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RIP James Horner & Thanks For The Music

It was around lunchtime today that I learned about the tragic death of 61-year-old composer James Horner.  Horner was an aviation enthusiast who died after the small aircraft he was piloting crashed 60 miles north of Santa Barbara, California.

Since I was 16 years old, I’ve had a love for movie music.  I’ve got a large soundtrack collection featuring some of my favourite composers – Thomas Newman, Randy Edelman, Michael Nyman, John Williams, Jon Brion and Jerry Goldsmith.

The very first soundtrack I ever bought was for Legends Of The Fall, composed by James Horner.  It was a wonderful score that I’ve listened to many times.  Since then, I’ve adored many of Horner’s works.  I was particularly pleased when he won an Academy Award in 1998 for his score of Titanic.  To this day, I still can’t believe that an orchestral film score was the highest selling album of 1998 (ahead of the Backstreet Boys, Shania Twain, ‘N Sync and Garth Brooks).

For this week’s blog, I thought I’d share my 10 favourite James Horner scores with a link to Youtube so that you can listen to them for yourself. 

Legends Of The Fall - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaxZeisCHv8.

A Beautiful Mind - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWpwZf3jebw

Casper - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8zYrt0c8O4

Braveheart - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkLrnI7SsVY

Apollo 13 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTSmtKDvnWQ

Titanic - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wz1xA5kxVI

Avatar - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gayblm2aZdc

The Mask Of Zorro - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Weep71ay4Bc

Field Of Dreams - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Y4hIU_ebnE

Glory - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mR09OclTLNk

 

Thanks James for all the music and may you rest in peace.

 

Interview - Going 'Inside Out' With Director Pete Docter

Pete Docter

Pete Docter can seemingly do no wrong.  He played a big part in writing Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc, WALL-E, and Up – which won him an Academy Award.  His latest film is the amazing Inside Out and I was thrilled to chat to him about it…

Matt:  The animated feature industry is so competitive these days.  Twenty years ago, you’d get an annual Disney film and that’s about it.  Now, you’ve seemingly got one coming out every few weeks.  Is it tougher to be creative in such a competitive environment?

Pete:  It is but our hope is that every film is original and new.  You don’t want to repeat yourself and that’s harder and harder to do with more product out there.  It gets tricky but we’re having a great time and we’re trying to bring that fun and energy to the screen.

Matt:  I look back at animated features from 20 years ago and you’ve got Aladdin, The Lion King, Beauty & The Beast and your first film, Toy Story.  They had a budget of around $30-$40m.  Today’s animated features have budgets around $200m.  Where is all this extra money going?

Pete:  I don’t know if those numbers are totally accurate but we don’t talk too much about the budget.  I don’t think it’s quite gone up that much.  Some of it is how you count the cash in terms of overheads and publicity costs.  It’s funny though as it still takes about the same amount of time as it did to make a film 20 years ago.  Computers haven’t saved any time unfortunately but it has allowed us to bring a richer look to the screen with more texture.  It’s also offered a lot more possibility in terms of story opportunities.

Matt:  Let’s talk about Inside Out.  This is such an amazing concept which is rich in detail.  Where did the idea come from?

Pete:  It came from thinking about what was going on with my 11-year-old daughter.  She was a goofy, funny, little kid but when she turned 11, she became much more serious and sombre and quiet.  It was a big change and I was wondering what was inside her head.  To some degree, it reminded me of myself as I went through a similar kind of change.  It was an opportunity to explore a world that we’re all at once familiar with but which none of us have ever seen before – the world inside our mind.

Matt:  I know it can take a long time to develop these ideas.  How long did it take from developing the idea through to today’s cinematic release?

Pete:  It was right after Up.  Jonas Rivera and I were exploring ideas and this one came to mind.  We then got distracted with other elements of films like Monsters University.  In the end I think it was about a 5 year process.

Matt:  How did you settle on the 5 emotions of joy, sadness, fear, anger and disgust?

