Crystal Grooms Mangano is a composer that has created music for film and television, and her most recent project was for the documentary film “Asperger’s Are Us”. The film made its grande debut at SXSW 2016 in Austin, Texas. During this time: Netflix bought the global streaming rights to the documentary, “Asperger’s Are Us”.
To talk more about her musical background and composing the soundtrack for “Asperger’s Are Us”— Composer Crystal Grooms Mangano chatted on the phone with Austin Examiner, Nicolette Mallow. The phone interview took place shortly after the end of the The SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Conferences and Festivals 30th anniversary held in March 2016.
SXSW 2016 ran a synopsis of the film containing the following: “For the members of the comedy troupe “Asperger’s Are Us,” it’s easier to associate with a faceless audience than with their own families. No matter who the crowd, best friends Noah, New Michael, Jack and Ethan have one simple mantra: ‘We would much rather the audience appreciate us as comedians than people who have overcome adversity’. In this coming-of-age heartfelt documentary, this band of brothers finds themselves at a crossroad. With real life pulling them apart, they decide to plan one ambitious farewell show before they all go their separate ways. People with Asperger’s don’t deal well with uncertainty, and this is the most uncertain time in their lives.”
Nicolette Mallow: I read your biography about your compositions for film and television, but will you tell me the overview about how your journey as a musical composer unfolded?
Crystal Grooms Mangano: I began playing piano in the 1st grade. Then I added on the flute, the electric bass and I participated in as many music groups as I could while I was in school. Back then I started composing piano pieces. And I loved playing piano reductions of film scores, which I know frustrated my piano teacher. Like the time I brought a piano piece from “Seven Years in Tibet”. In college, I studied music and film together at Montana State University because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue. Their dual degree program allowed me the freedom to learn both spectrum’s… I sort of created my own path by absorbing, learning and combining as much as I could from studying film and music. Practicing both at the same time. I met so many people in both departments. It gave me a great background into all aspects of filmmaking, editing, directing and music. Sort of like learning the ground base for what goes into making a film… When I got to LA, it was a big change and a bit of an adjustment. I was born in Casper, Wyoming and then moved to Montana. But I have grown to love Los Angeles. During the last four to five years is when I really started composing for film and television.
NM: Do you have a process when composing music for film and TV? Or does it alter depending on the project?
CGM: Yes, it depends on the project and the Director. A composer can come on at any point in the project. A composer can begin as early as the script, or as late as when the film is being edited at the end. I recently worked on a horror film and I read the script in advance and then submitted a demo to the Director while he was editing. And then once they were finished, I came back and created the complete score… During the making of “Asperger’s Are Us”—I came in close to the end when they were almost finished editing. I didn’t have much time to think about the music. Before writing anything down, I watched the film multiple times. Just because I really wanted to know as much about the story as I could, first. One of the first tracks I sent was “First Rehearsal” when the guys are looking for a place to rehearse. The scene shows their personalities and struggles; exterior influences. They so much want to focus on themselves and are having so much fun with it all. And I wanted to portray the spirit of their comedy troupe. They do it because they love it and their friendship becomes formed around this comedy troupe. But they don’t have a space so they keep getting kicked out of places and it’s not going smoothly. The score at times is a little off-kilter and a little unconventional as far as instrumentation. I wanted to show they’re having fun and that’s the point of what they’re doing.
NM: I listened to your tracks several times. The music is so playful, fun and it makes me want to go on a walk outside or take an adventure somewhere. There is something about the music that reminds me of youth and the playful mood of being young and free… Music is so powerful. When you’re creating music for a project, does it affect your mood? I would imagine the horror music was vastly different than this documentary.
CGM: Music is powerful and it does affect my mood. I really have to get into the same mindset as the music I am trying to write: anxious, happy, subdued. Whatever mood it may be, yes, it can be difficult because I really have to get into the film. “Asperger’s Are Us” was really light and cheerful as opposed to the darkness and eeriness of a horror film.
NM: I read that you run marathons… Does running help calm your mind and help you write?
CGM: Running clears my head. Running gives me space for my thoughts. First part of the run, I am thinking and stressing about projects. But once I get into the run, that space clears and I am able to enter a creative place. I come up with a lot of ideas and bring them into the studio after a run. The more you sit and work, the more you get where you don’t know if you’re having fresh ideas or not.
NM: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming artists entering the entertainment industry?
CGM: My advice would be that if you’re going to pursue something to remember why you want to do it. Always remember, never forget. For me, when I am getting upset or I am frustrated by the process of it all—whenever I feel burnt out or discouraged: I remember why I love this. I remember that it makes me happy and brings me joy. Keep that remembrance and the love of it all the focus if and when you get caught up in the politics of the industry. Don’t lose sight of why you want to be there. Always put that love and that positive energy into your work.
Note: This article was originally published on in March 2016.