Greta Gerwig breaks speciality box office records with her Directorial debut ‘Lady Bird’

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Greta Gerwig. Imagery provided by Sunshine Sachs/Photography by Jack Plunkett.

Last month I was commissioned by an editor in Hollywood to interview Greta Gerwig on the red carpet prior to the screening of her film Lady Bird at the Austin Film Festival in Texas on October 26, 2017. The interview was published by The Hollywood Reporter. I loved the film and it was a pleasure to interview Greta Gerwig. She was a smart, kind & articulate artist to interview. Therefore I was not surprised when I read this week that Lady Bird broke box office records. 

“Lady Bird opened to limited audiences its first weekend, showing in four locations (making it a specialty box office release).” According to Jezebel “it blew past typical ticket sales for smaller box office openings of its kind, grossing $375,612 in fourtheaters, with a theater average of $93,903. That makes it the best speciality box office opening of 2017. For context, look at the numbers of comparable first weekend openings this year: Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled earned an average $64,160 per theater in four locations the first weekend and The Big Sick grossed roughly $82,800 per theater it’s opening weekend in five locations. And, as IndieWire points out, since Katheryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty grossed roughly $83,430 per theater in five locations back in 2012, that makes Lady Bird the best ever limited debut for a movie directed by a woman. Since Lady Bird has already exceeded box office expectations, it will be interesting to see how well it does when it opens in more theaters during the next few months. And considering the rave reviews and ticket sales, I wouldn’t be surprised if the film lands several nominations around Oscar time, including Gerwig for best director.” 

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Known to most as an actress, Greta Gerwig has been part of the film industry in a multitude of roles both on-camera and behind the scenes during the last 10 years: acting, writing, producing and directing. Within her recent film Lady Bird, Gerwig showcased her directorial debut as the exclusive writer and director.  When I asked her at the red carpet when she knew she was ready to direct a solo project Gerwig stated“It was a very long process of writing the script but once I finished writing. I felt like it was the moment I had been working toward for 10 years and I’d always wanted to direct. And I thought, this is the moment, this is when you do it. I don’t know that you ever quite feel ready, but I think I felt like, enough is enough. You’ve got enough training. Go for it.” 

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Gerwig’s movie has traveled to festivals all around the world, receiving accolades and high praises along the way. Lady Bird is a comedy about a young girl in Sacramento named Christine. She refers to herself as Lady Bird. It’s also a semi-autobiographical story about Greta Gerwig. The story revolves around Lady Bird’s senior year at a Catholic high school, figuring out how to leave home to pursue her life dreams in NYC because (she thinks) she hates California, only to realize how beautiful it is upon leaving. Lady Bird is a charming, evocative and beautifully stitched together film with hilariously clever dialogue. Gerwig really captures the melancholy, vibrant spirit of youth and the bond between mother and daughter. 

To read more about Lady Bird and to watch the trailers, please visit the official Facebook page of the film at https://www.facebook.com/ladybirdmovie/

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Příliš hlučná samota: Production crew raises funds for film about Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal’s novel “Too Loud A Solitude”

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“My education has been so unwitting I can’t quite tell which of my thoughts come from me and which from my books, but that’s how I’ve stayed attuned to myself and the world around me for the past thirty-five years. Because when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.” – Bohumil Hrabal

An imaginative production crew seeks to fundraise resources to launch a full-length feature film about Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal’s novel, Too Loud a Solitude.  Directed by Genevieve Anderson and starring Paul Giamatti as the voice of Hanta, Too Loud A Solitude (Příliš hlučná samota) is a feature adaptation of Bohumil Hrabal’s beloved book made with live action puppets, animated sequences and visual effects.

This globally famous novel is about a book crusher, Hanta. Watching the trailer of Too Loud A Solitude is like entering a magic portal to another dimension where Bohumil Hrabal’s book takes place in a world of puppetry.  An intimate, sneak peek to Hanta’s daily life and his private love affair with the books and their stories. A mirror reflection of Hrabal’s writing voice and how each book he created almost seems to be a personal letter written to each individual reader as opposed to the masses. As the camera soars in over the skyline of the town and we see gears grinding, scraps of papers tossed about and a city that seems to be very cold and quiet. Characters bundled up in many layers, speaking to each other without speaking as they go about daily life. The music is hypnotic and dreamy with its romantic yet haunting tune of a melancholy violin. 

