I had heard of the memoir, Brain on Fire, for a while and was very intrigued. I find medical stories to be very interesting, and was reading a good deal of books that hovered around the medical and mental health topics over this past summer.
Once I started reading Brain on Fire, I couldn’t put it down. Compelling, frightening, and at times almost unbelievable, Susannah Cahalan’s story gripped me. The voice in her writing was so particular, I found myself gasping or cringing while reading it on the bus.
Cahalan is a journalist, which one can clearly see when reading her memoir. Her detail and attention to documentation, as if she weren’t writing about herself at times, is candid and honest. This is one point that struck me about her story. She didn’t hide moments in this journey that were embarrassing. As her brain seemingly begins to betray her, she recalls this crescendo of madness through every turn and hurdle.
This, and the eventual diagnosis, left me astounded. Not only was I craving more information on her condition, anti–NMDA–receptor autoimmune encephalitis, I wanted to raise awareness about it to others. Story upon story filled my computer monitor as I researched the condition, and I learned about others who had been long misdiagnosed. During Cahalan’s struggle, a doctor named Souhel Najjar unraveled the mystery by having her draw a simple sketch, but it may have saved her life. Other stories can be found here on Cahalan‘s site.
Once again, I am so happy to have the opportunity to speak to and learn from someone so inspiring, and with such an amazing story. Susannah Cahalan agreed to speak to me via phone for an interview, and you can read the full story here on Blast Bombshell.
When did women decide that the size or price of a rock made you any more special than you already are?
Well, women didn’t, originally. Men, history, jewelry stores, you get the idea.
I have to admit that the wedding industrial complex makes me cranky. Instead of having a wedding for love, people get wrapped up in the Wedding as a Production, and the Show, and the Carefully Crafted Photos for Social Media, and the Facebook Status of the Engagement, and the Pinterest Facade of What It Will Be, and The Photos Of How Much You Love Everything That Make Me Wonder Why You Have To Publicize Yourself Like An Ad Campaign If You’re Really Happy.
Maybe part of me feels like the current state of (anti) social media makes us all that much more fake and show off-y, but it’s also the culture of ‘reality’ television, where anyone should be interesting enough to have a show about themselves.
The tradition of the engagement ring is kind of, in my opinion, like sticking a price tag on a lady. Thankfully, things have changed a bit and, no, I am not against engagement rings or weddings. I’m disturbed by people getting married just because they feel like they should, or because someone “should just put a ring on it”, or because you’re comparing yourself to how many people are engaged on Facebook, or because you want to have the Wedding Show.
I personally am not gaga over the way diamonds look, or how they’re cultivated, so I know that may seem odd. But I know lots of women who have opted for engagement rings that are diamond free, and they shouldn’t get flack for it.
If you haven’t heard of it, let me get you up to speed.
The lovely Lake Bell noticed that there are few female voice over artists for feature film trailers. As she stated in this NPR piece:
“It’s still an ambition … I get in front of this microphone right now, and I get very excited. But I was always interested in the idea that the omniscient voice was always considered male. This sound that’s telling you what to buy, what to think, how to feel about what bank to have, or what kind of car, or what movie to see — so I thought it would be an interesting protagonist to have a female vocal coach who would sort of aspire to take on this world.”
While I had wanted to get into a recording studio internship for music back in the day, I quickly fell into the world of voice overs. And it was a harsh landing at first.
My first internship, if you could call it that, was at a broadcasting company that owned a cluster of radio stations. I could only go in once a week, because I was working at a HAM radio repair shop full time as well (which I loved) and shared a car with my sister. Assigned to the Friday morning show, I also couldn’t make it in before dawn. I admit that those two factors probably already stuck me as the least favorite intern (on top of the fact that my supervisor constantly reminded me how much he despised Emerson students) but, frankly, I was trying hard and not everyone can afford to work for free and have their own car in college. That’s life.
So, I would get in at 7 AM for the Top 40 channel’s morning show, help that wrap up (program the rest of the show), record some stuff, and then head over to the traffic department for the class rock channel, and sort through broadcast times for advertisements.
Most of the post morning show recording was for local companies and their advertisements, or public service announcements. One man, who owned a sporting good store, insisted on speaking the words to Queen’s “Bicycle Race” for his bike sale. He couldn’t remember the words, so decided to find the video on the studio computer, to everyone’s dismay (if you recall the amount of ladies not wearing clothing in this video, it’s not quite safe for work). Another man insisted on having an arena rock guitarist from the 70s do the jingle for his advertisement.
And then, one day, we received a public service announcement script for a children’s home. My supervisor decided to have me do it.
Halfway through the recording, he snatched the script and huffily announced that, “nobody can understand you with your speech impediment.”
That was it, and I was sent to the traffic department. I was hurt by how rude he was but also because I had never mentioned that I have a speech impediment! I’d gone to speech therapy as a kid, but had since done theater and improv and nobody had ever brought it up.
I thought of this incident after watching In a World, because it is true that enunciation and articulation in the voice over world is so strict. What I consider my first real internship was at a studio where I mainly assisted with voice overs for shows like Animal Planet, The Discovery Channel, or VH1, as well as press and music sessions. My last internship was at one of Boston’s largest studios, where they mostly focus on advertisements, voice overs, ADR, etc. My only time there actually participating with any voice over was when a major cruise line needed the voice of a child in the mix. That would be 21 year old me.
I have to say there were lots of women who did voice over work there, and a woman who also taught a class there after hours, much like Bell’s character in the film.
It’s often assumed that voice over work is easy. People have scoffed at me when I’ve talked about my job (later recording voice overs for ebooks and educational games) and referred to the individuals I’m recording as voice actors or voice talent. However, I wonder if they would snicker if these actors were voicing cartoons? Somehow, if you aren’t doing someone’s voice, a la Mufasa or Buzz Lightyear, people think it’s funny to call yourself an actor for doing voice over work. If you think it’s easy, try sitting in on voice over auditions for television. Ok, maybe you think you’re good at it but, by golly, there are a lot of people who can’t put emotion or personality into reading lines. It’s true! It’s hard when you can’t act with your body language and facial expression, and it’s not just silly voices and emphasizing syllables.
