Connect with us

Interviews

Roman Molino Dunn Talks Paul Schrader, National Geographic and the Lehigh Valley

Published

on

One of the questions that I, the interviewer, usually receive is “Where are you from?” It’s very rare that anyone has heard of the Lehigh Valley — unless I mention Billy Joel‘s classic song “Allentown” — let alone have any experiences in it. Here to buck that trend is composer Roman Molino Dunn. I met Roman through social media when he paid a compliment to my interview with the Downton Abbey composer, John Lunn. If you’re in this industry, it means the world when anyone reads your work or compliments it. Overjoyed, I messaged Roman back and asked if he’d like to sit down and chat about his upcoming projects, including one for National Geographic titled Animals of America’s National Parks which premiered on the National Geographic channel and will premiere on Disney+ at some point in the future. In this interview, Roman discussed his experience working with Paul Schrader on The Card Counter, composing the score for a National Geographic project and, of course, the Lehigh Valley.


Coastal House Media: It is a pleasure to actually meet you — it’s always fun to chat with somebody online first and then actually see their face. So you lived in the Poconos, right? I’m from the Lehigh Valley area — not too far away — and would love to hear more about your story.

Roman Molino Dunn: Yeah, I grew up in this very small town called Kunkletown, which most people probably don’t know [about], but if you’re from Pennsylvania, the closest landmark would be the Blue Mountain ski area. So, I’m kind of in the woods, right on the Appalachian Mountain trail. 

And then I went to school in the Lehigh Valley — I feel like we were probably not too far. 

CHM: Did you go to Lehigh University? 

RMD: No, no. I didn’t go to college in [the] Lehigh Valley, I went to grade school and high school at a school called Moravian [Academy]. 

Photo courtesy of Roman Molino Dunn, repped by White Bear PR.

CHM: Well, it’s always fun to talk to somebody from this area because people are from Pittsburgh or they know Harrisburg or Philadelphia, but Lehigh Valley is rarely mentioned. Before I get off of the topic, what’s your favorite when you do come back if you ever do?

RMD: There is a place called Vegan Treats in Bethlehem and my wife and I are both long-time vegans. That’s one of the few spots in the Lehigh Valley that is unparalleled, so I love going there.

CHM: How did you jump from the little Lehigh Valley, all the way to LA?

RMD: Sure. So after high school, which is when I left the Lehigh Valley, I went off to college and studied in New York City. I did an undergraduate [program] in music theory and a graduate in music composition. And while I was studying that I was also doing what’s called transcription — so I was listening to music and writing out sheet music [as] my job, essentially, and then that turned into arranging music for artists that I was transcribing for. 

Then I started taking them to the recording studio and that turned into arranging [and then] turned into producing. And after a while, I had enough clients that it made sense to open a recording studio. So I found a business partner and we opened a recording studio in Manhattan. I did that for about a decade and I still own that recording studio. So I go back to New York a bunch to check in on it; I check on the engineers and record if I have to, but through the recording studio, I started scoring more films because we would do everything you’d think a recording studio would do like recording bands and artists, but we also did commercials and sometimes the commercials would have us write the music for it. And then sometimes those directors of the commercials would go on to direct their own films outside of the agency, and I started getting the phone calls for scoring those. One thing led to another and it’s what I wanted to be doing. So it was kind of this full circle from composing to opening the studio, to getting into composing again and once I started doing like network [television] and studio films, I decided it was time to move to Los Angeles. So that’s how I got here. 

CHM: How hard is it to open a music studio? I feel like that can’t be easy, especially in New York of all places.

RMD: Yeah, it’s hard, especially back then. So that was like 11 years ago and home recording was less of a thing — I mean, after COVID, everybody figured out how to do it at home really well — but back then the equipment that you needed and the space that you need, especially in New York City, is really difficult and to get a commercial lease where you can make noise.

And our whole business plan was it had to be in Manhattan. We didn’t wanna do Brooklyn or Queens or anything because we wanted to attract higher-end clients and clients who might be passing through New York or flying in from Europe or Los Angeles, so that was the business plan to make sure it was in Manhattan. And it posed a lot of challenges, but I think it was rewarding in that sense. 

Photo courtesy of Roman Molino Dunn, repped by White Bear PR.

CHM: Who was the biggest client that you landed?

RMD: Sure. It’s kind of funny, a lot of the music that I did was for reality TV stars, so I produced a lot of songs for, like, The Real Housewives, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Love & Hip Hop, all of these classic reality shows of the last decade. I also did a lot of songs for Howard Stern and I was on the show a few times. Those were some of the bigger clients in the music world.

Of course, [with] all the films that I’ve done, I still own the studio, so it’s still part of that business. I run the financial stuff through the business, instead of just doing it as a freelance composer. 

CHM: I was reading over your credits and I think it was The Card Counter, and it said that you engineered the music, or I think that was the term. 

RMD: Yeah, I was a music producer. 

CHM: Can you talk to me about that role?

RMD: That was a pretty atypical role in some ways, but a very typical role in other ways. So, like I said, running a recording studio for a decade, you do everything, you record music for bands, you record podcasts, you do ADR for films, and one of the things that I had the pleasure of doing right in the height of COVID too, they hired me to record the soundtrack. So I was the producer, the recording engineer, mixed some of the tracks, worked with Robert Levon Been, who composed most of the music for that, and I’m sitting behind the board hanging the microphones, doing initial mixes, that kind of stuff.

The way that job came about was they were looking for a recording engineer who also scored films because a lot of times when you just go to a studio, you get an engineer, you get somebody who’s used to doing mostly commercial pop music and there are very different needs. You need to be able to sync the music and work as an interim music editor and work closely with the composers. 