Too Loud a Solitude is the story of a waste compactor, Hanta, who was charged with destroying his country’s great literature in his humble press, and who fell so in love with the beautiful ideas contained within the books that he began secretly rescuing them – hiding them whole inside the bales, taking them home in his briefcase, and lining the walls of his basement with them. It became one of the defining books in Czechoslovakia’s history for its unsentimental, humorous, painfully relevant portrayal of humankind’s resilience. The story of Hanta’s quest to save the world of books and literature from destruction is often cited as the most beloved of Hrabal’s books. Too Loud a Solitude has a global fan base and an active community of support has emerged for our feature film project. The book has been translated into 37 languages and sold over 70,000 copies of Michael Henry Heim’s English translation alone. Bohumil Hrabal wrote the novella as an unsentimental account of what happened to him during the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia during the 40’s and 50’s. Many of Hrabal’s books were banned by the Russian regime and other great books by many authors were physically destroyed, an act Hrabal characterizes in Too Loud a Solitude as ‘crimes against humanity’… Our team has been committed to bringing Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal’s beloved novella Too Loud a Solitude to the screen since 2004. With the assistance of The Rockefeller Media Arts Foundation (now the Tribeca Film Institute), Heather Henson and Handmade Puppet Dreams, and The Jim Henson Foundation, we completed a 17 minute sample of the film in 2007. The film has been playing nationally and internationally in the Handmade Puppet Dreams program, and in 2009 was awarded an UNIMA-USA citation of excellence. We are currently working on financing the feature project, first through a Kickstarter start-up funds campaign and then through partnership with other financing and production entities. Our intention is to enlist the support of the book’s global fan base and expand its already impressive audience. We’re down to two weeks left in our Kickstarter fundraising campaign and are continuing to do outreach work to drum up more support for our project. We seek to raise $35,000 to cover the costs of puppet design, armature creation, motion exploration, character development, costume design, and visual effects.”

For more information about the film, please visit www.tooloudasolitude.com.screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-8-16-58-pm “For thirty-five years now I’ve been in wastepaper, and it’s my love story…I am a jug filled with water both magic and plain; I have only to lean over and a stream of beautiful thoughts flows out of me.”screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-8-16-25-pm

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“I felt beautiful and holy for having the courage to hold on to my sanity after all I’d seen and had been through, body and soul, in too loud a solitude.”

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Darren Fung is one of Canada’s most accomplished music composers

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Darren Fung. Photography provided by CW3PR Inc.

Based in Los Angeles, Darren Fung is a talented, award-winning music composer. Born in Canada with strong Chinese roots, Mr. Fung’s music is a medley of the East and the West. His love of music began at the age of three and lead him to become an accomplished composer. After a lifetime of living in Canada, Darren Fung moved to the United States to create music for film and TV in a new location. 

Fung has a colorful, diverse and nostalgic style of music that has a powerful, yet gentle affect on the viewer’s senses. “With over 100 composition credits to his name, Darren Fung is seminally gifted and a highly influential composer who is well-respected in the TV and Film scoring worlds. Fung is one of Canada’s most accomplished composers, thrice nominated for a Canadian Screen Award. Most recently, he scored the The Great Human Odyssey, a mini-series that explores the roots of human kind. The project opened to widespread critical acclaim in Canada, winning the 2016 Canadian Screen Award for Best Music and receiving a nomination from the International Film Music Critics Association. (The Great Human Odyssey premieres in the U.S. this fall on PBS.) Darren utilizes an epic, large-scale orchestra and choir to bring this special’s score to life, replete with memorable melodies and unique musical colors. His diverse credits also include a recreation of Canada’s second national anthem (the beloved Hockey Theme) for CTV and TSN and the theme music for CTV’s flagship morning news show Canada AM. Additionally, Darren scored Bell Canada’s Orchestra advertisement spot (for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics), which was voted as Canada’s top commercial by readers of The Globe and Mail. Darren’s feature and short film scores have been heard at prestigious film festivals around the world, including Toronto, Cannes, and Sundance. After Fung studied at McGill University and worked full-time as a composer in Montreal, he moved to Los Angeles and is represented by Maria Machado of Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency and CW3PR.”

In 2016,  Mr. Fung spoke with local Texas writer, Nicolette Mallow, to discuss the bird’s-eye view of his life lived in music and how he came to be in California with his wife and daughter after many years in Canada. 