You have to think about tone and pacing..a lot. You have to make sure your breathing is steady. If you’re a woman, you have to make sure you don’t sound like a girl. If you’re a boy…that’s a whole other trick. We tried to cast for a young boy once, but every boy who was old enough to read the script well had an ever changing vocal timbre and tone. Every boy that sounded good was too young to sit with us for long. I ended up working with a grown woman who used to voice a little boy cartoon (scientist!) on Nickelodeon, but then our project was cancelled. Still, the process was fascinating to me.
I’ve worked with a good deal of people who are great at what they do. I know a lot of them also do voice over work for television, radio, phone services, etc. However, I see Bell’s point. I thought back on all of the advertisement or television sessions I sat in on. Outside of a health insurance advertisement and a windshield glass jingle, I only recall men coming in for these voices. I have to say I saw a lot more diversity in the educational media I’ve recorded or edited voice overs for, and that is telling to me.
It’s an odd niche, and In a World brought to light some things I never stopped to think about. I think Bell is incredibly talented as a voice actor, too, and I also appreciated her attention to wanting women to speak confidently, not like little girls who are always asking questions, instead of making statements.
Spoiler Alert Possible Here:
In the end we are really proud of her character, but when we find out why she has been singled out it’s a bit of a groan. Unfortunately, it’s not unrealistic, in my opinion. I know a lot of women, including myself, who have worked in male dominated fields and often been afraid that we were chosen just to get a female in there, over our talent or portfolio. Is that worth it? To get the ball rolling on females in an industry, so to speak?
I guess you’ll have to watch the film and let me know what you think.
Today I was once again reminded of a strange standard we hold in our society.
Perhaps you have heard of this Boston area teaching assistant who has recently been in hot water with her employer due to her second job as a model.
Or, you may have heard of this horribly horrible terribly horrible quite horrible sexist horrible horribly terrible man (and I link to terrible because I associate him more with terrible than with man, honestly) who was finally arrested after threatening and harassing countless women, publicly declaring to ruin their lives. This guy would go out of his way to find scandalous photos of women, or Photoshop and just create fake scandalous photos of women, just to gleefully watch as their careers plummeted because of his doing.
Are these top two stories related? Not sure. But you know what else happened today? Justin Bieber was arrested, and I bet more people were up in arms over this than what is happening in Kiev, because he is a celebrity and an entertainer. And ok, I get that. I work with entertainment, and I know a boatload of entertainers. I’m humbled and honored by some of the artists I have worked with or met and discussed with. Heck, I am humbled by my own bandmates.
If you read my blog, you know that I am often disgruntled by the perception of a career in the arts in modern society, and how hard it can be to make a career as a performer.
However, I also get quite worked up over how much is expected from our educators and how quick our society is to hate on teachers. How many other professions require you to be college educated, sometimes with a required master’s degree, certified by state, and to continue education after you land a job…but then pay less than the majority of other jobs that require this type of skill set? And then ask you to be a teacher, parent, friend, and more? To monitor bullying…when children are not in your classroom? To be blamed for your student’s grades, and threatened by standardized testing? The list goes on.
And on top of this, an educator has to monitor their outside of work activity to minute detail. Even being a musician outside of school can be a huge problem, and I know this from my friends who perform and also teach in schools. Not just because they have to watch the image they put out there outside of the school district, but because students will bully them online. Yes. Your child may have the gall to go on their teacher’s music page and make fun of them and harass them! Isn’t that nice? That’s a whole other issue, though. Bullying has become such an online event that it’s impossible for teachers and schools to keep it under control when the majority of bullying occurs on social media, when children are in their parents homes or hanging out with friends.
Speaking of bullying. All of these teachers, or even other women, who lose jobs or come under fire for their other jobs…yes, we can admit that Kaitlin Pearson’s photos were risky and risque. Does it impact how well she can teach, or help students with special needs? I don’t know her, but I am guessing not. So, for all of the people saying Weiner or Spitzer or Clinton’s outside of work activities had nothing to do with how well they perform their jobs…would you say the same for Pearson? Or does it matter more to you because she worked in a school? And if you’re holding a school on a higher pedestal than the White House, does that re-evaluate your thoughts on teachers at all?
This leads me to another point that constantly irritates me. Again, let me stress how I think our society’s slant on math and science over arts is messy. However, how can modeling ruin your career when your job is teaching, but drugs, DUI, theft, domestic violence, etc, seem to do little harm to those in entertainment? You may say it is because teachers directly influence children and young adults. To which I say…and celebrities don’t?
Chris Brown still had a career after his incident with Rihanna. Michael Vick? Lindsay Lohan? Paris? Little Wayne? Is it because we put these people on such a pedestal due to celebrity, that these run ins don’t have such stopping power in a career? You may argue that these people have not had the same career they once had, but they still work in the same industry. What pop star gets arrested for drunk driving and is forever banished from Hollywood? Heck, throw everyone in a room together and you have another low budget, no brainer reality show.
What I am getting at is…sneeze the wrong way and you can lose your teaching job.
Hit someone with a car while high as a kite in Cloud City? You might have to do a Lifetime movie, or a 20/20 interview.
Fiddler on the Roof is for everybody. Hear me out.
A few weeks ago I was talking about Fiddler on the Roof, and how much I love the show and music. I was provided with the argument that one cannot truly connect to Fiddler on the Roof if one is not Jewish. I see the point, but disagree at the same time.
I don’t consider myself religious. But even I find scenes like the Sabbath Prayer to be beautiful cultural and musical moments.
I was constantly aware of the show through music education in school, local productions, and then performing the show when I was in high school. In college I decided to make the show the center of a research paper on interfaith marriage, which was incredibly interesting…and simultaneously heartbreaking.
Maybe it’s because I am not religious that I don’t see this piece of art as something wholly connected to a god. I understand and respect the connection my Jewish friends have to this show.
