Atlantic Filmmaker Focus - Chris Pauley

The Atlantic Film Festival is a champion of Atlantic Canadian filmmakers. In keeping with this promise, every month we will be profiling some of the most incredibly talented people in the filmmaking industry today. This month, we look at music composer and producer Chris Pauley

Chris is the owner of Evil Twin Music and recently composed the score for our Summer of Spielberg mash-up that was edited by Jenna MacLeod.

Chris Pauley
DOB: Feb 22nd 1964
From: Moncton, NB
Currently Residing: Halifax
Working On: A web series and a couple of fine art short films.

AFF: What first got you interested in film?
CP: I was always interested in music, and film was just always there, but I didn’t realize the connection until I was older. I remember loving the music in Disney movies but not realizing that what the characters were singing or responding to was actually written for them by someone else, and not created by them. I think I started to clue in when I was 12 or so, trying to record the audio on TV shows by hanging the tape recorder microphone in front of the TV speaker so I could listen later.
AFF: When did you decide that score composing/music would be your career?
CP: It’s always been there but I’ve always had another day job on the side.  I like to keep busy at lots of things, but I ‘m always creating music. I started music lessons at six years old, and by 15 or 16 I was playing in bands.  Computer technology reached a certain point in the late 90s with MIDI and such. That was when I really started getting into creating my own music for images – my first gig was for a theatre company.
AFF: What advice would you give someone who wants to do what you are doing?
CP: Just do it! Find people, who want to do the same thing, collaborate and learn from and help each other. Some education is important, of course. Everyone needs some technical and theoretical foundations, but that’s just a starting point. Volunteer in the field so that you are making and doing, and network and build relationships wherever you can.  This industry is held together by relationships.
AFF: What in your opinion makes a good film?
CP: Something that engages the mind and emotions. For me, it has to have a certain technical competence; then I know I’m in good hands and can relax and enjoy the ride. I can admire a ‘raw’ type of movie if there are amazing performances or a story I’ve not seen before, but I like to be transported, and to my mind, that takes a certain level of technique first. But, if I say any more on this, I will go into my shaky camera rant and no one wants me to do that (laughs).
AFF: What is your favorite film/TV show based solely on the music or score played?
CP: John Williams is my favorite composer and the films he scores are almost always automatically stronger for him being there. Sometimes they’re better than the films!  A great example of his would probably be ATTACK OF THE CLONES. I wish the story had been as good as the music, especially that gorgeous, sweeping love theme.
AFF: What is the process of composing a score? Could you take us through that?
CP: I just sit and start plunking away at first. I try to find sounds and chord progressions or melodies that feel right. I have some musical theory training but I mostly work by ear when I’m composing. I work spontaneously and improvise. If something works, I run with it, and if not, I start anew.  I don’t throw ideas away – you never know when something that doesn’t work ‘here’ might work ‘over there’.  I kind of build my music in layers, and as a result, for better or for worse, my tendency is to go bigger at first and add more. Then I usually need to strip layers away but that’s a fun challenge too. At the end of the day, I like to have my music carry emotional weight but not to grandstand and shout out, “I’m here to make you sad.” The task is to give the film the minimum it needs.
AFF: What are some unique challenges of making a score for film versus one for TV or video game?
CP: There’s a lot more flexibility in scoring games – the musical cues can be longer and evolve more slowly, plus they have to grow and match up with events that might happen after 30 seconds or after 10 minutes.  You never know, because it depends on the player. So making music that’s interesting and not overpowering or annoying for 10 minutes, is a different challenge than writing a sensitive, romantic cue that lasts 45 seconds!
AFF: Is there any local talent that you haven’t worked with that you would like to?
CP: Oh there are so many ‘up and comers’ in this area, it’s hard to know where to start. I’ve really liked working with Lisa Rose Snow and would love to work with her more.  I think she is a real talent and shows lots of promise. I’d like to work with Angus Swantee, who produced EVERYONE’S FAMOUS and directed TOTUROUS; outrageous stuff but with a great sense of fun!  In that same camp, I think Josh MacDonald’s a dude to watch out for too – GAME was terrific! I also love what Michael Melski did with CHARLIE ZONE and loved John Mullane’s score!
AFF: What has been your favorite piece of work thus far?
CP: Tough one, as this has been my favorite and busiest year to date.  My first feature, ROAMING, was a real highlight, of course, but if I think about this year alone, I really enjoyed doing the score for Lisa Rose Snow’s GHOST WALK. It was a real simple story; almost more a prologue to a feature but in terms of the music it had a real cool arc. I liked what came out of it both musically and because I got to do the sound design too! And it’s spooky – spooky is usually my ‘default setting’.  Lisa was very specific and clear about what she wanted so it was just a great collaboration. I also very much enjoyed doing the score for the SUMMER OF SPIELBERG mashup. Seeing those iconic visuals and the way Jenna MacLeod edited them together was goosebump-inducing. The images were so powerful I felt like I could have done anything and the outcome would have sounded epic. It was a great challenge and although no one can touch his level of mastery, I wanted to do John Williams even just a tiny bit proud. There are a few nods to him in the music if you listen closely.
AFF: What was the inspiration for the score you did for the film ROAMING?
CP: There was a certain sound I wanted the main character to have. I felt like Will’s theme should have a certain feel of obsessiveness and repetition. I was thinking of Steve Reich and minimalist music a lot, and he uses the marimba (wooden xylophone with a lower tone). This instrument has become something of a composer’s shorthand for alienation and whimsy all at once, and I started writing some music before the film, just to give the producer a sense of the vibe I was thinking about. Rich MacQueen asked me to listen to the score of JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME, and within two minutes I knew I was on the right track, because, “Bam!” - there was the marimba! Anyway, I wanted the music to make the audience feel empathy and sympathy for a main character who’s something of a blank slate, and I think my approach pulled that off.  At least I hope so. (laughs)

AFF: Do you work on the scores with other people or on your own?
CP:  For the most part I do it on my own. I am a keyboard player, so I work with synthesizers and samplers, which allows me to do the bulk of the playing, on my own. Bringing in and working with other musicians is a thrill and brings a certain energy, though, beyond a doubt!  It’s a necessary thing for me to be doing, both professionally and artistically. Budgets allowing, it’s very much in the cards for future projects!
What were some key feelings you wanted to convey with the score for ROAMING?
CP: I wanted the music to reflect the alienation felt by the main character. I wanted the audience to feel it. I wanted it to be unemotional. I wanted it to convey some warmth, some empathy.
AFF: Was there a favorite moment during ROAMING?
CP: Easily the montage at the end. I love the way Michael Ray Fox’s script and direction brought together the characters and their resolutions. I was especially proud of the music in the last shot. There was a hopeful feeling to it, without that dreaded ‘bashing the audience over the head’ that I want to avoid!