Pete:  We did a lot of research because we knew very little about how the mind works.  It turns out that even science is still struggling to figure this out.  There’s still no consensus on how many emotions there are.  Depending on who you speak with, you’ll get very different answers ranging from 4 to 27 different emotions.  We knew 27 would be too crowded so we ended up with 5 due to the work of Paul Ekman who is a scientist who worked in San Francisco.  He had initially suggested there were 6 basic emotions – the 5 we have plus surprise who seemed redundant with fear so we cut him out.

Matt:  I was curious about the gender of these emotion characters.  In the mother, they’re all female.  In the father, they’re all male but in Riley, they’re a mix.  Any reason behind that?

Pete:  Yeah, I wanted the emotions in Riley to be as wide and varied as possible so as to create the most amount of contrast and entertainment.  They’re different sizes, different colours, and we felt having both male and female casting would be really fun.  When it came to mum and dad, that got confusing.  There’s a scene over dinner where we go inside of mum and dad’s head and if you mixed that up with male and female characters, you end up getting confused where you are.  So we gave all of the dad’s emotions a moustache just like he had and we have all of the mum’s emotions glasses and a wig like she had. 

Matt:  The dialogue in this film is amazing and there are so many great one-liners.  How much work goes into it?  Is there a worry you might over-think some of the material?

Pete:  Oh yeah, and I’m sure we do (laughs).  We had the chance to work with some very funny people like Josh Cooley who was one of the writers.  He provided an endless number of funny lines.  We tapped on the voice cast too to help us improve the comedy throughout the whole thing.

Matt:  What’s interesting about the cast is that unlike so many other animated features, there isn’t a big Hollywood star.  In fact, Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Mindy Kaling are more known for their work on TV than in cinema.  How easy was it finding this group of actors?

Pete:  In the case of this film, and I think it’s true of all the other films we’ve done, we designed the characters thinking independently of any actor.  We just tried to design a character we really like.  Once we have that design, we start listening to voices by stripping just the audio track away from a film or TV show that they’ve been in.  The actors we picked seemed so perfect for their roles.  Lewis Black played Anger and I don’t know if you could do any better in terms of casting.  Once you get the actors in and record with them, they end up changing the roles because you adjust as a writer to try to capitalise on what they do.

Matt:  I’m getting a little tired of sequels and reboots but I was excited by the way this film wrapped up.  It feels like the door is open for sequels if you wish to go down that path.  Any plans to do so?

Pete:  It wasn’t deliberate.  We were trying to wrap it up with a slight ambiguity because she’s only 12 so there’s a lot of life left to live.  You never know.  I’ve worked on this film for 5 years and I’m excited to open the door to something new so we’ll see what happens.

Matt:  What projects have you got coming up next?  Given how long it takes to get these films made, are there ideas you have at the moment that we’re going to see from you in 2-3 years’ time?

Pete:  Oh, yeah.  Even this fall we have The Good Dinosaur.  It’s the first time we’ve ever had 2 Pixar films in one year which is exciting.  The premise is around if the asteroid had of missed and not wiped out the dinosaurs, what would the world be like today?  It’s charming and funny and directed by Pete Sohn.  Next summer, we have a sequel to Finding Nemo called Finding Dory.  All of your favourite characters will be back plus some new ones.  Past that, we have a lot of other stuff like Toy Story 4 that John Lassiter is directing and a bunch of stuff we haven’t even announced yet.  It’s an exciting time at Pixar.

Matt:  You’ve made so many great animated featured.  Would you ever consider making a live action movie?

Pete:  Why, do you have something in mind (laughs)?

Matt:  Haha, I don’t have a script handy but I’m sure you’ve got people throwing stuff your way?

Pete:  You never know.  Storytelling is storytelling and there are a lot of things we do that are exactly the same as live action so yeah, who knows.