As a child, teenager, and even now…I see this show in a way that is important to various types of people. I see it as a strong portrayal of (many) cultures who have struggled and how important it is to accept everyone. I see it as a great way to educate people about another culture and old traditions. I see it as a great album of music. I see it as a show that represents many themes that hit families, no matter the religion: generations, growing up, standing up to racism, accepting people despite tradition, and moving on with life.
When viewing “Sunrise, Sunset” on Youtube, I see many users commenting on how they used this song for their own weddings or wedding anniversaries. I wonder how many of them are Jewish, or if the song transcends that theme for them the way it does for me.
Not to mention the Chava Sequence. I swear when we did that portion of the show there wasn’t a parent in the audience who didn’t get a little teary eyed.
I for one am very glad that I had teachers who exposed me to this show at a young age. I already had Jewish friends when I was very little, but I noticed how many kids were totally isolated from that once I grew up. I was shocked to hear Jewish and Muslim racial slurs in the halls once I was in high school. It may sound trite, but it is a huge shame that so many people can’t look past religion and culture and look on to people themselves.
In the meantime, if you’ve never experienced Fiddler on the Roof, I strongly recommend it.
What do you think? Is it a stronger piece of art to those who relate to the aspect of Judaism? Do you think the show’s themes make a bold impact on any viewer? What has your experience with the show been?
Did I catch you with the David Bowie image? Dance, magic, dance!
I really love interviewing people, artists especially. That being said, I reached my end point for the recent project, and don’t have too much time to write. I love writing, though. Oh, dear.
A goal I set for myself last year was to do less.
As in, my friends and family think I stretch myself too thin and that I want to be involved in all of the thing, and want to help people with their things, and then I end up complaining to my cat at 2 AM about how many things. I just started a new job that I really like, and I need to focus. So, for the writing, I am focusing on writing gigs that pay, or volunteering my time for certain causes. I’m keeping this as a place to disperse this writing and share other media.
If I were to start a new blog, I have a few things to consider. Here is where I need your feedback. OH FOR SURE.
Well, one, would you read it? Or are you reading this now just because you are bored and/or thought this was about Labyrinth? Are you an internet troll who is just reading this in order to write an angst riden comment? If so, how do you feel about being called a troll and not a goblin? How do you feel about the Goblin King, Jareth?
Would you prefer a completely new focus to the blog, or still something arts oriented?
Would you like it to be interview oriented?
Would you visit the blog if the interviews were in audio format, opposed to writing?
Would more video and audio driven content be better?
If audio, would you laugh at me if it were not a podcast? What do you think of podcasts? What do you think of podracers?
New Year’s Day 2013 had me trying to be optimistic. After all, I am fortunate. I have a home, wonderful family and friends, and had the opportunity to do freelance production and audio work for some great people I used to work with at my first job. (Exhibit A of the importance of staying in touch with people.)
However, I felt unhealthy and burdened. I’d been laid off in May 2012, and had continuously been told that I was an employer’s ‘second choice’, or told I would hear back from other companies that then left me hanging. But such is the job search these days. I was lucky to even have an interview for a job that actually paid, instead of being asked to go back to the drawing table as an intern again (it happens).
Then, in February, the tides appeared to have turned. I took a job slightly outside of my comfort zone, and at a commute close to two hours on public transit. I admit now that I immediately felt out of sorts, and had a bad feeling about it. I thought maybe it was the commute. I considered getting a car or moving closer…two things that would have put me in the hole financially. My friends and family advised against it. They didn’t think such a financial investment was a good idea for a job I had just started. It just so happened that my lease would be up for renewal soon, though. Perhaps they also saw how unhappy I was. I’m the type of person who loves to work, wants to have a career, and wants to do a good job. So, that bad feeling in the pit of my stomach didn’t bode well.
Well, it wasn’t something I ate. The company laid me off in a matter of only a few months. In the meantime, the Boston Marathon bombing had occurred, along with the subsequent manhunt in my neighborhood. And, you know, I started to write about what had happened that week, and deleted it. It makes me incredibly sad and frustrated at how many people in my life have loved ones who were seriously or fatally injured that day, and I felt truly helpless. But I don’t feel I have the right to dwell on it here. That energy should be taken to help, not to remind people or make them feel bad.
A week or so after that awful week, I was laid off from the job I had started in mid February. I was told I took it well, but I honestly was not surprised.
However, around this time something wonderful had happened in relation to creativity, music, and writing. Months before, I had found out that Creed Bratton was in the band The Grass Roots. I’m a big fan of music from that era, and considered trying to interview Bratton about his career. I’d started to focus my blog on careers in sounds and music, and wanted to complete a list of individuals to profile. I decided to have a running list, with an end goal of interviewing one of my favorite composers. Other goals were to interview a touring musician with one of my favorite groups, someone who worked on a film that was key to my childhood and career, and a drummer I admired. In the midst of everything, I didn’t think reaching out to Creed at the time would pan out.
Hark! What was that? A press release found its way to me, and days later I found myself setting up a phone call with Creed himself. I pitched the story to a few magazines, including Rolling Stone. I was told that they already had the story, but was so excited to have even gotten that far, I wasn’t bothered. It was going to be a great addition to the music career blog project.
This interview really lifted my spirits. It just so happened that Creed was in Boston when he phoned in, and getting ready to do another interview after with my Alma Mater, Emerson College. Hearing his story, and his struggles, made me feel a lot better about what had been going on with my job search. One of the best things he said to me?
“All those times in the thirty years where I didn’t have a pot to piss in and I was really wondering whether I was going to be able to eat the next day, I always found a way to get to my class…whatever group I was working with, and put up a scene, and always act. So, yes, my advice is-no matter what’s going on-find a way to keep doing it. Even though you say ‘well, what’s the point’? The point is…the point IS you’ve got to keep doing it. Because it will get better. Even if it doesn’t, you’re going to feel better about yourself. It’s not about saying ‘I gotta do this to be a success’. You do it because you love it. If you don’t do it because you love it, then you’re doing it for the wrong reason. That’s true, that’s very true. And I’m a living example of that. I didn’t hit it really big-well The Grass Roots, yeah sure. Forget about that. I was in my twenties. As far as an actor…I didn’t hit it until I was sixty. Think about that. Most people would give up.”
