Yearly Archives: 2011

For Contractor’s Routine the director wanted to get some clips of the cast and crew talking about the film. If you haven’t met me yet and want to know what my voice sounds like, well, here you go.

Also, I explain the basic musical idea behind the score for Contractor’s Routine.

I mention two musical examples in this video – if you’re curious, here is the one for the scene with butterflies, and here is the other with Jacob from the film driving to work.

For no reason at all, here’s The Who, talkin’ about their generation.

Posted 7 years ago by John Piscitello


My composition teacher Byron Adams is a musicologist who frequently does concert talks. If you ever see him listed for a concert, go. From the Bard Music Festival that just happened in NYC:

Featured on the program was a clutch of obscure, trivial pieces by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, the figure at the heart of this year’s festival at Bard College, alongside works by peers now revered and reviled. In his prefatory comments Mr. Adams recounted a historical confluence of nascent nationalist aesthetics, a quality frequently ascribed to Sibelius’s cool, evocative creative output, and radical racial agendas espoused by late-19th-century proponents of eugenics, like Madison Grant, the wealthy conservationist who helped found the Bronx Zoo….

A regular festival participant at Bard, Mr. Adams is among the more affable scholars you can encounter here, which just made his measured delivery, lacerating wit and undisguised revulsion that much more chilling.

“The 19th century had two dangerous obsessions: one was with ‘progress,’ the other with ‘purity,’ ” Mr. Adams said. “Students of history know only too well the ghastly results of those two obsessions.”

Here is one of the Sibelius works that was performed, The Wood Nymph:


Posted 7 years ago by John Piscitello

SF Weekly:

Gravel-voiced Tom Sizemore adds a layer of mystery in the small but crucial role of Jacob’s former art teacher, spitting out chunks of thought-provoking voice-over laced with beady-eyed paranoia. The ending, as with all well-conceived psychological thrillers, invites you to replay the movie in your head, sifting for hints and meaning.

SF Chronicle:

Whatever limitations the filmmaker faced, it didn’t temper his ambition. This is the rare do-it-yourself-style indie film with flashback war scenes. “Contractor’s Routine” is also a puzzle, with seemingly innocuous events and conversational asides that become crucial when put together. 


Flirting with aspects of sci-fi (complete with some fleeting cosmic f/x), horror and tricky unreliable-narrator psychology, “Routine” might make most viewers wish it didn’t resist genre categorization and its simpler rewards so strenuously….Assembly is resourceful, with Isiah Flores’ lensing worth special mention.

 Jarod Mobarak

Contractor’s Routine is a puzzle to be solved through sights and sounds; it’s a story that never panders to its audience or believes they won’t understand. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear people come out of a viewing, shaking their heads and wondering what the heck happened

Posted 7 years ago by John Piscitello

I recently scored a short “Sati Shaves Her Head”, a South Asian retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story Bernice Bobs Her Hair. The film is done and the producers (Amar and Tejal Shah) are having a screening here in LA at the end of August. I wrote about the film a few months ago when the project was getting rolling.

What I like about the project is that the Fitzgerald story is basically the original Mean Girls. The story is about Sati who comes from India to spend the summer visiting her cousin Nikki in Beverly Hills. Let’s just say, Sati isn’t quite ready for the Beverly Hills social scene, but picks it up in a hurry. Then things kind of go off the rails.

A few things about the music:

– We licensed a bunch of tracks for the party scenes. For a daytime party we chose reggae music, and I’m a big fan of the band Dub Station from my Boston days. They are represented by KRucial Reggae (the KR stands for Kyle Russell, who runs it, and as a bassist, I can tell you, he’s a serious reggae bassist). We licensed Duchess (a rap / reggae mashup) and Come Tell Me (of which the director Tejal Shah said “it makes me feel like I’m on vacation”).

– For nighttime party scenes I found Temple Music Group in San Francisco, a bunch of folks I wish I’d known when I still lived there. For licensing purposes, their tracks stand out, some are very bleeding edge and innovative. They’re on SoundCloud (we licensed two tracks from them, including Feenin’ on that page).

– Amar Shah the producer is a fan of Andy Matchett and the Minks from his Orlando days. They remind me of the best of the Wallflowers. We used their song “All This Time” on the end credits. If you’re in the Orlando area, check them out, they play out often.

– And yes, I did a bunch of music as well. Really had fun with this. The music is light, percussive, and combines South Asian instruments with lots of percussion, strings, guitars. I’ll post some demos very soon.

A few spots to check out if you want to preview the film:

– There is a great set of stills from the set by Matthiu Grospiron.

– The film has a web site and Facebook page.

– I spent a lot of time watching scenes of the cast this film, and it looked to me like everyone was having fun. I especially enjoyed Hannah Simone,

Sonal Shah, and Joey Sinko.

– Finally, here is a clip, where we go from source music to original music and back again.

Posted 7 years ago by John Piscitello

This month I’m starting the Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television (SMPTV) program at USC. Check out the curriculum

and the program director Brian King’s description overview.