Interview - Ariel Kleiman And His 'Partisan' Approach

Ariel Kleiman

Having had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival back in January, Partisan has now found its way in Australian cinemas.  I caught up with the Melbourne-born Kleiman to talk about the filmmaking process and his experience with the movie so far…

Matt:  I believe this is your first feature film.  Can you tell us a little about your background?

Ariel:  I’m from Melbourne and I studied at the Victorian College of the Arts where I did a 3 year film course.  Thankfully, the short films I made at film school got a bit of attention at film festivals around the world.  That led to me being commissioned to make Partisan.

Matt:  Are there any particular filmmakers that you think have helped shape your own style and development?

Ariel:  Yeah, heaps.  I was a huge movie junkie growing up as a kid.  I actually played a lot of basketball as a child and would train 5 times a week.  I’d be so tired after training that I’d always watch movies.  When I was really young, I was influenced most by my brother who is 13 years older than me.  He would always be telling me what to watch.  He really liked violent action films from the 80s and 90s so that was my first introduction to cinema.

Matt:  I’m always careful when reviewing a film not to give too much away and this film begins by creating a very mysterious scenario indeed.  What do you tell people when they ask you what it’s about?

Ariel:  I tell them it’s a kind of mythic tale of a very angry, misanthropic man named Gregori who is played by Vincent Cassel.  He is essentially raising his children to hate people as much as he does.  The story is told from the perspective of his oldest son, Alexander, over the course of time between his 11th and 12th birthday.

Matt:  I had trouble trying to work out where this film is actually set.  The accents make it even more difficult.  Was this always your intention?

Ariel:  Yeah, exactly right.  It’s a fully Australian film but we didn’t want to set it anywhere specific.  We labelled it “nowhere land” and it was like a middle Europe that existed in fables we read growing up.  We wanted to make it clear to the audience that it’s not a literal story.  It’s a fable, it’s impressionistic, and it’s open to interpretation.

Matt:  Vincent Cassel was quite a big name to attract to your film.  How did you get the script in front of him and then get him on board?

Ariel:  A lot of harassment.  We attacked his team from all angles.  These big actors have huge firewalls protecting them from people like me.  It took a while to get it to him but once he read the script and saw my shorts, he really connected with it. 

Matt:  There are a lot of children in your cast.  How easy was it working with them?  Giving them direction and then providing what is asked?

Ariel:  I’ll be honest and say it wasn’t easy.  I have a newfound respect for primary teachers.  Funnily enough, if you can get the kids to do what you say, they are usually very natural performers.  They have no self-awareness and you can put a camera right in their face and they’ll still act natural.  We had some amazing kids in the film with big personalities and I think they shine on screen.

Matt:  How did you come across Jeremy Chabriel for the role of Alexander?  I was looking him up on the Internet Movie Database and he doesn’t have a single other credit to his name?

Ariel:  We found Jeremy through a French school in Sydney.  As part of this “nowhere land” setting, we were looking for kids with non-Australian accents so that led us to this French school.  Jeremy responded to an advertisement and came in for an audition.  He’d never acted before.  I watched his tape in Melbourne and he had this strength and maturity about him that was incredible for a boy of his age.

I flew to Sydney to meet him and in that audition, I asked him to sing a song because the character has a fairly crucial scene where he is required to sing.  He brought Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen and I offered him the role straight away. (laughs)

Matt:  There are some quite challenging scenes for Chabriel – some which involve violence, others which involve the film’s confronting storyline.  How easy is it for someone so young to be able to deal with all of that?

Ariel:  It was a tricky balance.  He has to act out some confronting and horrible scenes.  Most important for us was that Jeremy and all the kids had fond memories working on Partisan.  We didn’t want them to have any scarring moments.  There’s a bit of movie trickery that makes it look a lot worse than it is when we filmed it.  I can comfortably say that most days on set were light and fun.  

Matt:  I was reading that more than 2,300 dramatic features where submitted to this year’s Sundance Film Festival and yours was one of the 79 selected.  What was the process?  How did you get yours in the mix?

