As filmmakers and moviegoers know by now, there are many elements that have to come together to make a movie truly spark and become a Titanic, Star Wars, or even as we have seen this year a La La Land. These components can include the cinematography, the writing, the actors’ performances and also very importantly the score. Can you imagine Jaws or Halloween without the ominous themes telling us when danger is near? Gavin Wiesen learned the importance of a film’s score and the emotion it can bring after working with composer Alec Puro on his directorial debut/Sundance hit The Art of Getting By. With Puro and Wiesen remaining good friends after The Art of Getting By was complete, it only made sense for them to work together again on Wiesen’s follow up feature All Nighter hitting theaters in LA this Friday and expanding to VOD & Digital HD March 24th. With an even bigger emphasis being put on music in cinema this year, we decided to explore a collaboration not always touched on, director and composer. Read the full interview between Wiesen and Puro below.
You all first worked together on the film The Art of Getting By. Alec, how did you initially get involved with that project?
Alec: Gavin and I are longtime friends and the minute he shared the script with me I knew I had to be a part of the film. For the next few years we talked a lot about the potential of working together on the film if everything came together which luckily it did. In the meantime we also worked together on a short film that Gavin wrote and directed.
Gavin: It was called Kill the Day and I had maybe a single day to get the music for this film, so I called on Alec who is just an amazing musician and whom I wanted to collaborate with and we were able to get it done.
Gavin, how did you first hear about Alec?
We have a couple of mutual friends in common when I first moved to LA after film school. Alec was the most embracing person and he quickly became one of my closest friends in LA, helping me, the transplanted New Yorker get into to the LA lifestyle. At the time Alec was in his band Deadsy, which was really exciting to be around. It was an amazing band and he was/is an amazing drummer.
Gavin, how did you become involved with All Nighter? How do you pick which films you are going to direct?
Shortly after my first movie came out I heard from my roommate in college, whom I had lost touch with, saying he suddenly moved out to LA to pursue screenwriting. We got back in-touch and he sent me the script that was the rough draft of what would be All Nighter. He said, if you wanted to do anything with it, be my guest. After reading the script I realized that I liked it and connected to it more than the scripts I was receiving from my agents or other avenues in the industry. So I just got involved immediately.
To both of you, was the second time working together, now on All Nighter, any different than your first experience? If so, why?
Gavin: I think what it all boils down to is that this script was not mine and it wasn’t as identifiable to me, therefore the music was hard to find. Whereas in the first film the music was easier to find because it identified with my inner life. It was more collaborative in a way for Alec and me in this movie.
Alec: Yes, I totally agree. With The Art of Getting By, we honed in on a sound right away and on All Nighter we ended up trying a lot of different things before we ultimately landed on what was working best for the film.
Gavin: For me the movie and the music reflects the classical Hollywood action comedy that mirrors the story, but it took trial and error to get to that point and the transformation was awesome.
Alec, what kind of work process do you all follow? Meaning do you first get together with Gavin and go through the script before starting or what?
It definitely varies from project to project. On All Nighter we started talking about the music and what we wanted to try and do with the score months before Gavin started shooting the film. Once post started and we were able to look at different scenes and start trying out some of the different themes I had been creating it started to become much clearer what the film would need from the score. To me the most important step in the process of scoring is finding the best melodic themes you can and from there everything else slowly falls into place.
Gavin how would you describe Alec’s score for All Nighter?
I think it’s kind of remarkable because it’s encompassing more than one musical identity provided the point of view. I know what I like and feel what I feel, but I’m not musically trained so that’s another thing Alec helps me out with. The first half or third of the movie is whimsical without being quirky yet is very adaptable to the straightforward comedy. The instruments he’s working with seem very organic. His score is also character driven and supports the characters emotionally. And then it transforms to this rock n roll comedic thriller like Lethal Weapon, 48hrs and Midnight Run. Somehow Alec was able to capture all of this to create an incredible score that made me really happy.
Alec, how did you find the initial tone for the film?
I really found the tone by sitting with Gavin and talking about the film and music in general. I was also able to start messing around with different melodic and tonal ideas early on in the process which really helped us in this case to figure out what was going to work best for the film.
Gavin, do you think there are harder genres to direct? The Art of Getting By was more of a drama/romance and All Nighter is more a comedy.
I do think comedy is unquestionably harder than drama. To some degree in all filmmaking your most important aspect is the cast. I think that comedy is in the eye of the beholder and I think that the magic comes from the actor’s’ ability to combine both their knowledge of the script and things that are not on the page. Comedy by comparison is harder. I haven’t gotten a chance to work on a thriller or horror yet, but would love to take on the challenge.
Gavin, the film seems pretty quick & comical. Did you let the actors improvise at all?
Yes for sure! Specifically Taran Killan and Kristen Schaal who play Gary and Roberta two of the biggest supporting actors. Taran was on SNL and Kirsten was one of the main commentators on The Daily Show. I had goals in working with comedic actors of their level, so I encouraged them to just let it go and they really did and delivered.
To both of you, do you all have a favorite scene in the film musically?
Alec: There are two scenes I really enjoyed scoring. Early on in the film Gallo (J.K. Simmons) shows up at Martin’s (Emile Hirsch) house and they proceed to go out and start looking for Gallo’s daughter Ginnie (Analeigh Tipton). It was really fun to score this scene because it’s the moment that kicks off the forward momentum of the film and from this point on we don’t stop moving. The scene is almost three minutes long and it has so many different comedic beats to hit. It was a really fun challenge to keep the pace up as well as hit all the different beats to compliment the dialog as things unfold. My other favorite scene to score is when Martin and Gallo think they’ve found Ginnie and they jump in the car to drive over to her house where they think she is. For that scene we wanted to convey the chaos and drive that was happening on-screen so I created a crazy drum and percussion bed with some wild blues guitar over the top. It’s always fun when you get to try new and different things which we definitely did on these two scenes.
Gavin: Yeah those are definitely the two I would have selected myself but specifically the second one when he talked about the drive to Ginnie’s house. There’s a couple of moments in the film where working with Alec you sort of dream up a feeling and a musical cue and then the composer delivers that in a way you could never create yourself. You get this moment where your unconscious wish for the movie becomes true and that’s what this cue is. For me it evokes all those movies from my childhood.
What are both currently working on?
Gavin: I am writing a couple of things, a TV Pilot, in the midst of a second draft and a new screenplay.
Alec: I’m in the middle of pilot season about to start scoring a couple of pilots as well as putting the finishing touches on another film I scored that was directed by Judy Greer called A Happening of Monumental Proportions starring Katie Holmes and Keanu Reeves.
Do each of you have anything else you’d like to add about your collaboration with each other.
Gavin: I don’t know to what degree this stems from Alec and I being old friends, but Alec is so generous with his level of involvement. One of the pleasures of working with him is that he’ll let me get involved really early in the process and will show me what he’s working on and knows how to work with me when I get really excited by the little things in his score. I feel really lucky that we’re close friends because he really lets me see what he’s working on and it makes me feel more involved.
Alec: For me it’s the same thing. Being able to work with somebody who you know so well personally and respect so much professionally is amazing. Whenever I get to work with Gavin it’s always such a fun creative process to see how far we can push to come up with something that’s not only different and cool but something that works seamlessly with the film. I’m looking forward to the next project we get to collaborate on!