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Postby STEWART on 28 Sep 2006 20:27

Warning: This report isn’t as exiting as some of my previous ones. This is, after all, my day job, but some of you may be interested in the seamy underside of film music. It’s usually more of a breeze than it was on this occasion! This gig had the added unstated threat that if I didn’t get it right Anjelica would turn me into a rat. Anyone remember THE WITCHES?

Scoring With Anjelica
March 9, 2005

This was a gig that arrived very quickly. At about four o’clock in the afternoon my manager, Derek Power tells me about a movie produced by Larry Sanitsky, an old friend of his and directed by Anjelica Huston. Sounds cool. I once sat next to Anjelica on a trans-Atlantic flight and we got along famously.

First thing next morning Derek is on the phone again. Have I watched the movie? Um, it just arrived by Fed Ex. So I watch the movie.

It is a three-hanky tearjerker starring Rosie O’Donnell as the retarded sister of a sleek power bitch played by Andie McDowell. It is a very emotional piece and O’Donnell eats up the screen. At the end of the film, just as the end-credits begin, and as I’m reaching for my fourth hanky, the phone rings again. It’s Larry Sanitsky, the producer. Can we meet at my place in, say, half an hour? “Sure” I sob.

Anjelica and Larry soon arrive and we all yuck over how Anjelica and I have both been dining out on how we slept together over the ocean. Does this make us members of the Mile High Club?

We get down to business and spot the movie. This is where we map out where the music is going to go and what it’s going to say. We talk at length about the meaning and sub-meaning of each scene how the music can impart, imply, illuminate or even obscure the different threads of the story.

Anjelica is leaving town for ten days so I’ll have the score pretty much completed by the time I show her anything. This is good because I can really tweak it before the first show-and-tell but bad because I may go down a wrong path and waste effort. Usually, I like to do about a third of the score and then get some feedback earlier in the process. This is a new client and music can hit people in unpredictable ways.

Well, I have a terrific week. Scoring is fun and this is a good film. I’ve been doing a lot of comedy lately and this deep emotional stuff makes a change. When actors direct, you know the performances will sing. Actually, very little music is needed. Rosie and Andie don’t need much help from me this time.

After the composing phase I call up my favorite players and start recording. For this score I call Michael Thompson for guitar, a small string ensemble led by Charlie Bisharat, and my all round Swiss army knife of music, Judd Miller.

On the appointed day Larry and Anjelica arrive for the first show-and-tell. It’s time to face the music.
I sit them down and ply them with coffee and cakes (blood sugar saturation is good for business).
The first thing they hear is the main title music. It’s an up beat piece and I can see that their toes are tapping and they have assumed appreciative body postures. This is good.

Soon however, as we get into the movie, a cold chill has entered the room. I normally play all of the music cues in a row so that the director can get the overall picture before going back to discuss each cue individually. By the time we get to the end of the first pass, the temperature has dropped thirty degrees. There is silence in the room but the body language is growling. Uh Oh. I have already mentally rearranged my up-coming week since I know that I’ll be re-scoring this movie. Or not.

Tempting as it may be, to meet un-love with outraged indignation at the non-appreciation of my work, it is actually smarter to be suave. There are just a couple of things wrong but since they apply to cue after cue, by the end of the presentation these faults have the curse of Magog upon them.

One offender is the rack of cymbals and crotales that I like to use for an atmosphere of magic nostalgia. I probably mixed them a little hot but if you decide not to like them, they cut through everything. Cue after cue. The biggest surprise is Larry’s reaction to all of Judd’s stuff. He spots the sampleness of it instantly. I have NEVER been busted for Judd’s work before. I rely heavily in all of my scores on Judd’s ability to give me rich woodwinds and brass (as well as all other kinds of weird drones, and wails) that he plays with great sensitivity. Although I congratulate Larry on his eagle ears, I silently suspect him of having peeked behind my curtain. For cue after cue Larry is like a Puritan fingering witches. Out Fake Instruments! Out! And just to rub it in he keeps referring to Judd’s lovingly recorded and crafted and performed samples as “synthesizers”.

Anjelica has just one problem. It’s the fundamental approach of the composition. Since the actors on the screen are creating much of their own music, I have just given them wafts of atmosphere (the accursed crotales and woodwinds) with unconnected pangs from a solo acoustic guitar. Wrong. Being Irish, Anjelica needs actual melody. A waft here and a sprangle there would work well for many directors but not if they are Celts.

To their credit, neither Larry nor Anjelica appears to be panicked by this parade of dud cues and they leave the studio mollified by the remedies that I have smoothly proposed. I award myself a D- for the presentation and then start rescoring the entire movie. Whole new composing concept, whole new sound palette.

Meanwhile, there is the issue of a song that is required for one scene in the movie. It’s a three-minute scene of the two sisters frolicking by the lake and rediscovering their love for each other. It is the emotional center of the movie. My job is to commission a songwriter, find a singer and record an original track. There is a process for this. Pro songwriters will normally work on spec for this kind of thing since a good song can have many uses (if we don’t use it) and having one appear on network TV in an Emmy potential movie is good enough bait to get several guys across town competing for the gig. A couple of the guys stabbing at it have won awards and had big hits. This ought to be easy…

Well, I have a productive week. Scoring can be challenging work and I’m not as fresh as I was the first time around, but at least I’m better educated as to the proclivities of the client. I write some actual melodies and get my players back (except Judd). As I work, songs are beginning to arrive via email.
One of them is hand delivered by the most unlikely contestant of all, a slightly scraggly and darkly mysterious young woman. Very young, very non-industry.

After completing the second pass at the score I collect up the four songs that have arrived and lay them against the scene. Two of them just plain suck, one of them is right on the money, and one of them has a mysterious, haunting charm that works not with picture. Pity, it’s got a kind of charisma to it. All of the other three, written by flinty eyed professionals, follow the contours of the scene perfectly. Even the ones that suck soar when the scene lifts and duck when the scene goes to dialogue. The haunting one just sits there.

Now it’s time for round two with the director and producer. They are in good cheer as they arrive and I briskly caffeinate and seat them. Then I hit PLAY on my keypad…

I run down the cues, one after another, without stopping for comment. The body language is not bad. Every now and then Larry’s head jerks to a forty-five degree angle (skeptical) but mostly, he’s relaxed. Anjelica is leaning forward intensely (engaged). I figure, anything less than major improvement would be reflected by morose hunching of the shoulders, brooding forward tilt of the head, ugly sideways glances.

When we get to the song scene, none of the submissions pass muster. They are just too straight, too perfect. Except for the strange one, which is kind of cool but just sits there.

With the score, Anjelica declares herself pleased. She likes the tunes and the sounds and looks very relieved to have something to work with. Most directors leave the studio happy at this point. Anjelica is just getting started. We spend the rest of the afternoon microscoping each cue. She is fixed like a laser on the pace and nuance of every line of dialogue. Although she likes the music I wrote, she likes even more to move it around like paint on a palette. She cheerfully moves cues around, switching them, mixing and nixing them. After mashing down the entire length of the movie, she and Larry leave, exhausted but happy.

All I have to do now is tidy up after the carnage. Wherever we grabbed phrases and pasted them here and there, I have to smoosh the seams and make beautiful the new transitions.

On the song front, two more wrong songs have arrived and I’m starting to worry. Meanwhile the hippy tune is reappearing in my head. I give Jesca Hoop a call and she comes right over. I put her song against the picture and try to explain the dynamic of music and movies. When the scene goes up the music needs to go UP, I gesticulate. Lift, Rise, Swell, Release, Grow, UP. Although it appears that the words coming out of my mouth are Chinese to her, she nods vaguely and offers to take another stab. It needs to go up.

Next day she comes back with a new version. I put it up to picture. At the place where it should go up, it becomes more beautiful. Very beautiful in fact, but not UP.

Over the course of the next week Larry and Anjelica come over several more times. I think they like my place. My studio, situated on a leafy knoll, is a large square tower with windows on all sides. Facing the ample screen and terrifying array of speakers is a large couch, from which directors love to play with music. Who wouldn’t?

Most of the score is done by now but there is one scene that evades us. Anjelica has the idea of using an ancient Irish air (melodies that are ancient are always bankable) so I find a version of SHE MOVES THROUGH THE FAIR. Michael comes back and plays it like a leprechaun. Just one mournful solo acoustic guitar with long reverb. Everybody in the room is weeping. How about if we try laying it over some of those other scenes…?

For the song there is only one way forward. I strap Jesca’s demo (which is just her voice and an acoustic guitar) on to my computer, figure out the tempo, analyze her finger picking guitar part, and insert a section of my own device that goes UP. I build up the backing track with drums, bass, electric guitar and whatever else I can throw into the pot. I give her the track, which has a piano tune indicating a melodic line for the new section, and she goes away to write some more lyrics.