Ariel:  It’s a bit of a lottery when it comes to film festivals and you never know what’s going on behind their doors.  There’s a lot of luck involved.  You may have something that they connect with.  I was lucky enough to have 2 of my short films screen at Sundance and I was also fortunate to workshop Partisan at their writing and directing labs in Utah so there was a history of me being at Sundance and they had shown a lot of faith in me since film school.  It was really special to be able to show Partisan there as its world premiere.

Matt:  How was your film received?  What sort of reactions did you get from the Sundance crowd?

Ariel:  It was incredible.  At our first screening, only about 10 people left before the Q&A which apparently is rare.  People were taken by the story and the characters and they seemed to be entranced by the world of the movie.  Most pleasing was how they connected with Jeremy, the young boy, because he is the hero of the film.

Matt:  How easy was it securing a cinematic release here in Australia?  It seems to be harder and harder these days for smaller films to weave their way into cinemas.

Ariel:  Yeah, it is.  With Partisan, we were lucky to be working with Madman from the start.  They came on board early and believed in it from the very beginning.  There are so many ways to watch movies these days but for me, I designed and conceived it for the big screen and to be watched with a group of people in the dark.  I hope a lot of people can see it that way.

Matt:  Where to from here?  Do you have other projects that you hope to get off the ground?

Ariel:  I’ve only got vague, rough ideas at the moment.  We’ve all been consumed by this Partisan journey so far.  Now that it’s finally in Australian cinemas, we can send it out into the world and hopefully move on to something new.

Interview - Deke Sharon Talks Vocals On 'Pitch Perfect 2'

Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch Perfect 2 lands in Australian cinemas this week and I had the chance to speak with vocal director Deke Shanon about the world of a cappella and his role in bringing this film together…

Matt:  You were involved in an a cappella group when you were studying at college, is that correct?

Deke:  That is correct.  It was at Tufts University and we were the Tufts University Beelzebubs

Matt:  Is the a cappella industry as competitive as this film makes out?

Deke:  It wasn’t when I was in college but after I graduated, I wanted to create a lot of excitement about a cappella.  I wanted to come up with something that was the equivalent of March Madness for college basketball so I started a competition that took off like wildfire.

Matt:  Are there big titles that people compete for?

Deke:  Yeah.  The finals just happened and there were 300 groups competing this year in America.  When I started it, I called it the NCCA which stood for the National Championship of College A Cappella but it’s now international as we had groups coming over from England.  I hope that one day soon we’ll also have some Australian entrants in the competition.

Matt:  Since the original Pitch Perfect came out, do you think there has been more interest in a cappella music?

Derek:  Absolutely, no question whatsoever.  There were 200 college a cappella groups when I graduated and now there are 3,000.  It’s so much fun.  You can become a rock star on campus, you can pick whatever songs you want, you get to tour other states and other colleges, and it’s really the best thing of American college in my biased opinion (laughs).

Matt:  You’re credited as a vocal producer on Pitch Perfect 2.  Exactly what does that role entail?

Derek:  There were a lot of levels.  I helped choose the music, arrange the music, and then teach it to all the actors.  Once it’s all done and recorded, when then shoot the scenes.  I sit in the corner and watch the actors performing the songs to make sure that the lip syncing matches up perfectly.

Matt:  I was going to ask that about the recording process.  All the songs are recorded in advance in a studio, right?

Deke:  Yeah.  We had a studio in our production offices where we recorded the actors one by one to get the parts exactly right.  We’d then mix it together.  There’s so much going on in those performance scenes and the microphones would be impossible to have in the right place all the time so we record the music first and then the actors have to lip sync to themselves.

Matt:  How hard is it for them to even lip sync when they’re running around all over the place?

Deke:  It’s quite hard.  If you look at old movies like Singing In The Rain, the only time anyone is lip syncing is when they have the melodies and it’s easy.  We have these giant production numbers and I have to try to watch all of their mouths.  You can’t have them only doing the melodies as it would pop the bubble and ruin the experience for the audience.

