Category Archives: Film Composer

From Composing UEFA Anthems to Film Scores, Yohann Zveig’s Musical Genius

Yohann
French Composer Yohann Zveig

Whether it be the film scores and trailers that touch the hearts of audiences and create palpable emotion, or the anthems played at sporting events that energize stadium goers for the anticipated event, French composer and music producer Yohann Zveig is a master at creating compositions that enrapture fans around the world.

With its power to surpass language barriers, transform a listener’s emotional state and make a listener feel something, it’s no wonder that music plays such a massive role in film, something Yohann Zveig knows all about. Zveig has composed music for countless films including Sarah-Laure Estragnat’s film “Bleu comme la mère,” which took home the Prix Saint-Germain Award, the Best Family Short Film Award from the Los Angeles Olympus Film Festival and was selected for Cannes Film Festival’s Short Film Corner, “Honni soit qui mal y pense” with Sara Mortensen (“Contact”) and many more.

Zveig also recently produced, as well as composed the score for the films “Et Voilà!” starring multi-award winning French actor Moussa Maaskri (“Mondialito,” “22 Bullets”), Samuel Wizmane (“Le Môme”) and César Award nominee Sinclair (“The First Day of the Rest of Your Life”).

A comedy film that centers on a tyrannical boss who makes the lives of his employees a living hell, “Et Voilà!” was recently chosen as an Official Selection of the Paris Court Toujours Film Festival where it will screen later this month, and the C’est Pas La Taille Qui Compte Film Festival.

“As a composer, my role is to find the right tone between the emotion of the actor and the general mood of the film by creating this binder that is music. It is a very sensitive and precise work, one must never fall into excess and yet, we must bring something more,” explains Zveig.

“So many films go through the ages because they have a very strong musical identity, I could mention a dozen of them but the first one that comes to my mind is obviously the work of Ennio Moricone who left an incredible mark to the cinema of the twentieth century.”

Having collaborated with massive names in the industry including Disney, Visual Music, Position Music, RedCola, Glory Oath+Blood, Grooveworx, Dos Brains and more, Zveig is one of the rare individuals who has managed to turn their talent into an exuberantly successful career.

Growing up in France, Zveig immersed himself in music at a young age.

He recalls, “I couldn’t help myself from hitting everything I had at hand. My parents even reproached me for making too much noise in restaurants because I was unable to stay still. I took the cutlery and hit the glasses and plates.”

A skilled drummer, pianist and bassist, Zveig proved himself to be a musical prodigy at a young age when he was able to miraculously pick up instruments and without lessons, teach himself to play simply by ear.

“The percussions and drums were my first preferred instrument. I’ve always been attracted by rhythm and groove, and more generally by drummers. Then I played the piano for the melodies and harmony,” Zveig explains. “I had a musical ear and was able to play the tunes I could hear on the radio at our at home. After this, the fourth instrument I played was the bass, mostly on stage since I sang and played the bass together.”

The multi-talented musician first began singing and playing bass on stages across France with well known-musicians such as Mino Cinelu (Sting, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles), Vic Emerson (10 CC), Patrice Renson (Salif Keita, Vanessa Paradis, Mathieu Chedid) and Matthieu Chedid.

Whilst in his teens Zveig got his first computer, the Atari 520, a revolutionary moment in his life that allowed him to begin creating his own demos. From there, Zveig’s career unfolded at an incredible pace. His ability to create powerful, rhythmic and exciting compositions soon caught the attention of major sports franchises, such as the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), which brought him on to create the famous anthem for the Europa League in 2009.

“I included strings, brass, choirs and a lot of percussions.The piece had to be recognizable, it had to be an anthem in its own right, and it had to go through the times and gather the fans in the stadium,” says Zveig.

