Category Archives: Film Composers

J. Blake Fichera’s Passion Project: ‘Scored to Death’

BY JULIA CIRIGNANO

photo-scored-to-death

Throughout 2016, Limelight Magazine has spotlighted a number of great film score composers and the soundtracks they created, primarily in the horror movie genre. We think everyone would agree that classic films such as Psycho, Halloween and Friday the 13th just wouldn’t be the same without their memorable scores.

When we found out that J. Blake Fichera, of New York, recently authored a book called Scored to Death: Conversations with Some of Horror’s Greatest Composers, we couldn’t wait to interview him for a feature story.

In his book, Fichera interviewed 14 renowned film score composers who have created music for such films as The Beyond, The Conjuring, Friday the 13th, Halloween,  Hellraiser, House of the Devil, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Supsiria and many more. Among the composers he interviewed are: Nathan Barr, Charles Bernstein, Joseph Bishara, Simon Boswell, John Carpenter, Jay Chattaway, Fabio Frizzi, Jeff Grace, Maurizio Guarini, Tom Hajdu, Alan Howarth, Harry Manfredini, Claudio Simonetti, and Christopher Young.

In our interview with Fichera, he spoke about why he chose to write Scored to Death, how he chose each composer, the format of his book, and a number of other interesting things.

“My favorite kinds of books are film and music-related non-fiction and horror film scores are a genre of music that I am passionate about,” Fichera said. “So the decision to write Scored to Death actually, kind of, came out of necessity. I really wanted to read a book like it but I couldn’t find one, so I decided to write it myself.”

Fichera explained why he felt confident about writing the book due to his experience interviewing artists.

“I have been interviewing musicians and film-related people for various publications and websites, off and on, for years,” Fichera said. “In my own mind, it didn’t seem that crazy at the time. Had I not had experience as an interviewer, I may have been too intimidated to actually go through with it but I knew that talking to artists about what they do was something I really loved doing. So I decided to just go for it and now, almost 3 years later, the book has been completed, published, released and luckily, the feedback has been pretty good.”

Fichera is obviously a skilled writer, editor, producer, and musician. Although his parents were not musicians, music has always been a big part of his life, starting with the influence of his grandfather.

“My grandfather was actually a dancer, singer and one half of a comedy duo called Fisher and Marks,” Fichera said. “They were the comic relief in a couple of forgotten music-themed movies in the 1950s and had a live act, etc. I guess music and performing may be in my DNA somewhere, but my grandfather died when I was pretty young so I don’t think he was a direct influence on my love for music and performing live.”

Although his parents were not musicians, they kindled Fichera’s love for music during his childhood that has continued into the present day.

“My parents and my older brother are all music-lovers, with pretty eclectic tastes and I think that is where my love for music, and so many different kinds of music, stems from,” he said. “Listening to music is just something I always did and then when I was in high school, I started playing guitar. Now as an adult, I perform live regularly in New York City.”

In Scored to Death, Fichera interviewed a variety of classic and contemporary film composers over the phone, with the exception of Fabio Frizzi which was done by e-mail because of the language barrier.

“I love horror film music so picking composers I liked and wanted to talk to was my first priority,” Fichera began. “That was really the most important thing to me, because this was a passion project. I didn’t have a publisher when I started. I was doing this on my own and for myself, so I wanted to enjoy the experience! Also, of course, featuring some composers of iconic scores from iconic horror films was important but I’d say even more important to me, was interviewing a diverse group of artists. I really wanted to cover as wide a spectrum of horror film music and artistry as I could.”

Scored to Death is a great read especially for anyone who is interested in horror film scores. One interesting thing about the book is the way it’s structured with self-contained interviews. This way, readers can jump from one composer to another without necessarily reading the book from beginning to end.

“I didn’t really have a format in mind when I started writing, because I didn’t know what I was going to get,” Fichera said. “I think one of the book’s biggest strengths is that the interviews feel very conversational. I think because of that, giving each of the composers their own chapter, seemed to be the best option. I really just wanted to do whatever would serve the book best and ultimately I decided that keeping each interview/conversation intact seemed to be the way I would want to read them.”

Fichera enjoyed interviewing all of the 14 composers. He said each of them had something interesting and unique to add to the book.

“I think all of the composers really opened up and had very insightful things to say about themselves, their work, their process, the business, etc.,” Fichera said. “What I will say though, is that I’ve had more than a few people tell me that they like how ‘raw’ the Christopher Young interview is and I think that is because Chris and I got a bit into the nitty-gritty, regarding the ups and downs of being a composer in the film industry, and he was extremely candid and honest about it. It seems that many readers are finding that part of his interview very enlightening and interesting.”

Despite being very happy with the composers he chose to interview, Fichera said there were some that he wanted to interview but wasn’t able to.

“Two of the biggest deciding factors regarding who actually ended up in the book were (1) could I find contact information for them and (2) did they get back to me,” he said. “Nobody declined to participate, but several people or their agents just never got back to me. Now that could be because the contact information I found was false or out of date, etc., but nonetheless, they are not in the book.”

Fichera doesn’t have a favorite horror movie composer but he did mention one of his biggest inspirations.

“The biggest inspirations for my pursuing the book were probably John Carpenter and the band Goblin,” Fichera said.

Due to Fichera’s passion for many horror movies, he couldn’t possibly pick a favorite.

“I don’t have one favorite horror film but I will say that one of my favorite horror films is John Carpenter’s The Thing,” Fichera said.

Fichera said he has been inspired and intrigued by the genre of horror for a while now.

“In one way or another, horror has always been a very big part of my life,” he said. “Although I didn’t get serious about horror films and really start to study them and explore all aspects of them until high school and then especially in film school/college.”

J. Blake Fichera promoted "Scored to Death" with a signing at Dark Delicacies in Burbank, CA, which was attended by five composers. Front row, from left, are: Chris Young, Harry Manfredini, and Alan Howarth. Back row, from left, are Charles Bernsntein, Ficheaq and Joseph Bishara.
J. Blake Fichera promoted Scored to Death with a signing at Dark Delicacies in Burbank, CA, which was attended by five composers. Front row, from left, are: Chris Young, Harry Manfredini, and Alan Howarth. Back row, from left, are Charles Bernstein, Fichera and Joseph Bishara. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Fichera promoted the book with a signing at Dark Delicacies in Burbank, CA, on August 21, 2016. He talked about how he found out about the store.

“I took a trip to Los Angeles in the spring and had the great pleasure and honor of hanging out with a few of the composers featured in the book,” Fichera said. “While at dinner with Harry Manfredini and Joseph Bishara, they told me that I should check out this bookstore called Dark Delicacies while I was in town because they thought I would love it.”

One thing led to another and the store owners Sue and Del Howison ended up hosting Fichera for a signing at their store. While many of the composers whom Fichera interviewed attended the event, Fichera was surprised to see Charles Bernstein and Alan Howarth in attendance. This was Fichera’s first time meeting them. He talked about the experience and the support he received.

“I knew Harry, Joseph and Chris would come because those are three of the composers I spent time with during my spring trip to LA and they all expressed that they would definitely be there,” Fichera began. “Several of the other composers that live in the area expressed that they would love to attend, if their scheduled permitted, so that was the reason for the uncertainty regarding Charles and Alan. I knew they wanted to come but I wasn’t sure they would be able to. Thankfully they did show up!”

Fichera has been surprised by his own success and thrilled by the outcome at the Dark Delicacies signing.

“The signing was amazing! I had never done one before, so I don’t know what a ‘good turnout’ is for that kind of thing but the store’s owners seemed happy. So that made me happy,” Fichera said. “To me it was a bit like a dream. Before the signing, Joseph Bishara and I were standing around chatting and he commented, ‘Hey people are starting to line up already. That’s great!’ For some reason I replied, ‘Yeah, but they are all here to see you guys (meaning the composers, not me)’ and he looked at me and said, ‘Maybe, but we are all here because of you and to support your book. Don’t forget that.’ Which left me kind of speechless because I never really thought about it that way. For some reason, it hadn’t sunk in that five of horror’s most iconic composers were not only in the same room together but they were there, specifically to support the book and me!”

Fichera also spoke about how glad he is that many boutique labels, such as Mondo, Death Waltz and Waxwork Records, are now filling the void in the marketplace by releasing horror movie soundtracks on vinyl.

“I am extremely happy that these scores are having a renaissance and being distributed,” Fichera said. “It is about time that these composers and their amazing work are being highlighted and given their due. I do have to admit though, that I don’t love the ‘limited edition’ and ‘variant’ aspects of that business. It has been getting better because labels are now releasing less limited ‘standard’ editions of soundtracks in addition to the ‘limited editions’ but much like variant comic book covers and the way the DVD/Blu-ray industry releases a new-and-improved edition of beloved films every year or so, I can’t help but feel like it preys on and takes advantage of the loyalty and passion of the true fans and collectors.”

Most of the feedback that Scored to Death has received so far has been positive. Fichera talked about his surprise due to the positive reaction that he hadn’t expected but gladly accepts.

“There haven’t been that many formal reviews but the ones that have been written are favorable,” Fichera said. “The book was just included on a list of ‘10 Essential Books for the Horror Fan,’ which is amazing because it is in some very good company. The coolest thing though, and something I totally wasn’t expecting, is that people are sending me and posting pictures of their personal copies of the book on social media. I find that amazing and a bit surreal. That’s my baby popping up in pictures from all over the world! I love that and I’m grateful to everyone that has purchased a copy and has supported the book and I hope they enjoy reading it as much I enjoyed working on it.”

You can grab your copy of Scored to Death: Conversations with Some of Horror’s Greatest Composers on Amazon by clicking HERE and it can be ordered at most local bookstores.

“I’m hoping to do more signings and I will be selling and signing books at various horror conventions in the future,” Fichera said. “If people are interested in that kind of stuff or just want to keep up with all things Scored to Death, they can follow the book on Facebook and Twitter @ScoredtoDeath.”

Also check out one of Fichera’s other projects.

“I co-host a very fun and nostalgic movie-themed podcast called Saturday Night Movie Sleepovers,” Fichera said. “If you love movies and listen to podcasts, give us a listen when you get a chance. It’s available on iTunes and most other podcast sites and apps and people can follow that on Facebook and Twitter as well, if they like.”

It Follows: Disasterpeace creates a masterpiece soundtrack

Photo - It Follows Soundtrack

By JAY KENNEY

The independent horror movie It Follows, directed by David Robert Mitchell, has been getting rave reviews by critics and fans alike, with it currently certified a stellar 96% fresh on the Rotten Tomatoes website. The breakout hit is about a teenage girl who finds herself haunted by nightmarish visions and the inescapable sense that something is after her. While we won’t say anymore about the film because it needs to be seen in a theater to be best appreciated, the soundtrack by video game composer Disasterpeace (also known as Rich Vreeland) has been equally praised by anyone who has seen the film. The synth-heavy score is very much in the vein of legendary filmmaker and composer John Carpenter’s work on Halloween and The Fog, but has its own originality, especially with conveying a sense of dread. Quite frankly, it’s one of the best horror film soundtracks in years and is definitely worth listening to or purchasing. While Vreeland is currently in New Zealand designing new music for a game about subway systems, he graciously took the time out of his extremely busy schedule to answer our questions by e-mail about the soundtrack and what the future holds for Disasterpeace.

LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE (LM): When you composed the score for It Follows, it was the first time you created music for a feature length film. How did you get involved with this project?
RICH VREELAND: I scored a game called FEZ a few years ago. David loved the music and reached out to me via e-mail. Our initial discussions were straight-forward. We talked logistics and expressed our interest in working together. David touched base right before he started filming and then we fell out of touch for a year. When he came back to me, prepared to start scoring, I had a lot of work underway and did not have much time. I turned him down at first, but he could tell that I wanted to work on the film. After much discussion, I gave in to his persistence. I’m glad I did! We at first talked about exploring an aesthetic with guitars and other acoustic instruments. Over time, we realized that synths had the versatility we needed.

LM: I’ve read that you initially had six months to develop the score, but when the film was accepted into Cannes, your timeline was condensed to only three weeks. How did you end up creating such a haunting masterpiece in so little time?
RICH VREELAND: My familiarity with synths and the strength of the temp score allowed us to make it happen. When you are comfortable with your tools, the feedback loop is more immediate. Getting good results doesn’t take as long.

LM: I also read that writer-director David Robert Mitchell created a temp score to go with the film when the timeline was condensed. Did you have to work within the parameters of the temp score when you created yours and how much give and take went into the process?
RICH VREELAND: I wanted to work within those parameters. I thought the temp score was solid, and it was a great help given the scenario. As someone with limited familiarity of the horror genre, it was nice to have a guide. I tried to boil down each reference piece to a general feeling. Then I’d build that feeling back up into something fresh.

LM: Upon listening to the soundtrack to It Follows, it’s very much in the vein of legendary filmmaker and composer John Carpenter’s synth heavy scores for Halloween and The Fog. Were you already familiar with Carpenter’s work when you created the score for It Follows?
RICH VREELAND: I had heard some of his stuff in passing, but wouldn’t call myself well-versed. We did reference some Carpenter pieces for the score, though.

LM: I saw the movie in New York City on March 15th when it was playing on only four screens across the country. Since then it has expanded to over 1,200 locations and is going to expand to 1,655 screens this weekend. Did you ever expect the movie to take off the way it did and become one of the most talked about horror films in years?
RICH VREELAND: I knew the potential was there based on the feedback we were getting. But it still came as a surprise!

LM: Has the movie’s success had any impact on your career so far or plans for the future?
RICH VREELAND: I’ve had a lot of folks ask me to work on film projects. I think David and I will work together in the future too.

LM: Prior to your work on It Follows, you created music for video games, most notably the eight-bit soundtrack for the game FEZ. How much of a difference is it to compose a soundtrack for a video game compared to that of a film?
RICH VREELAND: Scoring film is in some ways a nice reprieve from working on games. I’m working on music for a game right now that allows you to be a subway designer. I’m coding, playtesting, and doing lots of logistical problem-solving. I’m trying to make each interaction between the game and the sound symbiotic. It is intense and often a rewarding process. Scoring linear media for me tends to be more zen than problem-solving. I’m also working on an episode of Adventure Time right now. My creative process for that is a lot like flinging paint on a canvas. The structure of a film is more of a known quantity, and I can just get on with it. The linearity of scoring film makes it easier for me to perceive the outer limits.

LM: Now that you have one feature film under your belt, would you like to compose another one?
RICH VREELAND: Sure! I care less about the medium than the experience and the value.

LM: How did you get involved with music and who are some of your biggest musical influences?
RICH VREELAND: I grew up in a musical household. My step-father was the music director of our church. He would hold band practice in our basement, and I would go down there to play the drums. My mom sings and plays the piano and my sister has been singing since she could speak. I fooled around for a while but took up guitar in high school. I was big into bands like Tool and Rage Against the Machine. In the last few years my influences have been all over the map. I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz and impressionism.

LM: What are your plans for Disasterpeace for the rest of 2015?
RICH VREELAND: I’m finishing music for a guest episode of Adventure Time. I’m in New Zealand right now designing a music system for a game about subway systems. Later this year I’ll be scoring a game inspired by the book Flatland.

Photo - Rich Vreeland
Rich Vreeland