Matt:  You mentioned the songs that you picked for the film.  There appears to be a hell of a lot of songs in this movie.  How do you work out which ones are right for the film?

Deke:  First of all, you think about all the different moments in the movie.  What do you want emotionally there and what is the story you are trying to tell?  At the same time, you have an overarching thought that you don’t get the rights to every song.  Some artists won’t give you the rights and others ask for too much money.  On top of that, you have to take into consideration the different characters and their personalities and what they will enjoy singing.  You also want to make sure there is a nice breadth of sound and style.  You want some current stuff and also some classic stuff.  You want pop, rock and hip hop so as to try to span different genres.

When we were making the first movie, it was so small that we weren’t even planning to make a soundtrack.  Success has many side effects and there were a lot of opinions about what was going to go into this second movie.  Because the first film made so much money, a lot of people wanted to make sure that every choice was exactly right.  I had to remind people that the big breakout song from the original movie was an old, folky 1930s country & western song sung by a single woman sitting on stage with a plastic cup.  In other words, there’s no way you can know what is going to be big so we may as well just pick songs for the movie and not worry about it.

Matt:  How much preparation goes into getting the cast ready before you do those final recordings?

Deke:  We had a cappella boot camp about a month before we started shooting.  I run rehearsals with all the different actors based on what’s going to happen in the movie.  I make them all sing every note perfectly for me from memory before they go into the recording studio.  The idea is that if they’re looking at sheet music and trying to remember their part, they’re never going to be able to perform it.

When we put them in front of a microphone and they sing for us, we’re pushing them for more energy and more personality because in the end, we can take the very best moments and cut them all together.  When they’re running around on stage in that finale, they need to sound like they’re running and singing for their lives.

Matt:  Are they generally pretty confident or is that something you have to help them build up?

Deke:  I would say they’re not so confident, especially in the first movie.  It was difficult to create an ensemble sound from 10 actresses where only 1 of them had sung a cappella before.  Only one of them is singing a melody at any particular moment.  The rest are singing harmony parts and beat boxing and making instrument sounds.  It’s really quite complex.  Each one of them is very different personally which makes it difficult to create a smooth, consistent vocal blend.

Matt:  Of the main cast, was there someone who stood out for you?  Someone who you think was the most talented?

Deke:  The great thing about the cast is that they’re all talented in different ways.  Anna Kendrick brings a sassy snark to her character and she’s a total professional.  She actually came into the project late because she’d been making Into The Woods and she didn’t want anyone saying she was behind.  By the end of our first hour together, she sang all of her parts up to that point perfectly by memory to show she’d been working hard behind the scenes. 

Rebel Wilson has a fantastic spark and energy and creativity but it’s not entirely chaotic in the same way that Robin Williams would take time to craft his humour and write jokes carefully.  Rebel puts a lot of time in to make sure her performance and time behind the microphone were spot on.

Matt:  It feels like we’re living in the age of the superhero movie these days but do think there’s room in the market to revitalise the musical genre?  It feels like we’re not getting a lot of them these days.

Deke:  The superhero movies have crazy large budgets and it feels like they keep making the same movie over and over.  The great thing about Pitch Perfect was it was a tiny little independent movie from a studio that only had one big hit previously, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  So when we were making the film we had the freedom to do whatever we wanted but I have to admit, even I didn’t think it would be the success that it was.  The fact that it was that big proves that you don’t need a lot of money.  If you tell a good story and create great music, you’ll have an experience for viewers that they want to go back and see again and again.

Matt:  I realise that it has a strong presence in the U.S. but do you have any idea if there’s a strong interest in a cappella here in Australia?

Deke:  Oh it’s huge.  There’s an organisation there called Vocal Australia and you can look them up online.  They’ve got the AUS-ACA Awards coming up very soon.  There are different regions all around Australia with different a cappella groups from high schools and colleges.  There are some professional groups too who are fantastic.  Definitely check them out because you will be impressed.