Played in 185 countries around the world, as well as in commercials, Zveig’s UEFA Europa League anthem was played during all of the matches in the competition and it was the sound fans heard through the speakers as the players entered the field

He admits, “At each final the stadiums were full of 80,000 people. It was an incredible emotion, a crazy joy to hear so many people chant my anthem”

After composing for the UEFA Europa League Zveig went on to compose the anthem for the German Federation of Football aka Deutscher Fussball Bund, the biggest Football Association of Europe, and an associate of the UEFA. Another huge mark in his career, and one that was heard by fans across the world, Zveig’s anthem was the one that played when Germany won the FIFA World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

Though Zveig has achieved inimitable success composing anthems for sports teams around the world, his capacity to create music that help bring the stories within films to life and touch audiences on a deeper level is one of the aspects of his talent that makes him so unique.

“Overall I’ve been passionate about music and cinema forever,” explains Zveig. “Unconsciously I think I’ve always been attracted to film scores. For instance, I could go to the cinema to watch a movie only to listen to the score. I think I’ve listened to more than 300 films scores. I really love it.”

In 2016 Zveig earned a nomination for the Jury Prize from the Sundance Channel Shorts for his work as the composer on the French film “Premier Jour.” Directed by Yohann Charrin (“Ta Mort en Salopette”) and starring Luchon International Film Festival Award winner Thierry Neuvic (“Hereafter”) and Alain Figlarz (“The Bourne Identity”),“Premier Jour” also won the Silver Award from the Mindfield Film Festival Los Angeles, as well as Best Short from the Cognac Festival du Film Policier.

“I am convinced that some films would never have had the success they received from the public without the music they had… music is able to seek other emotions, stronger emotions, from people. Many theme songs are so recognizable and engraved that they will remain forever in people’s minds. I think this is the true talent of a composer,” admits Zveig. “Saying this, I immediately think of the score of ‘Back to the Future’ written by Alan Silvestri, which I adore and which carried me away… as much as the story in this movie. Just at the thought of it I have shivers down my spine. I am a big fan of American composers, I can not deny it.”

Inspired by the composer of yore, Zveig has become quite the inspirational composer himself and his work on films like “Half the Sky” aka “La Moitié du Ciel,” which earned numerous awards from the International Marrakech Film Festival, Tanger Film Festival, Tetouan Film Festival, Alexandria International Film Festival and more, are only the tip of the iceberg.

Recently Zveig composed the score for the rivetting horror film “Play or Die,” which was released earlier this year and directed by Jacques Kluger.

About composing for films, Zveig says, “The score of a film is there to emphasize, and I insist on the word emphasize, the emotions in a movie. At no time should the music be at odds with the dialogue or the acting of the actors.”

For “Play or Die,” which stars Charley Palmer Rothwell (“Darkest Hour”), Roxanne Mesquida (“Gossip Girl”) and Marie Zebukovic (“Interrail”), Zveig created a score that heightens the emotions and piques the audience’s anticipation at every turn.

“A horror movie is an alchemy between images and music. Yohann’s creation came to enrich my creation to make the film. What Yohann has created is an indispensable piece to the puzzle that constitutes the film. The music he imagined is very strong because it creates the chills and anxieties necessary for a good horror film,” explains “Play or Die” director Jacques Kluger.

“I wanted a music that supports the atmosphere and emotions that I wanted to create by the image. Yohann very quickly understood what I imagined and how to create a sound universe that enriches the images. We worked together in sharing to create a true entertainment experience.”

Zveig seems to live in the mode of ceaseless creation. Back in 2004 he founded the Paris-based music label and production company Boburst Productions, followed by the production company NJNL in 2016, which is based in Los Angeles. Over the past few years he’s composed and released several major albums including “Amsterdam Rhapsody,” “Bucharest Rhapsody,” “Dublin Rhapsody” and “Hamburg Rhapsody.”  Last year Zveig was tapped by Position Music in the U.S. to compose and produce the album “Darkwater.” With Position Music specializing in releasing music for trailers, Zveig went to work creating a thoroughly diverse album of 12 tracks where each song boasts a uniquely powerful rhythm using an array of instruments and emotive percussion.   

