular scene was so important for the film. This way I knew the exact point and reason why Michael wanted the score to underplay and this made it easy for me to find a way to create music that presents his vision. As a composer I prefer directors to explain what exactly they need in terms of story rather than in musical terms. If a director tends to use more musical language, I might take it in a traditional musical terminology but it might be not exactly what the director was referring to. This doesn’t happen when we discuss in terms of characters, story, importance of the scenes and use of words like underplay, overplay, busy, not too busy, intense, light etc.”

In line with the early vision of Helm’s, Sai matched his composition to the film with very simple drones to create ambiguity and uncomfortability. You can’t keep a true creative personality from receiving and interpreting emotion; after multiple viewings of the film, the composer began to recognize a glaring omission in his work. Maddury wanted to justify the story of the character and his past because this concept is the core of the film. When memories of past events and individuals disturb Cliff, his past becomes as important as the character itself.  Sai presented the idea of using Arabic chants and a rhythmic motif that represented these past. experiences. Michael conceded that he loved that idea and felt that it amplified the overall intensity of the film. The use of voice rather than instrumentation was a calculated decision by the composer. The idea to use Arabic chants rather than an instrument like Duduk or Persian Dulcimer was in order to prevent the score from sounding too ethnic. The film focuses on the main character’s state of mind and thoughts rather than scenes that display the war in the Middle East, this caused Sai to feel that the use of ethnic scales and instruments were not justified. Maddury’s reasoning for using chants is directly applicable to the storyline. It was his contention that the character might have heard these chants coming from the terror groups in the army front and these continue to haunt Cliff. In a style that he has become recognized for, Sai blended Western instrumentation with these chants for a score that it is not completely immersed in one singular culture.

Maddury is full embracing of the technological advancements that are afforded to a composer these days. While he is well versed in the last software and MIDI, sometimes old school is what works best. He wanted a rhythmic motif representative of a heartbeat. After exhausting countless samples (and blends of these), he began experimenting with a more analog approach. He reveals, “After trying numerous samples, I did not get the right tone I was looking for. I tried experimenting and recording the sounds of a wooden desk, empty wooden shelfs, etc. After trying almost every wooden furniture I could get my hands on, I ended up using the sound of the rear side of the upright piano. It has a great hollowness and created the perfect “heartbeat” like tone I wanted. It’s such a fine instrument, it seems somewhat wrong to use it in this manner but there are no rules when it comes to making the appropriate music for a film. When I played it for Michael, he immediately wanted me to use it in the score and that’s how it ended up as a main motif for the haunting memories of the character.”

Just as a filmmaker has a process that produces an emotional creation, so does Sai. Preceding a viewing of the film but following discussions with the director, he writes thematic suites. These suites represent the ideas and emotional interpretations based on the script. Once these have been played for the director and he has provided feedback, they are then tailored to the film during the spotting session. This is when the structure of the score, where more and less emphasis is needed, cues, etc. happens. Following this, Maddury actually starts writing to the picture. The process is multi layered and Sai openly states that a director who understands exactly what he wants and is confident about it makes them a composer’s best friend.

06 Sai Sriram Maddury Pic

“Madness” was officially selected and screened at the Full Bloom Film Festival 2016 Queen City Cinephiles.

Master Violinist Carlos Felipe Silva Makes his Mark as a Film Composer

 

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Carlos Felipe Silva at The Latin Grammys in Las Vegas (from left to right: Stefano Melillo, Sophie Maricq, Luis Tellez, Oscar Stagnaro, Calros Silva, Manuel Lara and Marco Flores.) Photo by Nora Gonzalez

Venezuelan composer Carlos Felipe Silva was born a prodigy. He received his first music lessons when he was just 5 years old; by 7 he’d begun formally training in the violin. Silva took to it like a bird takes to flight, but a mind like his could never be restricted to a single instrument. In the young virtuoso’s head rang entire symphonies, and as he grew older it became clear what he was born to do.

“At 18, I had the opportunity to come to the States to attend the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan,” said Silva, recalling how music went from being his passion to his career. “It was during that time I realized how important music was to me. I knew from that moment on that I had to spend the rest of my life making music.”

Silva spent the next five years as a violinist with Venezuela’s world-renowned Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, led by world-renowned conductor and violinist Gustavo Dudamel, who has since become conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

“[After that], I got to study at my dream school — Berklee College of Music in Boston, the best place on earth to learn music,” Silva said. “I studied with world class instructors, and I was immersed in an environment that breathes music 24/7.”

