CS Score Reviews Casper and Chats with Emmy Nominee Amanda Jones
Welcome back, film score lovers! We’ve got an amazing batch of goodies for you to check out this week. First up, we take a deep dive into La La Land’s terrific 2-CD release of Casper and chat with Emmy nominated composer Amanda Jones, who produced terrific work for the Apple original TV series, Home.
The Tax Collector Michael Yezerski
First up, Filmtrax (via BFD/The Orchard) has just released the original motion picture soundtrack to David Ayer’s hit crime drama The Tax Collector. Composed by Michael Yezerski, the music features a unique blend of acoustic folk, hip hop, and Latin influences. Order your digital copy by clicking here.
Track List: 1. Love Honor Loyalty Family 2. The Tax Collector 3. The Dream 4. A David in Life 5. O Hey Conejo 6. Making It Rain 7. The Nephew 8. In the Bedroom 9. Conejo Collects 10. One Point Six 11. Alexis 12. Reunion 13. Sneaking into the Compound 14. For My Family 15. The Wizard 16. David on Ends
DC’s Stargirl: Season 1 Pinar Toprak
WaterTower Music released the soundtrack to DC’s Stargirl: Season 1 as well, which features epic music from Emmy-nominated composer Pinar Toprak. The composer wanted the score to sound similar to those old-school 1980s Amblin productions and opted to record each episode’s music with a live 60-piece orchestra. The results are quite fantastic!
Track List: 1. The Justice League of America 2. Pat Was Right 3. Rescuing Starman 4. Friendly Folks 5. JSA Files 6. The Cosmic Staff 7. Brainwave Calls Icicle 8. Pat Reviews Files 9. Brainwave Threatens Courtney 10. Leave Blue Valley 11. Elegy for Joey/JSA Hall 12. Rex & Wendi Leave 13. Rick Wears the Hourglass 14. Beth Meets chuck 15. JSA vs. ISA 16. I’m Not Stargirl 17. Henry vs. Henry 18. Fighting Sportsmaster & Tigress 19. ISA Manifesto 20. Justin Needs Help 21. The Christmas Gift 22. Stargirl Destroy the Transmitter
Casper: 25th Anniversary Remastered Limited Edition (2-CD Set) James Horner
We’ve received a number of reissues of James Horner’s music over the last several years, including the brilliant 4-CD 20th Anniversary Titanic set, the 2-CD complete score for Legends of the Fall, and the fantastic 2-CD release of The Rocketeer. This month, La La Land Records saw fit to deliver an expanded version of one of the late composer’s vastly underappreciated works, 1995’s Casper.
First off, this new CD set is fantastic. The sound quality pops and the additional cues make for a terrific listening experience. The entire score clocks in at roughly 72 minutes making for a briskly paced album that blends Horner’s trademark emotional underscore with the same type of wild adventure music he achieved in other family films such as Willow, An American Tale: Fievel Goes West, and We’re Back: A Dinosaur Story.
The film itself is a slog — a bizarre mixture of adult themes and kid-friendly hijinks that, like its main protagonist, never fully materializes despite some exception VFX work. Directed by Brad Silberling, executive produced by Steven Spielberg (who brought along many of his usual collaborators), and starring Christina Ricci, Bill Pullman, Cathy Moriarty, and Eric Idle, the film opened to mixed critical reception but nonetheless made $287 million against a $55 million budget and continues to be a mainstay Halloween tradition.
Horner had long been Amblin Entertainment’s go-to man with a total of 17 scores recorded for the studio, including An American Tale, The Land Before Time, *batteries not included, Balto and the two big-screen Zorro flicks. Casper is perfectly suited for the composer’s instincts as the story spends a good chunk of its running time exploring the tragic backstories of not only its titular ghostly hero but also its main two protagonists, James and Kat Harvey. Horner composed a lovely melody, often referred to as “Casper’s Lullaby,” to accompany these emotional beats; and uses both piano and choral music to deliver the goods. It’s not hyperbole to say Casper’s theme ranks among the composer’s best.