One of Zveig’s tracks off “Darkwater” was snatched up earlier this year to be used in the official trailer for the Lionsgate produced crime-thriller “Crypto” with Golden Globe nominated actor Kurt Russell and Luke Hemsworth from “Westworld.” 

Whether he is using his talent to convey the thrill of competition that fuels the hopes of eager footballers, or composing brilliant scores that help take the films he works on to the next level, Yohann Zveig is truly a rare breed of genius and he’s one that we can bet on hearing a lot more from for years to come.

Zveig says, “I’ve always loved creating melodies and themes from scratch, listening to my inspiration. Music is a bearer of emotions and this is precisely what I’ve always searched for in composing music– to feel strong emotions that I could give to people.”

Alex Stewart composes island themed music for ‘Temptation Island’

As a musician, Alex Stewart knew that performing never intrigued him. Instead, it was the avenues of music that didn’t involve a stage. With a passion for television and the movies, he found himself drawn to the power of a score and its ability to alter the emotions of a scene. He realized at only 16 years old that he wanted to be a part of the aspect of movie magic and has never looked back. He is now a celebrated composer with countless esteemed projects on his decorated resume, and as the masses enjoy his work, he knows this is what he was destined to be doing.

Stewart has made quite a name for himself in his home of Australia and in the United States, composing for hit shows like Paradise Hotel, The Contender, and The Curse of Civil War Gold, and films like Cosmic Fling. He knows how to entertain through his music, and how to tell a story. Composing for reality television requires a unique touch, as it is real people’s lives you are conveying through each note. He executes such a large task with perfection with every project he takes on.

“I believe that a piece of music is only as good as its fundamental idea. If your melody, chord progression, or original idea is bad, then there is no way the piece can be good. I often spend the most time working on just the idea because it’s easy to build the piece if the idea is good. Badly written music can easily ruin a project,” said Stewart.

Music is an essential part of the experience when watching any film or television show, and Stewart knows this well. On Fox’s acclaimed reboot of the reality show Temptation Island, Stewart knew that his score was of the utmost importance to keep audiences engaged.

In this social experiment, four couples at a crossroad in their relationship put their love to the test by giving “single life” a try. On the Hawaiian island of Maui, they’ll take a break from each other while living in separate houses with sexy singles to discover if there is another partner with whom they are more compatible. In the end, will the couples leave together? Will they leave with one of the island’s “tempters”? Or will they break up and go home alone? Whatever the outcome, there is plenty of drama along the way.

“As we watch the events and drama that unfolds, it raises questions that many people might not normally ask themselves about their own relationships, both intimate and not intimate. Some of the people in this show rediscover a love and value in their partner, and others realize that maybe they’re better off taking different paths. It’s important for us to question why we choose to have certain people in our lives so we, as individuals, can thrive and not let others stand in the way of us getting to where we want to be,” said Stewart.

Stewart works with the immensely popular music production company Burnett Music Group on the show, who constantly reach out to the composer for contract work, knowing he is one of the best. Burnett was looking for a modern pop style sound with elements of tropical music that underscored the drama. This presented a fun challenge for Stewart, as these are two styles of music that do not typically go together. Therefore, a lot of the music he wrote for the show is electronic, but with instruments that make one think of the beach, like ukulele, steel pan, bongos, and conch shell. They were also looking for a vast range of emotions, everything from deep sadness, to upbeat dancing music, and Stewart delivered. His music captured the show very well, letting the audience be taken away with the cast to the tropical island through the sound, and also amplifying the emotions in each scene.

“I liked the challenge of combining modern pop with tropical/island sounds in various emotions and energy levels. But outside of that, I really liked working with the other people on the project. Everyone involved was an awesome person and easy to work with. I thought it was a fantastic opportunity to get better at writing quickly. Sometimes I struggle with getting things done fast, so I used this project to practice getting music written and mixed within a day. I always enjoy challenging myself,” he said.

