|About the Composer - Jason Staczek|
| Jason Staczek
Jason has been playing and writing music for
thirty years, the last fifteen in Seattle. He has performed with and written for many
different groups, in styles including R&B, soul-jazz, singer-songwriter acoustic,
70s rock and country blues. He has performed as a session keyboardist on many
records and is a voting member of the Recording Academy. His main instrument today is the
Hammond B-3 organ.
Over the last several years, Jason has
been developing a longtime interest in film scoring. Recent projects include the score for
Brand Upon The Brain!, a film by Guy Maddin.
Jason is also co-owner of Chroma Sound, a music production house and recording studio located in Seattle. Chroma is dedicated to giving small budget filmmakers access to high-quality music and audio post-production services.
Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program, 2003.
MS Computer Science, University of Washington, 1998.
BSE Physics, University of Michigan, 1987, magna cum laude.
Feature Film Credits
Brand Upon The Brain! (dir. Guy Maddin, 95 minutes 2006)composer.
All My Love (dir. Brian Short, 90 minutes 2006)composer.
We Go Way Back (dir. Lynn Shelton, 80 minutes 2005)composer, additional music.
Telephone Pole Numbering System (dir. William Weiss, 80 minutes 2004)composer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why film scoring?
To my mind, film scoring lives at a fascinating intersection of art and technology and creativity and craft. The film composer is asked to help tell a story, one that is already unfolding on screen in photography, dialog, costume, lighting and editing. Using timbre, tonality and time a score can soften or harden emotions, divert or draw attention, illustrate or obscure points, slow or quicken pace. And it must do these things without drawing attention to itself, for its purpose is to serve the story. The composers first challenge is to find those things in an unfinished film that still need sayingthat is the art. The craft is assigning those things unsaid to the voices of the orchestra or the gamelan, the synthesizer or the sitar; all while the story passes by at 24 frames-per-second.
What are Jasons strengths?
I like to believe that I have a good grasp of both the technical and musical skills required of a film composer. I like to believe that I can communicate musical ideas to other musicians to help realize a score. I like to believe that I can communicate with directors, that I can listen to their ideas, understand their language and see their creative intent. I understand that the film score is one element among many that make a finished film. Im comfortable in the role of collaborator and provider. I can take criticism without bruising my ego (Ive been fired!). Im not afraid to speak my mind when I feel strongly about something. I work fast, and Im always prepared to learn something new.
What are Jasons weaknesses?
My film credits arent deepI simply havent been doing this for very long. I have much to learn about the art of film scoring.
What are Jasons favorite films?
Recent favorites include LEnfant (no score!), Grizzly Man, and The Constant Gardener. But I also have soft spots for Woody Allen and the Marx Brothers, and a special place for epics like How the West Was Won. And for some reason, I have a hard time forgetting John Frankenheimers Seconds.
Whats in Jasons iPod?
Aimee Mann, Doug Sahm, the Be Good Tanyas, Allen Toussaint, Leos Janaek, the Minutemen, Joanna Newsom, Claude Debussy and Stereolab, to name a few.
Whats in Jasons NetFlix queue?
Birth, Notes on a Scandal, Jules and Jim, The Good Shepherd.
Interview from Music:Life magazine (Mexico City)
Lisette Martell: In which areas of music do you work? Which do you enjoy most?
Jason Staczek: I work as a film composer, a record producer, a keyboard player and a songwriter. I enjoy all of the work. Each area satisfies a different need for me. Composing for film is the most challenging, but its also a very solitary endeavor. Im glad to have the opportunity to work with other musicians in the studio on non-film projects. Those experiences always teach me something I can take back to film.
LM: Did you work with Guy Maddin on any projects before Brand Upon The Brain!?
JS: Brand Upon the Brain! was my first collaboration with Guy. In fact, I had never heard of Guy before I started work on the film!
LM: Were you involved at the beginning of the project?
JS: Yes. I was working as staff composer for the Film Company, a production company in Seattle, when they began work on Guys project. The first time I met Guy he said he wanted to open the film in Toronto with a live orchestra and Foley artists. I dont think I believed him at the time, but he was deadly serious!
