Jewish Journal

Tel Aviv/L.A. Film Confab Broadens Musical Horizons

by Meredith Price

Posted on Jul. 6, 2010 at 6:51 pm

An exercise in which filmmakers were asked to describe their movie for composers and sound designers. Photos by Elad Spielman

An exercise in which filmmakers were asked to describe their movie for composers and sound designers. Photos by Elad Spielman

As Doug Frank, president of music operations for Warner Bros. Pictures, stood up to address a small audience in Tel Aviv’s Cinematheque late last month at the 12th annual Master Class in Film and Television, he began with a question:

“What color are you?”

The atmosphere was casual and the answers varied. Pink. Green. Dark purple (chosen by someone who admitted to being out way too late the night before surveying the famous Tel Aviv party scene).

The point, Frank continued, was to show that the question could be answered in a word or two. Communication about music — especially when it comes to making movies and creating scores — should be simple.

His next directive was clear: Describe the music you want for your film to your composer and sound designer. From the far corner, Los Angeles-based sound designer Paul Hacker and composer Eric Jasper waved to their fellow Israeli and American participants.

Undaunted by the challenging task and early hour, an American producer named Henry Lowenfels volunteered first. Lowenfels needed music that would reflect the sentiments in his low-fi, independent comedy called “Visioneers,” about people who get beaten down by the world and eventually explode — not with blood and guts, but like a volcano. Within seconds, Jasper was playing a lovely melody on the piano in just the right tempo, as Hacker intermittently added in booming explosions from his laptop. The crowd tittered. This, everyone agreed, had the right mix of humor and pathos.

The point, Frank interjected, is that music is a critical emotional component of any film — whether it’s a small documentary or a Hollywood blockbuster. But in order to achieve the right musical score, you don’t need to speak in technical terms about orchestral palettes or major chords. Instead, filmmakers, writers and producers should describe images and feelings. The composers and sound designers will then translate them into accompanying melodies.

Sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership and designed to create mutually beneficial relationships between entertainment industry professionals in the two cities, the music component was new this year at the master classes. Past years’ programs have included television and film executives Darren Star, Nina Tassler, Gail Berman, Nina Jacobson and Richard Gladstein.

“David Renzer believes that music is an integral part of that process, so here we are,”  Frank said. Over the course of the week Renzer, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group, lectured about the role of music within the Hollywood system, as well as the future of the music industry and how to find a common creative language.

The participation of Steve Schnur, president of Electronic Arts Music Group, also added an enlightening layer for many participants — even for experienced professionals like Hacker. “Music for video games is a fairly new part of the industry, and he [Schnur] brought a really interesting and fresh perspective to the whole process, because he has worked as a music supervisor on feature films in the studio system but now he’s the president of music for Electronic Arts,” Hacker explained. “He’s crossing genres, and he was able to give career advice to any musician who wants to promote themselves.”

That advice included not thinking of yourself as a one-dimensional composer. “Nobody should consider themselves a video game composer,” Schnur said. “The greatest composers have done film, games and TV.”

As a prime example, he cited Michael Giacchino, who composed the music for the “Medal of Honor” video game but went on to work in television and recently won an Oscar for the movie “Up.”

“I think most of the people attending were gamers and wanted to get into the space. A lot of them came up to me afterward and said, ‘My God, you did a complete 180 of my ideas,’ ” Schnur added. “This gives them the realization that there are more opportunities as creative people out there for them outside of film and TV. They can apply their talents to film, TV, video games and even social media.”

Steve Schnur in the sound studio.

For independent documentary filmmaker Maital Guttman, who also blogs for jewishjournal.com, being able to interact with other professionals in the industry and really collaborate was the best part. “You share ideas, and then you each gain by having more ideas and more creativity and you get to hear from other people’s experiences,” she said. “We show each other our work. We give and get feedback, and we get the chance to potentially work together. I’m here for a year, and it’s been a great entry into Israel, because now I have these 15 wonderful friends who are here in the industry.”

Last year at the master class, Tassler pointed out the terrible economy’s silver lining: Television shows in a small country like Israel, where production costs are naturally much lower, have better chances of being picked up by major American television networks than ever before. She cited the Israeli-created “In Treatment” as a good example.

This year, according to Schnur, the economic shift in the gaming industry also has a silver lining.

“What the recession did was change the way the industry looked at the potential for games, but what it did here is make people realize there is an entire different, additional industry.” After all, social-media games also need music. And for composers who know how to promote themselves, that’s good news.

Beyond imparting career advice and insider knowledge about how music works within the gaming industry, Schnur also took the time to set up several collaborations. “I already spoke to two or three of the folks that were in our class for the last couple of days. I’m going to have them work on some projects and demos for me. I think two or three of them exceeded what I came here with.”

On a broader note, Schnur also met with one of the members of his all-time favorite Israeli band, HaDag Nachash, to ask if they would re-record one of the songs from their new album in Simlish for “The Sims” — one of the most popular video game series ever made. “That pretty much guarantees me, as a huge fan, that everybody around the world will hear them and not necessarily be held back by the Hebrew language,” Schnur said. “This is a band that I’m destined and determined to make sure everybody knows.”

Jonathan Littman, president of Bruckheimer Television, attended the event for the first time this year. Others attendees included Danny Sussman, manager, Brillstein Entertaiment Partners; writer/producer Ed Redlich; and producer Sarah Timberman. Littman said he was impressed and surprised by what he saw during the week. “It’s a smaller industry here, and much more personal, so everyone really knows each other,” he said. “It’s much more of a nascent business, but with so much creative power and drive. I was not expecting the sheer amount of talent and hunger here.”

Littman said he hopes that the relationships forged over the week will lead to future collaborations between Israel and the United States.

“The last four days we progressed,” Schnur said excitedly. “The folks who were here are much better prepared to go out and attack Hollywood and share their talents verbally, musically and creatively. Their ideas were much more advanced and bigger by the end than they were when they started. It’s phenomenal to see that kind of A-to-Z result.”

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