Temptation Island premiered on the USA Network on January 15th, 2019. It was a weekly episodic show that ran for 11 episodes, with extremely high ratings. For Stewart, that success is secondary, as he just likes to make music that audiences enjoy listening to.

“It feels nice to know that I was able to be a part of a show that so many people enjoy. It was a great project to contribute to. Seeing all the ads and hearing people talk about it online has been awesome and I’m certainly happy that most of the reviews and talk around this show has been positive. I look forward to the chance to work on another season,” he concluded.

 

By John Michaels

Canada’s Michael Shlafman talks importance of music in documentaries

Always a musician, Canada’s Michael Shlafman found himself drawn into the world of composing and orchestrating for film and television because of its limitless possibilities. There are almost no creative boundaries when working in the medium outside of what is dictated by the needs of the project. He can go from working on a score that features a jazz trio one day to a symphony orchestra the next, and that is what excites him; he simply aims to make authentic and sincere music, with endless flexibility and an eagerness and willingness to always be learning and growing.

“I like to think that my style of composing is whatever it needs to be for a given project – after all, that’s what I love so much about working in this medium in the first place. Though I really love to write music that combines traditional acoustic instruments with electronic elements such as recorded and manipulated sound effects, synthesizers, etc. into a hybrid sound that blends sound design with more traditional styles of music,” he said.

Throughout his esteemed career, Shlafman has become an internationally sought-after composer and orchestrator. Millions around the world have heard his work, whether in the multi-million dollar movie Pet Sematary (orchestrator) or the television shows LARPs: The Series (composer) and Best. Worst. Weekend. Ever. (additional music). He has also worked on several acclaimed documentaries, like La Guerra, My Indiana Muse, Botero, and more, knowing just how music can enhance the genre though it needs to be done with a little more care and respect than may be required for a fictional story.

“I think there’s a really interesting distinction to be made between working on documentaries versus working in fiction, especially regarding the music. For starters, documentaries are real. They’re about real people/events, and as such they require a slightly different treatment that is perhaps more careful and respectful. When you’re working on a movie based on a fictional story, of course you still need to be tasteful and respectful, but the characters in the film are never going to watch it. I feel that there’s a lot of pressure to do right by the subjects of a documentary, as there should be. You can’t just throw any music over some painful moment of someone’s life that was caught on camera as though it were a soap opera, it needs to be handled delicately,” said Shlafman.

Music can be a very manipulative tool in documentaries if not used responsibly, and Shlafman always makes sure to do the film’s subject justice when he works. Music changes how an audience reacts emotionally to a piece of film, and for a documentary, where the filmmaker’s job is to present fact and truth as cleanly as possible, music can sometimes be too leading. Shlafman makes sure not to taint the story through the music and does his best to help the director present a perspective as unbiased as possible.

“Music can also really help with the pacing of documentaries. No matter how interesting the subject is, sitting through over an hour of interviews or ‘talking heads’ can get tiresome, and music can help make it feel faster,” he said

David Bertok’s score for Botero, which Shlafman orchestrated,is a perfect example of how a score can set the pace of a documentary. The film is a poetic documentary profile of Colombian artist Fernando Botero and provides a behind-the-scenes chronicle of the life and art of this painter and sculptor – the world’s most recognized living artist.

“I wanted to work on Botero because it’s a very engaging and thrilling story about a world-renowned artist, Fernando Botero. I think it’s important to share these stories so that they’re not forgotten and so that their legacy lives on,” he said.

As an orchestrator on the film, Shlafman played a pivotal role in the post-production process. When a composer creates a mockup on a computer, it is designed to sound as convincing and realistic as possible. The issue then lies in translating that data to a piece of paper that a musician can perform from and achieving a better version of the intended sound through the use of professional musicians with decades of experience. That translation is at the crux of what an orchestrator does, and his role with this project was to help take the data from the mockups and create scores that could be read by the musicians, fulfilling the composer’s vision of the score. In the end, they had a live string orchestra, and with Shlafman’s dedicated work, it turned out beautifully.

