Tag Archives: Composer

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

Art Director Cman Wong works with award-winning film composer on captivating video

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Cman Wong

Always interested in all things art and design, Cman Wong was, in a way, destined to be an art director. Although she did not always expect to express her passions in the form of advertising, she found it a way to explore her creativity in a way she never thought possible. When creating dynamic visuals for the world’s largest brands, she feels a thrill.

“It’s a fancy job title with the responsibility beyond the job title. As an Art Director, you’re basically responsible for all visual elements of a product or campaign, from the presentation deck to the overall look and feel. You have to provide a visual direction that not only is eye catching, but also relates to your target audience and divert the message through it,” said Cman.

As an in-demand Art Director, Cman is consistently impressive. She has worked on projects for Marvel, Ferrari, and Undercover to name a few. She is always stimulated by her work and finds that although it may seem like she simply works in marketing, she is truly an artist.

Cman has also had the opportunity to work with acclaimed artists and filmmakers throughout her career. In December of 2016, the Art Director collaborated with Tan Dun, an Academy Award and BAFTA Award winning film composer and conductor. This experience was one of Cman’s highlights of her career.

“It was such a great honor to collaborate with such a prestigious composer like Tan Dun. It is one of my favorite experiences in my career and my life as a whole. Cross discipline collaboration has expanded the possibility and audiences of my work. It was another example to prove the boundless and flexible art I could make,” said Cman.

The project in question was that of the Modern Media National Spirit Achievers Awards 2016. The National Spirit Achievers Awards was first issued in 2007. It is a pioneering work of the Modern Communication Group to carry out “Everything Monthly” sincerity for the eternal moments of the times. It aims to recognize Chinese leaders who have achieved excellence in various fields and created an era. Eighty-one creators, including IM Pei, Fan Jin-shi, Xu Bing, Tan Dun, Ye Jintian, Zhang Yimou, Mao Yuchen, Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi, Ding Lei, Jia Zhangke, Chen Qigang, Huang Yongsong, and Lang Lang, were honored with awards in fields such as art, music, film, architecture, business, education and more. Nowadays, the National Spirit Achievers Awards has become an award with outstanding influence. Each awards ceremony has also become a glorious moment for elite leaders from all walks of life to meet.

For the ceremony, Cman provided the art direction on the video content for the main performance, setting the overall artistic style and visual image. In doing so, she developed key frame content that transformed the audience’s experience, adding another level of entertainment and layer of enjoyment to the performance. Rather than simply listening to the music, they had a visual spectacle created by an artist like Cman.

The video visualized the rhythm of the music in a poetic way. It was inspired by the music and culture of Tibet and Chinese traditional performance. In the breathtaking opening scene, dust begins moving, followed by a cinematic Chinese opera theme form in the 13th century during the Song Dynasty and digital ink Chinese painting scene. It reformed the best image of traditional Chinese Art in a modern way.

The response for the video was tremendous, and Cman personally received not only great feedback from the client, but also the audience who were completely immersed in her creation.

“I like it most because it’s a live performance to see the actual reaction and feedback from the audiences. It’s such a great lesson and inspiration to work at such a high level of international standard performance,” she concluded.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

SILENT NIGHT IS A FRIGHTENING SOUND

On Lounge Close 2

Composer Jayden Lawrence has always embraced the path less traveled. While it hasn’t always been the case that this leads to success in the film industry, advances in digital media distribution, streaming services, and overall music recording technology have led to a diversity in the industry which has created numerous opportunities for him. Both traditional film and more contemporary mediums have benefited from Jayden’s talent. Feature films, documentaries, shorts, and many other types of productions have included the musical contributions and enhancements of this composer. He’s known for an eclectic palette that encompasses everything from symphony orchestras to Hip-Hop to just about anything you can think of. A major reason for his success and popularity among filmmakers is because he is a listener. His approach is best stated in one of his favorite quotes from jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. The be-bop icon stated, “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.” More specifically put in regards to Lawrence’s compositions, he often sounds different because he isn’t trying to announce his prowess as a composer but rather focuses on only what will complement the action on screen, whether it be marching parade drums, a string section, or a modern grooving dance beat. Lawrence’s score to the film Silent Night is shining proof of this.