That story helped my blog out a ton, too. If you Google ‘Creed Bratton interview career’, it’s the first non video result. I’m ok with that!
A few weeks after that, I was going to see Muse for the second time. Except, this time, as part of the press. Waiting backstage with a bunch of large men made me suddenly realize how very short, female, and not tattooed I am. As we got up to the stage, a woman walked over to me and started chatting. She was warm, friendly, and asked about my blog and writing. She offered to help, since she was married to someone involved with the show. I was amazed at her generosity. NETWORKING. However, as we were blasted away by the music and then all press were ushered backstage again, I lost her in the crowd, along with her business card. Despite this, I am still in awe of how this was such a textbook example of networking…up until that point. But it got me to thinking of touring musicians, and the fact that profiling someone who’d toured with one of my favorite groups would be a great piece of the puzzle here.
I’d started to really get into Janelle Monáe’s music, and reached out to Brandon Gilliard. He was a wonderful resource, and it was awesome to see him perform with the Electric Lady herself this past October. It was also a remarkable event for the audience and band on that particular day!
By the end of May I had reached my 100th blog post, and over 1,000 followers, but still felt very low on the job front. But those 100 blog posts were important, because I started to get paid for writing for other sites. And you know what? Writing samples…well, they don’t write themselves! What would I have done without these freelance writing gigs as my production work was put on hold, and nobody in the foreseeable future would hire me full time?
In addition, I decided to write a post about a topic that had been bugging me for some time. I was surprised to see it picked up by other sites (even last week), and that it led to other writing offers. King Henry and his horses! What was going on?
By now I also had the wonderful support of a site that helped me get on my feet after I graduated and wanted to keep writing: Blast Magazine. I can’t say enough about the hard work and dedication of Mr. John Guilfoil!
By September, I found a corner of the music and film industry I had yet to explore, and a connection to one of my favorite childhood films. Going out on a limb, I emailed the composer from her LinkedIn contact info. To my surprise, she replied, and we worked on the interview and resources together for a month. It was a great experience.
That’s when it all started to come together. The post about temp score prompted a discussion about film score with Clint Mansell. I was very interested in his thoughts on this, and wanted to learn more about his scoring process. An interview was scheduled!
I was offered a new full time role the same week. Talk about timing.
What a year. In a nutshell, here is a huge thank you to everyone who helped with my writing, my goals, and my job search. One of the first interviews I had upon being laid off the first time was at a music organization. I ended up taking myself out of the interview process when the role was cut to part time (foolish on my behalf?). I’d met with a girl there who, when hearing about my search, commented on how important it was to stay attached to something creative and musical, something artistic, in our work. “We always find a way.” It’s true. In the meantime I’ve also enjoyed helping other people find jobs, helping recent graduates who have reached out, and finding answers to questions I wish I’d asked in school. After all, that’s part of the reason why I started this project!
The last month of 2013 has not been without its own trials, but I’m hopeful.
2014, I’m looking at you! You seem awfully nice. I think we can work together quite well.
Photo credit 2013. Heck, yes, that’s my photo of a flower in an apple orchard.
In part one we discussed the current state of film score, temp score, and the film making process. Here, we jump a bit more into the different films Mansell has worked on.
Note: If you have yet to see Moon, there may be some discussion here that would be spoiler info. You’ve been warned!
Speaking of Requiem for a Dream, the main theme has been used for many things. It was a great piece. What was your inspiration for it? When I first heard it, I started going through a lot of Requiem pieces or masses, because I thought it sounded so much like something else I’d heard…but I was wrong.
Well, you know. There you go. That’s a perfect example of me…basically playing it on the piano to begin with. But I can’t really play the piano. So, you know, I probably only do two or three note chords. And then, I just…whenever I noodle around with it, I’m just looking for something that resonates with me. And I often like things that can, you know, you can have a drone underneath that holds the note, the tonic, whatever…and so, you know, I constantly look for something that resonates with me. And obviously, that probably depends on what mood I’m in, or what film I’m working on, or whatever. But, to me, that’s it really. It’s about trying, and playing, and hitting some notes. And finding things that clash together in a certain way that makes you feel something. And then building on that. And I suppose it depends on what I’m looking for, what mood I’m in, as to what comes up.
I think the only thing about it was the pace of it. At the time, Darren wanted stuff in Requiem to have a sort of hip hop pace to it, a hip hop feel. So, you know, I was arranging around the 100 BPM thing, but then, if you dropped it to around 85…you get that sort of like, slightly melancholy feel to it, sort of a downbeat hip hop tune might have. That was probably about the only real prerequisite for it. The rest of it was just playing around until I found something I liked.
How old were you–
I know that sounds–
I know that sounds really boring, but that’s pretty much the truth! Mansell laughs.
Oh, no!I laugh, too. How old were you when you started composing for film? Was it for Pi?
Yeah. Um, about 35? Something like that.
But you know, but that was the…I’d never even…I mean…I’d never even written that many songs at that point. I’d written the songs in my band, but suddenly I have to write, you know, 60 minutes of music. I just didn’t see how I could even possibly do it, but, you know, you never know. You get in there and you start swimming, as they say.
So, we already mentioned that you work a lot with Darren Aronofsky and, you know, if I Google your name, it shows on Google , ‘you may also want to look up Darren Aronofsky’…
It sees it as hand in hand. And I think it’s great when directors and composers team up, and that’s part of the reason why I question the auteur theory. Not to sound like a total nerd, but people often say that the director is the auteur, and I thought if he or she uses the same composer…then a good example of being an auteur is being a composer, too.
And here we have more laughter.
So, what do you think about that?
Well, I’m from England. We don’t respond well to hierarchy.