These thoughts were echoed by critics, as Botero went on to win several awards at festivals all around the world. Shlafman is proud to have been part of the film, especially one that tells the story of such an iconic artist.

“It’s always a good feeling to know that something you worked on was successful, and even more so when you really believe in the importance of the story. I think it’s important to honor great artists, and this is an excellent way to help preserve Botero’s legacy,” he concluded.

 

By John Michaels
Photo by Erin Ramirez

Samuel Lam captures heartbreak and comedy through song in new film

There is no greater feeling in the world for Samuel Lam than to hear his music played by other musicians. As a film composer, this is something he gets to experience on a regular basis, and why he loves what he does so much. Every musician adds their own personality into his music and interprets it differently in their own ways, and he believes that is the true artistry to his role, and every day he gets to work with musicians from all over the world.

Throughout his esteemed career, Lam has shown why he is such a renowned composer and orchestrator in China. With celebrated projects like Crazy Alien, Who Lives My Life?, Delay of Game, and more under his belt, he has continuously shown the world what he is capable of, and he has many more plans to keep doing so. He is currently working on several exciting new projects, including Paramount’s Playing with Fire, starring John Cena, Judy Greer and Keegan-Michael Key.

Lam’s new film My Ex-Girlfriend is a Shovel will be having its official world premiere later this month at the Palm Springs International Shortfest on June 21st, 2019. It is also an Official Selection in numerous film festivals, such as the Montana Film Festival, Calgary International Film Festival, Reel Shorts Film Festival, Creative Artist Agency Moebius 3, and the Bogotá Short Film Festival so far, with many more expected to come later this year.

“I am really glad that this film can reach out to so many audiences. It is a truly unique story, and I hope the audience will not only have a good laugh, but also be moved by the story. That is the real reward,” said Lam.

My Ex-Girlfriend Is a Shovel tells the compelling story of a woman named Coral after her girlfriend of three years breaks up with her. Coral soon realizes that her ex wasn’t actually a person, but was in fact a shovel. Ultimately, Coral must confront her shovel ex- girlfriend to be able to move on.

After Lam read the script, he was immediately interested and touched by it. The heart of the story is very relatable, and the director had his own unique way to tell the story.

“It is a story about a woman who is in love with a shovel, but the more honest answer is this is a film about the way we remember our exes, and the way we objectify the people who we loved and who have hurt us. So even though it is a comedy, it has an emotionally relatable side as well,” said Lam.

My Ex-Girlfriend is a Shovel obviously tells a very unique story, using an extreme and comedic way to portray the hardship of getting over a devastating breakup. The choice of music greatly affected the emotion and meaning conveyed by different scenes.

Dezi Gallegos, the director, had a very clear voice in his mind. Together, Lam and Gallegos spotted the film, which had already been filled with temporary music. They discussed the concept behind the film, and Lam pushed for the music to have a serious tone, even for the comedic parts, and maintain an indie feel within the score. For example, during a comedic montage sequence in the project, which is showing the memories of the main character with her girlfriend “Shovel”, instead of scoring the scene with comedy music, Lam took this scene very seriously, and scored the montage with a beautiful piano solo. As a result, not only do audiences have a good laugh during the screening because of the contrast, but they also have a bittersweet feeling from the momentous scene.

“Nothing makes me happier than writing music for an interesting story. It is a very fun collaboration, and the director gave me a lot of freedom on the music. My favorite part is seeing the reaction of the audience during the screening,” said Lam.

My Ex-Girlfriend is a Shovel perfectly captures what Lam is capable of as a composer, and is a can’t miss.

 

By Annabelle Lee

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.”

 

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.