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Darren Fung and orchestra. Photography provided by CW3PR Inc.

Nicolette Mallow: Will you please tell me a little about when your love for music began and when you learned to play an instrument? 

Darren Fung: I started playing piano when I was 3. Music has always been part of my life. After piano I dabbled a little in violin and then the saxophone. I loved trying new instruments and playing the music in my head. 

NM: Yes; I read in other interviews that you tend create music with a large scale orchestra. That makes sense given you learned to play so many instruments… What number of instruments (musicians) entails a large scale orchestra? 

DF: A large scale orchestra can be 40, 50, 60 people. Even 90-100. For me that means anything over 40. Over 40 is a pretty big orchestra…Now, do I prefer to work with a recording group? I also like the challenge of not having a large scale orchestra and doing other things that are not orchestral.

NM: Your online biography states that you “caught the composing bug at age 15” when you wrote a piece for Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s Young Composer Project … Did you always know that music was your life calling? 

DF: Yes and no. I always loved music, but at the age of 15 is when I knew I wanted to be a composer… But it was hard for my family at first to accept that I am good at this, good enough to make a career of it. My mother is a Chinese tiger mom, and she wanted the best for me growing up and had a preset idea of what my future looked like. She wanted me to pursue something more secure than music. Music or a creative career was too risky. So, when I first began music school instead of pursuing a life as a lawyer… it was hard for her. Culturally there were some conflicts and it would’ve been easier and more accepted had I chosen to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer. My mother is very supportive now and she is very happy for me that I chose music. 

NM: I understand the family and cultural aspects of what you just said. My Latina mother was most displeased, if not furious, when I said I was going to Savannah College of Art & Design 12 years ago instead of Barnard or Stanford to be a psychologist or doctor. But she, too, is now very happy for me that I chased my artistic dreams.

DF: Yes it can be hard at first to choose your own path. 

NM: In regards to music composition, what are some of the most distinct differences between the Canada and US? 

DF:  The biggest diff between the two is that Canada is more comparable to the Indie film scenes—the budgets are not that big. The AFM call them low budget films because we are lucky if we got around $3 million budget. We are supposed to do more with less. However, since we are so close to the states we have a lot of similar musical influences.

NM: Reading about your career I saw the phrase “musical colors” mentioned in writing. Can you tell me a little about what musical colors means to you?

DF: Instruments or sounds are our palette. Composers (and musicians) can kind of make whatever we want out of it. Musical colors are why I think I love orchestra so much because there is so much available. So many colors and moods to portray. Not to say other genres of music don’t have that. But I am a classically trained musician, and to be able to take that stuff and play away. It’s endless and I never know what will happen and I love it. 

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Darren Fung and orchestra. Photography provided by CW3PR Inc.

NM: Were you nervous or excited to recreate the 2nd national anthem for Canada? 

DF: Both. When I recreated the 2nd national anthem for hockey night in Canada, we wanted to pay homage to the original, but with a whole bunch of orchestrations and differentiators. For the longest time it was a really iconic song in Canada. Everyone knows the song and it’s equivalent to Major League Baseball’s classic tune “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”…At the time I was working with CPC and they wanted to make it their own. I was 26 at the time and I didn’t want the country hating me as the guy who guy who f*cked up the hockey thing… However, I was thrilled to be part of the project. And at 26 I got to work with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and specific members who the company hired to play. So to be given that budget and content for a major broadcast was amazing. 

NM: The Great Human Odyssey sounds amazing. What was it like writing for this TV show?

DF: It was 85 minutes of music in 7.5 weeks. There was material to score but we didn’t start writing till 7.5 weeks before we recorded… Niobe Thompson (Producer and Director of The Great Human Odyssey) sort of talked about bringing me on board as he was shooting. Almost two years before he started editing, I saw some raw footage. And I have to admit that when I first met up with Naobi, there was not a lot of money and I was not really sure the resources were available to create what he wanted with an orchestra and choir. But then he showed me the first warrior of this man jumping across ice flows. Drone shots across ice flows, and the backdrop was spectacular. The costumes, everything was visually stunning. And I realized we needed to get the music to match the greatness of the film… Fast forward in time and he then needed trailers. Then suddenly later on I am going to Prague so I can record a couple of cues to cut… Fast forward to the final count down where we are talking frame by frame, intentions, character and motivations; figuring out the music for each character and each scene.  