The new album starts off with bouncy melodies — heard in “Carrigan & Dibs” and “March of the Exorcist” — and a playful family theme before introducing the aforementioned Lullaby roughly midway through the lengthy “No Sign of Ghosts.”
“First Haunting/The Swordfight” is presented as heard in the film and consists of the wacky sounds Horner employed in other family adventures like Jumanji and The Grinch, but swiftly segues into some wild — and fun! — swashbuckling music as the Harveys battle the ghosts. “Casper Makes Breakfast” (and many of the tracks for Casper’s three foul-mouthed uncles) leans on Horner’s swing-style saxophones for its energy; and while these bits are entertaining, the overuse in Horner’s work simultaneously make them less prominent than they did when he first utilized them in Cocoon and *batteries not included.
“Fatso As Amelia” is the first to introduce choral over the Lullaby theme, though the track stops short as Dr. Harvey realizes he’s been duped by the three ghosts.
One of the albums best tracks, “The Lighthouse – Casper & Kat,” is pure Horner. It begins with a light music box melody before the orchestra offers a beautiful rendition of the main theme that gives way to another swashbuckling bit of score as Casper flies Kat to a lighthouse and the two engage in a conversation about the people they’ve lost in their lives. The “Lullaby” is played prominently on piano with soft choral elements reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s superb work on Edward Scissorhands. The track closes on one of Horner’s oft-used sad motifs.
Another great track is “Decent To Lazarus,” a 10-minute cue that begins with another statement of the family and Lullaby themes before the more exciting music takes over during Casper and Kat’s escapades in a secret laboratory.
“Carrigan Crosses Over” features darker underscore with choral elements that, quite frankly, remind one of John Debney’s Hocus Pocus, while “Dad Returns” begins as another rambunctious track but leans on the emotional melodies as Kat tries to bring her father back from the dead. In fact, from here on out, the music shifts into more dramatic fare with tracks such as the exquisite “Casper Gets His Wish” and “One Last Wish.” The Lullaby theme is given a powerful rendition in the former and used more solemnly in the latter, although both tracks lean heavily on choral elements (and familiar music from Cocoon) to really sell the emotion. “One Last Wish” builds towards a powerful climax comprised of rising choir and Horner’s patented piano that truly enchants.
The first CD also features the opening track, “Kids With a Camera,” as presented in the film complete with the classic Casper theme — which too, gets various renditions in its own track “Casper The Friendly Ghost [Score Segments]” that were sprinkled throughout the film. The disc closes with music heard in the teaser trailer — more of the wacky elements heard throughout the album — while the second disc features a remastered copy of the original soundtrack album.
All told, Casper remains one of Horner’s better family scores. Sure, some of the wackier elements grow tiresome but otherwise, Horner knocked it out of the park with this one and delivered a soundtrack that stands with some of his best work during his astonishing mid-90s run.
Interview with Emmy-Nominee Amanda Jones Composer of Apple TV’s Home
ComingSoon.net: Congratulations on receiving your first Emmy nomination!
Amanda Jones: Thank you so much.
CS: What was your reaction to that news?
Jones: You know, I was excited and definitely shocked. It was a very like, surreal moment. I had entered into four different categories and I’m really happy that one of them worked out, in a sense. So yeah, it was exciting. So it was my first time submitting for an Emmy and I’m really happy. It’s incredible.
CS: So where were you when you heard the news? Were you watching it live, the announcement live or anything like that?
Jones: You know, I wasn’t. It was 8:30 a.m. Pacific Time, and my mom was actually watching, but I kind of didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself to feel that anticipation, so I just kind of was having like a leisure morning. And then, let’s see, about 8:30 a.m. someone called me and it was my publicist and she was like, you’ve been nominated. I was like, that’s crazy.
