FILM COMPOSER BLOG

 I have been coming across organs a lot lately. First by seeing the films Prisoners and Interstellar just a few weeks apart. And now, while researching another finicky and hard-to-maintain instrument, I stumbled upon an article and slideshow about the Disney Hall organ in LA, reminding me of the lovely experience of hearing it  during a performance of a suite from “Close Encounters” a few years ago (which seems, by the way, influenced by the appearance of organ in the “Jupiter” movement of Holst’s “The Planets”). The organ can produce pure low bass tones that add power and mass to the orchestra like nothing else can.

Well, two soundtracks don’t quite make a trend, but it’s remarkable to church organs used  so extensively – and so differently – in two major films that couldn’t be more different.

The main theme from Prisoners contains shades of Arvo Pärt and tintinnabulation:

I’m not, by the way, in agreement with those who said the organ was too loud in Interstellar. Come to think of it, this cue sounds influenced by Arvo Pärt too:

Posted 1 month ago by John Piscitello

no place on earth DVD onesheetIn October 1942, Esther Stermer, along with family members and other families, sought asylum underground to evade being caught by pursuing Nazis. They remained hidden below for nearly a year and a half. The film tells their story and documents the survivors’ return to their village 60 years later.

No Place On Earth premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and released in theaters with Magnolia Pictures in April 2013. We recorded the orchestral score in Los Angeles. For woodwinds we used alto flute, clarinet, and bassoon. The only brass were french horns. Harp and piano augmented the string ensemble, and it was all augmented by synth layers form my rig. We recorded the whole score in a single day (and you can listen to the Varese Sarabande soundtrack on iTunes).

See No Place On Earth on Netflix. Also on DVDBlu-ray,  iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.

Rotten Tomatoes scored the film 79% fresh with 39 critics’ reviews:

The motion picture soundtrack is on iTunes and Amazon.

Here are soundtrack highlights on Soundcloud:

 

No Place On Earth Trailer:

Posted 1 month ago by John Piscitello

Asian Journal covered the launch of “Sayaw” at its premiere in San Francisco in October 2014.

 

Posted 1 month ago by John Piscitello

whats the t onesheetI wrote music for What’s the T?, a documentary by director Cecilio Asuncion that explores lives of five transgender women. Cecilio asked for different moods of music, which I provided without seeing a cut of the film. I saw it for the first time at Frameline 37 in San Francisco.

Since we made the film, Transparent and Orange is the New Black have created sensitive, fictional portrayals of transgender women, but nothing is as vivid or fascinating as the real-life stories in Cecilio’s film.

Read more about What’s the T? in the LA Times and Huffington Post.

Watch the film on Hulu or DVD. Or this full embed:

Posted 1 month ago by John Piscitello

Print Interviews:

 

Audio Interviews:

With Kaya Savas of Film.Music.Media:

 

With Mark Hasan of KQEK.com / Big Head Amusements:

 

With Chris of Soundtrax.fm:

 

Media features:

  • FanVoice featured “This is Life” from The Short Game.
Posted 1 month ago by John Piscitello

short game onesheetThe Short Game tells the story about the best 7-year old golfers in the world competing in the world championship at Pinehurst Golf course in North Carolina. I composed additional music for The Short Game, which premiered at South by Southwest Film Festival and opened in theaters in 2013. Netflix acquired the film and made it their first Documentary Feature in 2014.

Instead of the orchestral styling of No Place on Earth, The Short Game’s score was based on indie pop. The standout racks are “I Don’t Break“, a pop song which plays at the climax of the tournament, and “This is Life“, a sweet, very long cue which closes the film.

You can watch The Short Game on Netflix and DVD.

Reviews were positive. Rotten Tomatoes rated it 83% fresh with 18 reviews. Here are a few:

Variety: Finding the most entertaining angle on one of the world’s dullest sports, The Short Game has built-in word-of-mouth that should help it break out of the docu sandtrap and roll down the fairway.

Washington Post: You don’t need to like golf to like — perhaps even to love — The Short Game.

New York Times: On a cuteness scale — where 10 is a fuzzy kitten yawning in a hammock — the chattily uninhibited 7- and 8-year-old golfers of The Short Game score high.

On the production side, director Josh Greenbaum talked about the logistics of shooting the Pinehurst golf tournament, which occupies a major portion of the film. 18 camera crews and a lot of difficult logistics, as covered by Filmmaker Magazine:

“For the most part, we’re shooting at the children’s level, not down at them,” says (director) Greenbaum. He didn’t want the angle of the camera to provide any editorial perspective by shooting down or up at them.”

Josh Greenbaum also talked about working with kids in an interview on Golf.com:

This is a 7-year-old driving the ball 185 yards or eagling from the sand. So we had to find ways to remind you that these are kids, so those few times that they did break down or throw their clubs or start crying on the course actually helped us do that. I told the cinematographer to get the caddy or the bag or a tree in the frame while they’re hitting the ball so that the audience realizes, “Oh my God! They’re so tiny!”