And Paul Schrader’s sitting there the whole time telling us what to do, so it’s a totally different vibe than a recording session. They knew my background from doing some HBO films and they wanted a composer who could also engineer.

CHM: I didn’t realize you worked that closely with Paul Schrader during that process. 

RMD: He was there every day during the height of COVID. And Paul’s slightly older these days and he had some health concerns as he was getting older so we were getting tested every day and [wore] the highest-end masks that we could get — it was quite a scene. I’ll always remember those sessions pretty well because normally when I’m scoring a film, the director just sends me the movie, maybe we’ll have a few initial meetings, and then I go to work. Because they were writing songs — which is why I was producing [and] I didn’t really score that film. 

CHM: What was that process with Paul Schrader like? He’s such an interesting figure right so is there any sort of tidbit that you learned working with him that most people just wouldn’t know? 

Photo courtesy of Roman Molino Dunn, repped by White Bear PR.

RMD: I don’t know. I mean we had a lot of fun, there was a bit of drinking here and there [smiles]. We spent a lot of time watching movies, which was kind of weird in the sense that normally when people book the studio, you know, we charge hourly for the space and it’s not cheap to go in there and record, so just hanging out, watching movies and drinking was really welcomed. I mean, it’s not atypical for a music session, but it’s a little less typical for a scoring/ producing session. 

CHM: Do you remember your first scoring project?

RMD: The very first thing I ever scored was something when I was in college. I went to school for classical music and funnily enough, most of the music I do now for like network projects are not classical they tend to be more hybrid, synth-driven popular music infused with classical. I really, really loved Renaissance and bar music when I was studying and the first thing I ever scored was a period piece called The Summoning of Every Man and it was just period music. So, recorders, violas, harpsichords and all of that stuff. It wasn’t a big project, but it was my first time getting [the] picture and scoring to it. So I think back on that sometimes as like, “Oh, wow, this was the first time.” But most people in my seat tend to remember the first time that they had something [for] like a major studio or a network.

Sometimes I think back to the first project that I had on a major channel as my first as opposed to something little that you did when you were in college. 

CHM: Does scoring-to-picture get easier, and do you prefer that over scoring without picture? 

RMD: Oh, I think it’s better than scoring without picture. I’ve always considered myself a collaborative musician, and it was that way [when] producing music for artists where it’s like, I’m not writing music for myself; I’m writing music for somebody else and with a film [and] that somebody else is speaking to you or making collaborative requests through the edit through their picture. 

So I find it far more inspiring than writing music and then somebody dropping it in. I actually do not favor writing music outside of the picture [laughs]; I really like getting the full cut. I’m sure you’ve heard this from other composers, [but] it’s beautiful when there’s no temp score in there and you get to impart the musical language on the film and not just emulate something. 

CHM: You mentioned that you use synthesizers a lot, which I think is pretty cool. Every time I hear synthesizers, I think of the Joy Divisions of the world, you know, the eighties kind of rock music or whatever, but I’m curious as to whether or not there is a particular reason you enjoy using them and how you infuse them into your music?

RMD: So I just did a film for Netflix, uh, this year called AI Love You, and the music for that film was very eighties synth-wave. The use of synthesizers in that was typical in the sense of what you would assume a popular culture usage of synthesizers is except it was metaphysical in that film because it was a film about AI. So the synthesizers serve the purpose of electronics and differentiate the computer world from the human world, which would be something more like violins or pianos or acoustic instruments. 

But another film that I did called Huracán — which is on HBO Max — the synthesizers in that film are not this like typical pop eighties or early nineties synth. The usage there was to differentiate again between human elements and things that are a bit more cold, and so in that film, in particular, the synths give this deeper, colder feeling that outlines the subtext of the film because it’s a person dealing with mental illness and the synths are very unnerving the way that I was using them. 

Other times it’s like this other film I just did last year called Snakehead. The synthesizers are used in a way [that] you might not know that they’re even being used because you are recording acoustic instruments into them. So in that film, for example, I played a whole bunch of violin and cello lines into the synthesizer — so you’re sampling it, essentially, but then feeding it through and coupling it with some actual sounds that are made only on the synthesizer. And in that way you get this kind of unique color that’s very distinct to the film. So it’s not always something you should be aware of — [such as] in some scores like Snakehead — [but] I’m saying you wouldn’t know that their synthesizers necessarily be like, “Wow, that’s very different. That doesn’t sound exactly like a violin yet but I  know it’s organic,” whereas in the AI Love You, it’s all synth on purpose to give you a nostalgic vibe. 

CHM: I know you’ve also done a score for a project on Disney+ or National Geographic, right? 

RMD: Yeah, so it is a National Geographic-Disney film, but it premiered on Friday on linear television, live TV, which is neat these days to actually have something do that first because a lot of times it just goes straight to the streamer. This one, because it was a special, they did it on Friday Primetime TV National Geographic first and then it’ll go to Disney+ eventually; I’m not exactly sure when, but probably soon. 

Photo courtesy of Roman Molino Dunn, repped by White Bear PR.

CHM: Was this your first time scoring a natural documentary? 

RMD: No, no, I had done ’em in the past but never for National Geographic. As we talked about before, I’ve [been] a vegan for a very long time, so to do a nature documentary for National Geographic, it’s kind of the pinnacle of nature docs. It was very humbling and I was grateful to work with them because I remember reading National Geographic as a kid. And I’ve done other nature documentaries, but nothing as big as a National Geographic production. 

CHM: Can you kind of give a little bit of a preview of what’s to come in your score,? I like doing this to put composers on the spot, so could you describe your score for that in three words or less? 