CS: And was it just business as usual after that?
Jones: [laughs] It was an exciting day for sure! And you know, my phone was blowing up with tons of phone calls and lots of congratulatory well wishes and Apple sent like a floral arrangement.
CS: What was your immediate feeling as soon as you saw that announcement?
Jones: Yeah, I think the feeling was like, I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to describe it. It was almost like getting into college, like the college of your choice, where it’s like, oh my gosh, I did it, like after all this hard work of putting together an application and you have this body of work that you’re really proud of. And then you submit it and it gets accepted. But it’s like a different sort of feeling because it’s like a career achievement. So it’s like, yeah, it’s a unique feeling.
CS: So, now that you’re an Emmy nominated composer, does that change your approach to any of your work at this point?
Jones: No, I just want to continue doing this great work, making everyone happy, but you know, taking on work and projects that I’m like, passionate about. And I’ve been that way in the beginning, so just kind of continuing onward. And I think I’ve found a formula that works and just kind of sticking to it and adapting if I need to. But you know, just kind of staying busy and just keep moving forward.
CS: I listened to the soundtrack and I thought it was great.
Jones: Oh thank you so much. Yeah, there’s a lot of like, cool pads and synths. And I’m using my voice and like, kind of doubling some of those textures, so there’s like a human quality and like, meshed with these synths, and then yeah, I’m playing guitar, bass, piano and then we have drums on there and a lot of fun percussion-like sleigh bells. And yeah, it kind of runs the gamut of just a lot of different ideas and feelings. And yeah, it was a lot of fun to work on.
CS: So what is your process in developing a score for something like Home?
Jones: Yeah so first it starts with like, in-depth creative conversations with the studio, for Apple TV Music team. And then, involves the creative producers. And I’m interfacing most with Doug and Collin. And yeah, we just talked about it for a bit and they were like, we really want you to lean into a songwriter sensibility. Have fun with it. Go big with it. And the way it’s shot, it’s like very cinematic, very slow. I don’t know if panning is the correct word, shots, but it’s very similar to Chef’s Table in the way that every motion is very epic, like opening a door is the most epic thing. It’s like, you know, looking around the room is the most beautiful thing. So they just kind of wanted like a grandiosity for the music that kind of complimented those shots. And so, there was a lot to work with and it was just really well done and I had a lot to play around with and be inspired by.
CS: What was the first track that you would say you worked on?
Jones: So there’s like, two distinctive settings for this episode. We have like, Maine, which is like this wind tree setting. It’s where the sit house is set. And we have this like, cool wintry setting and this warm and beautiful home. And then, separately, there is like a Japan segment. So at the onset, Apple really wanted to make sure there was a clear, sonic distinction between Maine and that setting and then Japan and that setting. And so, what we settled on was Maine being kind of like this cold, folky, wintry space and then the Japan-like, instrumentation is very like, angular and sharper tones and we have like, really cool synths that are just like, probably more treble-y. And they just stand out more in the mix. And the drumming is a lot more, with more attack and it’s a little more aggressive, whereas a folky setting with the drums are kind of doing folk drums, which is kind of more of like, swung and just really chill and like, kick drums. So yeah, it was like, nice to create a distinction between the two. But then there’s a reprise that we hear of the first cue that you hear in Japan. So there’s kind of like a through-line between those spaces. But yeah, it was really important to create distinctive sounds for those two different settings first. And then kind of fill it in and color it in, depending on what setting you were in.
CS: When you’re putting together a score, is there ever a point where you’re like, this is it, this is working? Or is it tense from the moment you start until all the way until the moment you end?
Jones: I guess it’s a mixture of both. I definitely have that feeling of expectations and wanting to make sure everyone’s happy with what I’m creating, but at the same time, I’m also happy with what I’m creating, too. And I’ve been fortunate enough to work on projects where I’ve been able to strike that balance. So I feel like I’ve created something that serves my artistic soul, but also supports what’s happening and a lot of people have signed off on it and they’re like, happy with it. So yeah, there’s an internal pressure to create something beautiful, but then also the expectation of the studio for sure.