By the time he earned his B.A. in Film Scoring from the ultra-exclusive Berklee College of Music, Silva already possessed more experience than many musicians gain in a lifetime. He immediately set out to prove his brilliance as a film composer, captivating audiences with his score for the 2015 thriller “Skye.” At the heart of the film is the titular Skye, a girl who is abducted for ransom by three of her male classmates. As the action intensifies and the plan goes south Skye finds herself walking the line between survival instinct and Stockholm Syndrome.

“‘Skye is a great thriller with fascinating turns. It shows the complexities of our society, and of how we react to life’s greatest challenges,” Silva said. “I wanted to create a score that could portray those complexities… In the first talk I had with the director we agreed upon a sonic landscape full of provocative elements and electronic pulses, with a lot of tension and suspense.”

Following the success of “Skye,” Silva didn’t waste a single second continuing his work. Within the year he had finished composing and recording his next masterstroke, “Clocks.”


“This piece and other cues were commissioned and produced by Moai Films, a production company based in L.A. I’d previously worked with them on the film ‘Matthew,’ and I developed a great relationship with Lukas Colombo, the head and creative mastermind behind Moai Films Productions,” Silva said. “It was an incredible opportunity to record and conduct a full orchestra…  [who] brought the score to life, and we were all very satisfied with the results. The session was incredible, and I got to work with some of the best musicians in town.”

When writing “Clocks,” Silva drew his inspiration from the beating pulse of the sprawling cities he’d spent his life in, starting in Caracas, then Boston where he mastered his craft, and ultimately Los Angeles, where he currently spends each day creating and performing.

“‘Clocks’ was written to portray the intensity of modern lives in big cities, where we all strive to achieve our dreams, but forget about the simple things that make life meaningful,” he described soulfully. “We used a traditional instrumentation, where the trumpet has the main melody line which sits on top of a provocative string ostinato; the choir adds an emotional layer to whole composition.”

In a way, however, “Clocks” represents the exact opposite of who Silva is as a person. Though he’s led a metropolitan life, Silva has never been forced to choose between reaching his dreams and finding meaning in life. Through his music, he has captured both in equal measures. In that sense, Carlos Felipe Silva, the Venezuelan virtuoso, has discovered the true meaning of life.

“Music is everything in my life. It’s a gesture of love which must be shared with others. It’s an act of faith and spirituality, and it’s the best way for me to communicate,” he explained. “As Nietzsche said: ‘Without music, life would be a mistake.’’’

Composer Peter Lam creates comedy through music in ‘(le) Rebound’

Training as a violinist since he was a child, music has always been important to Peter Lam. Now, he has worked on over forty film and television projects, and with each one, he leaves his mark. As a film composer, he creates imaginative sound worlds that help transport audiences to another time and place. There is no limit to what he can do and achieve.

Throughout his career, Lam has shown audiences time and time again why he is such a sought-after composer. Working on award-winning films such as The Ballerina, The Shoemaker, & His Apprentice and Lovebites, Lam’s music has acted almost as an additional character, pivotal to telling the story.  When working on the new film (le) Rebound, Lam’s music perfectly captures the quirky comedy, adding to the humor in several situations.

(le) Rebound was definitely a very attractive project. I am a big fan of Woody Allen movies and I always wanted to write music for witty comedies that carry that sort of poetic European sentiment with them. (le) Rebound turned out to be the perfect opportunity. It has a very clever and imaginative concept, and I felt it could be something really fun to work on,” said Lam.

(le) Rebound tells the story of a heartbroken young woman who follows a hipster fling to France, where she falls headlong into a hedonistic romp. It premiered at the Aspen Film Festival in April of this year. It was praised as a piece of ‘cinematic genius’ by an Aspen Times review. It then went on to the Palm Springs International ShortFest 2017, Clemont-Ferrand, the Achtung Berlin (in competition for the New Berlin Film Award 2017), and the International Cinematographer Guild, winning Emerging Cinematographer 2017.

“It’s a great honor to hear that the film is doing so well, both domestically and abroad. It feels wonderful to know that the film I have scored will be screened at so many prestigious festivals around the world,” said Lam.

The film is yet another project that proved what a versatile international talent Lam is. Adding to the success in dramas and animations, this attempt in scoring for comedy shows he is limitless, and the film’s success across the world could never have been achieved without the composer’s skill. Laura Beckner, the writer and director, could not agree more.