But the business being as it is, everybody’s sort of like…it’s not like , “Yes, Sir/Yes, Sir/Three bags full, Sir”. I can’t afford to be part of that because I can’t sort of be in awe of the director if you like, or not be able to be myself. Because that’s of no use to him, because you’ve got to be honest and say what your opinion is and express yourself honestly through the music for the film, you know?
I mean, that’s how I feel. I don’t know. I mean, sometimes you get the impression that the composer’s job is to be a people pleaser, and…’Okay, you want a bit of reggae now–here you go! You want a bit of jazz, a bit of light jazz, here you go!’…whereas I don’t see it like that at all. I’m coming to bring something to the equation. Like I say, the music is as vital as the lead role, the lead actors.
Obviously, I’m a musician, so I probably care about it abnormally more than most people who see a movie do. But that’s the way it is, that’s how I feel, that’s what I want to do, you know? That’s why I sort of don’t like temp, because it can really sort of close off possibilities. You never know what the film might respond to.
I don’t know who made this quote, but every time you do the obvious, you miss an opportunity to learn something. Because if you take a gamble…I mean, that’s what I say when I start a film. Your options are as wide as the ocean. But you write a few pieces and put it on the film and it instantly narrows it down-what your options are. Because you get a sense of what it doesn’t want. You can see things that will not work with this film, whether it’s the pacing or the instrumentation. Once you start doing a few things to the film, you start limiting opportunities. If you listen, and watch what it does when you play music…the film itself will pretty much guide you where you need to go…
…Basically what had bothered me about the auteur theory was that I felt that a composer has just as much authorization to what’s going on in the film and impacting the direction of the film.
Well, you know, I mean, obviously it depends on the film. You look at, say, the impact that the music in Jaws has on the film. They say that Spielberg wanted to have more of the shark in the movie, but circumstances didn’t allow it. But, actually, it worked better now. And that’s not being an auteur, that’s benefiting from being there and working hard and trying stuff. But that’s just a random thing, and that’s what I love about movie making…those random things. Those moments of transcendence, that’s what we’re all looking for. And some of those things are planned out, but–but they are orchestrated, or they are made to happen by the process itself. It like sort of being an alchemist, you know? Creating something out of nothing.
The thing about my and Darren’s relationship, is that the music or the film kind of make room for one another. I mean, Darren’s films have always made room for music, he’s always wanted a lot of music in there. If you’re going to have a lot of music in a film, it’s got to really work, it can’t just be wallpaper, you know? It’s got to be a character in there.
This is another one of my pet peeves…it’s like, to do that takes a long time. And it takes a lot of understanding on all sides–the director, the studio, the composer. To find those threads and fine tune them and make them sing and dance so that every theme works with every lead line, and every progression works with every melody.
Not in a way that makes it boring, but in a way that leads you and tells the story. Enhances the story.
But so often now a composer will do six weeks work and bang it out, do another one and bang it out…I don’t understand why people don’t want to put the time in to do something well. I mean, I’ve been on Noah a year. And that’s what it takes, you know? That’s what it takes. And I get irritated when I see people taking shortcuts. And that’s sort of what works for Darren and I. And I love that. Every film I’ve done with him has been a challenge to find that score.
Mansell explains the satisfaction when finishing a film and not being able to imagine the film with any other music under it. But it isn’t always that easy.
Was it more of a challenge, or did it help your flow, to be working with Tchaikovsky’s music? Or did you initially know that you somehow wanted to interpret that theme? Well, obviously, because of Swan Lake…
Yeah, I mean, from the moment I read [Black Swan]. I had been to see Swan Lake a few years before.
And I had never been to the ballet before, and it blew my mind. I thought it was brilliant. And I thought, ‘I would love to do something like that someday’, but I sort of meant in the live arena, with music, to some performance.
But then Darren came to me with this idea of Black Swan and I said, from the start, the score’s got to be built out of Swan Lake, because this girl is driving herself crazy, wanting this role. She’ll be rehearsing to it every day, she’ll be hearing the music every day, that’s all that will be going on in her head would be Swan Lake, all of the time. And then we can start to f— with it. Obviously, Tchaikovsky writes very, very different than me. But what I did was go into the score of Swan Lake. And I started finding patterns or four bar pieces, that if I just played them, or if I stripped down one of his phrases and use the progression without the melody…I could start building these new arrangements, but using his building blocks, his DNA. So, the music really would be of Tchaikovsky, but rearranged, or remixed, by me.
He describes the pressure of writing music, and the fun of rearranging and playing with it. Recording it was also a unique experience, bridging the film with classical music.
Classical musicians, they probably know Swan Lake back to front. And that music is written for those instruments. I’ll write orchestral parts, but I’m not classically trained, so I probably do things that, while interesting, is not really what the instrument is designed to do. Whereas Tchaikovsky wrote for those instruments. So, when you hear that music played, it’s bigger and bolder than what we do now. But on top of that we have slightly newer arrangements now, so it sort of melted into something sort of different. I thought it was really cool.
I recently saw Moon, maybe a few months ago finally, and I really enjoyed how some of the scenes, where the music started to feel heavy and sad, then it would pick up with that percussion. I interpreted it as a good representation of Sam’s thoughts and optimism. Is that what you were going for?
My favorite sort of films to score really are those lone protagonists, and getting into his mind, or her mind…Black Swan is sort of like it, Pi is definitely like it. And Moon is definitely like it. And, yeah. Music, for me, just takes me on a journey. So, when I see scenes like, Sam is trying to phone home or he is looking back to Earth, and he is coming to the understanding with what he is. I’m just trying to write a piece of music that says that…but also allows the audience into it…not so they feel it, too, but so they empathize with him. And what doesn’t overwhelm the performance or the film, and doesn’t sound cheesy, I hope. Again, it’s hard work. And that’s the commitment.
Did you ever consider, since you were in a band before you were composing, another career path in anything other than music?
No, because I really had no other options. I was just hanging on, hoping something would work out. I mean, at some point, I would have had to. I was fortunate when I met Darren. I was getting by. I think I left the band in ‘96, and we started doing Pi in ‘97, I think? Yeah. And I worked on it through ‘97. And then I got to do Requiem, so things started picking up. It was something I was definitely having to face up to, but it really wasn’t enjoying the thought of it, so I was very lucky that I never would have to go there.
