The “Talk Score to Me: Emerging Filmmakers on Collaborating with Composers” panel at the Los Angeles Film Festival was an interesting concept that brought together up-and-coming filmmakers with the composers who created the original (and affordable) music for their respective short films. ASCAP and Project Involve put together a Composers Workshop that gave these four filmmakers (Erin Li, Mason Richards, Susana Casares, and Aaron Celious) the opportunity to select from eight different composers through a “speed dating session” to decide who they would want to collaborate with on their films.
The guideline for their films was “California Stories” that took on the idea of democracy. Each filmmaker took this idea in a different direction with four shorts that each tackled this topic, but in very unique ways. Moderated by composer Art Ford, each director screened their shorts and then took to the stage with their respective composers to explain their different processes and experiences working together.
The first short was Chasing Penelope by Casares, which told the story of a young girl hoping to go to the Hollywood Walk of Fame to see her idol Penelope Cruz, but who is deterred when her older brother’s own selfish agenda for the afternoon gets in her way. Composed by Kevin Teasley, the first task on this project was creating an original piece of music to replace the temped in Rihanna track that had been placed in the first scene. Teasley needed to create a song that gave the same fun, young, and hopeful feeling the pop star’s song did and Casares confirmed that the piece Teasley created succeeded in establishing both the tone of the film while also defining the character featured in that scene.
Richards worked with composer Robert Allaire on his short Garcia’s Guest that explored the world of a sad and lonely man dealing with the death of his wife and child. Featuring mainly underscore, Allaire and Richards seemed to have a seamless working relationship (having “cheated” and actually met prior to the workshop). Allaire said the two pretty much consistently agreed on where to place music and the only place they differed was in the last scene where Allaire had planned on putting music, but Richards preferred to let it play without (and Allaire admitted it did work better that way.)
Teasley quickly jumped in to add that, as composers, they naturally want to put in more music, but it is helpful to work with a director who knows when music sometimes isn’t needed and allows for those equally pivotal moments of silence. Composer Dan Mufson added to this point saying that with Li’s film (To The Bone) he created a cue for a scene that even he later realized was unnecessary, and luckily Li agreed with him.
To The Bone featured two young children, a brother and sister, working alongside their father on a farm and the consequences of Valencia (Namoie Feliu) admitting to an inspector that she and her brother were not the legal working age of twelve. A simple story, the short did not require a lot of music and Mufson and Li began the composing process by having Mufson play Li various instruments until they found the right sound for the film (which ended up being a mandolin/guitar combination).
The final short was The Grizzly by Celious about a nanny trying to care for her boss’ two children as well as her own son. The juxtaposition between her life and that of her employers’ drives the film and when she comes face-to-face with the decision to be there for her chargers or her own flesh and blood, we see that struggle between these two classes. Composer Sarah Schachner infused this story with unexpected string cues giving The Grizzly its distinct sound and texture. Celious admitted that he basically left the music decisions up to Schachner who went off his temp score that featured a lot of Buena Vista Social Club to come up with the underscore she created.
While this opportunity to select from a pool of talented composers is not the norm for most filmmakers, Allaire and Richards proved that if you come across someone you would want to work with, you can reach out to them directly and develop that relationship on your own. Regardless of how they all came together, each pairing proved that the effect of music in a film is paramount and elevated each from static rough cuts to the well-formed shorts that showed on the big screen.