I am an Actor with Notes

SAMSUNGI’VE COME TO THINK of my composition process  on a film as being similar to an actor’s in some ways. Let me explain by talking a bit about my process for “The Performance”, the film I am scoring starring Nicholas Campbell and Nick Mancuso.

I first analysed the story by using the script (normally I’d use the rough cut, but didn’t have it at the time.)

I had a preliminary talk with the director about his goals, his ideas, his thoughts, his view of the story and the characters. Jotting down key words in my notebook (pictured here) and asking questions along the way.

My first goal was to decide where there would be music and where there wouldn’t. Because this bit of information is obviously the first step in identifying what role music could take.

And then comes the fun part: digging in to the story and the characters to discover the function of the score.

I read the script over and over, watched what scenes I had to view, jotting down thoughts in my notebook (see the picture? That’s my notebook). Words. Sentences. Whittling it down, looking for that POV, looking for the essence. The center.

On the surface, the main character is sad. Sure. Fine. But I refuse to just say “I’ll write sad music”. I want to do more than that.

I want to tell part of  this man’s story as we accompany him on this emotional journey. Something that is specific and unique to HIM. Something that tells the audience something about him. Something that only music can bring.

And that is when I become an actor in a way. I ask myself this simple question: “why is he sad.“ Understanding his thoughts. His point of view. Trying to think his thoughts. But also to psycho-analyse him. What’s his reasoning, but also what’s behind his actions. Digging deeper until something starts to emerge, words pop out, a POV clarifies. I reach that point where in a few words I can describe what my goal will be for the score and I think “of course”.

Because the right solution should always make you think “of course.”

With the understanding of the character and the function of the score I am then able to get to work and write with a clear target in mind.

I set to work writing my themes knowing exactly what to aim for. No throwing notes at the screen like spaghetti on a wall.

And there you have it, a view into my process and why I consider myself an actor with notes.

My First Creative Steps on a Film

AM-blog2Just had my first successful meeting with the director of “The Performance”. Ideas hit the mark and now it’s time to get the actual writing of the cues underway. And I just thought of all the different things I do during those initial days of building a concept for a film score.

  • Seeing what’s there in my mind already, always the starting point. I do this multiple times a day after a break, a bit of silence.
  • Reacting to the surface elements – my first impulses to the story and the images.
  • Foraging & Collecting: my ideas, others, words, thoughts, concepts, anything.
  • Finding models – musical and films
  • Interpreting…the story, the director’s ideas, my own ideas etc…
  • Breaking down the story, understanding it 110%, bringing it down to the essence, for which I often collect key words and sentences
  • Figuring out the role of the music in the story, what could it add, how can it help and not just be redundant.
  • Juxtaposing – I love that word and it could mean anything. This time I am juxtaposing my three themes.
  • Collecting ideas and collecting sounds – as a I build a binder filled with ideas and my DAW template.
  • Seeing different angles – digging deeper to make sure
  • Finding structure and function in the score so I know what my music should aim to do
  • Deciding how many themes and musical ideas I should use for the genre/type of film it is
  • Spot the film, looking not only the ins and outs of music but for structure, symmetry, repetition, development, arc
  • Spot the film again, once the themes start to form, see where they fit and spot the film again
  • Review, rewrite, look at different angles
  • Sketch, mockups, improvise, be open, let it happen, think it through
  • Over-thinking is good – it is like asking a question…and you need questions in order to find answers
  • Take frequent breaks  – nothing set in stone. Go with the flow to retain high amounts of focus.
  • Don’t get excited about any one idea until the next day
  • Play with the image, play away from the image

There is no one order I can put these things in, you need to flow with the process, so I wrote them down, things I do and things I tell myself as working. I didn’t go into very big detail, but it’s important that things that guide you should never bind you either, and if you are too strict in your descriptions of steps you take it may backfire.

So over the years I got to know what works for me and have a pretty good handle on my process at this point which allows me to flow with the demands of the picture and achieve a good momentum and reach my best ideas.

Now back to work!


GETTING the SCORE: – my blog on all things film scoring.

SCORECLUB.NET  - my music instructional site and blog. My “Composer Training: Module I” currently on sale at 25%. Check it out! And if you sign up to the ScoreClub newsletter you get access to a 35 minute training video for free!


“No Letting Go” CD Cover Preview

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Still working on the release details, but here is a preview of the cover for the official “No Letting Go” soundtrack!

The score plays better than I anticipated. I mean, it works great in the film of course, but I wasn’t sure about it on CD. Plays great!

Please sign up to my blog in the box to the right here to get news of when this will be released, which will be very soon!

Here’s a little preview of the soundtrack below.