CS: My favorite tracks on the album are The House Being Built because I think that one incorporates all the ideas perfectly and the track Pregnant. I just thought that was a really beautiful bit of music. What was the inspiration behind that particular piece?
Jones: Yeah, so this is when — so our subjects are Anthony and Julie. They are the owners and the builders of the house. And so, during this segment, Julie’s pregnant and they are wanting to birth their first childlike, in that home. And they birth like, two of their kids like, in that home. So there was like a time crunch for them to like, finish creating the bathroom and finish creating the rest of the house and creating a space for their children that were coming pretty soon. And so, it was just a beautiful segment that focused on Julie and her experience being pregnant and just kind of like, realizations when you’re pregnant when you’re building a home. And when you’re pregnant, there’s all sorts of restrictions that you have, where you’re not supposed to like, eat certain things or be around certain chemicals. So they were very mindful about what materials they were using with the house. So it was like a very holistic like, delicate process of them finishing their home, but with materials that would be safe for a pregnant woman to be around.
And it was also just this beautiful — they showed photos of her giving birth, so it was just like this really beautiful like, motherly moment that I felt like just needed to have that sort of soundscape to kind of illuminate what her story and her process and her experience having a child at home.
CS: Different composers have different ideas of how they see their role. In your opinion, how would you define your role as the composer?
Jones: I guess I don’t know, maybe just as a collaborator. You know, I just want to create something that the team is just on board with. Like yes, there is an agency I have about myself and the decisions that I’m making, certain creative decisions and seeing if people are receptive to them, but you know, every project I take on, it feels very much like, this like, kind of going back to the DIY days of just like, being very hands-on and collaborative with the entire team. So I just like, welcome any feedback and I’m excited just to have these in-depth musical conversations. And I’m excited to create something new for each project and really explore ideas that haven’t been explored in a sonic sense for that certain medium, so for docs or for TV or for films. I just want to like, explore different sonic spaces that you don’t typically hear with film scores. And I try to get everyone on board at the beginning just to see if we can go down that path. But yeah, just like a fun collaborator is kind of how I see myself.
CS: What would you consider the most challenging aspect of composing music?
Jones: Let me see. The most challenging aspect? You know, I think it might just be getting the gig. I think once you have it, it’s kind of just like, fun. So I think convincing people that you’re the one they should have and include on this collaboration. I think once you get over that hump, I think it’s kind of smooth sailing from there.
CS: What got you into film music?
Jones: Yeah, let’s see. I mean I’ve always been very passionate about music. I started playing piano when I was three and clarinet when I was 10. And then, you know, I came to guitar around 14, 15. And you know my family was very conservative, so they wanted me to go down a more conservative career path. So initially I was going to become a chemist, but then once I went to college, I went to Vassar College, I took some music composition classes, fell in love with it and completely switched my major to music. And so, from there, kind of dedicated myself to doing music as like, a life pursuit. And familial expectation was pretty intense, so whatever I was going to do, I had to do it extremely well. And so, convincing my family that a career in the arts and being successful at doing that was very tricky and unprecedented in our family. You know, I had to do it. It was just, my heart was just drawn to doing music. I can’t stop thinking about it every single day. I hear music in my head. I love it. And so, once I graduated, I moved to Los Angeles. My initial focus was live performance, touring with my band. And it wasn’t until 2014, 2015, where I decided to kind of incorporate film scoring into my like, musical practice.
