Filmmakers and Composers Tune Into the Creative Process Behind Film Music at the BMI Roundtable Discussion

BMI, the music company that manages licensing fees for musicians, gathered no fewer than 17 Festival directors and film composers on stage at the BMI Roundtable Discussion: Music and Film, the Creative Process at the Sundance House on Wednesday. Aligning everyone’s schedules so they could participate and disclose some aspects of the director-composer relationship is difficult enough. But getting the many panelists to find the common ground necessary to converse among themselves, is an indication of the love of film the Festival engenders and the collegiality BMI encourages among its musicians.

Compser T. Griffin, BMI Vice President Doreen Ringer-Ross, and Marshall Lewy (California Solo). Photo by Randall Michelson.

BMI vice-president of film/TV relations Doreen Ringer-Ross is a seasoned veteran at moderating the event, which is an annual Festival tradition by now. She started off by asking the panelists how they came to work with one another and what their working relationship is like (most of the directors in attendance had their film composer sitting next to them). Black Rock director and actor Katie Aselton explained that she met Peter Golub, director of Sundance Institute’s Film Music Program, through her husband Mark Duplass and knew that he would be able to handle the challenges of scoring the innovative thriller that hearkens back to the 70s. “I was very specific about what I wanted with this score,” Asleton said. “I wanted it to be reminiscent of '70s thriller scores, but also wanted to put a modern spin on it.

“On one hand, it’s a genre film,” Golub said, “but it’s a different kind of acting and it’s more intelligent than your average genre film,” so his work on the score had to “match the intelligence of the film.” Aselton agreed, adding that she was “following the rules of the genre, but doing it on my terms and we carried that through in the score as well.”

Sundance Institute Film Music Program Director Peter Golub. Photo by Randall Michelson.

Musician Ryan Beveridge and director Aurora Guerrero worked together on Guerrero’s debut feature, Mosquita y Mari, the finely observed story of two teenage Chicanas growing up in one of Los Angeles’ immigrant neighborhoods. The two girls are initially hostile to one another but eventually discover a deep bond. “She didn’t want to hear any of the typical sounds - no Spanish guitars,” Beveridge explained about Guerrero’s direction. “It gave us a chance to create the right sound for this story as opposed to something that sounded clichéd. She also had already chosen a lot of great songs, and the songs captured the neighborhood and the immigrant story while I just got to focus on the relationship between the two girls.”

A director, in other words, doesn’t just need to know how to give insight to the story. A good filmmaker will also make sure to give a film composer the room to creatively contribute to and influence the story. Echoing what many of the other directors said at the panel, Guerrero confessed that she didn’t know the technical language of music, but used the language of emotion to describe how she wanted the score to contribute to the film at particular moments. Guerrero described the process as “giving him a blueprint of what I was feeling and hearing for the film” and letting him take it from there.

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