My involvement began during the filming of the movie. Since the movie was silent, Guy decided he wanted to have live music on set as he was shooting. I brought my Hammond B-3 organ to the set (a gigantic airplane hangar in Seattle) and improvised mood music as Guy was shooting. Theres a little bit of this available on a behind-the-scenes trailer we did for the film. None of that music was actually used in the film, however.
LM: Did reading the script invoke certain sounds in your head?
JS: I did read the script, of course, but I wasnt thinking about music at that time. Guy gave me some initial ideas and pointed me toward Maurice Jauberts score for Jean Vigos Zero de Conduite. Guy was interested in getting an antique sound to match the picture, so I did a few sketches for him and roughed up the music a bit to make it sound old. This was before the film was edited and was a way for us to begin thinking about how to score the film. Guy liked the sketches and the antiquing and so I kept some of that thematic material around.
When I finally received the edited version of the film, it had a temporary score with selections from Mahler, Wagner and Sibelius. It was quite different from the smaller sound of Jaubert. Very heavy on the strings. This was seven weeks before we were to open the film at the Toronto Film Festival with a live group, so the festival budget decided what the sound would be. Toronto was able to supply eleven musicians. I knew that I needed strings, so I started with the string sextet. I also had to have the piano, which doubles as a harp. Percussion was essential and that left two instruments for which I chose a pair of horns. They were a good blend with the sextet, had great range and provided power and contrast.
LM: What software did you use to produce the score?
JS: Since I was working in Seattle and Guy was in Winnipeg, I created mockups of the score for him in Digital Performer. I then gave the sequences to my copyists who used Finale to produce the final score and parts for the musicians.
LM: Did you assign specific instruments to the characters on screen?
JS: I didnt assign any instruments to particular characters. The piano/harp is used whenever the harp appears on screen, but otherwise I attached themes to situations. For instance, the Moon Magic theme is used both when Mother is overcome by Guys little tushy and when she finally eats young Neddies liver. There are at least half a dozen recurring themes, including ones for the appearance of Fathers ring and for Guys relationship with his memories and his mother.
LM: How do you manage the relation between tonality and color? Im speaking in terms of the conception of color these days, in which tonality has no place.
JS: Tonality still has a place in film music, so I felt free to write melodic themes. But I did try to create contrast and tension with dissonance and atonality. I wanted to enjoy the sins of chromaticism while retaining the virtue of tonality!
LM: I also noticed that you are very much into Chopin and the Impressionists. How does that influence your work?
JS: I was definitely listening to Debussys string quartet while I was working on the score. I tried to capture some of the color, complexity and power in that music. Other works that influenced the score were Janaeks string quartets, Schoenbergs Transfigured Night and the symphonies of Philip Glass. I had ninety-five minutes of music to write and borrowed material from many sources!
LM: How did you manage the relationship between the speed of the editing and the speed of the music? It seems to me that you were working at half the time of the screen events.
JS: The editor, John Gurdebeke, cut the film to the temporary music I described earlier. The editing was very rhythmic as a result and I tried to acknowledge that rhythm when I could. I wasnt deliberately working in half time, but much of the editing is so fast that it would have been impossible to acknowledge every cut. There are long sections of the film that have 16th-note ostinati that keep pace with the cutting. The ostinati allow me to overlay slower material to acknowledge longer arcs on screen.
LM: Were you involved with the sound effects?
JS: I wasnt responsible for the sound effects. The team of Foley artists from Footsteps in Toronto produced all the effects. The cut of the film that I used to write the score did have temporary effects and I made an effort to write around them and leave space for them to be heard. I tried to do the same with the narration, leaving holes for it by thinning out the orchestration.
LM: Whats with the singer? Is he an abandoned character from the film, or a representation of bi-sexuality?
JS: Thats a great question for Guy! I will say that the song Withering was added very late, and it was cut in after the first draft of the film had been edited. Guy wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music. I suppose that since its a silent film, someone had to sing while lips were moving on screen, so who better than the Manitoba Meadowlark himself, Dov Houle?
LM: How does the live production manage synchronization between all the parts?
JS: While I conduct, I listen to a click track synchronized to the film and watch a special version of the film that has visual cues. The Foley artists watch a version of the film that has timecode printed at the bottom of the screen. They also receive instructions in their headsets from a team member who is located backstage. She prepares them for each of their cues.
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