RMD: I might need more than three words, but in general, it’s orchestral, organic and grand introspective — because it’s big, big music. There are sweeping outdoor shots, so you need large orchestral music. But the film is really about the animals of the national parks and how they were bordering on extinction when the national parks were founded and because of the national parks, the numbers were able to get greater and they didn’t go extinct a lot of these animals. So it’s a film about like hope for the animals. So I had to present that, but it’s also about America’s national park; so there are very Americana, orchestral things that you’ll hear in their pastoral big orchestral stuff. So it runs the gamut, but there are no synthesizers in that one.  

CHM: I also noticed that your music is on Apple Music. So for somebody like me, if you just wanted to introduce me to some of your music, do you have certain albums or maybe scores that you would recommend to me? Let’s call it your “Essentials” playlist.

RMD: I really love my score for everything honestly, but I should make an essentials playlist [smiles] — I think you’ve just woken me to something because I’m the kind of person who releases most of the music for a film. A lot of soundtracks don’t do that; they’ll like get rid of the more ambient, or moody pieces. I tend to leave all of that stuff there because there are certain people that like that and I wanna do the film justice and create the vibe.

So that does turn off some people when listening to it on Apple [Music] because you have to be a film score lover or have seen the picture to enjoy it. So there’s an album that I released called Hybrid Heart that’s on Spotify [and] Apple Music which has tidbits of a bunch of different films but no full scores with like the moody [and] ambient pieces in there.

But of course, most composers will tell you their favorite thing to listen to is whatever their most recent project is [smiles]. I won’t do that because Living Wild: Animals of America’s National Parks [because] the soundtrack’s not up there since it just came out and they don’t always release all the music for documentaries, which is what it is and it keeps people watching it, which is cool. 

So I wouldn’t say I have an “essentials” [album], but I think I’ll put together an essentials playlist. People really love the Snakehead score because it’s so very different and I got some really great writeups on wonderful sites for that one. My other soundtracks have been reviewed well., but that one seemed to be somewhat of a standout among the critics if we can use that as a litmus test. 

Photo courtesy of Roman Molino Dunn, repped by White Bear PR.

CHM: That kind of spawned another question for me, do you ever look at reviews? 

RMD: Yes. First of all, the score in general very rarely gets reviewed except by people like yourself who wanna speak to the composer. It’s such an afterthought for most people’s reviews, unfortunately, but it is what it is. We’re working towards the narrative as a whole, so that’s our job and I’m okay with that.

If the film did well, the music did well because it served its function to make the film do well. So it’s not something you expect, but my two biggest moments probably were when Roger Ebert [the website] actually reviewed the music [and] when The Hollywood Reporter or Deadline actually mentioned the music. And that’s why Snakehead kind of stood out to me, because that one got people [to] actually mention the music — so it’s probably a good sign. That was one of the scores that resonated with audiences the most outside of the film.

So I do read them [reviews]. I’m very much looking for [any] mention of it [my score]. Most people just set up Google alerts and then if you get one, you’re definitely gonna check it. 


Living Wild: Animals of America’s National Parks premiered on the National Geographic channel on September 7. 

FILM RATING

Andrew is an entertainment journalist and film "critic" who has written for the likes of Above the Line, Below the Line, Collider, Film Focus Online, /Film and The Hollywood Handle among others. Leader of the Kaitlyn Dever Fanclub.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Interviews

The Menu Composer Colin Stetson Talks About His Flavorful Score | Interview

‘The Menu’ is in theaters now.

Published

on

Original cinema lives! Despite three new wide releases (Strange World, Glass Onion, Devotion) coming out during the Thanksgiving weekend and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever still holding down the top spot, The Menu found a way to continue its strong box office run and coming in at fifth place during its second weekend open grossing $5.2 million. After opening to $9 million domestically a couple of weeks back, The Menu has gone on to gross $18 million domestically and $33 million worldwide. 

Sure, the film has the likes of Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy in its ensemble, but The Menu’s success feels like a win for all movie lovers who want a substitute — something you shouldn’t ask for in Fiennes’ restaurant in the film — to all of the IP galore that typically dominate the box office discussion. 

A still from The Menu. Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

And the film is just great. It’s certainly one of my favorites of the year and I just loved the way that it serves as a metaphor for the ideas of critics and artists. The Menu is like hardcore Chef (2014) — another film with John Leguizamo that is well worth a watch — and I can’t recommend it enough.

Colin Stetson’s an accomplished composer who has composed many haunting scores including this year’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot/sequel and Ari Aster’s Hereditary. While it’s unfair to call The Menu a “horror” film, it’s certainly got thriller elements and Stetson finds the balance in his score. Coastal House Media spoke with Stetson about getting involved with The Menu, the instrumentation of his score and some unique objects used in the studio.


Coastal House Media: Congratulations on The Menu — I loved the film. It blew me away the first time I saw it. I wanna start at the beginning and just ask how you got attached to the project. Had you worked with the director before on any projects? 

Colin Stetson: I hadn’t, no. And so obviously this was going on without me, but what ended up bringing me into the orbit was that Mark [Mylod] and Chris [Tellefsen], the editor, had been working on the edit and as temp music was coming in, a few of my pieces got brought in on the temp and then a few more.

As that was feeling good, the idea of at least having a conversation with me about scoring [the film] got brought up. And at that point then, I was told and sent a script and I read that. If you’ve seen the movie then you can pretty much surmise that the script was excellent. It was really doing everything that it needed to do, It moves really freely and really, it does so in such a very lean and concise way — which is certainly not always the case with the script. And it was telling a story that I had not seen before.

So I got really excited, as I do when I read something that I haven’t seen a million times before. And, then we set up a meet[ing] and talked about what my initial reactions were to the film — oh, well, I mean, at that point, I hadn’t seen any footage; it was just a script there — which is a really fun moment for me just seeing what a director’s ideas are for the film already. You know, how my ideas then are feeling, for them, how those things work together and how open they are to what [I suggest]. I mean, ultimately it’s a pitch so [it comes down to] how open they are and how receptive they are to what it is that I’ve imagined based on that script and started to think up. So we had great initial talks and it just went well. 

