Tag Archives: Film Composers

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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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.

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.