NM: Do you have any hobbies that you enjoy to keep you balanced outside work?

DF: Hockey and rowing are my two hobbies. Often I get up at stupid-o-clock in the morning around 5 A.M. to go rowing before work. What I love about hockey and rowing is that it’s two completely unrelated things to music. I meet people who aren’t in the business and it’s not a sedentary job. I get to move around and I get to blow off a lot of steam. I keep biz cards on me, just in case, but I like that it’s totally separate from work. Honestly I worry about the day where I might have to give one or both of them up… I find so much sanity and comic relief in hockey and rowing. Im horrible at both… but trying to get physical activity is necessary. And it’s fun to go have a beer with the guys sometimes. 

NM: Are there any genres in film or television that you would like to write for that you’ve yet to work on? 

DF: I’ve been lucky so far and enjoyed all my projects. But I would like to write for sci fi or opera. I haven’t yet had the chance to do either. Also, Animation is something else I am interested in. I like changing things up and I just finished up on an installation work for a gondola ride in Banff. So long as it’s a great project with great music: count me in! I am always looking for new projects and I came to LA to establish myself here.

For more information about Darren Fung please read his online bio. And to hear many songs or tracks from Fung’s music portfolio, please check out his SoundCloud page.

Composer Kerry Muzzey talks about writing the score for ‘The Seer’ at SXSW

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Kerry Muzzey. Photography by Simon Whiteside.

World-renowned modern and classical composer, Kerry Muzzey, wrote the musical score for “The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry”, a documentary directed by Laura Dunn and executive produced by Oscar winner Robert Redford and Oscar nominee Terrence Malick. “The Seer” held its world premiere on Mar. 12, 2016 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. Composer Kerry Muzzey and the crew of “The Seer” hit the red carpet several times to promote their newly released, award-winning documentary. The SXSW Music, Film and Interactive Conferences and Festivals is celebrating its 30th year. And this year “The Seer” was awarded the ‘Special Jury Recognition for Cinematography’ for SXSW 2016.

Music is a key element within the world of cinema and Kerry Muzzey knows how to set the scene, musically, with his innate gifts of sound and music. The score for “The Seer” is absolutely lovely and befitting to the story without dominating or overpowering the documentary. On Mar. 15, 2016, Kerry Muzzey consented to a phone interview with Austin Examiner, Nicolette Mallow, to talk more about creating the score of “The Seer” and his musical background that lead him to Hollywood and SXSW.

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A little more about the synopsis of the film in preface to the interview: “The story of ‘The Seer’ revolves around the divergent stories of several residents of Henry County, Kentucky who each face difficult choices that will dramatically reshape their relationship with the land and their community… Henry County, Kentucky, like many rural landscapes across America, has become a place of quiet ideological struggle. In the span of a generation, virtues of simplicity, land stewardship, local economies and rootedness to place have been supplanted by a capital-intensive model of industrial agriculture characterized by machine labor, chemical fertilizers, soil erosion and debt—all of which have frayed the fabric of communities. Writing from a long wooden desk beneath a forty-paned window, Wendell Berry has watched this struggle unfold, becoming one the most passionate and eloquent voices in defense of agrarian life… Filmed across four seasons in the farming cycle, ‘The Seer’ blends observational scenes of farming life, interviews with farmers and community members with evocative, carefully framed shots of the surrounding landscape. Thus, in the spirit of Berry’s agrarian philosophy, Henry County itself will emerge as a character in the film – a place and a landscape that is deeply interdependent with the people that inhabit it.”

Nicolette Mallow: When did you begin playing music? Would you mind telling me a little bit about your artistic background?

Kerry Muzzey: When I was 10 years old I started learning on classical organ. By the age of 11, I began writing music. But really it goes back even further than that because when I was 6 or 7 years old, I recall going to see “Star Wars”. Sitting there in the theater as a kid, when the film started rolling and the music came out of the speakers: it gave me goose bumps. I’ll never forget the feeling, even now. The music blew me away and all I could think about the rest of the day was “Star Wars” and its musical score. I have extreme reverence for John Williams. And I believe many composers can say that John Williams’ music was and is a true inspiration. Right after that movie I went out and bought the soundtrack on vinyl and listened to it on those giant headphones from the 1970’s. The music sounded like classical but it was more specific and inspiring. It was very intense and evocative for a child because it was focused and in conjunction with the picture… As a child I wanted to be a composer, a spy and an airline pilot. I dreamt of becoming many professions just like any little kid would. Yet I always kept coming back to music. My mother raised me entirely on classical and she told me that when I was in her womb: she played classical music for me and held the headphones next to her belly for 30 minutes a day for nine months.