CHM: Can I ask you what some of your initial pitch was? Because this movie is so unique and I can’t even imagine you just reading the script without being able to visualize it. So I’m just curious what your ideas and what your kind of mission was going in when you were pitching your score. 

Stetson: It’s really what the music ended up being. I mean, of course things get fleshed out as I start to really bring in more instrumentation, but the core of it was there. In the days after I’ve read a script, I do some deep-dive sits with the piano and with other instruments and just record all of that, I mean, it’s not improvising, but it’s improvising and grabbing hold of certain things and fleshing them out. 

And so those initial notes really ended up providing the basis for a lot of the music for the film. I wouldn’t say that the whole of it was intact entirely from those initial imaginings, but there was a lot there.

CHM: And I feel like your score kind of jumps a little bit between different sounds — I can’t really hit the nail on the head with what they are. So I’ll ask you, the expert on this score, would you be able to classify this score under a certain genre, or is it too diverse?

Stetson: I actively don’t classify things [by] genre. I’ll always walk that question right outta the room.

CHM: Fair enough, I like to put composers on the spot, and you might not be able to answer this, but would you be able to describe your score in three or fewer words? 

Stetson:  How about “delightful,” “driving” and, for lack of another “d” [word] — although I’ll probably think of it later — “triumph.” 

A still from The Menu. Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

CHM: And I wanna talk a little bit about the instrumentation within the score. Did you use any sort of unique instruments?

Stetson: The basis for much of the score is a kind of chamber strings, a bit of a chamber orchestra. There’s very little brass involved in it, but it’s mostly a string ensemble. A lot of Pizzicato strings, violins, violas, cellos, basses, a bit of mandolin. There is a lot of percussive, plucked piano strings. They’re bo a lot of bowed piano strings. Although not primarily [in] there, there are quite a bit of Tibetan bowls played with bows. There’s an enormous amount of saxophones throughout.

Additionally, there are a few odd elements, things like water glasses and pots and pans that were played in various ways to give like a pointillism to certain sections and certain cues. Some of the key driving and more abrasive kind of grotesque string stuff is playing an instrument called a Nyckelharpa, which is a keyed, stringed folk instrument from Scandinavia. There are a lot of different things in play but that pretty much gets to most of it.

CHM: And the instruments in the string section that you talked about, are they something that’s unique to this film in your work, or is that something that you’ve used before? I noticed you did the score for Hereditary — it’s been a while since I’ve seen the film — and I felt like it may have shared some similarities to your score for The Menu.

Stetson: I’ve used strings for sure. I didn’t use any strings on Hereditary [but] I used a ton of strings on scores like Color Out of Space, a show called Barkskins that I did for National Geographic,] a show called Among the Stars [and] there was a documentary about NASA that I did for Disney last year. A lot of strings in those, in those projects to varying degrees and other things. So yeah, it’s certainly not something that is unique to this project for me, no. 

I think that if there’s anything that sets this one apart, it’s [that] a lot of the rhythmic nature of it is different maybe than some of the things that I’ve done in the past. It’s just decidedly more rooted in the rhythmic and the polymetric. 

CHM: I love the way your score sounds during the little segues that you get in the film between courses, you know, and they show like a dish or something. I felt like the score really came through in those moments. Was there anything different about those scenes or is it just that I was noticing it more in those moments?

A still from The Menu. Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Stetson: These are moments where there’s no dialogue and there are very little sound effects in terms of what’s going on on-screen and so I think at its most rudimentary, you’re probably noticing because those are the moments where the volume is up the most on the music and so throughout there the music is pushed [to the forefront]. 

This is just something that ultimately, I don’t have much say in but the mix that happens throughout the course of it, there are times when music is quite far back and other times when it is very, very far forward and those moments are some of those that the music is quite forward. 

CHM: Earlier, you mentioned that in the studio there were also some — what’d you say? — pots and pans present in the score and whatnot… were those used to replicate the sounds of a kitchen, or were they also being used as an instrument, if that makes sense? 

Stetson: Oh, no, no, no, no. We weren’t doing any Foley or anything like that. We were taking some of these elements — glass [and] metal — so to use a little bit of the DNA of that world, what was happening on-screen [and] use a little bit of the DNA of that in the sound world. But I kind of purposefully avoided doing anything that was either too on-the-nose — kind of pots and pans drumming or [that] emulated a kind of chaotic [sound or] something that could be construed as being part of the sound effects from the actual space on-screen.

So the majority of the things that were done with the pans and with the glasses were these more pointillistic, expansive, sort of shiny, shimmery walls of sound things that happen in several moments throughout the film. 

A still from The Menu. Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

CHM: My favorite track listening to the soundtrack again — and when I watched the film — was “The First Cheeseburger You Ever Ate.” Is that any different from the rest of the score? Cause that really felt the most poetic and I really love that track for some reason. Is there some reason I have some attachment to it? 

Stetson: Well, it’s louder [laughs]. It’s a moment where the music is very forward, the music is very vocal. There are several very vocal-forward, choral-forward moments throughout the second half of the film. I would say, although there are vocals throughout, it really starts to become more of a heavy element.

I wanted there to be a kind of reverent, almost like “church-y” sort of vibe that happened throughout the end. And that scene is a very loving, sincere scene and such care was taken in the shots of capturing the moment of crafting and so the instrumentation there is kind of a combination of what was used before the bed; this sort of bed of arpeggios [and] dreamy saxophone and then the choir all over the top of it singing the melody and the harmonies. And then woven throughout the mid-step of it [are] bowed piano strings [that are once] again, kind of doing this squeeze box-y rhythm that almost sounds a bit like a harpsichord, so it has a sense of the baroque in it, but it definitely sounds like worship music.

