Communication is vital between filmmaker and composer |

Communication is vital between filmmaker and composer

The relationship between filmmakers and composers is just as important as the relationship between filmmakers and the rest of the crew.

The difference is filmmakers and composers usually have just a few weeks, and in some cases, a few days to work on an important element in film, the score.

That was the case of "Don Verdean" filmmaker Jared Hess and composer Ilan Esherki.

"We hadn’t even done the music when we got the call that the film was in the [Sundance Film] Festival," Hess said during the 17th annual BMI "Music & Film: The Creative Process" roundtable panel that was held at the Filmmaker’s Lodge on Tuesday. "So we had to do it very quickly."

Other topics discussed included communication, working remotely and creativity.

The panel, moderated by Doreen Ringer-Ross, vice president of film/TV relations for BMI, also featured 23 artists including composer H. Scott Salinas and director Matthew Heineman of "Cartel Land," composer Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum and director Nikole Beckwith of "Stockholm, Pennsylvania," composer Bryan Senti and director Michael Almereyda of "Experimenter;" composer Miriam Cutler of "The Hunting Ground," composer Peter Golub, director Chloé Zhao of "Songs My Brother Taught Me" and composer Mark Orton and director Jim Strouse of "People, Places, Thing," to name a few.

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Like with any great relationship, everyone agreed the main thing that makes the filmmaker and composer collaborations work is communication.

Hess, whose film is a comedy about a biblical archaeologist, confessed to not being musical and found different ways to communicate with Esherki.

"I found I used the terms ballsy and less ballsy and sucky," Hess said, which garnered loud laughter. "I think I sang a few themes and asked if he could make it go ‘eeeeayaee.’"

Esherkiliked how Hess got his point across.

"For me that’s more useful," the composer said. "I would much rather have that than someone try to tell me, ‘Hey, should that note go up?’ or ‘Should that note go down?’ I just want them to tell me what they want for the scene and then I’ll decide whether or not the notes go up or down."

Hess and Esherki, and many of the other collaborators, had an added burden of working remotely from each other.

"He was in London and I was in Utah, and God bless him," Hess said.

Orton, who lives in Oregon, and Strouse, who is stations in New York, experienced a similar situation, and met face to face for the first time at this year’s festival.

"It’s critical that the communication is established early on," Orton said. "It’s not that I wouldn’t like to be in every room with every director and gauge their visceral reaction to my cues, but I like living in Portland and biking around.

"Sadly, there are many directors I have never met who live in Europe," he said. "That’s just the reality of it."

One of the secrets of making a successful score is being open to inspiration.

"When I read the description of ‘Stockholm, Pennsylvania,’ before I saw anything or before we had any conversation, I worked out the harmony for the opening of the film," said Kroll-Rosenbaum. "This idea of a girl returning from captivity of being kidnapped had very strong harmonic language.

"I’m really interested in ancient music and harmony that doesn’t resolve," she said. "And those were like a jumping-off point."

There are other times inspiration will come during an every-day routine, Cutler said.

"Once I’ve been exposed to the narrative of a story, I could be walking down the street or hear a song from a car or the rhythm of a jackhammer and feel ‘That’s it!’" she said. "I also remember hearing some heavy-duty new music that was all brass and I was working on a horror movie at the time. I thought that sounded like horror-movie music and felt very inspired."

The BMI "Music & Film" roundtable discussion was presented before an audience of musicians, composers, filmmakers and Sundance Film Festival credential holders as space allowed.

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