Common and Patrick Warren discuss creating the score for Sundance feature ‘Alice’
Musicians speak of their collaboration during BMI’s Score to Screen panel
Composer Patrick Warren compares movies to songs that need music.
“Sometimes you can look at a film like a lyric and ask, ‘How can I shine a light on this?’” Warren said on Sunday during the first BMI Score to Screen panel discussion of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. “It’s not that different from making records for me.”
The panel featured Warren and award-winning actor, songwriter and composer Common, who collaborated on the score for Krystin Ver Linden’s feature “Alice,” which is currently streaming at this year’s festival.
The film is about a woman, played by Keke Palmer, who escapes a life of slavery, but finds things aren’t what they seem, according to Alex Flores, senior vice president of BMI creative, who introduced the panel.
Common, who also acts in “Alice,’ shared his and Warren’s creative process on the film during the panel.
His road to creating the film’s music came after he and Ver Linden, who wrote and directed “Alice,” sat down for a talk.
“She told me how much she had been into some of my music and some different music while she was writing (the script),” Common said. “It was cool to hear about how a writer would use music to help her create. I just loved her perspective, energy and taste.”
Common then had discussions with the film’s producer, Peter Lawson, about actually composing the score.
Since it was his first time scoring a film, Common reached out to Warren, who he had worked with before.
“That’s when I had to make that call to you Patrick,” Common said during the panel. “You had more experience in this.”
Warren’s music can be heard in films such as “Magnolia,” “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “Boogie Nights” and “Red State,” and he’s also worked with musicians such as Liz Phair, Stevie Nicks and The Wallflowers.
“No one would know that this was your first film, because you captained that ship like you’ve been doing it your whole life,” Warren told Common. “You have more musical knowledge of every genre of music than most music supervisors I’ve ever met. So it’s super easy to follow your directions. Working with you was the most fun I’ve ever had in seven days.”
Common brought in other artists, including Karriem Riggins, composer Burniss Travis, Belgian artist Marie Daulne of Zap Mama and jazz musician James Carter, to add some depth to the score. And he allowed Warren to experiment.
Because “Alice” starts off in what audiences think is the 1800s in the woods in Georgia, Warren reached for instruments that might have existed during that time.
“The opening scene we see is what we think is a wedding, so we threw in a pump organ, and we also had a stage with flutes and harp,” he said. “We started introducing organic, acoustic instruments in small, and it takes us on this ride out that would end up someplace later.”
The musicians, with the blessing of the director, set up an environment where they could “try anything,” Warren said.
“You called these people together and there was so much creative energy,” he said. “When a piece of the film went up, there were three people trying (different) things at the same time. There was so much energy and freedom to go where they wanted. And that’s a blessing from the director to let us do that.”
Common thrived on the creative energy during these sessions.
“I’ve never gotten up so early to get into the studio, and I would get to the studio excited,” he said. “I felt like we were getting into moments where we would look at pieces of the film and scenes and just jammed to get there in a way. One of the musicians would interpret something and we would build it from there. I thought that was a cool process.”
Common’s involvement with “Alice” came from his manager, who sent him a script.
“To be honest, I called him before I got to page 20, and said, ‘You know I don’t like doing movies that are based in plantation times and slavery,’ and he was like, ‘Could you at least get to page 30?’” Common said with a laugh. “I think it was page 33, where the movie took a whole turn. I loved the turn. I loved the story after I continued to read it, because we think it takes place in the 1800s but it also gives hints that something might exist outside of the world.”
“Otherworldly” is how Ver Linden described it to Common.
“That’s such a vast and broad thing to create,” he said. “And I kept saying I want this to be like nothing that has existed before.”
Warren said working on the score wasn’t much different than making records, but did have some creative surprises.
“The film was like a singer in a way,” he said. “When you called in James Carter, he brought in this instrument that was essentially a sax that was so much lower than a baritone. That was otherworldly, and (when) we introduced that, you knew something was going to start happening.”
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For information about BMI Score to Screen Panel Discussions, visit festival.sundance.org/program/#search-results?id=score%20to%20screen
For information about BMI, visit bmi.com.
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