CHM: When talking to people about the film, how do you pitch it to them?

Stetson: Thankfully, my job is not pitching the movie. Like, I’m not advertising the movie. I don’t have to market it. I don’t have to be the person who tries to put it in a box to sell it. I get to talk about the music, which is fun, but I don’t have to do that. 

If I’m telling friends about it, I simply say, don’t watch trailers, don’t read anything about the film, just go and see it. It’s well worth the watch and it’s very fun. It’s great storytelling. It’s really clever but it’s also able to be very able to smuggle in a lot of very real human moments in[to] something that is a very odd and novel and very funny, almost absurdist film. 

It’s something that I’ve certainly never seen before. 


The Menu is playing in theaters now. 

FILM RATING
Continue Reading

Interviews

Dan Perri Talks The Art of the Title Sequence | Interview

The legendary title designer’s exhibit is on display at the Museum of the Moving Image now.

Published

on

Speaking with legendary title designer Dan Perri enlightened me to a whole new aspect of film. Sure, we’ve all seen the Star Wars opening crawl or the smoking opening credits of Raging Bull, but have you ever wondered what the creative process of that looks like?

I was lucky enough to chat with Dan about his career and exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image and was very fortunate to be able to visit the exhibit for myself in Queens a week ago. In this interview, Dan and I talk about his career, working with Martin Scorsese and what to expect in his exhibit.

Thank you so much to the lovely folks at Sunshine Sachs for this opportunity and for allowing me the chance to see the exhibit myself!


Coastal House Media: Dan, let me first say thank you so much for your time. It’s really a pleasure and an honor to speak to you. I was looking through your filmography and you’ve worked on so many films that I’ve seen. It’s actually amazing. First I want to ask you just to start off, I haven’t spoken to a title designer, but could you tell me some sort of tidbit about doing this that maybe the average moviegoer doesn’t know?

Dan Perri: Well, in the future film business, and even independent and studio films, there are requirements that they have to have certain titles on screen because of tradition and contracts. So they have to present the name of the film, of course, and then usually there are contracts that tie the actors to the title. Like they have to be the same size, precede the title in some cases, and then other technical people might be tied to it as well. So there’s this whole string of requirements. 

Over the years, filmmakers have realized the benefit of [title sequences] since the titles have to be there. [They realized] that they could use that screen time while introducing the titles and help the viewer to get into the film. So they will hire someone like me who is a specialist at creating something that helps the storyteller tell his story.

So, I go trying to find the elements of the story, whether it be the character, the personality, the setting, the era [or] anything unique about the story that I could find images from to emphasize that and therefore introduce that main element to the viewer and at the same time knock off the titles.

So for me, the titles are not the most important thing. It’s the story that might be behind the titles that I try to embellish and bring to the film and the storyteller and incidentally, the titles take place. Now, of course, there are times that only the titles on the screen, you know, screen’s black or red or brown or whatever, and so the personality is the only thing there. Then the job gets harder because you gotta find elements in the type you’ve chosen. And all the subtleties of that. Once you’ve chosen the type style, how they’re set, how they’re arranged, how they’re stacked up, how they come in and out, what color are they, what adjustments to the design [of] the letters — maybe some letters that joined together to create a logo. There’s a myriad of things that you can do in the simplest form, [like] just typing over a background, but all those separate elements in that simplest form are relatively insignificant separately, but collectively, they make [an] impression and impact on the viewer and on the storytelling as well. 

Dan Perri and the Art of the Title Sequence — photo courtesy of Sunshine Sachs.

CHM: It sounds like you’re contacted by a studio for a certain film, what was the first big project that kind of got you started on doing all of these projects?

Perri: The first big studio film I did was for United Artists called Electro Glide in Blue. Robert Blake plays a cop in the film, so it’s widescreen and images. Conrad Hall shot it and it’s set in the West and it’s about these kinds of Western cowboys who are cops. So I brought these Western elements to it and selected shots from the film and treated them in a graphic way so that it felt like they were from the 1880s.

And I did hand lettering for all the titles and did free frames and subtle dissolves and fades and so on, and it worked very nicely with the music. So that was the first big studio film. And then I learned later that — this was 1973 — Billy Friedkin heard about the film [and] that it had really good sound, so he went to see the film one day to evaluate the sound, and he later hired that sound editor for The Exorcist but he saw my work on the film and it’s hired me to do the titles for The Exorcist

And once that film — which was one of the very first blockbusters — hit [theaters], I was known throughout the industry and everyone suddenly wanted me to work on their films. And I’ve been very fortunate [and] because of that and pretty much I’ve been working ever since.

CHM: Before I get into your exhibit, some of my favorites of your title sequences are your collaborations with Martin Scorsese — my favorite being the Raging Bull title design. it’s amazing. Do you have any tidbits about the work you’ve done with Scorsese? 

Perri: Yes, my first film with him was Taxi Driver, and then I did seven more in a row and I was kind of his in-house, well, that’s the wrong words. I wasn’t working for him, but on every film he did, it was just a given that I would do it. So whenever it was time, he call me [and] I’d come in. I mean, I was presenting ideas and competing with others and because of the way he works, he’s so collaborative and willing to work with all of his creative people and support them and encourage them rather than tell them exactly what to do. And so as a result of that, he gets the best work out of those people. 

And just the way he casts his actors, I see that he casts his costume designer and he casts his cameraman and he casts his title designer as well. So he chooses the right person and then he lets them do what they do. And as a result, he gets their best work. It then allows him collectively to do his best work. That’s why his films are so good.