“Discovering Peter was a sigh of relief in the post-production process.  It is a director’s dream to find someone this professional, talented, and collaborative. Peter is intuitive, communicative, flexible and full of ideas. Even though he nailed it with the first few pieces of music he created for us, I have no doubt that he would have tweaked and explored as necessary until we found the perfect composition,” said Beckner. “Peter was able to articulate the mood of the piece as well as filmic references and production ideas all very clearly.  I can tell he has an extensive classical music background; those influences are apparent and the skillset he is working with transcends anything trendy or ‘filmic’ even into something quite unique and sophisticated.  I was impressed that he knew how to enhance the score with more”

After Lam discovered the project, he reached out to Beckner and she was impressed by his previous work and credentials, and quickly invited him on board. They had to work remotely, as Beckner was based in Berlin. This did not cause any problems. The director had total trust in Lam, and approved everything he did immediately.

“It was a very enjoyable experience writing music for (le) Rebound. It’s a cleverly crafted comedy and the acting was top notch. It was just a fun process composing quirky gypsy jazz music that subtly played alongside the dialogue. I was very proud of the final project as I felt my music marry perfectly with their respective scenes. It is often said that, scoring-wise, comedy is the most difficult genre to tackle, so I am glad that I nailed it,” said Lam.

And that he did. Music plays an essential role in film, especially comedies, and in (le) Rebound, Lam’s work helped to highlight awkward tensions and comedic moments throughout the film that would have been overlooked otherwise. The music also plays against the picture in several instances, addressing the subtext of the story and injecting new meanings to the scene. Due to the setting of the film, Lam worked to create a ‘French-ness’ in the music, which helped to transport the audience from their seats straight to France. The music is truly the soul of the film, as the story reflects Claudia’s hedonistic trip to France after a heartbreaking break-up.

“As for most cases for comedy scoring, being attentive to dialogue and timing is essential. Instead of starting with sketching themes or overall musical structures, I tend to focus on specific scenes and familiarize myself with the precise pacing and comedic context of the scene. It is like solving a puzzle – trying to fit the music between the dialogue, action, and silence,” Lam described.

Lam definitely solved the puzzle for the score in (le) Rebound, as he does with every project he takes on. His distinct sound adds to every film and television show he works on, totalling over forty throughout his esteemed career. Despite his vast success, however, he remains humble, and is happy to do what he loves.

“I just want to write expressive music that tells stories. I think film is a very beautiful medium as it transcends time and space by bringing the audience from the cinema into an extended reality. Equally, music plays an important role in shaping the soundscape of the film and is a very powerful device in connecting the viewers to the story emotionally. Unlike theatre plays and concerts which may be one-off events, films are easily accessible to a much wider range of audiences through screenings and streaming. It has always been my goal as a film composer to contribute to unique film projects that can inspire and move audiences,” Lam concluded.

MASSIMILIANO LOMBARDO ON THE SWEET & SALTY SCORE OF NOCTURNALLY YOURS

Storytelling has been with mankind for as long as we can remember; yes…that’s humorous. Whether it began as a means of oral history or entertainment (it was likely both) it has captivated people. The means have changed over time, what was spoken by a single orator or actor in front of the cave’s fire is now a vision manifested by the most skilled artists and advanced software. Filmmakers have returned to the keystone of imagination and its limitless possibilities. Whether it be rocks and a drum aiding Cro-Magnon man or current day symphonies and music software with composers, the relationship between music and stories is one of the longest enduring marriage in the arts. 2017’s Karma is a CGI animated film of a cautionary tale. This recent release has already been nominated in over 30 film festivals all over the world and has won 8 awards, including Best Original Score: Honorable Mention at the Asians on Film Festival (US, 2017) for its composer Massimiliano Lombardo. Director Peter Zhou directly reached out to Lombardo (also known as Max) after seeing bits and samples of other animated movies he had previously scored. Because Karma contains very little sound FX and no dialogue at all in the movie, the music would become a main character. The film also has a wall to wall score, meaning that the music is present from the opening scene through to the final credits. Keeping the music interesting and effective all the time without being able to hide behind sound fx or dialogue required an inventive and assertive composer like Max. Zhou requested a score that would engage the audience but not pull their attention away.

