This Is How We Write Music With Filmmakers [Video]

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Jonah Guelzo: Hello, I'm Jonah Guelzo. Throughout the last few years, I've had the privilege to meet and work alongside some incredibly talented creative minds, serving the film industry both mainstream and independent alike. In this weeks Rode Highlight, I got to speak with film composer Daniel Ciurlizza.


Guelzo: With a passion for helping filmmakers succeed and empowering their films through music, Ciurlizza has been called a positive force that inspires optimism in those he works with. Striving to evolve his scores in unorthodox ways, he and his team design custom sounds to create original soundtracks that are truly one of a kind. From his collaboration with YouTube powerhouse, Corridor Digital, to driving emotional drama in films like sci-fi feature film, Norman, Ciurlizza's musical innovation continues to impress.


Daniel Ciurlizza: I was first interested in film scoring from the time I saw The Holiday. It's the opening scene where Jack Black is scoring this film - when I saw that I said "wait, this is a thing" you know? I didn't know I could do that, you know? I - I didn't realize film composers were a real thing. I started doing a ton of research on videos and articles and eventually, I joined a co-op in San Francisco called Scary Cow. They gather in a building in groups and they just decide to make films. It gives amateurs an opportunity to work and suck - really suck at what they do [laughing] - and get better by sucking, you know?


Ciurlizza: Every project is different, every character is different, every filmmaker, every company, every team is different, you know? It's taught me to really dig deep into myself and into that character, and into that filmmaker - mostly so that I can understand why that filmmaker loves that characters. Why that character acts the way he or she does.


Ciurlizza: Nowhere on these spotting sessions or meetings or any of this where we're supposed to be talking about the score do we ever talk about music. It's a psychological study, you know? "Where are you from? What are you parents like? What do you want to do in life?" Those are the questions I ask filmmakers when I wanna figure out what the movie's about. Not "where do you want these trumpets," you know? [laughing] Like, it's useless to me, I know where the trumpets should go. I know where the bass goes - I know where all that goes. It's the heart and soul. Where do the emotions go? Where does your family history apply to this?


Ciurlizza: It's never about just playing instruments straight forward, because anybody can do that. So what we'll do is... record, say, one section of music - I don't know, let's say it's violin. We cut up a bunch of cello and violin sections, and pitched them up, duplicated them, made one fatter than the other, put one through a radio effect. The end result is a Frankenstein of a sound that ends up not being able to be replicated. There's grime in music, and that's the kinda stuff that really shines through because everybody might think that - that isn't the best choice because it's dirty. But dirt can be great - dirt can make great drama. [laughing] So really the goal is to find the most imperfect perfection.


Ciurlizza: I think a lot of people like to do what they do - I think a lot of people like their craft. I feel there may not be enough focus on and concentration and importance on the dedication to service part. Because our focus is so much on that dedication to service, the people we work with really value us because we do offer more than music. We're invested in their success, you know? We're invested in growing together - it's not just a contract.


Ciurlizza: I really like working on films that have the potential to impact society. Movies that demonstrate that humans have a huge impact on environment or on themselves or for space exploration. I think any movie that encourages any advancements is great, and that's what I'd like to see more of - that's what we'd like to work more on. Because art is so powerful - art can really change society.


Ciurlizza: Something that I apply every day - and that I think new artists, film composers, or filmmakers can apply - is to learn something every day. You can literally learn anything just by reading. And to always be working on something. John Williams said to write music every day regardless of it being bad, you know? Just as long as you're practicing and training and... to focus not on yourself, but on how you are helping others. How your art and your craft can impact either one person or the entire world.