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T23D: Not Your Typical Film Score Experience

T23D Cue 1: 
T23D Cue 2: 
T23D Cue 3: 

It was interesting working on this short film for the Universal Studios experience. Using recognizable motifs in these new compositions as well as introducing some original material to represent the different aspects of this film that go beyond what we’d seen in T2 was a fun creative process. Also, the sound system in the theater that was built for the experience had 24 individual channels of sound dispersed throughout the room, so there was the capability to move sounds all around including above the audience. At the time there was no recording studio that had the capability to mix the music for this type of system. I had to fly out to the actual theatre in Orlando to mix the film. While we were mixing the music and sound(in the middle of the night), they were still ironing out some kinks in the live aspect of the show.  Occasionally we had to quickly dive for the plastic covers to protect the very intricate board and wiring as they mistakenly triggered the fog that would fill the room. They also had some challenges with the huge screen that had to go up and down very quickly as the real-life motorcycle appeared to come through it. A little timing glitch almost caused serious injury to the rider. This was definitely not your every day film scoring experience!

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Cold Sassy Tree

Cold Sassy Tree Cue: 

This was a wonderful project with great performances by Faye Dunaway and Richard Widmark, Frances Fisher and a young Neil Patrick Harris. Director Joan Tewkesbury was a pleasure to work with as well as producer Karen Danaher.

Ms. Dunaway was also a producer so I ended up spending a fair amount of time with her in my garage studio. Tough job, but someone’s got to do it! There was one afternoon that Faye needed to go up to the house to use the bathroom. She was gone for quite a while but eventually returned.  Later my housekeeper said,  “There was this blonde lady in the kitchen looking around in the pantry for a long time, I think I’ve seen her before.”  Guess she was hungry….

I feel very lucky that my career spanned a time that allowed me to have the opportunity to work with some classic Hollywood icons also including Jimmy Stewart and Bette Davis on the only project they ever did together (more on that later).

It was a challenge to find a way to be true to the early 1900’s period with the primitive samplers that were available at the time. I would love to have done this with live orchestra, but ah, well, can’t have it all…

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Immediate Family: A Director Stands for His Composer

Immediate Family End Credits:

Director Jonathan Kaplan really fought hard to get me on this picture. For some reason the head of the studio got it in her head that I couldn’t do the job. Maybe because I had done The Accused with Jonathan and that was a darker serious film and this was a poignant comedy? Who knows. But I don’t think I’ve ever had another director go to the wall like he did. After much tribulation, letter writing etc., he got his way and I was hired. In the end after the screening of the finished film the exec stopped Jonathan and said ” well your boy did a great job”. It is often a challenge for composers in Hollywood to get the powers that be to realize that they can write a wide range of scores. Occasionally someone has the personal fortitude to stand up to them. Thanks Jonathan!

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Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel

Blue Steel Cue:

This was one of Kathryn Bigelow’s early films. Though she later moved into making films that are hyper real, Blue Steel feels very much like a  prolonged dark dream. To support that aspect, Kathryn and I agreed that the film  needed a very dark atmospheric score.  I used a lot of breathy sounds, including distortions of my own breathing to create the textures. Much of the score had very few recognizable instrument sounds or melody. I enjoyed the challenge.








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“I’m Talking Love” an emergency replacement

from The Accused starring Jodie Foster and Kelly McGillis, directed by Jonathan Kaplan and produced by Sherry Lansing and Stanley Jaffe.

I’m Talking Love:  


Over the years I’ve had number of requests for the song “I’m Talking Love” from “The Accused”. This was the song that Jodie danced to during the scene leading up to the horrific rape. In the film the song continues and is joined by dramatic score as the guys rape jodie on the pinball machine. Having to watch this scene over and over in the process of writing the score was definitely challenging emotionally and had a deep impact. It helped when director Jonathan Kaplan told me about how Jodie actually had to comfort the actors after many of the takes and reassure them that she was ok and wanted them not to be afraid to portray as accurately as possible the ugliness and intensity of the violence that was involved in the scene. Jodie went on to win a much deserved Oscar for her portrayal.

Back to the song.  Originally, Jodie chose the song that she danced to during the shooting of that scene. It was a hit by a very well known artist. We were coming down to the wire in post production and the producers were not able to convince the artist to sell them the rights to use the song. They were convinced that this particular song was so key to the film that the offer went higher and higher. The artist did not want his music and image connected or supporting the act committed in the scene. This was an understandable concern, though I think the film told an important story and was a contribution to the cultural discussion of rape. When it finally became clear that the song would need to be replaced, there were only a few days left before the scene had to be mixed. It would be very hard to find a pre-existing song that would exactly match the tempo and feel of what Jodie had danced to so all eyes in the room turned to me. No pressure or anything. I had been very focussed on the dramatic score so quickly shifted gears and put together a rough idea of lyrics,  melody and feel and brought in my friend, fellow composer and musician extraordinaire Ross Levinson who helped complete the song and develop it into a polished funky recording on a very tight schedule. We recorded in NY with singer Vanessa Anderson and guitarist Kenny Mazur. It was a bit scary presenting the song to replace something that everyone had been so attached to, but there was a happy ending. Everyone was pleased (and relieved) with the results and into the film it went. In the scene as things got more and more dire the orchestral cue slowly overtook the funky rhythms and supported the tragedy of what was going on. To see how that worked, check out the film. Here we’re posting the song only.

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Classic Western Meets the Twilight Zone

Side by Side
Black Jacks Dead/Finale

Purgatory was an interesting challenge. Most of the look and feel of most of the film was classic western, but the underlying story was supernatural. Director Uli Edel and I had worked together previously on Rasputin. I really enjoyed working with him because he appreciated music and left room in his projects for the score to breath and make a meaningful contribution.

We decided to strongly support the classic western elements of the project and not overplay the otherworldly elements so that the audience could enjoy discovering the strangeness of what was really going on in this seemingly normal town without the score telegraphing it too much.  I used some key sounds and textures that eventually paid off when the “out there” elements of the story really showed themselves.

The Side By Side cue scores a scene where a young man whose childhood heroes have failed him is left to face up to the bad guys alone. As he does his high noon walk down the middle of the street to face his fate, his heroes, one by one fall in beside him.

In the Black Jack is Dead/Finale cue. The bad guy takes his trip to Hell while in the end others are off to Heaven. Here you can hear the supernatural elements of the score come into play.


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Johnny Mnemonic: Battle of the Brass

Battle of the Brass Cue #1:
Battle of the Brass Cue #2:

I was working on the score for Johnny Mnemonic and a thought occurred to me.  Often in big action scenes the through line of the music gets cut off by various loud sound efx. Explosions, crashes etc. In watching the scenes I had a thought. What if some of the important phrases were stated on the left and then quickly repeated on the right (or vice versa). The chance that one of them would be heard might be greatly increased and the through line of the score might survive.  This would have to be done as an organic part of the composition and style of the piece or it might come off as gimmicky or distracting.  I didn’t want the audience to really notice what we were doing.  I had done something like this in some of my electronic scores (a panned digital delay kind of has that effect), but this was an orchestral score with some electronic mixed in. I wanted to try this acoustically. Kind of like doing a live stunt instead of relying on CGI.  So here’s what we did.

First of all, I was very lucky to have the wonderful Shirley Walker conducting for me. If anyone could hold the players together on this it would be her. First, we recorded the full orchestra on these special cues including percussion but without the brass. Then we let all those players go home as we reset the studio for two complete brass sections. One on the left and one on the right. We had booked many of the best players in LA to meet this large demand for brass. There was a lot of chuckling and I got a lot of looks like”what the hell!” and “this dude is nuts” as it became clear what we were wanting to do. I started to wonder a bit myself…
We rehearsed the first cue. I was in the booth with engineer Tim Boyle and we were having some problems with the balances. We tried to fix it with levels, but weren’t getting it to our satisfaction. Shirley came in and said that she thought we had to do some reorganizing of the players so they were better matched. Kind of like starting a basketball game with the top pros and asking certain players to change sides. There was a tense moment, but soon everyone was laughing and seeing this as some kind of nutty musical sporting event. I apologized for not having different colored t shirts for the left and right team and we were off and running.
In the end I thought it went very well. Shirley told me after we were finished, that she had had serious doubts about the approach when I had described it to her, but thought it really worked. Here’s a few of the cues, see what you think….
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Eden: End Credits from an Unreleased Score

Play Eden End Credits:

In 1975 during the time when I was on the road with Hall and Oates, I had the opportunity to score my first feature film, Apple Pie. It was written and directed by my old friend Howard Goldberg. I was definitely learning on the job (though I felt that way through much of my career). The score was done largely on a very early synth(Arp 2600) and for the opening cue I did a vocal imitation of a hi hat cymbal groove. Daryl and John and the rest of the Hall and Oates band agreed to come into the studio and jam on one of the cues for a street dance scene. Coming up with music to support this off beat film was a lot of fun, and the contrast with the lifestyle of being on the road was part of what convinced me to pursue film composing.

Cut to 20 years and a whole lot of scores later, I scored Howard’s film Eden in 1996. A film that was supported by the Sundance institute, it starred Joanna Going, Dylan Walsh and Sean Patrick Flannery. This score is a favorite of mine, partially because it’s very different than many of the scores for which I’ve become known. A delicate acoustic score performed by a small orchestra, I actually had the time to write out the orchestrations myself which was also rare. Shirley Walker agreed to conduct and the recording was a pleasure. I hope you enjoy the end credit cue which incorporates several of the films main motifs.






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