A film composer’s task is to write music to picture in order to enhance the emotional impact of the movie and help tell the story. Karma is a traditional 3D animated movie (like Pixar’s movies). After meeting and discussing the music with director Peter Zhou and animator Franklin Okike, Max decided to write a classical full orchestral score with memorable melodies and motifs. The first step was to write a theme for the main character, from which the whole score would be developed. Lombardo recalls, “I watched the picture twice and then shutdown the computer and focused on music for an entire day. Once I had a theme I started composing the actual score to picture, adapting the theme to it. During this process I wrote entirely on the piano in something called sketches.” Sketches are reductions of what will be the actual full score. They contain the main ideas, the rhythm, and the harmony but without orchestration. From there Max began the orchestration, choosing the right orchestral colors and arranging for an ensemble. Given the size of an orchestra, writing for it without a sketch can get a bit dispersive. Max used this method to focus on one thing at the time: rhythm and dramatic impact of the music first, then orchestral embellishments, textures, and finally colors.

Lombardo had an immediate affinity for this film and its message, which greatly aided his role as composer. He confirms, “It really makes a big difference when you fall in love with the movie you are scoring. With Karma it was love at first sight for me. First of all, the movie is incredibly well designed and animated. Characters and landscapes are incredibly detailed and evocative. Furthermore, the movie is very well structured and has a built in rhythm to it. All these elements together are the perfect backbone to a score. The characters would suggest the themes, the colors and textures would inspire orchestral colors and arrangements, while the structure would dictate the rhythm of the score.” Karma tells the story of a boy who meets a fish in a mysterious forest. The boy starts feeding the fish and the fish grows exponentially. He gets carried away and feeds the fish everything he has with him regardless of whether this is good for the little creature. The fish keeps growing until he eventually turns into a monster and eats the boy. The movie is a metaphor for the way we are treating our planet and the animals in it. Actions without conscience lead to disaster for us and all who inhabit Earth.

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Upon viewing, the music in Karma seems so perfectly matched and obvious…yet, prior to Max’s compositions there were a myriad of possible ways that the score could emotionally affect the audience. Carefully taking this into consideration so that he might deliver the intended impact of the action, Lombardo delicately crafted the music for Karma. He explains how his work colored scenes stating, “There are two scenes in which I think the music really added a layer to the movie. One is when we first realize the fish is getting bigger. In this moment the score gets majestic and magical taking the point of view of the boy, but then goes into a darker tone as we start sensing that something is wrong. Here the music really anticipates and creates suspense before the big reveal when the fish turns into a monster. The other moment is at the very end when the fish eats the boy. Here I didn’t want to make it too dramatic as the movie had to be playful overall. I decided to build a dark orchestral piece that ends with a silly resolution that almost sounds like a Tom & Jerry cartoon, leaving a smile on people’s face when the end credits come in.

Contemplating Lombardo’s score for Karma, Peter Zhou relates, “We were really trying to go to some new places with this film. We straddled a line to deliver a message while making it entertaining and not heavy handed. I’m sure that it is frightening for a composer to play their new creation to someone for the first time; it’s a very delicate moment. As soon as I watched the film with Max’s score, I couldn’t stop smiling. It was perfect! He perfectly captured the message and the mood of the movie, adding an extra layer to it that made it complete. I think he really captured the essence of the movie.” Whether he is working with the finest LA musicians, the London Symphony Orchestra, or digital music software, Max Lombardo continually brings a fresh and creative approach to modern film composition and orchestration.

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In Pursuit of a Dream: Esteemed Film Composer Michael-Alexander Brandstetter

Michael-Alexander Brandstetter
Austrian Film Composer Michael-Alexander Brandstetter

Composer Michael-Alexander Brandstetter, 24, first discovered his love for film scores as a young boy at home in Eggenburg, Austria. Brandstetter, who recently composed the scores for the films The Path, Gnossienne and The Pamoja Project, began his musical journey by learning to play classical music on the piano, but for him, becoming a classical pianist was never the goal. He set his sights on becoming a film composer from the start and he wasn’t going to let anything stop him from reaching the top.

“I remember that it started when I was around seven or eight years old. I actually developed an interest in film music right from the get go. I guess, since classical music is sort of all around you in Austria, I didn’t take particular interest in it. Film music however was something different… You couldn’t just listen to it on the radio, and it wasn’t performed anywhere, so you had to either go to the movies to listen to it or buy the score album,” recalls Brandstetter.