By the time she comes back and sings all her stuff into my fancy microphones, this song is beginning to really pop. She has a great voice and her pitch is good enough for her to stack up some pretty oblique harmonies. Time for the Huston/Sanitsky shredder. Actually the bosses are pretty happy with the song but how about if we take that cool part which goes “Yeah, Yeeaagh” and put it over this shot? And that second verse sounds a bit vocally light. How about if we get a big black voice to sing the song? Ooookey.

Damn, at three o’clock, the day before the dub (which is the giant mixing session for all of the music, sound effects and dialogue) I have to find a black lady singer. Vicky Randles, my favorite, is out of town so I have to take a chance on a stranger. Actually, two of them, since the first sounds like Ethel Merman and we have to find another. Finally, Alex Brown comes over and is able to match Jesca’s exotic phrasing, adding that rich black timbre to the vocals.

On the morning of the dub, the bosses swing past my studio to check out the song. Eureka! Huzzah! It’s good! How about if we take the Yeah Yeeaagh’s and put them over the end section? No problemo. With a trifling flick of sound editing we are at the finish line! With bittersweet hugs and kisses I bid them good speed at the dub and they leave. Aaaaaaaaaghhh. Jeff Seitz, my engineer staggers off to pick up the threads of his life. I quit the applications; decouple the crevulators and power down the hard drives.

For the first time in weeks I notice that the birds are singing outside my window. The sunshine is dappling gently through the trees on a gorgeous California morning. I waft down to my Jeep and glide down the valley to Venice Beach for coffee and a newspaper. Lunch by the pier stretches into a meandering afternoon of idleness and light contemplation. I’ve got a hot date with Fiona tonight, so I eventually head home but on the way, I stop by the studio. There are six messages for me. Larry and Anjelica want to know if we could…

It airs on May 1, 2005
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Postby Mrs. Gradenko on 29 Sep 2006 00:52

Anjelica and Larry soon arrive and we all yuck over how Anjelica and I have both been dining out on how we slept together over the ocean. Does this make us members of the Mile High Club?[/b]
Theres not allot of room in thoes bathrooms to maneuver. lol

Now that I think about it, wern't you still maried to Fiona?

[quote]Scoring can be challenging work and I’m not as fresh as I was the first time around, but at least I’m better educated as to the proclivities of the client. [/quote]
I'll leave that alone. :wink:
“...and er, did anyone try just pushing this little red button?”
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Postby georgygirl on 01 Oct 2006 00:51

Very interesting tale about your work.

You really know how to finish it.

The end text really motivates anyone. :wink:
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¡Salvajilla Pelous!
¡The Cosmic Race!
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Postby georgygirl on 03 Oct 2006 05:19

By the way, I wonder how this studio looks like?

I suppose is pretty cool to make great music :mrgreen:
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Postby Divemistress of the Dark on 03 Oct 2006 15:44

You guys are TERRIBLE! Sheez! ;)

I confess I had read this before, but I enjoyed seeing it again. I started to cut/paste a few of my more favorite turns of phrase, but I quickly ran out of room on the clipboard...

I think these are plenty interesting. I can see I'm just going to need to rent a whole slew of films Stewart's scored so I can compare and contrast. One I remember right off is "Riff Raff" by Ken Loach, a flick I loved the first time I saw it. Come to think of it, I'm going to throw it on the pile with "Rhythmatist" when I get home...

(I'm out of town in a hotel, trying to study scuba material but distracted by various political scandals on TV...)
On Google - "your keyword here" - thanks DM!!
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Postby Divemistress of the Dark on 03 Oct 2006 15:47

(Hm...I notice I can't "edit" in this forum, a bummer, since I usually craft and re-craft my posts...I'm verbose in real life and it's a way to keep myself from droning on and on...)

Was just going to echo Georgy's questions about the studio. It'd be interesting to know what one actually uses to craft these things. I'm a dab hand at GarageBand myself, but I'm imagining Stewart has some Macintoshes that'd put my MDD dual processor G5 to shame...;)
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Postby BongoBoy on 18 Oct 2006 18:20

from what I have heard Stewart really knows his applications, Pro Tools for audio edits, Final Cut visual edits, etc. I struggle along with Pro Tools myself and I find recording it is OK but mixing it tough. I am used to the old fashioned console with big buttons and faders, this new fangled world is tough to keep up with.

That's why I love reading stuff like this, pretty impressive...and I hear he can drum (or something) as well.

Next time you need a song Stewart just let me know, I have songs that really, really suck. Don't waste your time with those L.A. pro's who can write, waste your time with a constant struggling Canadian musician, really though, I think maybe most of my songs do suck. Oh by the way, in my circles "sucks" means really Flash! (ha!).

That's my style Man! (heh,heh).

GREAT READ STEW! - do more tales like this one.

