My first experience with a major composer was when Jerry Goldsmith came to our editing room on the Sony lot to spot the movie Gladiator (no, not that one; the boxing movie). We watched the movie on the KEM, occasionally discussing different ideas, while his music editor made notes.

Several weeks later the director and I went to his house in Beverly Hills where he played some themes on piano for us. That was as close as we came to hearing the score until it was recorded with an orchestra at Sony.

Today the process is completely different. These days the editor is expected to fully fill out the temp soundtrack. It reveals how well the drama works (or hides what doesn’t), and it gives a guide to the composer for tone, tempo, mood. That was possible on Gladiator with two tracks of audio at a time on the KEM, but a lot harder.

Christmas in Vienna is a Hallmark movie that I was brought in to finish. The composer had been on the project for months as there was a great deal of pre-production necessary. The lead character is a violin concertmaster who is to give a concert in Vienna on Christmas Eve. As the actress hired to play the role needed to appear to play violin like a professional, she had to be taught by the composer, herself an accomplished violinist.

There were also several pieces of classical music to be recorded for on-set playback. Composer Nathalie Bonin recorded the playback music pieces for the lead character, taught the actress how to appear to play them, recorded the other pieces of music for playback and composed the final score. She also can fly! (See photo.)

“I had a lot of pre-production on this particular project and that started back in November [2019]. I made the arrangement of ‘Joy to the World’ for solo violin and coached [lead actress] Sarah Drew in person and on Skype during two intensive months to help her be able to fake it. I had three string quartet arrangements that I recorded in Montreal while I was there as well as piano and vocal guide tracks for the actors to prepare for the finale ‘Silent Night.’” The movie ends with a family singing “Silent Night” to Sarah Drew’s accompaniment. Bonin has several composer credits for Crown Media/Hallmark movies including Rome in Love, Forever in My Heart, It’s Time for You to Come Home for Christmas, and Matching Hearts. She has also composed for several Canadian vision shows and performed on many other artists’ songs.

She is a graduate from McGill University in violin performance and completed the Master Certificate in Orchestration for Film and Television with the Berklee College of Music. She recently recorded and premiered Quinsin Nachoff’s violin concerto which will be released in 2020 by Whirlwind Recordings and was about to premiere Jairo Duarte-Lopez’s “Andronicus” violin concerto at the Hear Now Festival 2020 in Los Angeles.  It has now been postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19.

Until recently she resided in Montreal but has relocated to Studio City. “I was planning to buy a place this fall, but with the pandemic, no scoring jobs ahead and the Canadian dollar which tanked drastically … that is likely going to wait another year.” But why move from a
wonderful place like Montreal? “Yes, well Montreal is a great city, but I absolutely don’t tolerate the cold and it’s more than six months of snow up there.”

Although we collaborated on the music for Christmas in Vienna for two months, Nathalie and I haven’t been in the same room, talked over the phone, had a Zoom meeting or communicated other than email and the file sharing site Frame.io. Quite different from past post/composer interactions. Yet the communication between us was quite productive and good.

Once a cut is ready to turn over to music, editorial prepares a reference video with timecode, stems for dialogue, sound effects and music, and an AAF of the music used in the cut. The original editor had obtained soundtracks from Nathalie’s previous work to use as temp. But what happens once editorial turns over to music? “I work alone. From A to Z except for live session or remote recording musicians and the occasional assistant for very specific jobs (e.g. vocal coach to help supervise and prepare actors for singing).

“So basically I get your movie (and) break it down per act since it’s big and easier to keep track of revisions. They (producers) insist that I upload each act individually for revisions.” It is a 90- minute movie, with nine act breaks. “Once I compose, record violin and program the music, I export the audio to video within Logic which I can upload directly on Frame.io.

“When score is approved, I normally add a few live players recorded remotely. As for spotting, I’ve only had one on location at Crown Media. The others were on Zoom. It is a bit weird to see reviews of temp music but I read them and it gives me an idea of what they want (or don’t want) … although to be honest, the direction often changes quite a bit from temp to spotting to final.” So, creating in silos can actually work. And it may be how we have to go for a while.

As for all the interaction with Jerry Goldsmith on Gladiator (the boxing movie), he couldn’t have been a nicer person or any more responsive to the project and the director. But having fully produced the score, his music was dropped after one audience screening. And no one told him.

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