I’ve done my best work with him cause of how he’s collaborated with me and supported me and always loved the ideas I’ve brought to him. So I can do them at my best, make all of the choices and the decisions along the way, and then bring the final product to him. 

Dan Perri and the Art of the Title Sequence — photo courtesy of Sunshine Sachs.

CHM: And a follow-up on that, just because I’m curious about how the process works, this can be in regards to any of the films you’ve done, but when you’re brought into a certain project, what have you seen at that point? Like, I don’t know if the film’s finished or if you have anything that you can base the font on and then how do you then come up with the ideas?

Perri: Well, I’m always brought in while the post-production process is taking place. Usually, they’re still cutting, so I need to see the film in whatever form it is in so I can have my own emotional reaction to it. And out of that ideas just come into my head. I still don’t know how that happens, it’s still a mystery, but fortunately, they still come.

And not just one idea; it’s always three or four or more ideas. So I have to sort through all of those as if another designer has brought me these ideas and I’ve gotta look at them all and decide which one I think is best. So I’m working with myself in that way, and these ideas come to me. I always work in the exact same way since the very beginning: an idea that pops into my head and I have to literally scramble and find a piece of paper, something to draw it on, on the paper with a pencil — it’s always a regular old pencil with me eraser on it so I can erase something and change it — but if I don’t jot it down right away, sometimes it goes away. It evaporates, it’s gone. I can’t even remember it. 

So it’s that process has always been present in my work. Ever since I was a kid, when I started designing graphics and doing sign painting when I was in high school, I work with a pencil and a piece of paper and that has worked for me. So it has never changed. Of course, after I’ve made the drawing, I will scan it and take it into the computer and then I can manipulate it. [When] I would do that on paper and, one after the other would paint and brush and now I use the computer for that. But the idea still comes the same way and putting it down to visualize it is the same way I’ve always done.

CHM: That’s amazing. It’s like a musician when they think of a melody or something and they’ve gotta run home and jot it down. 

Perri: Yeah, exactly. I was on a plane one time with Stevie Wonder — he was on the same flight [and] I wound up having dinner with him — but he and his assistant were together in two seats and every so often Stevie would motion to him and this guy would jump up and go to the overhead and bring down this little machine. It looked like a court reporter machine that Sony had made for him. And instead of typing letters and so on, it would type notes and anytime Steve would get a musical idea, he would write it on this machine that had been made for him. 

So he worked exactly the way I worked and I think a lot of creative people do. You have ideas and you get them out in some way that you can translate and develop them. It’s a successful way of operating. 

CHM: Not to keep you off of the topic at hand too much, but I do wanna transition to your exhibit. Is this the first time your work’s been in an exhibit before or have you done something similar to this before?

Dan Perri and the Art of the Title Sequence — photo courtesy of Sunshine Sachs.

Perri: It’s the first time. I’ve never shown my work except for occasional screenings I might have for friends who wanna see the body of work together. And this is the third phase of a program that I’ve wanted to develop and apply, and that is the process of sharing my work, which has come out of my desire as a teacher to pass on and share what I’ve done and what I know.

So it’s my knowledge and my work that I feel obligated to pass that on to mostly students because that’s who would benefit [from] it, but there are lots of people who are fans of the work and fans of film and of title design and so on and I regularly talk to those people. But it’s mostly students and schools that I visit. I’ve had tours all over London, France, the U.S. Two weeks ago, [I] spoke to USC, their film department, and I’m talking to Cal Arts out here in L.A. next week. So I keep getting invited to these different places and I simply show my sample reel, which is like a minute-and-a-half collection of just the logos of different films and then there are tons of questions and they wanna hear the stories and like [what it’s like] to work with Scorsese George Lucas or whatever it might be. So, I greatly enjoy that. The sharing is where it’s come from, and that’s the first stage is to teach and share it with students, the second phase is I wrote a book about my career, which I self-published. It’s now on my website, danperri.com, and people from all over the world are buying it. I’ve sold about 500 of the 1,000 that I printed, but I get orders all the time from every part of the world and I shipped them a lot myself personally. So that’s the second stage to reach more people and share the work.

And the third stage is to exhibit the work. So I approached, uh, the Museum of the Moving Image and suggested they do an exhibition of my work and they loved the idea. So over the months, we developed it and cultivated and discussed the approach and so on. Barbara Miller and her guest curator, Lola, who runs Art of the Title, you know that site [and she] collaborated with Barbara, and they together curated the show.

I haven’t seen it yet — I’ll see it Sunday when I go there for the reception opening of it. But I’ve seen pictures of it, I imagine you have too, and it looks wonderful. I’m really thrilled with what you’re done with it. 

CHM: Well, I’m going on Saturday and I’m so excited to see it. It seems like you had this yearning to start the exhibit, but how long did these conversations take and what exactly was being discussed? Was it hard to pick and choose what would go into the exhibits?

Perri: Uh, yes. Barbara initially had a good idea [when] noticing that a lot of films I’ve done happen to be set in New York or with New York directors. Like most of Marty [Scorsese]’s work is based in New York. Walter Hill, for example, did The Warriors which was set in New York so we were looking at the notion of the show being heavy on films that are set or take place in New York.

And so the films that Barbara selected were in that vein. But there are many that I felt were important to represent my work that wouldn’t have been in the show because they [weren’t] New York-based films, but still, they’re good examples of what I’ve done. So we kinda expanded that and there are now two video presentations.

One [features] sequences from the core films and then a group of others that are more general, that represent things I’ve done that were important to my growth as a designer and some of those films that are not as successful perhaps, but good pieces of work. So that’s how that happened. 

CHM: My last question for you is, I know you kind of mentioned that the presentation of some of your work, what else can people like myself that are gonna go expect to see? Are there storyboards or anything like that?

