Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Music for Polk Movie Coming From a Converted Garage

by Gary White of The Ledger

LAKELAND | There is a memorable scene from the movie "Amadeus" in which Emperor Joseph II, after hearing Mozart's opera "The Marriage of Figaro," tells the composer the piece contains "too many notes."

Unlike the movie Mozart, the Davidson brothers don't take umbrage at such suggestions. Simplicity is their guiding principle as they create music for the low-budget detective thriller, shot in Polk County in April and May.

The Ledger has been following the film project with occasional reports since the filmmakers began seeking investors in 2007.

"This is not a movie like 'Star Wars,' where there's a grand orchestral theme that runs the length of the film," Adam Davidson said.

Instead, the Davidson brothers are putting together a small-scale, ambient score attuned to the conflicted state of the movie's protagonist, Emory Lane (played by Judd Nelson), a police detective pulled between his gravely ill wife and an urgent case. The music will lean toward keyboards and restrained guitar playing, with touches of violin and percussion.

Adam Davidson, 35, director of arts and worship at Lakeland's Trinity Presbyterian Church, provided music for O'Brien's short films "Blackwater Elegy" and "Wait." His chamber-music score for "Wait" won a silver medal for excellence the Park City Film Music Festival in Utah in 2007.

Adam Davidson read an early draft of O'Brien's script and has been close to the project all along. He also watched the shooting of several scenes and appears as an extra in one.

"Endure" has a budget of about $1.2 million, and Adam Davidson said all the money for the music went into recording equipment for his home studio, a converted garage. The Davidsons and the musicians they enlist will only be paid in the unlikely event the movie generates a soundtrack. O'Brien and his production partners, Rob Tritton and Jim Carleton, are still seeking a distribution deal.

Though the Davidsons want to create an uncluttered score, the process itself is complicated by geography - Adam lives in Lakeland and Dennis in Los Angeles. Dennis, 29, spent two months in Lakeland brainstorming ideas with Adam, and the pair now swap music files on a shared computer server.

The Davidsons began developing ideas well before they received the director's cut of "Endure" in mid-August. Adam said they aim to have the score complete by mid-October. He said Trinity Presbyterian is allowing him to devote one day a week to the project.

Sitting in his dimly lit studio , Adam Davidson played the opening 12 minutes of the movie, complete with music, on a large, flat-screen computer monitor.

The first sound heard is a countrified version of the hymn "The Old Rugged Cross" playing on a TV set. Adam Davidson arranged the tune, which is sung by Lakeland's Barbara Hart, an investor in the movie.

A short establishing scene yields to the opening credits and the main theme, which arose from an improvisation between Adam on piano and Dennis on lap steel guitar. For the finished version, Adam added accents on glockenspiel, a percussion instrument like a xylophone but with metal bars.

It is a somber piece, set mostly in the key of F minor, without a dominant melody. The title theme establishes musical ideas that will recur throughout the film.

"It was a good sense of accomplishment to get that musical piece finished and get our feet under us," Adam Davidson said.

Adam Davidson said the brothers want to craft two other distinct motifs, one for the scenes between Emory Lane and his ailing wife (Joey Lauren Adams) and another for a sinister character played by Tom Arnold.

Adam said the brothers' influences include Philip Glass, a minimalist composer known for rhythmic patterns that repeat with subtle variations, and Brian Eno, a pioneer of ambient music. Another model Adam cites is James Newton Howard's understated score for the 2007 film "Michael Clayton."

Adam Davidson said the average movie contains 30 to 60 minutes of music. He expects the "Endure" score to be on the low end of that spectrum. O'Brien describes the Davidsons' music as "integral but not pervasive."

Big-studio movies often include well-known pop songs. The "Endure" filmmakers don't have the budget to pay hefty licensing fees, so any music emanating from a TV or radio will likely be either an Adam Davidson composition or his arrangement of a song in the public domain.

For example, Adam wrote a country song to play on radios in successive early scenes. He has invited Rachel Plating of the Lakeland-based band Pemberley to sing it.

Adam Davidson said he talks to O'Brien regularly and plans to meet with the director at regular intervals to review the music. He said established film composers normally complete a score without consulting the director.

"I don't have confidence in my abilities enough to work that way," Adam said.

O'Brien, though, has plenty of confidence in Adam Davidson.

"What Adam is creating is essentially a story in its own right, and it really does help bring out a depth that we wouldn't get with just the picture and dialog alone," O'Brien said. "Sometimes it's surprising what results in our collaboration. I may come in with something in my mind, but when he's done working it's an altogether different feel and many times it's better."

[ Gary White can be reached at gary.white@theledger.com or at 863-802-7518. ]

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