How did you meet Darren and get started on Pi?
My then girlfriend knew Darren’s writing and producing partner. And they worked in PR and stuff together.
He heard they were getting the script together, and some music. His girlfriend suggested him as a musician. Darren chatted with him. They shared ideas, artwork, and influences. Talk about creativity coming togeter!
And I wrote a piece of music based on the script and based on the things we talked about. Everybody really loved it. It was sort of a really nice galvanizing thing.
He and Darren continue that approach even today, and have worked together countless times since then.
I like to start with a bunch of ideas even before I’ve seen any footage…just to see where it goes. I just want to hear more voices, and see people take a chance. Excite us, you know?
Today is the anniversary of John Lennon’s death. It also reminds me of something I was reminded of yesterday: the simple notion that a song can latch on to a memory and change that song forever.
John Lennon’s “God” is one of those songs for me, and a song that had a deep impact on me as a teenager.
Most of the deaths I’d experienced up until that point were older individuals, aside from the daughter of family friend, which haunted me.
Then, in high school, on the anniversary of John Lennon’s death, my friend’s mother passed. I have to say I am no longer in touch with this girl, but this song has forever memorialized what happened. I had gone home, trying to process everything, and sat on my floor next to the radio. We didn’t have cable, so I spent much of my time writing and listening to music. “God” came on the radio, and hit me pretty hard at that moment. It bore such immense sadness, and yet it exclaimed some of the thoughts I was having through its lyrics. I don’t consider myself religious, and the line “God is a concept by which we measure our pain” seemed to ring true for me.
I was in a music therapy course in college, and one of our assignments was to create a list of songs like this, songs that are permanently fixed to a specific memory. This was to exercise how music and memory works, and why music was being used as a therapy tool for patients experiencing memory failure. Strangely enough, many of the songs and stories my peers presented are now cemented in my memory, too. One classmate presented “”Don’t Look Back In Anger”, and how her friend had left the lyrics of this song as a suicide note. I now find myself experiencing grief when I hear this song, because I remember how sad she was when explaining her song choice. Of course it cannot compare to her grief, but it is a powerful thing. It also helps us to understand others and their experiences.
I won’t share my entire list here, but would love to hear about some of your memory songs. Being someone who has such a strong interest in music and memory, I find it fascinating. It’s also nice, in some ways, that a song can be such a placeholder for people and memories in your life.
So, no, the dream is not over. Songs are like little bubbles of memories that are always floating out there in waves.
iZotope RX, anyone? Uh-mazing. I think back on the low budget videos I had to remove background noise and crackle from a few years back and weep for the fact that I did not use RX. Well, now there is RX 3. Great Thor and a hammer! It’s serious.
Running along the audio chain (but not an actual chain, or side chain…if you get this pun…+85734985674396 points), I also tested some noise cancelling headphones. Let me tell you, Ian Malcolm would not have hear any T-Rex had he been wearing these.
As for the music…I’ve got box sets, new releases and more, from classic rockers, retro tunes, legendary drummers, and 90s favorites.
When I changed the focus of my blog, the mission was this: interview one of my favorite film composers. Among these are Eric Serra, Clint Mansell, and Maurice Jarre (RIP).
Film music was always a sort of gateway to daydreaming and more when I was a kid. The intro to Rescuers Down Under was such a thrill, I thought, that my dad recorded it onto tape cassette when we couldn’t find the soundtrack. It still makes me smile. The percussion!
Whereas Hans Zimmer’s score to The Lion King correlated directly to the first loss I experienced: my grandpa, Frank. The music is still very difficult for me to listen to.
As for the blog, I passed my other milestones and then, near enough to Halloween, reached out to a composer, Katherine Quittner, who had worked on some films that were monumental to my childhood. I felt a few steps closer to my blog goal, but had no inkling that this would be a bridge. Temp score was something I had never explored before. It was something I had never heard much about in college, or after. I found the discussion with Katherine to be very interesting, especially based on studies I had done years before on switching out scores from films to see how it impacted the audience’s interpreted narration of the scenes they were watching. I’ve always felt that the music in a film is crucial to the story, mood, characters, and more.
I’d interacted with Golden Globe and Grammy nominated composer, Clint Mansell, a few times via Twitter and, being that he is one of my favorite composers, always enjoy his perspective. He responded to the temp score piece I did, and I wanted to clear up any opinions. I also wanted to put some more questions out there, and learn about his process.
Mansell was kind enough to schedule a phone call with me, and here we approach part one of this hurdle in the LaParadiddle music career blog.
Part one? Yes. Because I want to be thorough. And with topics like working with Darren Aronofsky, classical training, the current state of the film industry, sound design, Requiem for a Dream, and more…I thought breaking this into two parts would be best. Enjoy! Questions and comments are welcome…after all, I sure had a lot.
You mentioned that you hate ‘filmmaking by committee’. That being said, what is the standard process when you are to score a film? For example, when you did The Wrestler or Black Swan? What is the start to finish process?
Well, before I answer that, let me just say that you know I don’t have any problem with music editors or whatever, that really wasn’t my gripe from the piece (my previous composer interview). It’s really just a case of now, the way movies are made, and a lot of things are…essentially lazy. But, you know, they are quick shortcuts to getting a result. But when you cut corners like that you get a sort of cheap fix of movie-going.
[It’s a ] quick fix that is commonplace in movie making these days, and mostly in the music department, because the music is the last thing to be finished. Usually the budget has been eaten up elsewhere and there are some compromises that are enforced on the music.
One: laziness, and another…a lack of understanding, a lack of respect for what the music actually has. I think people think that music is music and that just anything will do, you know, and we know that is really not true…but for me the music in the film is as important as the casting of the leads. You know, it’s a vital character in the process.
And so the objection to temp score is…or do you have an objection to it?