Perri: Uh, no, I don’t really do storyboards much. There’s, there’s one on, on, I think the, uh, excuse me, the Species sequence, which I hand-animated, but it’s just the opening of the actual title. So there’s a storyboard on that, but I don’t. I don’t find [that] storyboards are effective to present ideas.

There are lots of artifacts from different films. I like to create things in reality whenever I can. Like [with] Caddyshack, the idea was the golf ball instead of the word “Titleist,” it has the word “Caddyshack” and it’s in the same type style as the word “Titleist.” So I had a ball made and they couldn’t make it the size of a golf ball cause it’d be too small to properly letter the letters so they made it the size of a softball. I then filmed it, and without anything around it, it looks like the size of a golf — so it served the purpose. But that [the golf ball], that is in the show. It’s in a glass case somewhere. 

Dan Perri and the Art of the Title Sequence — photo courtesy of Sunshine Sachs.

The license plate that I had made from Star 80 is in the show, which I had made and had chrome-plated and filmed it live and moved lights around so it looked like it was alive. There’s the logo from Freebie and The Bean, which was a big saddle with multiple colors of neon lights on it. So I painted that by hand like an animator would, and I filmed it with a live camera and then superimposed it over shots from film. 

There are a number of original designs that I did on tissue paper and pasted down onto a piece of cardboard and put a flap on it and brought it to George Lucas on Star Wars. A few of the alternate ideas that are there in the case as well. There are the wooden letters that I used for Gangs of New York [which] were original letters that were used to print headlines in newspapers from the 1850s, which I found at an old type shop and assemble them, photographed them, and became the logo for the film. Those letters are there as well, and a few others that I can’t remember at this moment. 


Dan Perri and the Art of the Title Design is on display at the Museum of the Moving Image now until January 1, 2023. For more information, click here

FILM RATING
Continue Reading

Interviews

Frankie Corio on Aftersun, Olivia Rodrigo, Paul Mescal and *that* Karaoke Scene | Interview

‘Aftersun’ is in theaters now.

Published

on

Aftersun is my favorite film of the year, full stop. It’s a beautiful portrait of a father and his young daughter as they take a holiday in Turkey. The film is so tender and melancholic and sure to require tissues upon viewing. But on top of all of that, the film not only serves as an amazing feature-length debut for writer-director Charlotte Wells and another great performance on Paul Mescal’s resume, but it also features the amazing debut performance of the young Frankie Corio.

Corio’s first professional role is in Aftersun, but you’d never be able to tell from her performance. Over the last few decades, we’ve had an increase in the number of great young performances whether it’s Jacob Tremblay in Room (2015) or Woody Norman in last year’s film, C’mon C’mon, none reach the heights of Corio in Aftersun, in my humble opinion. There’s such earnestness and authenticity in her interactions with her on-screen father Mescal, and her performance reminded me of Natalie Portman in Léon the Professional many years ago.

I was genuinely over the moon when I was given the green light to speak with Corio. Thanks to A24, I had the privilege to chat with her last week over Zoom. Corio may be a relative newbie to this whole acting thing, but she’s a total pro both on and off the screen. Of course, we talked plenty about Aftersun but we also discussed our favorite Olivia Rodrigo tracks, New York memories and that karaoke scene. I genuinely hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it. Consider this my claim of a spot on the Frankie Corio bandwagon when she inevitably wins an Oscar someday.


Coastal House Media: First off, congratulations on Aftersun and, thank you so much for all of your time. It’s my favorite film of the year, and your performance is a major reason for that. What has this whole experience been like for you? Is this what you imagined when you signed up to be in the film industry?

Frankie Corio: No, it’s very cool and different. Definitely different. It’s mostly cool and exciting because I get to travel all over the world. 

CHM: Do you have a favorite experience along the way? Maybe in New York for the film festival?

Corio: I loved [it] in New York, definitely. That was the best place ever because it was very fun. And we went to Empire State Building. 

CHM: Did you try any pizza while you were in New York? 

Corio: I don’t think so. I had lots of bagels because I love bagels [smiles].

CHM: Next time you’re in New York, you’ll have to try some of the pizza! To get into the film a little bit, the film mostly rests on the shoulders of your chemistry with Paul Mescal, who plays your father in the film. What do you think it was, in your estimation, that led to such believable chemistry? 

Corio: I am not sure, but I think even without hanging out before [I knew that] we would still get along very well. 

CHM: Really? What was it about Paul that made you think you’d get along? Do you guys have similar interests or something like that?

Corio: We both like Olivia Rodrigo, so that’s a good thing. And obviously, he is very easy to get along with and he’s cool and funny.

A still from Aftersun. Photo courtesy of A24.

CHM: I actually saw Olivia Rodrigo because my cousin had an extra ticket and she took me to see her earlier this year in New York. Did you get to see her on tour at all this year?

Corio: No, I never got to go. At the time she was here in Scotland, we were gonna go, but we were on holiday.

Leona Corio (Frankie’s mother): She sent you a message for your birthday, though.  

Frankie: Yeah, I got a video of her for my birthday. 

CHM: What’s your favorite song on her album?

Corio: “deja vu.” 

CHM: I’ve gotta get your thoughts on this song. My least favorite song on that album is “jealousy, jealousy” — I just never vibed with it. Do you like that song? 

Corio: Really? I like that one, The one I don’t like is “enough for you.” 

CHM: Interesting; that’s one of my favorite songs. I guess we’re juxtaposed on that.

Corio: [laughs]

CHM: Speaking of music, I know that you have the performance of “Losing My Religion” in the film — which is great — but was this a scene that you were looking forward to, either excitedly or anxiously, and how did you prep for it? 