No Letting Go – teaser

During the holidays and early in the year I had the privilege on working on “No Letting Go”, a dramatic feature by the extremely talented young writer-director Jonathan Bucari.

It was a wonderful experience and the musical score, superbly performed by the Prague FILM harmonic, surpassed my own expectations.

The score was mixed by the great Brian Campbell (who mixed “The Legend of Silkboy” and “Comforting Skin” (and other upcoming scores of mine) sounds glorious.

There will be a release of the score for “No Letting Go”, so stay informed by subscribing to my blog (see box on the right of this page) and follow me on Facebook and Twitter (see icons at top right of page.)

In the meantime. enjoy the trailer!


The True Passion Project


“The White Tiger Legend”

This is the definition of passion! Of never giving up and being true to your vision.

“White Tiger Legend” is an animated fantasy kung fu adventure from the CGI artist Kory Juul.

Kory has worked on such films as “Avatar”, “The Matrix” and “The Hobbit”. He has travelled the world to put this film together from a story that has been in him for many years. It’s really inspiring what he has done.

This is a film I would love to see and especially to score. I have seen the film as an animatic, and let me tell you, it’s a great story and it’s the perfect film for the kind of score like the ones that made us fall in love with film scores to begin with; huge, colourful, heart-pounding and thematic. With the independence of going the Indiegogo way, this is possible. And I have in me to knock this out of the park and make this a great film score.

I have been in touch with Kory for a number of years now, been witness to his incredible journey to make this dream become a reality, and he’s been a real inspiration to me. Check out the video link below, you’ll see.

There’s some nearly complete footage, a bunch of animatics,but as I said, you will the amazing steps Kory has taken so far, the travels and effort, as well as a cameo from a bald guy you might know.

Anyway,hope you’ll chip in because you’ll get a KILLER score out of it, I promise you that!


Elysium update

Group pic with strings.

Alain Mayrand (orchestrator/conductor), Ryan Amon (composer) and John Rodd (recording engineer) with the London Philharmonia at Abbey Road

Tonight is the cast and crew screening of Elysium and I have been invited! My invitation got lost along the way but I finally got it.

The film is also starting it’s run at 10PM tonight, we all hope it does great.

It was a great experience being part of this and made some great friends in the process. Here’s a little souvenir picture.

I will be in Los Angeles on the 23rd to take part in a panel on the making of the score for Elysium. It’s called Bringing the Elysium score to life: tips from the team. See you there!



New Film: Primary

primary-posterI am currently working on the Vancouver film “Primary” directed by the talented Ross Ferguson.

Composition started in earnest about two weeks ago and is going very well. The director and I are really in synch and the music is coming along nicely, contributing to the tone and story in a way that feels very satisfying.

I should be done in the next few days to then tackle any rewrites, adjustments, orchestration and score prep. in time for the mix in early August.

I have been blogging about film music issues and thoughts related to the work I am doing on “Primary” on my blog “Getting the Score.” Check it out!

And check out the film’s IMDB.


New Piece


This coming Friday May 24th will be the premiere of my new piece “Rift” by the Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra.

It’s a  brutal short piece (ca. 5’00”) for chamber orchestra. Very intense and, well, brutal. This is me returning to what I loved to do and probably do best. To give you a sense of it, it starts with the timpani playing solo with the indication “Like war drums. Fill the hall.” So I am looking forward to it and I hope the orchestra does well with it.

Here’s information about the concert. 


Comforting Skin on DVD


 ”Comforting Skin” has been picked up by Anchor Bay Entertainment and is getting released on DVD May 21st.

I composed the score for this film using a chamber group enhanced with sparse use of samples and electronics. The score is dark and makes much use of dissonance and extended techniques but is also very melodically driven.

The soundtrack was released on Movie Score Media’s Screamworks label.

You can read more about the DVD release of “Comforting Skin’ here. http://www.amberlight.ca/ABEpress_Comforting_Skin

January Adventure

In December and January I was very fortunate to be orchestrator and conductor for a very large film called “Elysium”, helmed by director Neill Bloomkamp, starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster.

During December and part of January I was busy orchestrating along with the lovely Penka Kouneva.

In January our wonderfully lean music team of four people flew to London where I was fortunate to conduct the orchestra in the world famous Abbey Road studio.

It was my first time in Abbey Road and  it turned out to be, well, a life-changing experience for me. Here are some pictures from my time there.

Elysium at Abbey Road

Elysium at Abbey Road

Elysium at Abbey Road

Elysium at Abbey Road

Conducting the large string section, 62 players strong. What a sound!

Conducting the large string section, 62 players strong. What a sound!

The strings

The strings

Conducting the score for "Elysium" at Abbey Road.

Conducting the score for “Elysium” at Abbey Road.


Under the Decca Tree.

Under the Decca Tree.

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