SCORE: A FILM MUSIC DOCUMENTARY Review: Film Music’s Greatest Champion
I fell head-over-heels in love with film music during the summer of 1993. When the lightbulb first switched on and I realized my passions for movies and music could be combined into one super-nuclear mega-passion, I succumbed to it completely and never looked back.
In those days, being interested in film music was akin to being stranded on a deserted island. It was gorgeous, powerfully inspirational, thrilling, and mentally consuming; however, it was a pretty lonely life. I remember the looks of confusion I got (and still sometimes do) when I expressed my fervent interest in “the instrumental background music you hear in movies”.
This predated the internet so there were no online social groups where like-minded individuals could mingle and gab about their favorite scores. The few books written on the subject were impossibly difficult to locate. There were no magazines, no behind-the-scenes videos featuring composers in their studio. No Twitter or Facebook where we could interact with our favorite artists. Resources were as scarce as diamonds. Locating a simple list of all the movies and television episodes John Williams had ever scored throughout his career was a Herculean task (Thank you, IMDB.com).
Over the years, with the proliferation of internet resources, the popularity of film music grew. It remains a niche attraction; however, it’s not as lonely on this island as it used to be. There are now online groups, message boards, resources, publications, books, podcasts, and superlative web sites that feature well-equated and experienced writers who focus specifically on film music related news, reviews, and behind-the-scenes information. More importantly, there are people out there interested in reading them.
I have spent the greater portion of my adult life doing everything in my power to preach the Gospel of Film Music. I went to school and received a degree in Film Scoring, I write about film music, broadcast it on the radio, teach it privately and at the collegiate level. I help get film music commercially released, promote, perform, and conduct film music, and most importantly of all, I spend about 80% of my professional year composing music for films. If there is anything left I can do, believe me, I’m eager to do it.
Of all the work I’ve done throughout my career to champion and honor this art form of which I am so fervently devoted, nothing has quite captured the majesty, or aroused the senses, or unveiled the shroud of mystery blanketing the craft of composing music for movies quite like Matt Schrader’s new feature length film, Score: A Film Music Documentary (2016).
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of experiencing this exceptional movie at the Alamo Drafthouse with Matt and one of the featured composers, Joe Kraemer (Jack Reacher, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation) in attendance. I had been following the progress of this film for several years and was eager to finally witness it for myself. Needless to say, my expectations were mighty high.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that Score is a very special film. It’s not a documentary that panders to layman audience members, yet it manages to lay a basic foundation for newbies without alienating its expert viewers. It’s impressively comprehensive, tackling everything from a composer’s personal creative process, insecurities, joys, and defining the elusive ingredients that give a composer “goosebumps” when evaluating their own work. It covers the technical aspects of composing and producing a film score under the pressure-cooking constraints of the Hollywood studio system. It’s a deeply personal Rorschach test allowing viewers to see, hear, and feel what their hearts crave. This is, at its core, the fundamental beauty of film music itself.
There are dozens of clips highlighting some of cinema’s greatest scored scenes including Jurassic Park (1993), American Beauty (2000), Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985), and Planet of the Apes (1968). It also sports behind-the-scenes footage of composers in their labs conjuring up their latest creations like Joe Kraemer at Abbey Road Studios recording his score for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015), or Marco Beltrami “inventing” a new piano sound for The Homesman (2014), or Heitor Pereira coaxing just the right marcato from his string players while recording his score for Minions (2015), or Steve Jablonsky studiously evaluating the effects of a horn line while composing Transformers: The Age of Extinction (2014).
Perhaps the film’s greatest asset is the countless revelations by composers of their deepest and darkest fears. It’s ironic, but nothing in this film will inspire the next generation of film composers more. Why? Because we learn that our favorite composers are human too. They fear deadlines. They feel the insurmountable strain of pressure. They’re insecure about whether an audience will like their music or not. They suffer from self-doubt. They’re human, and nothing in this film, or any other resource I’ve discovered, illustrates this more. Film composing is not an enigmatic mystery reserved only for the select few who dare to dream for it. It’s out there for the taking. You simply have to reach out and grasp the hand this documentary extends to you.
The film’s only real fault is its 92-minute running time which, for me, is woefully abrupt. This could easily be a 12-part documentary series of hour-long episodes. I couldn’t get enough of it and was left barking for more! For every gem quote or memorable anecdote revealed by the various composers featured in the film, I can’t help lament the countless hours of footage left on the cutting-room floor that didn’t make it into the picture.
Luckily for die-hards like myself, the filmmakers understood there would be a demand for more, especially amongst educators, so they released a series of supplemental materials in conjunction with the film. Along with the standard Blu-ray/DVD and digital iTunes releases of the documentary, you can also get a 352-page book (hard copy, digital, or audio book) which includes unabridged transcriptions of interviews featured in the film. Composers like Hans Zimmer, David Arnold, Howard Shore, John Debney, Rachel Portman, Trent Reznor, Randy Newman, Elliot Goldenthal and many more open up their vaults to reveal their inner thoughts, feelings, insecurities, joys, and passion for their craft. There is even a 2-DVD set featuring more than six hours of raw interview footage.
This massive arsenal of material is aimed squarely at educating future creatives and connoisseurs of film music. If you are a music or film teacher, these items should be an essential part of your curriculum. I’ve never in my professional career seen a greater push to inspire, enlighten, and educate future generations of potential film music aficionados.
Wether you’re a casual listener of soundtracks, a tangential follower of film music through cinema, or a loyal and devoted disciple of this magnificent art form, Score is a documentary film worth seeing. It elevates the craft while providing a frame to perfectly complement the art. You’ll never see nor hear film music the same way ever again. I’ve been waiting for a film like this for a long, long time and I’m thankful to the filmmakers and the composers who agreed to be involved. Your legacy will live on in those whom this film inspires.
For more information, check out the web site for Score: A Film Music Documentary at www.score-movie.com and check out the film on Apple iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, and other online and cable network subscription services. You can order the Blu-ray and/or DVD from amazon.com or at www.score-movie.com. Supplemental materials are also available.