Documentary shines light on music's role in film

DOWNEY -- The essential and final ingredient for creating movie magic is not a visual component at all.  It is the musical score – those artful sounds that frame the action, set the mood, and draw us into an emotional connection with the characters and their story.

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Think of "Star Wars," "ET," "Lawrence of Arabia," and "Psycho." Would these movies be as memorable without their defining music? Music communicates ideas and feelings on an emotional level, and movie makers know that the right score will have a significant impact on a film’s success.

A revealing new documentary about the collaborative process of scoring films will be presented free to the public on Saturday, Oct. 7, at 4 p.m. at the Downey Civic Theatre as part of this year’s Glennfest Film Festival.

“Score: A Film Music Documentary” features over 20 well-known film composers and musicians reflecting on this modern art form, and offers a glimpse into the complex, detailed process required for movie magic.   

“The score is the heartbeat of the film,” "Titanic" director James Cameron explains in the film. “All your other work on a film can come to nothing if you don’t have the right music.”  

Musician and composer Quincy Jones adds, “We can make you feel anything we want you to feel.”

The free screening is being presented by the Downey Symphonic Society and the Downey Arts Coalition.

“So much of new orchestral music today is written for movies and TV,” explains Don Marshall, president of the Symphonic Society, “so it’s natural that we would sponsor this terrific documentary about film composers.”  

An added feature of this afternoon event will be an introductory discussion by two musicians with decades of experience in the movie industry– film composer, orchestrator, and conductor Conrad Pope, who is featured in the film, and musician/composer Lars Clutterham.

Pope has worked on over 420 films during this 30-year career.  He has contributed to such well-known movies as the "Matrix" series, recent "Harry Potter" films, "Troy," and "The Legend of Zorro." He is a frequent collaborator with the legendary John Williams as well as a composer in his own right.

Clutterham, a Downey resident, worked for over 23 years with the Joann Kane Music Service, a company that provides rapid, custom music preparation services for composers and others in the film industry. It’s an intense business, as Clutterham describes it, involving artistic decisions, deadlines, and armies of musicians.

It is clear from the film that movie music today is a collaborative process from the beginning so that the composer understands the director’s vision. There are scenes of John Williams sharing his idea for the music to ET with director Steven Spielberg. In another scene, discussing his simple and visceral theme for the shark in Jaws, Williams tells Spielberg, “You made a very primal movie.”

Once the director and the composer are on the same page with mood and theme, dozens of other musicians are brought in to create the sheet music that will be needed for each musician.  Modern film composers don’t write every note for every instrument the way Mozart and Beethoven did.  Orchestrators and copyists assist with the work after the composer creates a “sketch.”

“The score goes through all of these evolutions to get the music behind the film,” says Clutterham.  “You’ve got to get all those little pieces of music ready for all of the players in the orchestra.  There’s a huge amount of background work that goes into that.”  

With huge budgets at stake as studios seek box office hits, Clutterham explains “There is a high priority to have it perfect when it’s sight read in the studio.” T

he public is often surprised to learn that orchestra members do not always see the new music before they must play it. The turn-around time for changes and additions to the score are often so quick that the musicians must be able to play it when they first read it – “on sight.”

Clutterham, who has worked mostly behind the scenes in film music, is an accomplished musician in his own right. His interest in music began early. As a winner of a youth competition when he was 12, Clutterham played one movement of a Beethoven concerto with the Florida Symphony. He also enjoyed improvisation and pop tunes.  

By his senior year in high school, Clutterham says, “I knew I was going to be a professional musician.” For a summer job after graduation, he produced and performed in his own piano recital.  

“I promoted it, I found a hall. I made about as much as I would have if I had been working in a fast food chain,” he tells.

Since his retirement from an agency position, Clutterham says he is now spending more time on his creative interests. This coming January, the Downey Symphony Orchestra will premiere Clutterham’s new composition, "New Horizons."

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Carolyn Osborn, principal violinist for the Downey Symphony Orchestra and soloist for the concert in October, has played for many film scores, including "Spider-Man: Homecoming," "Star Wars Rogue One," "Jurassic World," and "Coco," a new Pixar movie coming out in November.

Speaking about film work, Osborn says, “When it’s a good score and a fun movie, it is the best!” A fun part is when “they are showing the film as we are recording to it, so you get to see what the film looks like in very small pieces. When you have a great composer, it is fascinating to see how they make changes as necessary until it is just right.”

Twenty-first century film music is a lot different from the organ accompaniment used for silent films. More than a few film composers are known for their wildly different work in bands. Danny Elfman ("Batman") was the lead singer and songwriter for Oingo Boingo, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross ("The Social Network," "The Vietnam War") perform as Nine Inch Nails.

Prolific composer Hans Zimmer ("The Lion King," "The Dark Knight Rises"), who once played keyboards and synthesizers with the band Krakatoa, says he was self-taught. In a nod to another master, Zimmer says, “John Williams made me realize film music can be as great as the classical composers.”

Despite his own lifetime of achievement, including an Academy Award for "The Lion King," Zimmer still voices some feelings of anxiety about the creative process. “I have no idea where the music comes from,” he says. “I’m always afraid someone’s going to turn off the tap.”

People don’t need a musical background to comprehend and enjoy the subject of the movie "Score." The inside look at an orchestra recording session at AIR Studios in London is exceptional. Housed in a historic church, AIR Studios is state-of the-art and one of the largest studios of its kind.  

The process of bringing such well-known music to theaters around the world will be a revelation for most people.  Movie and music lovers and family members of all ages will enjoy this free screening. For the full schedule go to glennfest.com/schedule/