Corio: I was not excited at all! So me and Paul had that two-week thing before we started shooting and every time we went there we would always go over to that bit where I sing it and they would try and make me stand up on the stage and sing it. But I couldn’t, I just hated the song and I hated the thought of having to do it. 

I was excited for it cause it was gonna be funny. I got up and before we started filming, I started just speaking [into] the microphone cause I liked it but I was also nervous cause it was a bit cringe [laughs]. There were a lot of people there, so it was a bit weird.

CHM: I know you said you don’t like the song, but have you been able to listen to it ever since then? 

Corio: Every time I hear it, I’m like [jokingly hyperventilates].

CHM: So if you watch the film again, can you watch that scene? Is it easier for you to watch it than it was to shoot it?

Corio: Yes, but I went to go and watch it with my friends on Tuesday, and it was extremely embarrassing and cringy. I just like, “ugh,” I was hiding in my jumper. I hated it. But I mean, I’d rather watch it than have to reperform it again.

CHM: I read another interview where you mentioned Millie Bobby Brown as a big influence on your acting. Do you have any other influences? Truthfully, your performance really reminded me of Natalie Portman in her first film, Léon the Professional. I don’t know if you’ve gotten that comparison, but are there any other actors that really influence you?

Corio: [gleefully gasps and smiles] Again, like I already said in so many other interviews, the whole Stranger Things cast are [a] big influence on me. Tom Holland, Mason Thames from The Black Phone and the girl [Madeleine McGaw] also from The Black Phone. But yeah, all the modern stuff [laughs], all the people that are in modern stuff are my influences. 

CHM: So you’re a Stranger Things fan… I’ve actually never seen the show. 

Corio: [gasps]

CHM: I’ve seen a bit of the first episode and then my cousin tried to force me to watch part of season four, but what is it about the show? Why should I watch it? I’ve never gotten into it.

Corio: It’s just really cool and it’s great to watch because it just is. Plus, the main character is some sci-fi girl with weird powers, like, who wouldn’t want to see that? Plus, Millie Bobby Brown is in it and her acting is amazing. So like, who wouldn’t want to watch it? 

CHM: Okay, well maybe I’ll give it a shot. Did you pick up anything from your director on this film, Charlotte Wells? What was she like as a director? 

A behind-the-scenes photo from Aftersun. Photo courtesy of A24.

Corio: Uh, [she] was amazing. [She was] such a great director and she just helped me [with] so [much] stuff. Not stuff that I would be able to remember right now, but at random points, she would be able to help me with stuff, to see stuff and yeah, very good. 

She would make me do it — not make me [laughs] — but me, her and Paul, before we started filming, this was mainly for my sake, we would do like a two-minute mindfulness thing so that we could all calm down — mainly me [laughs] — but yeah, she has some great tactics [and] directing skills. 

CHM: I don’t know if you would remember whether or not the film was shot in chronological order or not, but was it? 

Corio: [shakes head]

CHM: My next question has to do with the final scene where you’re kind of waving goodbye to Paul. Was that shot last by any chance? 

Corio: I think that was shot last actually. I think they had to go back to London to shoot that, didn’t we? Yeah, I think those were definitely shot last, the airport bits, but I think those were the only things that were in order; the rest of ’em were filmed at different times. 

I had to wear long sleeves so I wouldn’t get tanned [laughs], so I wouldn’t be going through different shades every scene. 

A still from Aftersun. Photo courtesy of A24.

CHM: So then with that final scene, did it feel emotional for you given that it was the final scene? I know that once “Cut!” is called, you know, you could still hang out with Paul, but did it feel like a final goodbye at all when you were filming it?

Corio: Not really; I dunno why. I don’t think [during] the whole [time] of filming, I was never really like, “This is gonna be the last time I’m gonna see you for ages,” [laughs]. After I left, we just like hugged. I was like, “Bye; see you soon.”

It was mainly at all the film festivals. Even though that’s when I’m gonna see them next, I’m still just like, “Do we have to leave? I don’t want to,” because people love being around me [laughs] — I’m joking. 

CHM: Do you have any sort of mementos from the shoot?

Corio: Yeah, I’ve got two t-shirts with signatures on them.

So for my birthday, I got a white t-shirt and everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to [me] — I have that still. I was very close with all the teenagers that were [in] the film, and obviously, Michael, who I kissed [smiles]. The boy that plays Michael is called Brooklyn [Toulson], [and] it was Brooklyn’s last day — well, [the] day before [the] last day — so we all signed shirts, like six or seven of us, and we’ve all got the hand prints on the back of the shirts where we have our names and the people that we play. 

CHM: That’s cute! And did you say it was your birthday during the shoot of the film?

Corio: Yeah, it was my 11th birthday on the 7th of July. 

CHM: So did everybody sing “Happy Birthday” like you do to Paul’s character in the film? 

Corio: Yeah, I got a big chocolate cake. I never even knew what was happening, I just got told that I was gonna go to the catering for lunch today, I was like, “Okay, sure,” went down [and] sat down with Paul and my family. I should have been more suspicious because everyone was there — normally they were all doing their own thing — and then they started singing “Happy Birthday” and brought out a big, fat chocolate cake with strawberries and meringue on it. And I got a flower crown. 

And it was after doing a pool scene. I remember [that] because when I look back at the videos, my hair was all soaked and I was wearing my dress and gown [laughs].

CHM: My final question for you is, looking back at this whole experience, I know that you’re gonna have a lot of work ahead of you, but is there anything specific that you’re gonna take with you from this experience on Aftersun and apply it to your next films? 

Corio: If I ever have to do a karaoke scene again, I will make sure I sound a bit better next time, that’s for sure. 


Aftersun is in theaters now.

FILM RATING
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Popular Now

Advertisement
Advertisement

TRENDING NOW

Trending

0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x