I understand why people do it, but my problem with it is that it just becomes a [cycle], perpetuating the same ideas all of the time. You know, certain scores become temp friendly and people temping them all over town with those same scores, and what it does, it places a burden on the film before anyone’s even had a chance to explore the possibilities of what the score for that film could be.
When you start putting on a temp, you just close off so many avenues, and people fall in love with something that they can’t have. You know, it doesn’t bare any relevance to the film they’re making , it’s just real artifice and people just wanting something before it’s actually ready.
For instance, I work on films that are temped, of course I do, you know. Do I listen to them? Initially, when I maybe just watch a film, to see what it’s all about. But after that, very little. Because I don’t want to be constrained by what somebody else’s idea of what the movie means is, you know? I want that to be my job. Now, all films are different, and, you know, if you’re working on…Fast and the Furious 19, the requirements for that film are probably very different from 12 Years a Slave. So, there are all different ways of approaching those. But, my real beef with it is, is the temping process because…
He trails off, and then brings it in focus to projects he was worked on.
Let’s take a Darren Aronofsky film. We don’t temp. He doesn’t temp his films with anything but my music.
Now what that does is, it just leaves the slate wide open. The board is completely clean, you’ve got no preconceptions coming from music that really has no relevance to your film, you know.
I write from the script for Darren’s films, and I write from the rough assembly of stuff. And then by the time he’s getting to a place where the film is becoming something that is bit more than an assembly site, he starts using the bits that I’ve been playing with, just almost anywhere in the film to see what they say, what they speak to, and what comes to life from these different ideas, you know. That way, it stops limiting you before you have a full idea of what the film needs.
But when people temp, I guess they temp with the same scores, because they’re good temp scores. They really work under a number of things. Then that starts dictating–for some people, that will dictate how that score’s going to be. You end up with this same voice going around all of the time. People imitating temps, people perpetuating that temp, using it again. So, you get all these different versions of, essentially, the same piece of music.
Film and music, to me, are things that are meant to educate and challenge, and sort of ask questions while also entertaining. And the modern movie making process has turned everything into a homogenized, industrialized farming technique…plomp, plomp, plomp! All the same.
I do know that music editors have put together great temp scores […] but also while working with the composers material and re-editing it to the film, if you like.
Mansell then refers to my previous post, and film scores he enjoys where the music editor has had a hefty role in the creation of the score.
That’s fantastic work. It works great in the film. I just want to hear more voices.
Mansell states that there is a worrying trend. There seems to be a current idea of making movies by committee, giving the people what they want…but do people really know what they want, if we stick to such a formula? If we don’t explore?
Every once in a while a film will come out of the blue…like say something like Black Swan, and people will go see it…for reasons people can’t define, if you like. Like, “the numbers never said this would happen”, or this sort of stuff. But people are excited by stuff they’ve not seen before. And that’s what I want every film to be doing.
Honestly, I had never heard of temp score before, until I started to dig into it. It was strange to me. I was surprised. It must be such a challenge for the temp score composer and other, credited composer. I’ve also noted the trend of film scores starting to sound alike. (Maybe you’ve read the recent articles sprouting up over the Inception score?)
Well, I think, you know…again, it’s a product of not having enough voices out there.
Mansell then refers to JJ Abrahms and his involvement with Star Trek and Star Wars.
Nothing against him. That’s great for him!
You get the same thing coming at you all the time from this one camp.
He delivers what people want from him, so that’s why they go back to that well, if you like. That’s not Abrams’s or (Zimmer’s) fault. They’re doing a good job.
I want to be challenged, I want to be prodded, but as well as entertained. And it worries me that people sort of seem okay with it. That’s my biggest problem, you know. I grew up in an era…early teens, if you like, in the seventies, watching films like The Parallax View, All the President’s Men, Walkabout, you know. Films that were probably a bit too old for me, but they were challenging me…teaching me how to think and question things. And every generation feels that the generation coming behind them is really dropping the ball, you know, but the statistics seem to add up.
Also, do you work closely with sound designers? I noticed a lot of the scores you’ve done has so many interesting sounds weaved in on the soundtrack. Do you do that yourself as part of the score?
No, that’s the sound designers job. Yes, it becomes a bigger part of the process these days because so much can be done with sound. And there tends to be a lot of music in films these days, so it’s great that the soundscape can really be the cue at times. So, if you communicate with one another: “I’ve got a part for here I’d really like to focus on that, if you could sort of let me know what you’re doing with the sound, and vice versa”, they might come to me and go, “these sections, the director said, ‘ok, this I want to be more sound design than score’” Then they’d be sure to keep out of the way. It’s a team effort at the end of the day. It’s becoming more prevalent, directors are getting younger, and it’s a popular approach.
I noticed an interview I read about you, that it was mentioned that you are not classically trained, and I know you were in a band before. I know a good deal of people who have studied music at university or conservatories, but I don’t agree with this notion I have seen recently that self taught musicians, or non-classically trained musicians, don’t deserve to be in the same category. I have had a lot of trouble with this myself, but I don’t feel that someone has to be trained a certain way in order to be an artist. What do you think about this?
Well, I mean, at the end of the day, you should be judged on your ideas and the execution of those ideas. You could have all the training in the world, and know stuff inside out, and you might not have a creative mind. You might have a more technical mind. Don’t get me wrong–no, I am not classically trained.
I am completely aware and in awe, whenever I have toured with a live group of musicians. The amount of training and commitment…dedication that they have put into making sure that they are the best player they can be. They come into one of my sessions, and play my little simplistic tune and riffs, and make it sound completely f-ing awesome. And you know, amen for them doing that! Ok, so that wasn’t my chosen path. I went down the rock and roll road, if you like. And, you know, the training…I like to learn on the job.
Mansell says that he learned as he went, and the jobs got more demanding each time.
I imagine if you worked really hard, and trained, and you feel you are good at what you do, and you’ve got all the skills and all the chops…and then you see, some Johnny-come-lately (…) getting all of the jobs…
Essentially, he can understand how that would be disappointing. I certainly can, too.