Cheers - Russ.
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Bill Belknap Tulsa

Postby BILL BELKNAP on 10 Feb 2007 06:33

Hi Stewart,
Bill Belknap here. Rumblefish companion. My wife doesn't believe I know you. Would you set her straight?
Best of luck on Grammy night!

Bill Belknap
Same ol' city
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Postby jedsoon on 16 Mar 2007 19:56

Whew... i can't imagine scoring for anybody but myself or a good friend. Maybe it's something i could get used to, if it was even an option at this point!
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Postby alexiscu on 23 Mar 2007 20:57

Hi Stew

Thanks or this really insightful story.

Anyway, good luck with the new Police ventures.
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Postby alexiscu on 23 Mar 2007 20:58

Hi Stew

Thanks for this really insightful story.

Anyway, good luck with the new Police ventures.
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sweets, caffeine and a good laugh

Postby peacock100 on 03 Apr 2007 03:37

Hello, this is my first post and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading about your personal accounts with your career and life. I was confused why you would serve the sweets and caffeine to your clients? Those two culprits would definitely raise the blood pressure. Next time you meet with Anjelica try fresh exotic fruits with a nice African rooibos tea. She supposedly grows her own fruit trees on her ranch so most likely appreciates the nectars of life. You’ll win brownie points by serving these alone! Just a little hostess hint that I’ve learned.

So, I have to admit, I have not been as loyal of a follower as I could have been. I lost track of you after the Police split up in my Senior year of High School. I was absolutely devastated. There was a group of us young hormonal teenage girls that were loyal Stewart Copeland fans. I am sure there are thousands of us out there. We bought every poster and magazine that featured you. We went to every concert that hit our home town and made sure to throw something on the stage for our man Stewart. We covered our rooms with your face. Your face was probably the kissing ground before we experienced the real thing! We loved you from afar, loyal and dedicated fans we were. Twenty-two years later, I actually got the chance to see you up close and personal at the Cineaquest Festival in San Jose California. Front row, can’t get closer than that unless I was actually sitting in the interviewer’s seat! Talk about a binder full of questions! I learned so much about you that evening and where you are now, it was like as if all these years caught up into 1 hours time! You may not know this, but as I stood in line 45 minutes early in front of the California Theatre, the business owner of the Hooka Pipe Café was getting ready to open up his business and said, “wow I’ve been here for over 5 years, and I have never seen the line go back this far…” He didn’t know what was going on or who was going to be appearing at the theatre. I just smiled, because it was like ‘my man Stewart didn’t need the entire band to pave his way, he’s made it on his own, just like I knew he would’.

I am one of the lucky ones that got tickets to the Oakland, CA concert that sold out in 20 minutes. I am bringing one of those hormonal teenage girls that I hung out with back in our younger years. Maybe we’ll get lucky and get a chance to throw something special on the stage in your honor, just for kicks! We promise not to knock out Sting…lol
Dance like no one is watching.
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Scoring with Angelica

Postby visions on 12 Apr 2007 16:09

Dear Stewart,

This story is not boring, in fact I really enjoyed to see what you do as an everyday job. I have seen interviews and read a lot of interviews and you have a incredible passion to your nature and express it so well, that's why you can play drums and compose music and express yourself . You believe in what you do, that is a gift. Do not ever lose that faith in yourself because I will never lose that faith in your skill.
You give so much pleasure to other people. When I am blue or down, I just go to my study and listern to the Police and it gives me great pleasure.
I lot of my favourite songs are ones you wrote and because of that sense of honour you have.

You rock and don't let any one tell you any different,

your Aussie fan from down under.
Kiss me you fool
Hopping around like a floozie
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Re: Bill Belknap Tulsa

Postby Punkjunk on 25 Apr 2007 01:21

[quote="BILL BELKNAP"]Hi Stewart,
Bill Belknap here. Rumblefish companion. My wife doesn't believe I know you. Would you set her straight?
Best of luck on Grammy night!

Bill Belknap
Same ol' city[/quote]

God, I was wondering when someone was going to mention [b]Rumblefish[/b]. I bought that soundtrack the minute it came out, and I sure wish I could find it now on CD. ANYONE!
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Silly Stewart, it is interesting!

Postby Marcela on 25 Apr 2007 21:00

I would never know how this process works and I am a film buff. I mean, yes, I can read about the technical aspects but not the daily reality of dealing with the directors, producers, etc. Very cool. And you write very well, so please, please, write a book about your life. I liked Andy's a lot (won't read Sting's). Then I can spend hours with you and your thoughts, further falling hopelessly in love with you.
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