A few points about the next 9 months as a USC student:

    • My wife and I have been in LA for about a year now, but I’ve never had to commute. Now I’ll be going from PCH to downtown 4 days a week. To be more productive during the drive, I’ve got my eye on these Google robot cars. I can write music, practice some guitar, and prepare parts while the robot car handles traffic. Get on that, Google!
  • Does a single year at USC in a certificate program qualify one to be a Trojan football fan? On one hand, my undergrad was MIT, so I never had a college football team to root for. On the other hand, I’ll be busy every Saturday this fall, so I won’t make any games. HOWEVER. I grew up in New York with season tickets to the Jets. And the Jets’ quarterback is Mark Sanchez, who went 12-1 and won the Rose Bowl at USC in 2008. I think the Sanchez connection puts me over the top, so now I officially have a college football team to root for.

As far as life at USC goes, here’s a great Quora answer on What is USC like for film school?

And for a video, I can’t embed it, but here’s a cue for the film Polar Express by student Juan Otarola last year.

Posted 7 years ago by John Piscitello
Final Cut X may have annoyed some video editors, but MOTU keeps its users happy whenever new versions of DP come out.

They’ve released 7.23, a minor update available to download. Big things are coming, but in the meantime, they are taking good care of their users. I’ve been beta testing – I can vouch that it’s stable in my experience.

It’s better than this:

Posted 7 years ago by John Piscitello

There are good stories about Bernard Hermann in the WSJ, including the somewhat famous one about his falling out with longtime collaborator Alfred Hitchcock.


Hitchcock hired Herrmann for 1966’s “Torn Curtain,” but stipulated that the composer needed “to break away from the old-fashioned cued-in type of music we have been using for so long.” The composer agreed to Hitchcock’s demands, then wrote a score very much in the Herrmann tradition, precipitating a bitter quarrel between the two men. Hitchcock dismissed Herrmann, ending a 12-year collaboration.
To show what might have been, the “Torn Curtain” DVD includes among its bonus materials several scenes with the Herrmann score in place. His opening theme suggests a more robust cinematic experience will unfold and his underscoring gives the film a gravitas it lacks with John Addison’s lighter, more contemporary touch.

Try a comparison. Which one sounds more dated? The “old-fashioned” Bernard Hermann, or the “contemporary” John Addison?

Here is Bernard Hermann:

Here is John Addison:

I got to tell you, they both burn it up in their own way, but that tenor sax in the Addison piece just won’t fly to my ear anymore.

Posted 7 years ago by John Piscitello

This demo is really two different pieces. The first tells a complete story in sixty seconds – a daredevil botches his stunt in front of a huge crowd.

The second part sets a mood. It’s a classic “six months later”moment – the star is out of the game, sitting at home depressed and unable to complete.
First the tech: this is recorded entirely digitally – everything was done on my studio computers. I’m primarily using LASS, East West, VSL, and Cinesamples. I did the mix in Digital Performer with a few Waves plugins. The reverb is MOTU’s ProVerb using LASS’s impulses. Like everyone else, I ran the virtual instruments in Bidule since DP hasn’t released a 64-bit version quite yet.
The style: One filmmaker who heard it described it as “very Disney”. That wasn’t exactly a complement, but then I would describe it as “old-school”. This demo is about orchestration: no synths, no guitars, no beats. If we brought this to an orchestra, we’d want the players to nail it in one take.
I’d love to bore you all with a blow-by-blow of how I wrote this and way, but suffice to say, I’m using tools of the trade to invoke different mood. If you like this demo, let me know.


Posted 7 years ago by John Piscitello

A composer in South America emailed me and asked for advice on getting a visa to the US so he can pursue becoming a working composer in Los Angeles. I told him I’d write a response on the blog.

Let me first alert readers: I’m no expert on getting US visas. My only experience is with my wife’s visa (she is a Russian citizen). So unless your strategy is to marry an American, I’m not the first person to ask. 😉

Other than that, my advice is: separate getting the visa from your desire to work as a composer. The most important thing is to come to LA and start getting to know people in town. So focus on getting the visa first. Then worry about getting work in LA.

Your chances for an H1-B are better with bigger corporations. You will have to consider positions that are  non-composery. But pick a place where your coworkers are people you might work with in the future. Video game studios are a natural fit. For instance, Michael Giacchino was in marketing at Dreamworks Interactive and got his break when he made a demo in his off-hours for a Jurassic Park game they were releasing.

Then there are academic programs at UCLA and USC. You don’t have to get into the film or music grad programs even. It can be business. Just get an F-1, get here, spend all your spare time on your music and networking, and work out a strategy to stay here after you finish school.

If you’re serious about being a working composer, these won’t be diversions, they’ll be ways around an obstacle.

Posted 7 years ago by John Piscitello

My, the F-word is having a great year.  First there is P!nk’s “F-ing Perfect” (19 million views, embedding disabled). I’ve always liked P!nk. Something very honest about her songwriting.

Then there’s C-Lo’s “F You” (52 million views). My fave.

Enrique Iglesius has “Tonight I’m F-ing You” (9 million views). Not exactly romantic, but it gets attention.

It’s enough to make me want to watch this (1 million views). Not safe for work!

Posted 7 years ago by John Piscitello