The film Silent Night takes place in Australia. The year is 2036 and the government has imposed a system purging anybody considered undesirable or a burden to the society. In the opening scene, a woman gives birth under the supervision of a nurse. The infant’s DNA is tested for any signs of illness or “detrimental” conditions and when a positive result is received, the child is taken away amid the mother’s wailing. This sets the dark tone for the film. Much of the story follows the perspective of Carly, a different Nurse at a purgation clinic. Her duties are to process and see out the purgation of individuals who are admitted to the clinic, having been deemed a burden or risk to the advancement of the race and population. A series of different “victims” are seen being euthanized in a chemical bath. These range from elderly homeless people to young children with infirmities. Videos play on a screen to distract these victims until it is too late. All the while, Carly struggles with her role in this culling of society. There’s a none too subtle statement about society’s indifference and paranoia as it relates to those who fall outside the fortunate “mean.” The tale is disturbing and applicable to virtually all cultures and geographic locations. Lawrence’s score is the nail which allows this picture to hang on the wall for all to see. His emphatic musical “hits” force the audience to turn in the direction that the filmmakers who created Silent Night wish the audience to observe.

One of Jayden’s most important contributions on any film is his focus on individual characters and the ability to make their emotions and motivations have an audible presence on film. While it’s a major part of what he does, he concedes that it’s not always a conscious decision on his part. He often watches the film and is intuitively inspired by it to manifest an emotional counterpoint in the music. This is where his familiarity and being well-versed in different styles and instrumentations pays off, giving him a greater pool of musical options to pull from. In Silent Night, the score is primarily composed of a string ensemble which is used to represent the story world and most importantly, Carly. As an ensemble, a string section is one of the most versatile instruments available in terms of range of pitch, dynamics, mood-setting, and articulations allowing for textural techniques like tremolo, trills, flautando, harmonics, and more. The composer describes, “Carly is portrayed to be quite a warm & caring personality but juxtaposed with the harsh grittiness of using razor blades to inflict pain and cut herself. I wanted to add an element of fragility to Carly, and highlight the pain she is going through so I incorporated a bit of ‘edginess’ into the tonality of the strings and used techniques such as tremolo to represent the fragility and inner turmoil she was experiencing. The strings are also used to bring a softness and warmth to Carly’s character, most notably towards the end as she is deeply touched by what is happening with the young boy.”

Sitting in front of studio (best)

Creating a film, any film, is no small feat. The finances, schedules, and most importantly the desire to do great work can often mean working under a considerable amount of stress while being expected to deliver emotional performances. Even for a composer, often in the studio alone, the demands are great. For Jayden, it’s not a matter of if the pressure will come (that’s a foregone certainty) but how you handle it when it does come. Keeping a cool head about things is absolutely essential for a career in film scoring. Tight deadlines and team dynamics are not always pleasant. This digital age has brought with it enormous flexibility when it comes to media creation but it has also thrown the concept of a “final cut” out the window. Spontaneous last minute changes by someone in the production line necessitate momentary flexibility. When it comes to scoring a film this can mean considerable alterations. In the end, a composer’s job is to serve the film, whatever the demands. This often means creating at the highest level while ensuring the environment is copasetic. Silent Night producer Danielle Reston professes Lawrence’s exceptional abilities on all these points stating, “Working with Jayden on Silent Night was the best experience a producer could hope for. From the first spotting session he was already throwing out ideas and it was clear that he understood the director’s vision. Jayden and I had worked together previously on a film called Oedipus which met some complications during the post-production stages that resulted in a complete re-edit of the film; a composer’s worst nightmare! Jayden simply embraced the change and took it in his stride, delivering a fantastic and memorable score. Unsurprisingly, the score to Silent Night was no different. It created the right amount of tension, despair, and impact that made the film tug that much harder on the heart strings. Jayden’s music has a craftsmanship about it that is not always present in film scores. It was this craftsmanship that ultimately helped propel Silent Night into the success that it has achieved.”

JL CloseUpWorkAtMixingDesk

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.