Sunday, February 8, 2015

Days Upon Days

"We'll Never Have Paris" Soundtrack - Alexis + Sam

I recently had the chance to see a romantic comedy, "We'll Never Have Paris," which featured a very enjoyable soundtrack consisting of two major elements: vintage French pop songs and a score which struck all the right notes (pun intended).
 
 
Before I say more about WNHP, let me opine that there are, generally speaking, three kinds of film scores:
 
1 - Big and bold and unforgettable: Star Wars, Gone With the Wind, Psycho.  This style works best with certain types of films: epics and action and horror.
 
2 - Annoying music that calls attention to itself and distracts you from the story taking place on screen.  Scores that underline every emotion to tell you FEEL SAD! LAUGH! JUMP!  I tend to block these from my memory, but I seem to recall "Amistad" being an example of such.
 
3 - Scores that you don't notice because they do such an artistic job of organically fitting the plot, characters, cinematography and editing.  They subtly tie things together and draw out emotional nuances without you being consciously aware of it - unless you direct your focus on the music itself.
 
The score to WNHP belongs to that third category, which is fitting for a breezy love story.  After I got home from the screening, I looked up the credits and found that the score had been written and recorded by Alexis Marsh and Samuel Jones, a duo based here in Los Angeles. 
 

Alexis on tambourine
Sam and Jonathan Richards


They were kind enough to answer the seven questions I sent them.

1 - How did you two get chosen to do the score for the film?
 
Alexis + Sam:  In 2011 we were referred by Evan Schroedek, a fantastic editor, to Jocelyn for her first feature, "I Am I."  Sam scored one of Evan's USC projects, and we kept in touch with him after graduation.  One day we got an email saying he was working on a film he thought we'd be good for so we sent him a folder of music and waited.
 
It was about 3 or 4 months till we got a call from one of the producers, Cora Olsen, asking if we'd like to see a cut of "I Am I."  We watched it; Alexis cried her head off; we wanted to write the music for the film.
 
We met with the Present Pictures folks - Cora Olsen, Jen Dubin - as well as Jocelyn Towne, the director, and her husband, Simon Helberg, an executive producer and actor in the film.  A week later we got their call letting us know they'd like us to be on the team.  We were in the Home Depot parking lot at the time.  So damn excited. 
Anyway, we spent the fall of 2011 working on the score to "I Am I" with that same group.  It was our first feature.  We loved the film; we loved the people.  So when they started working on "We'll Never Have Paris" we hoped they'd call us for that score.  Jocelyn texted us in the fall of 2013 on the way back from the shoot in Paris to see if we were interested and available. 

2 - "Days upon Days," the song you wrote for the film -  did you worry about how it would fit with all the older French pop songs used elsewhere in the film?
 
A+S:  "Days Upon Days," was a song we had written and produced before we started work on "We'll Never Have Paris."  They needed a song to play in the background for the Brooklyn pizza restaurant scene, and it just seemed to fit.
 
There are a couple versions of that song - one using synthesizers for the lead and rhythm lines, and the other using gritty guitars.  It was fun to work within those two sounds.  They wanted the rock guitar version. 

I think there was a bit of worry about the song being good enough to sit with those classic French pop tunes.  Not because it wasn't French - just did it pale in comparison to such fantastic recordings/compositions/performances?  But that kind of thinking will destroy you so we focused on making the best recording we could and let it be what it was. 

3 - Will there be a soundtrack album, given that most films' scores are not released (especially on CD/vinyl) due to the current economics of the music industry?
 
A+S:  We are currently working out the details for a soundtrack of our work on the film: the score cues, "Days Upon Days." A record would be a dream though it'll most likely be an iTunes release only. 

4 - Did you use any scores from other films as inspiration for this one?
 
A+S:  In our initial conversations about the film with the directors, Jocelyn and Simon, the reference that kept coming up was Henry Mancini - his score for "The Pink Panther" ("A Shot in the Dark," the "Inspector Clouseau Theme"), the "Baby Elephant Walk" from "Hatari!," "A Profound Gas" from "Peter Gunn."
 
Those brilliant melodies create such a sense of character without picture.  That was a big inspiration.
 
Rolfe Kent's score for "Sideways" was a great reference for how jazz could be used in a contemporary film - tricky to balance that style without hitting elements on screen too hard ('over-scoring' being the word we try to avoid in potential criticisms of our scores).  We were fascinated to see how it could just play under dialogue, for entire scenes at times, without distracting from what was happening in the film.  That film and score just work together, and tied into Miles' (Paul Giamatti) character/story perfectly. 
 
And finally, our favorite reference: Eric Dolphy's "Out To Lunch" for Quinn's unravelling scenes.  That was really a dream come true for Sam - to have that in the vocabulary.  Simon and Jocelyn both have incredible taste in music so finding the sound was a great education in how all these references could come together - to try to do our own version of that.


5 - Where did you fit in the process - did you start composing after the film was far along in editing or were you involved earlier?
 
A+S:  We started working out some themes and a few sketches of cues toward the end of the editing process when they had a rough cut that was close enough to work with, but the bulk of it was in the month between picture lock and final mix. 
 
6 - What is your process like, working as a team, and was this score pretty typical in that regard?
 
A+S:  Our work begins with a lot of discussion about the tone, palette, and concept of the score, followed by the two of us writing separately - each coming up with a number of themes or sketches that we perform, record, and produce to present to the director(s) & producer(s). 
 
Once we have an idea of what is working for the team (which melodies, instruments, or sounds they like), there is a process of sending things back and forth, adding or subtracting elements, altering forms and arrangements, etc. so that each cue becomes a collaboration that works with the picture.
 
Simon and Jocelyn came to our studio on a weekly basis for about a month, going over the latest reel, talking about what was working, suggesting various ideas/experiments for what wasn't working yet.  About a week before the final mix, we had some of our favorite jazz musicians come in and play over the cues as well as a small string section for a few cues toward the end of the film.

Louis Cole
Nick Mancini
Ron Stout














7 - The two main male characters have a bit of a musical rivalry going on, piano versus violin.  Did that inform or affect your work in any way?
 
A+S:  Quinn's being a jazz piano player certainly set out a precedent for having piano featured in the score. We loved what they did with Guillame's character - the Mozart jokes, the Boulez reference, the way he plays violin for Devon's grandparents. He's a fraction of the story compared to the larger history that Devon and Quinn have so there weren't many opportunities to bring that piano/violin tension through literally with the score.

Let me leave you with Alexis + Sam's video about recording the score: