Documentary films are often dismissed as just being all and nothing but stock footage and talking heads which are a major turn off for most viewers. I’ve always been a fan of them if they were done correctly my all time best being Al Pacino’s brilliant and personal adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III, “Looking For Richard” and the great “Hoop Dreams”, which should’ve won every award imaginable twenty years ago but was forced off the ballot over personal voter bias. America: Imagine The World Without Her would fall under the category of a being an entertaining one, that has to be seen with an open mind. The film is being released on Blu-Ray and DVD on October 28th by Lionsgate Home Entertainment.
The film is a success largely due to the solid contribution of composer Bryan E. Miller, a documentary veteran who’s music for the film features a strong varied style that reflects the film’s historical line ranging from traditional orchestra to modern rhythms. Bryan was able to capture the love and essence of the documentary through his powerful music that has just been released by the renowned soundtrack label Milan Records.
For this very special interview, Bryan candidly shares with me his love of music, talking about the film “America: Imagine The World Without Her”, what he loves best about the film and what was sadly left off the soundtrack album that one day could see the light day in some form. So please sit back and enjoy our very pleasant conversation about his work and the film.
Please tell the readers about what made you become interested in music and what led you to become a composer.
BM: I always loved music. Even as a young child, I had an emotional connection to music. When I was very young our TV was stolen and my parents never replaced it, so music was my outlet. Growing up I figured I’d be doing something 40 hours a week to earn a living, so I was optimistic enough to think – why not spend that 40 hours doing something I love? Music has a unique ability to stir the soul, touch someone’s life, and leave a lasting impact. I take my role very seriously because if I do a great job, I will affect the way people feel and in some cases what they think – I help create an emotional experience for them, and I feel it’s my responsibility to make as significant an impact as possible.
Let’s talk about “America: Imagine The World Without Her”- a very thoughtful and insightful documentary which is now coming on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital download. How did you become involved with the project?
BM: John Sullivan approached me early on. He really wanted to bring an experienced composer to the project, as he understood the critical role music would play in this film. They were cutting their theatrical trailer for Lionsgate and hadn’t yet determined the musical palette for the film. I was first contracted to score the trailer, and I helped to define the sound for the trailer, which became the sound and feel for the movie.
The trailer was driven by powerful images of iconic moments in American history, and was one of those moments where the music and images combine to create something truly special. Everyone loved the music and how it worked to engage the audience and tell the story. As we were mixing the trailer, they asked me to score the entire film.
Was it difficult or easier for you to find a tone for that music after seeing the film or did that take a while for you to get where you wanted the music to be?
BM: Getting the right music tonality for a film is one of the most important steps. It’s imperative to get that correct, or the film suffers. The goal was for the music to be powerful, patriotic, and moving, but the trick was creating themes that were classic and timeless. The picture spans 500+ years of world history and travels to different continents. In some places we chose to use historically accurate music in order to establish the time period. The score needed to by dynamic, and inspiring while working harmoniously with the many interviews and narration in the film.
Did the directors Dinesh D’Souza and John Sullivan specifically give you an idea of what he wanted musically for the film or did you get some leeway with it?
BM: Both Dinesh and John were very articulate about their goals for the movie. I tend to guide the conversation toward the “emotional feel” required for each scene. I’d ask, how do you want this scene to feel? John is very good about using just a few words to communicate exactly what he wants. After our successful collaboration on the trailer score, we established a great degree of trust and rapport, so there was significant freedom to do what I needed to do, in order to execute their vision.
What were the recording sessions for the score like?
BM: One of the highlights of the score creation was recording a 30-piece string orchestra. Sampling technology is getting quite good, but when you hear a group of world-class musicians bring the score to life, it’s magical. I literally got goose bumps. We also recorded a world-class cellist, violinist, guitarist, and had my favorite drummer, George Dum, bang on metal trashcans and a cast iron grill we bought at a thrift store.
How much music did you end up writing for the film?
BM: I composed nearly 2 hours of music for the film, and 94 minutes of score ended up in the final cut of the film. Some of the additional music is featured on the bonus features of the DVD release, which contains some great scenes that because of time restrictions, had to be cut from the theatrical version.
Did you get any input from the directors while you were recording it, if you should change a note here, a bar there or even an entire track?
My goal is to create great demos of the music and present it to the producers and directors well in advance of the recording sessions. I strive to have everything approved before I start to put the final icing on the cake. I love being creative and experimenting, but when you have 35+ people on the clock that you’re paying hourly, it’s time to execute your vision and capture the best performances possible.
Because of some licensing issues, the scene with Bono went thru some big changes at the last minute. I ended up taking just the recording of the 30-piece string orchestra from the end title, and building a new cue around the live string section.
The score album which will be released by Milan Records in a few days can you please tell the readers how you put the album together and what made you decide to put on the CD together the way you did?
BM: I’m very excited about the release of the CD. I grew up listening to soundtrack albums, so it’s special every time I get to share my music. You never know who is listening. The film has a wide range of music, from negro spirituals to intense, angry rock. I tried to feature the more orchestral tracks on the soundtrack. The rich, sweeping, patriotic themes that I created for Washington and Lincoln fit well together. I also felt a special connection to the music for CJ Walker. When I was growing up, my dad was a public school teacher raising a family of 6 on a $15k a year salary. Through hard work and entrepreneurship, my dad used his summer vacation to build a better life for his family, so I really connected and related to CJ Walker’s story.
Was it hard for you to put together a soundtrack of your work for this film
BM: The hard part was deciding which of my “babies” I had to leave off. Stylistically, some tracks interrupted the listening experience and flow of the album, so we had to leave them off. Maybe someday we can release a bonus CD with the rest of the music.
What is your favorite film that you have scored to date?
BM: Are you asking which one of my children I love the best? ;-) Every project is special in it’s own way. I love creating music – it gives me joy, even when it’s difficult. When I can craft a music track that blends and works perfectly with powerful images, it’s a good day.
Do you have a dream project you would love to do?
BM: My dream projects are films that inspire, motivate, and challenge the human spirit. We are capable of greatness, yet many are stuck living lives of quiet desperation. I want to work on films that help people grow, learn, and change – to inspire my audience to be more caring, loving, compassionate, and live a full and abundant life.
Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects you may have.
BM: I am working on my second documentary about food and obesity. It’s a huge problem around the world. We are literally killing ourselves with our food choices. So once again, it’s a challenge to create music that will help communicate the importance of this issue to the viewer.
Very special heartfelt thanks to Bryan for being so gracious to do this interview with me and for the time for doing it. You’re a class act! Also special thanks go to Stefan Karrer one of the best.
“America: Imagine The World Without Her” will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD on October 28th by Lionsgate. It is available for pre-order at Amazon:
“America: Imagine The World Without Her” Soundtrack is Available On Milan Records and now available to order on CD and digitally at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/America-Imagine-Without-Original-Soundtrack/dp/B00NNQJQXA/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1414189400&sr=1-1&keywords=America%3A+Imagine+the+World+without+Her