NM: It seems as if you were destined to be a composer.

KM: Yes, and even though I started writing at the age of 11. It wasn’t until I turned 16 that my mother’s friend moved away and gave us their piano. I remember getting that piano and my family could not pull me away from it… Just the sound of a piano allured me. Complex piano compositions resonated with me so deeply even then. Because when you are playing a physical instrument: you can feel the hammers and strings inside its giant wooden case. It resonates in your heart and your hands. You can literally feel the sound as you’re playing music. It’s very powerful. That is around the time I began writing solo piano stuff. Playing the orchestra I heard inside my head. At the time, technology for music was not yet available to create an orchestra inside of a computer. So, it was a little different back then.

NM: I listened to the score you composed for “The Seer” in its entirety, twice. You wrote such beautiful music that compelled my mind to travel through time and feel nostalgic. The song “Daughter” struck a chord with me, in a good way… Was the music meant to be evocative? What is the biggest difference between writing music for a narrative feature versus writing a score for a documentary film?

KM: That is an awesome question. Writing music for a documentary was a challenge that took me quite a few tries to overcome. A narrative film is a completely different process than composing music for a documentary. Writing music for a documentary has to be subtle. The music cannot overpower the picture and it has to stay out of the way of the picture. The score cannot be traditional. For instance, a narrative feature film has a soundtrack of very specifically engineered music. It is written to make the audience feel something at that moment, so when the hero saves the world or the couple finally gets their big kiss: you expect the soaring strings. When making music for a documentary, if you’re too on the nose, or if you’re trying to punch it up too much, it can become a distraction. The audience that attends documentaries and is loyal to documentaries is also a highly intelligent crew. And you cannot use music to try and manipulate the audience into feeling a certain way. The music is simply there to beautify and assist the story as it unfolds in its own natural state.

NM: If you had to pick one song from the soundtrack of “The Seer”, which track encapsulates the spirit of the film? I’m curious to know which song is the beating heart of your composition.

KM: Yes, I can pick one. I believe it’s the sixth track and it’s a song called “Forty Panes”. It’s also the Director’s favorite (Laura Dunn). It’s a song about Wendell Barry and it has piano and cellos in the melody. It was magical to write and it kind of came out of nowhere. I was so in love with it that I actually got my cellist to record it before I even played it for Laura. Which is kind of dangerous because I am paying the cellist for his time. But I loved this cue so much. The way it resonates with the picture and how it struck a perfect balance… It’s the crux of everything and it’s beautiful… I sent the piece out to the Director and I was stalking my email waiting for Laura’s response. Two hours passed by and I feared the worst. And then her email arrived with a response, “I keep watching it over and over—and I kept crying every time I felt the music—and I don’t know why.” Right then, I knew that I got it right… The Director of “The Seer” is not only a good person, but she’s extremely smart and talented. She’s amazing and cool and I wanted her to love the soundtrack. Talking to her the other day, we spoke of that piece in particular as it being the high point in the films soundtrack: simple and quiet, but against the picture it can’t be anything else but exactly that… This wasn’t my first project with Laura Dunn, either. About eight years ago, Laura made a film, “The Unforeseen” about over development in-and-around Austin. The core of it predicted the housing crash a year prior to the fact. At the time she had licensed a few pieces of mine to use. Years later we reconnected and in this case she wanted me to score the entire film. Obviously I said yes and it’s been an amazing project. Laura and her team are so great at what they do.

NM: Do you have any upcoming projects that we can look forward to?

KM: Yes, I do have future projects. Presently I cannot say much because it hasn’t been formally announced yet. What I can say is that I am writing a full-length ballet for a full orchestra. And it premieres in London next May of 2017. This job sort of came out of left field. It’s a very heavy lift for me, it’s a huge challenge, but I am so excited to work with this choreographer and their innovative team. I couldn’t say ‘yes’ fast enough.

For more information regarding Kerry Muzzey or the movie, “The Seer: A Portrait of Wendell Berry”: please visit www.kerrymuzzey.com or www.theseerfilm.com.

Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in March 2016.