At the end of the day, it comes down to opportunity, and the ideas. Because you don’t need to be classically trained to write music. It’ sanother one of these things. With music-to me-see, I don’t believe there’s a right or a wrong way of doing anything. Music’s there, like painting, as a way to express yourself. And if it sounds out of tune to somebody but you love it, then that’s up to you. So sometimes those trainings, those rules, can maybe inhibit your thinking a little bit now.
Of course, he adds, that could be a generalization.
But what I mean is, as much as something can be a benefit to you it can also be a hindrance at times. Would I like to have more skills in the sort of arrangement and just general knowledge of music? Sure I would. But the flip side of that is if I don’t know certain things, I just find my own way of doing it and I find something that’s me, if you like. And I’m sort of fortunate that people have liked my idiosyncrasies, and it’s a benefit to me, so…I can understand it, but there’s no right or wrong answers.
He does state that, honestly, nobody has ever given him a hard time. Nobody has ever had a problem with him not being classically trained or, as he says, ‘musically literate’.
The first time I ever worked with a live players was the Kronos Quartet for Requiem for a Dream, and I was almost embarrassed.
I’m surprised by this! After all, Lux Aeterna was such a critically acclaimed piece. And the music in Requiem adds so much to the emotional intensity of the film as a whole.
There were these fantastic musicians.
He explains, adding that they were all enthusiastic to be involved, and warm and friendly.
And that’s very humbling.
That’s awesome. I guess I had to teach myself a lot of stuff. I don’t know a ton of music theory. My instrument…I don’t need to play chords or anything like that. But I’ve come across some individuals recently, where it was sort of looked down upon. And I never thought of it that way before. Like painting, the output should be what counts.
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s an attitude you can find in any walk of life, really. Not specific to music.
Questions? Comments? Stay tuned for Part 2 to hear more about Lux Aeterna, the auteur theory, and Mansell’s career path.
Of course, special thank you to Mr. Mansell for his time!
If any of you have followed this blog from the beginning (Hello? Is there anybody out there?), you will know that I started this blog as a way to continue writing about and interviewing musicians. I had stopped writing for different sites once I started working as an Associate Producer. The workload for both was just not doable.
So, when I started working on audio and music licensing at another role, I found my availability to be different. I was mostly writing reviews here, some interviews, you get the idea.
But I wanted to refine the focus of my blog, so I decided to focus on profiling different careers and individuals who work with music. My main goals were this:
-Build credentials in order to attend a music industry event without representing another publication. Attend as myself, representing my work.
I was able to do this in April 2012 at Boston’s Rethink Music conference. The above photo was later used in the Huffington Post.
*Side note/advice: a ton of individuals wanted their picture taken with Karmin. Since I had taken one of the few photos of just the two of them in front of the conference banner, my photo was picked up. Keep that in mind! Also, because trying to sneak into every photo of a performer or celebrity may not be professional in some settings.
-Obtain a photo pass just as myself, not working for someone else.
Done and done!
-Profile a varied list of individuals who make a living through music. Examples seen below:
-Interview one of my favorite film composers for this blog.
This, in my mind, would be the mission: accomplished of this blog. I did a thesis project on film score and, while I am not a composer, have had a longstanding love of film music.
I’m happy to say that this task has been accomplished, and I am working on transcribing this interview as you read this! But I want to be thorough and thoughtful. I am considering posting this interview in two parts: one before the holiday, and one after.
The composer? Mr. Clint Mansell, composer for films such as Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan.
Excited? You bet!
You may have also noticed that I changed the format of my blog, and have started to post the writing I produce for other sites. I’d like to keep it that way, especially since I have reached my original blog goal now. This place will serve as a sort of portfolio, if you will. And I’m open to all sorts of stuff. I also hope to continue writing for the sites I have been working with–Blast, Bombshell, xoJane, CollegeXpress.
I’ve also obtained a new role working with rights and licensing, focusing on music and theater, after this past year’s multiple layoffs, but I haven’t started yet, so no jinxing!
And, of course, the band I drum in is wrapping up recording, so be on the lookout for that. Our next gig is January 4 at PA’s lounge. Kick off the new year with some jazzy indie tunes in Union Square.
One of the easiest ways to follow is via Twitter, if you’re not into subscribing here. No worries!
All of this and more. So here’s to not giving up and getting some of those goals out of the way.
A big kerfuffle occurred over the summer, regarding women’s magazines and female journalists. I was asked to write about the rise of the female journo, but I thought that there were so many great female writers out there already! Why was this still ‘a rise’? Why haven’t we…risen? Why are we seen as still climbing a mountain, with men at the top, instead of men and women standing at the top of a mountain, waving to one another, and saying, “Hey, cool. Good job.”
So, I took my story down this path. Why are women underrepresented? Why are the hard hitting pieces in women’s magazines not seen as valid? Why are the game changers headlined in magazines today still pretty much white men? Surely, great writing is written by a diverse set of characters.
I found a bunch of stats. I learned a lot from wonderful resources, such as Gaby Dunn (Cosmo, Daily Dot, New York Times), Lea Goldman (Marie Claire, formerly Forbes), and Jeff Wagenheim (Sports Illustrated).
Do you think women’s magazines are still stereotyped? Have you read a great piece in a women’s magazine recently? Do you think female journalists still have a long way to go? Do you think women’s sites are part of the problem? Drop a note and let your voice be heard!
Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time of reflection, and a time to be thankful. If, years ago, Thanksgiving would be a time to ditch dinner and family for shopping sprees and working holidays for many minimum wage employees…well, I’d say that is just plain silly. I still say that is just plain silly. I am thankful for many reasons, but here is one topic where I think we can reflect on being thankful, and not picky. Being a vegetarian or vegan on Thanksgiving shouldn’t be about turkey shaming, feeling left out, or being preachy. Instead, be thankful for the beautiful food you have, and the fact that you have the opportunity to eat a diverse diet, if you are someone who follows one of these diets. Or, if it is for spiritual or medical reasons, here’s hoping it brings you some comfort and well being.
Either way, I hope these recipes help make your day a bit tastier!