Posts in Indie

I've tried writing this blog twice and deleted both versions. Both versions were about the process of creating the score for Shawn, my relationship with Brian Ivie (the film's director), the technical details, and anything remotely nerdy that most of you reading this would probably find interesting. And then, after 45 minutes of writing, I realized that it was all wrong.

Because all of these things aren't what Shawn is about. 

I have never wept more while working on a movie than I did while scoring Shawn. I have never been more humbled on a project, and never more sobered by life. Brian has become a dear friend who has iterally stayed up ALL night with me as we worked to tell the story of a wayward son, a desperate mother, an angry father, and a gracious God. And the craziest thing to me about Shawn is that it's all true. 

If you're a family man, a wayward son, someone who regrets or is afraid of their past, someone who counts themselves as religious, someone who's offended by religion, or someone who can't bear to think about what the future might hold because tomorrow's unknowns are almost too much to bear, watch this film. I promise you that it will be some of the best 20 something minutes of your life that you've spent, but not because it is artistically satisfying, has an interesting score, or features Francis Chan. While these things are true, they're not the reason that we made this film. 

We made this film because of who Shawn Malone was, who he is, and why he's alive today. And, funnily enough, none of that... is about Shawn.
So, will you follow the link above and watch this true story for free online? You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

My $50,000 Harmonica

In 2013, I received one of the most unusual and yet coolest graduation gifts that I could never think of: a C-Major diatonic harmonica. It wasn't from my mother, grandfather, or any other blood relative. No, this harmonica came from my Alma Mater, the USC Thornton School of Music as a gift for my graduation from the Scoring for Motion Picture & Television Program (SMPTV). My wife and I joked that it was a $50,000 instrument because of the cost of the program. And yet despite the joking, I held onto that harmonica like it was actually worth that much. 

It was a fun and quirky gift. It sat on my desk for a few weeks, made its rounds around our home after dinner and at random intervals when boredom set in, really functioning more as a novelty piece in our home than something functional for my career, which, is probably how it was intended to be used. (I can't imagine the Thornton administration sitting around and thinking "one day, one of our graduates will actually use this to make a living.") After a few weeks, the harmonica went back in its case, packed up, and moved across town to our new home, and then packed into a box and moved again 1 year later to the new studio location. The novelty gradually became forgotten. 

In the last 12 months, I was fortunate to be connected with Graham Kelley of Naknek Design. We hit it off as pals immediately, and have since collaborated on several projects together that have both paid the bills and satisfied our creative tendencies, most of these projects being corporate gigs helping businesses grow their brands through visual storytelling. And then, in January of this year, Graham told me that he was going with Ryan Francis (his business partner) to a small town in north central California to start work on what would be a multi-part narrative short series on hard work. He said that he'd love for me to help score it. I didn't object.

Months went by, life happened, and I completely forgot about the project until Graham asked me if I'd take a look at the temp that they had for their final cut of the first episode about three weeks ago. I'm now scoring the first short in this series called "Sweat of Thy Brow", releasing later this summer. Without giving any spoilers, I'll just say that it's been a blast creating an Americana-esque score that's based around a une. A real, fleshed out, 16 bar tune with a B section! The little things in life... 

As I was scoring today, I was fiddling with various textures and couldn't quite get the right balance between reediness, gritty earthiness, warmth, breathiness, and humanity. I tried building synth patches. I tried over 100 patches in Omnisphere (I mean, c'mon! No one built a patch with ALL of those tags I needed??). I tried singing. Nothing fit. Frustrated, I took a lunch break and then came back up to the studio to file a few pieces of mail that had arrived. Much to my surprise, the solution to my texture problem stared me down from my score-taping table. At some point in the last month, my wife had come across the harmonica again and placed it neatly next to a lamp in the studio, almost as if it was begging to be used again. I thought "what the heck" and brushed up on my harmonica chops (which are minimal), then started playing along to the B section of my tune for Naknek. It was absolutely perfect. The texture, the warmth, the grit, the humanity... it was all there. 