While his contemporaries at the time were more preoccupied with listening to mainstream bands such as Slipknot and Green Day, because that was the cool thing to do, Brandstetter was busy familiarizing himself with the work of great composers like Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, Franz Schubert, Michael Kamen and other pivotal artists who would come to influence his future career as a film composer.

Within months of taking his first piano class he was already moving outside of the box and creating his own compositions, a telling sign of what the future would hold for the then budding 9 year old.

“I started playing my own tunes instead of practicing. I always hated to practice, or even to play what was written on the sheet. To me it felt like it was limiting my creativity. I would much rather take musical phrases out of the composition I was supposed to play, and improvise on it,” explains Brandstetter.

In 2004, only three years after he took his first piano lesson, Brandstetter composed the score for the sci-fi feature film U.V.O  directed by his older brother Wolfgang Brandstetter, who has become known throughout Austria for his work as the screenwriter behind the films Medcrimes – Nebenwirkung Mord, Tod in den Bergen, Wer hat Angst vorm schwarzen Mann?, Die geerbte Familie and others. In 2006, at the age of 14, Brandstetter composed the score for Wolfgang’s dramatic feature film Winter. To compose such elaborate scores for two lengthy feature films at such a young age definitely put Brandstetter in the spotlight, earning him rightful recognition as a musical prodigy in Austria.

“My parents bought me a casio keyboard and a mini disc player and I put together my musical tracks and recorded them either all together or separately… The whole thing ended up being a true art project, and it worked. I still wear a Casio digital watch today to remind me of that time when I started, with nothing more than one keyboard,” admits Brandstetter.

At the age of 14 Brandstetter discovered renowned composer Hans Zimmer’s company Remote Control Productions (RCP), which is based in Southern California and has been responsible for some of the most epic scores of our time, including those for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Iron Man, Gladiator, Mission: Impossible 2, The Last Samurai, Transformers, Kingdom of Heaven, The Da Vinci Code, Inception, Sherlock Holmes and more. Floored by the powerful work of the company, Brandstetter’s sights were set on becoming a part of RCP from that point on.

With steadfast dedication to making his dream of becoming a film composer a reality, he laid a strong foundation for himself by studying audio engineering and musicology in college in Austria, and then moving stateside where he attended USC’s screen scoring program, which is regarded as the number one school in the world for film scoring. While at USC Brandstetter was awarded the annual mentorship program with composer James Newton Howard, as well as the the Betty Rose Collaboration Award, which is determined by faculty and student votes.

Earning quite a bit of attention for his ingenious talent, his time at USC was beyond fruitful; and shortly after graduation he was tapped by Adam Michael Schiff to join Bleeding Fingers Music, a joint venture between RCP and Extreme Music as an additional music composer and junior music producer.

A defining moment in his career, being asked to join a world renowned company such as RCP was proof that Brandstetter’s hard work paid off– he had made it to the top.

“It is where I’ve always wanted to be, and I think this is what makes my story unique, that I had a goal, I made a plan, and sticked to it as much as possible and simply tried to circumvent any and all obstacles,” says Brandstetter about joining RCP.

Within a year, Brandstetter has written, arranged and orchestrated several original musical compositions for projects such as Starz Global’s Insomnia, Sony’s Snatch and Discovery Channel’s Alaskan Bush People.

As a film composer Brandstetter’s unique compositions have been integral to driving the emotions and stories of a great many films in recent years. In 2015 he composed the score for Abhijit Gajwani’s (Wabi Sabi, Mangata, Tapori) dramatic film Gnossienne, which revolves around Jeremy, a man who disconnects from the outside world after the loss of his wife.

With the difficult emotions dealt with in the story, and the fact that most of the film centers on a dialogue between Jeremy and his maid, who tries to help him move past his grief, the music for Gnossienne had to be delicate, emotive and give space for the conversation for the two main characters to unfold– something Brandstetter nailed perfectly.

He explains, “I really tweaked all the instruments I used in the score. Reversed piano sounds, distorted strings, ambient long and ominous pads, every sound was essentially custom made… I then brought in a solo violinist and recorded her on top of the rest of the music, which really brought it to life.”

Starring Manuela Osmont (Bite Me), Paula Bellamy-Franklin (I Got the Hook Up) and Matthew Michael Collins (Thin Lines) Gnossienne had an altogether positive reception on the film festival circuit taking home the Honorable Mention Award at the International Film Awards Berlin and the Certificate of Excellence Award at the Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival, as well as screening at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival Court Metrage and many more.

