What is a film without a soundtrack? This questions is answered in writer/director Matt Schrader's crucial and poignant feature documentary 'Score: A Film Music Documentary' (2016). Imagine 'Titanic' without the epic sounds of Enya's voice weaved in with James Horner's haunting pipes; 'Gladiator' without Lisa Gerard's ethereal voice mixed with Hans Zimmer's soaring symphonies; 'Star Wars', 'Jaws' or 'Indiana Jones' without John Williams' legendary awe-inspiring orchestral accompaniment; 'The Mission', 'Cinema Paradiso' and Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns without Ennio Morricone's lingering melancholy melodies...
Having edited hundreds of hours interviewing industry giants such as- James Cameron, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, John Williams, Randy Newman, Howard Shore, Steven Spielberg, Gary Marshall, and many more. Join a plethora of some of Hollywood's most beloved film composers and producers as they speak at length on a subject close to their hearts- the film score; and learn from expert filmmakers why they believe music is essential to cinematic story telling.
A book could be written about canonical films that would never have been complete without the accompaniment of their unforgettable score. In Schrader's doc, he takes on the challenge in a passionate and inspiring way, having created a magnificent feast for the eyes and ears in this ode to film music. The film is brilliantly edited holding its intensity throughout, cutting between epic interviews and clips from the movies that have shaped our culture and collective psychology. Audiences reactions have been nothing short of giving thanks for reminding us once again why we really love movies.
I interviewed Matt Schrader after his filmed screened at the Sedona International Film Festival. Here is what he shared:
What made you decide there had to be a film giving voice to the importance of score music?
MATT: I’d thought this for years! I’d actually told Trevor Thompson, our producer, how I was certain this documentary would be made soon, and I couldn’t wait to see it. After a few years passed, and after being inspired by a lot of film music myself, I decided it was time for us to try.
Many films these days are made without using a score. Do you think they are incomplete films?
MATT: It’s an interesting thing to see drama without any music. Music does so many things that it’s often a little jarring and off-putting to see scenes without music in them. That works for certain shows and movies. One of my favorites, Breaking Bad, uses music very sparingly and in the context of the story it makes for intense, raw moments. But by and large I think music is an essential part of film. It’s actually hard to think of movies without any music whatsoever. (Though there are movies without dialogue!) That speaks volumes about the importance of music to powerful storytelling.
Do you think film composers today are modern Mozarts and Beethovens?
MATT: Yes. There is little doubt in my mind. It takes a lot of talents to compose the music for a film. Not just the technical skills, or the ability to craft a tune, but also the ability to see how that tune can fit into a broader story line. I think film composers have these “big picture” skills that a lot of musicians don’t necessarily have, and that really sets them apart. If you look at the classical composers, you see people who had this same kind of understanding of communicating a narrative through music.
In your film you interview many industry professionals, such as James Cameron, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, John Williams, etc, to name a few.. How difficult was it to get time from such busy industry professionals?
MATT: Composers are incredibly busy — especially the really talented ones — because there is more entertainment out there than ever before, and a lot of them want composers to do their film or TV series. A lot of composers will work on six or seven or eight scores a year, plus other personal and passion projects. They love what they do, and they have to be 100-percent dedicated to each job they take on. Because of that, it’s harder to make time for interviews than with people in other professions. We’re certainly appreciative for everyone’s time. It ended up taking almost two years to interview everyone we needed for the film —which ended up around 60 interviews in total.
How long did it take you to make the film and how many hours did you have when it was finished that you had to edit?
MATT: Two years and then some. We started editing about one year in, and some of the interview subjects’ availability slowed us down a little bit. Overall, this was a gift that allowed us to focus on the specific needs of the project and improve upon our original idea. We had hundreds of hours of interview material and behind-the-scenes access, some of which we’re trying to make available now to the real film composer junkies in our accompanying book —which has LOT of extra material in it.
Some classical composers feel that only symphony scores are 'great' scores, but today there are all kinds of instruments used to modernize sound (i.e. Trent Reznor, Hans Zimmer, Moby, Daft Punk). What do you think makes a score 'great'?
MATT: A few of those people you mention have had huge success mixing synths and electronic elements with the orchestra. A lot of composers, including Hans Zimmer, see the orchestra as a sort of musical technology, accumulated over several hundred years. It seems there’s sort of an evolution or natural selection that has taken place over that time, with instruments evolving into their own unique sounds and textures. The ones that aren’t as expressive or as useful have been weeded out, so I think of the modern orchestra as really the best of the best. Because of that, I think it’s going to be around for a long time, but electronic sounds will certainly become more and more a part of mainstream scores.
Do you think the digital revolution and distribution crises that has hit the industry hard will affect the film music industry in a bad way?
MATT: There are ebbs and flows in any industry, and I think there are a lot of factors constantly changing that have an impact. There are certainly some challenges — especially economic ones — but I see more positives than negatives. This field is evolving fast, and opening up to new composers who have their own musical ideas. This may change things for a short time, but there future is very bright for film music. I hope SCORE can lends viewers and even people in the industry a larger appreciation for the immense talent and creative inspiration that music provides in film. It’s really an incredible thing.
SCORE has been traveling to film festivals everywhere. What has the audience reaction been like?
MATT: We actually don’t have our international premiere until CPH:DOX in Copenhagen. But the feedback at festivals has been incredible. We’re really pleased we can share what we’ve learned, and the fun we’ve had, and that other people can take away something valuable. There’s nothing more satisfying than hearing people say they’ll never watch movies the same way again. That tells us we’ve done our job as documentarians.
Your direction on this film was a tour de force. What works do you have in the pipeline?
MATT: Thank you! We have a couple projects in the works very early on now. They’re still top secret, so I can’t discuss much! But once SCORE is out in theaters May 26, and on streaming platforms, we’ll be able to jump in 100 percent. It’s going to be part marathon, part sprint, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Interview written and conducted by Vanessa McMahon; posted on March 8, 2017.