It's been said that live instruments increases the production value of a score. Well, as of today, this small budget project just got a $50,000 score. Fight on! 

The Dating Project
"Such a great recording session a few nights ago at the studio. Crazy to see this original score to our film... So blessed to be working with  @gfonda , brought so much life to our movie with his insanely creative score. Big thanks to Scott Frankfurt Studio and all the players involved!!" // PC & Quote:  @jcipiti

"Such a great recording session a few nights ago at the studio. Crazy to see this original score to our film... So blessed to be working with @gfonda, brought so much life to our movie with his insanely creative score. Big thanks to Scott Frankfurt Studio and all the players involved!!" // PC & Quote: @jcipiti

In late summer 2015, my good friend Brian Ivie (The Drop Box, Shawn) told me that there was a project that he was loosely involved with that I might be well-suited for as a composer and inquired whether I might be interested. He asked if I could put together a short reel of anything that I had that was "indie" oriented. Fortunately, I had just finished up a collaboration with the lovely and talented Janey Feingold (more coming on that later) that was "cinematic indie". I sent off a bunch of work to Brian, no idea what I was getting into. As it turns out, Jon Cipiti, the director of The Dating Project, happened to really dig what he heard. I was hired on to be the composer for a fun documentary about, well, dating. 

Working with Jon was really a dream. The guy is overflowing with joy and, while he knows exactly what he wants, is incredibly encouraging in the process of creating and refining. Jon sent me the link to the final cut before we spotted the film, and much to my delight, saw the film was DP'ed by my friend and videographer extraordinaire David Bolen. (Let's just say that it looks nothing short of incredible.) Jon never tired in pushing us to the best possible option for score, even if it meant trying different ideas and then circling back to square one. Megan and Catherine, the producers, were equally as sweet and excited about what was happening. These people KNEW their film backwards and forwards. WHAT A JOY to have this happening. 

The film follows four “Dateables” (people who are well, date-able…) who vary in age from late teen to 40-something over the course of a couple of years. Because of the age gap, it was tricky to find the right sound for the film and then to write almost an hour's worth of music in said palette in very short “cues”, or pieces of score (we ended up with almost 30 cues). Because of the fast-paced nature of the documentary, a majority of the cues I wrote ended up being between 20 and 30 seconds long, so it was tricky to create pieces that were compositionally sound in such a short time. Jon and I finally decided on an ensemble that was a whole mess of guitars (acoustic, electric, folk), electric bass, piano, drums, recorders, a solo cello, and some toy percussion, and wove the entire film together with themes for each of our Dateables. All in all, the whole score became kind of a big set of theme and variations and an exercise in colorful orchestration for a modern ensemble. 

I've got to give a shoutout to my entire team on this one. My players were willing to try a TON of unconventional scoring practices on this.... especially my pal Wil Pearce. This guy has his fingers ALL OVER this score, and played more string instruments than I can count. My orchestrators did a fantastic job pulling some long hours getting traditional notation matched up with chord symbols, and Scott Frankfurt and his team proved to be the most hospitable, easy-going, and professional crew yet again. We tracked the entire score at Scott Frankfurt Studio. What a day, what a night! This entire film was a joy to work on, and we couldn't be happier with the results!! 

The Dating Project releases nationwide later this year. Stay tuned! In the meanwhile, here's two cues from the film! Enjoy! 

The Story

I was privileged to be able to collaborate with my friend Phil Borst and a company called Spread Truth to put together a 6 minute animated film that tells the story of the entire Bible from start to finish. We recorded with a full rhythm section and orchestra for this project, and rather than telling you more about it, I'll let it speak for itself. I couldn't have done this without the artistry of my friends Belinda Broughton on solo violin and Scott Frankfurt as engineer. Check out the score HERE and the film HERE. Enjoy!