About working with Brandstetter on the film, director Abhijit Gajwani explains, “Before composing, he sat down and talked the tone of the story… Michael’s ability to understand the story, the characters and their conflicts sets him apart from other composers. His music feels pure and true to them… I was trying to do the impossible with this film and Michael actually pushed me further and helped me make a better film.”

The Pamoja Project
Film Poster for the “The Pamoja Project”

Brandstetter also recently composed the score for The Pamoja Project, a touching documentary from director Audrey Emerson that follows three Tanzanian women trying to uplift their community and create a change when it comes to dealing with global poverty. The word “pamoja” means “together” in Swahili, and much of the film is about how when we unite and work towards a common goal, we can overcome difficult obstacles and achieve what once seemed to be impossible.

As the composer of The Pamoja Project Brandstetter did a brilliant job of helping to set the pace of the film with his original score. His strategic use of certain musical devices were essential to both heightening the inspirational energy and driving the deeply emotional aspects within the film’s key scenes.

“I first set out to create a ‘Pamoja Theme,’ something that incorporates the essential thought that great things can only happen together. Once I had that, I created three different, but closely related soundscapes for the three women the documentary follows,” explains Brandstetter.

Released in 2016, The Pamoja Project has been praised for it’s uplifting story and has been viewed by international audiences as an Official Selection of the Chicago International Social Change Film Festival, Sunscreen Film Festival West, Rhode Island International Film Festival, Yonkers Film Festival, Massachusetts Independent Film Festival and more.

Director Audrey Emerson explains, “Michael stood out from the beginning as the obvious choice as a composer. He was not just talented, but kind, hard-working and dedicated… I felt that Michael really cared about the story and his score reflected that.”

Over the last few years Michael-Alexander Brandstetter also composed the scores for a long list of other films including Eric Baird’s (Injection) sci-fi film Time to Leave, Tiffany Danielle Brooks’ Sharing Day, the animated film Disappearance, the 2016 drama The Path starring Raleigh Cain from the series Longmire, and many more.

While Brandstetter has clearly become a highly sought after film composer in recent years, his genius compositions are definitely strong enough to stand alone– in fact, come September 16 some of his original compositions are set to be performed during the highly anticipated “Welcome Home: Walter Arlen in Concert” at the Vienna Konzerthaus, where the Vienna Symphony and the Vienna Philharmonic also perform, in Vienna, Austria.

The “Welcome Home: Walter Arlen in Concert” is a pivotal event that will welcome home composer Walter Arlen, a 96-year-old exiled artist and Holocaust survivor, whose music will be performed in Austria for the first time.

Michael-Alexander Brandstetter
Michael-Alexander Brandstetter (left) & Walter Arlen (right) at the LA Opera

Brandstetter, who organized the concert with the help of his father, a minister in the Austrian government, explains, “I met Walter at the Residence of the Austrian Consulate General when I was studying at USC… He told me that his last wish would be that his only orchestral work, ‘The Song of Songs’ would be performed in Vienna.”

Thanks to Brandstetter’s diligent efforts, Alren’s “The Song of Songs” will be performed for the first time in Vienna by musicians from  the world renowned Wiener Symphoniker orchestra, and the concert will also feature Franz Schubert’s Symphony No.5, as well as Brandstetter’s original composition “Righteous Among The Nations.”

“This piece is especially important to him since it is based on the Jewish poem ‘The Song of Songs’… He started to work on it to prove himself, and that he and his culture are not ‘inferior,’ to put it mildly, as the Nazis suggested. Working on this piece gave him strength in difficult times. So, it is an emotional homecoming,” explains Brandstetter about Arlen’s piece.

From playing a key role in Hans Zimmer’s company RCP and composing powerful film scores that touch audiences on an emotional level and effortlessly drive the visual story as it unfolds on the screen, to having his original compositions performed by one of the most notable orchestras in the world, composer Michael-Alexander Brandstetter has made more of an impact as an international composer than most will in an entire lifetime.

Brandstetter is also currently working as a composer for Extreme Music from his hometown, Vienna, where his skills in musical composition, arranging, orchestration and music editing are undoubtedly being put to good use. With an impressive library that boasts music from artists and composers such as Quincy Jones, Hans Zimmer, George Martin, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, and Junkie XL, Extreme Music is the production arm of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which creates and licenses music for television, film, advertising and online media.