And I just wanted to do more. I loved writing music with my band. I loved touring, but I just wanted to just do more and have just more aspects to myself as a musician. And so then I kind of like, really did a deep dive into like, what does it take to become a great composer? I probably should learn and study from the best. So I did a couple of internships/music production assistantships with Hans Zimmer, Henry Jackson, John Powell … And so, that was from 2014 to 2016, just being with on-call music production assistants. And let’s see. And then, after that I had the opportunity to work at Lionsgate, which was like a totally out of left field sort of opportunity that presented itself, and as a music coordinator/creative executive.
And that role was like, in their television department hiring composers, like music supervisors, music editors. And they really wanted a musical person to kind of listen through the submissions that were coming in. And I was like, this sounds amazing. I did that for two years. And then, that kind of really helped align my focus into how to approach being a composer. Like having worked on the musical studio side and then experiencing the production studio side, I felt like I kind of gathered this comprehensive 360 view of like, what it takes to write beautiful music, but also what it takes to get the gig and understand the expectations of a studio and managing them.
And so, yeah, 2018, I’ve kind of popped out of the system and just went out on my own. I had the opportunity to do my first feature film, it’s called One Angry Black Man. And this is very timely now. And then so yeah, that was like my first project that was like a feature film. It was like, oh my god, this is my first feature. I can do this. And so, I kept doing a ton of short films. And then, later that year in 2018 I did the pilot for Twenties and that was like, the little hook that I needed to kind of get into the industry.
And so, Lena Waithe was like, the first person to be like, yes, yeah, you can work on my pilot for my TV series I have been developing for 10 plus years. No problem. And I was like, wow, thank you so much. She took a chance. And she does that with a lot of people and it’s really beautiful, like editors and directors, cinematographers. She’s like, so good about bringing on new talent and fresh faces. It’s very inspiring. And so, she was the one that kind of like, ushered me in to that space. And then, from there it was like, no more friction. Now it’s like, I had three television series and almost four, actually, and just a ton of other projects and ads. And it’s been an incredible, wild ride. It’s like episodes for “Home” and an Emmy nomination. It’s been a crazy two years, you know? And all of it is coming out this year.
CS: You went from almost being a chemist to a film composer and now you’re the first African American woman nominated in the Score category.
Jones: Yeah, exactly, for Primetime Emmy.
CS: Yeah, so what’s that like?
Jones: I mean, it’s a lot of feelings at once. It’s bittersweet for sure. On the one hand, absolutely, I’m elated and ecstatic and I can’t believe I’ve been nominated. It’s beyond bizarre that I’m the first one. And so, that’s what makes it bittersweet on the other side of it. I want to kind of make room and space for more women of color to be able to have the opportunity to submit their work and experience the same thing I’ve experienced. So you know, I feel like activism is really important and alongside our work. And I just want to help usher in another generation of people that can experience this. More Emmy nominations, I hope I’m not the last. And I don’t think I will be. So yeah, I’m a co-founder of this group called the Composer’s Diversity Collective, and it’s an amazing group of individuals, where we kind of like, offer mentorship and job opportunities. We have direct communication with studios. And it’s just like a pipeline to help studio staff more diverse voices on their projects.
And so yeah, and when I staff my own projects with additional writers, music editors or any musicians, my team is very diverse. And I think that is kind of like, trickles up, I guess. So ultimately people are working on my projects and then they work on their own projects that are great. And then eventually they can submit their work for consideration, you know, and their own Emmy’s, yeah. So it’s all about just like, leaving the door wide open for the next generation.
CS: After everything that you’ve accomplished, what is the next big thing that you want to tackle? What’s the next big project that you want to tackle?
Jones: Yeah, so I’ve done television series and TV movies, independent features, ads, but I’ve yet to do a studio feature film. So that’s the next kind of echelon I’m excited to enter that space and be considered for those projects, because I know the leap from television to film, even though I’ve done a bunch of independent features, I know that’s something, that’s like, another hurdle studio executives need to wrap their mind around. It’s like, oh, can you handle this medium? So I’m excited to enter into that space and be considered a talent that should be considered.
CS: Congratulations on your nomination. It’s well deserved!