Here is a sampling of my music in the film:

And the trailer:

Posted 1 month ago by John Piscitello

Google wrote about what they consider to be “The Eight Pillars of Innovation”. They reflect my experience when I worked there. I’ll leave it to you to deep-dive into the article, but The Eight Pillars are (with comments in parentheses):

  1. Have a Mission That Matters – (great startup advice, but for filmmaking, ambition can work against creating an emotional experience for the audience.)
  2. Think Big But Start Small – (big-companies especially need to hear this. Artists are of course by necessity used to starting small.)
  3. Strict for Continual Innovation, Not Instant Perfection – (on the other hand, Apple prefers to hold products back until they are perfect at launch.)
  4. Look for Ideas Everywhere – (yes, however films can benefit from a singular guru who sift through innumerable production ideas in pursuit of a clear vision.)
  5. Share Everything – (I’ve often heard comedy writers talk about how they learned this on the improv stage.)
  6. Spark with Imagination, Fuel with Data – (another way of saying is be prepared for many creative ideas to be rejected by reality.)
  7. Be a Platform – (creativity doesn’t mean you have to reinvent everything. Superhero and zombie concepts are simply platforms. What you create upon them can be wonderful.)
  8. Never Fail to Fail – (yes, but in order to fail frequently, you need to be capable of a high volume of output. You don’t want to be creatively spent when an idea is rejected and you have to start over.)

I find Google’s Eight Pillars too complicated, so I invented JP’s 2 Pillars of Coming Up With Original Stuff:

  1. Time – The longer you work on the idea, the farther down the road you can go. Time lets you travel beyond the Trope and the Obvious and discover new creative lands.
  2. Concentration – If the phone buzzes,  the pressure of a deadline weighs upon your soul, or even if you’re just plain hungry, your mind is less free to explore.

I always saw Silicon Valley’s free food and wifi buses as schemes to free up employee time…so they have more Time to Concentrate!

Posted 3 months ago by John Piscitello

Foo Fighters – Something from Nothing. Sounding very much like the perfect 90s band they were. And are.

 

Gwen Stefani – Baby Don’t Lie. This may not sound like her 90s band, but the video rocks a Windows 95 screensaver look.

 

Taylor Swift – Welcome to New York. This song will be inescapable. The full song is on Grantland…below is a 30-second preview:

 

Posted 4 months ago by John Piscitello

Based on the Arts Technica Yosemite review (and the fact that I just wrapped up a project on Thursday), I’m tempted to go ahead and install it. I recently tried a Mavericks install, but a failing system drive meant I had to fall back to Mountain Lion.

The Avid Pro Tools Community seems to think Yosemite is running OK, though there is some concern about Waves License Center.

The Arts Technica review is 24 pages, but still is as succinct an overview of a new Mac OS as one could expect. What is fascinating is the criticism about the translucency that is all over Yosemite:

 

Mac OS X Yosemite Safari tabs

Translucency in Mac OS X Yosemite

 

Still, my favorite quote is this one:

For the most part, a new look for an operating system doesn’t need to justify itself. It’s fashion. We all want something new every once in a while. It just needs to look good. But things start to get complicated when fashion butts heads with usability—then we want reasons.

 

Though I’ve tiptoed around it thus far, the friction point in Yosemite’s new visual design is its pervasive use of transparency. (Technically, “translucency” is more accurate, but please indulge my idiomatic usage.) Allowing what’s behind to influence the appearance of what’s in front is problematic in a couple of ways. From a purely aesthetic perspective, transparency is unpredictable. Designers can decide which aspects of the background will influence the foreground image, but they can’t control the content of that background. Will its contribution make the final image more pleasing, or will things turn ugly?

Posted 4 months ago by John Piscitello

On Wednesday I made a huge mistake.

I set up a Gmail filter to send certain spam emails directly to the trash, but in the “Sender” field mistakenly entered in my own email. After selecting “Apply to all matching conversations” and emptying the trash, that, as they say, was that. 17,000 of my Gmail emails were deleted forever.

Every email conversation I’ve had for the past 10 years is gone (what’s left are incoming mails to which I never responded.)

For 48 hours I’ve begged Google to restore them from their backups, but my pleas have been met with silence. So I’m jumping straight from denial to acceptance.

It’s not quite as devastating as it could be, because in the past year or two I established some work habits that mitigated the problem:

  • Work logs. When I wanted to check when I last upgraded a hard drive, I found myself endlessly searching for email receipts from MacMall. So I started a work diary: Touch any piece of gear in the studio, and it gets logged in a Google Doc. I do the same for home / life stuff as well – fixing a ceiling fan, getting new tires, etc.
  • Contact Management. I use Insightly to track projects and opportunities. You can forward key project-related emails  to an Insightly email address, and they go into your database and automatically link to your contacts and projects. That’s handy when a co-producer you only met once 2 years ago gets in touch.
  • Document Storage. Any important attachment I download to on my local drive, which is backed up to Time Machine and then off-site on Amazon Glacier. In each of my project folders, right alongside “Audio Files”, “Mixes”, and “Orchestration” will be folders like “Legal” and “Expenses”.

What I didn’t do, and should have, was use Apple Mail to download a copy of all my email to my local machine. Even 10 years of email only uses around 5GB. The reason I didn’t? Apple Mail was slow and had a tendency to autolaunch and take over the machine.

This mini-fiasco also revealed that I, like most people, tend to normalize risk. I’d gone 10 years without ever losing an email, so why put up with Apple Mail to back it up? As it turns out, when you lose data in The Cloud, it’s just as lost as work on your local drive.

I’ll try to treat the loss as a good thing, like the artist Michael Landy who destroyed all his possessions at his art gallery exhibition Break Down. A fresh start!

UPDATE: It appears the Gmail restore process is automated, and the system was waiting for me to change my password. *Whew* I’ll set up Apple Mail as a backup for when this happens again in 2025.


Arrested Development – “I’ve Made a Huge Mistake”


“Break Down” by Michael Landry

Posted 4 months ago by John Piscitello