Fading Into Shadows:A neat Experience with a Future Film Composer (from 2014)

DISCLAIMER* this is a past post from 2014 that failed to get published until now for various reasons. I am sharing this now because it was an awesome experience  and goes tho show that you don’t  necessarily need to go to a large school to do a project like this. Sometimes it just takes a little extra persistence and creativity.

For this blog Post I have invited  fellow YSU Alum, professional Sound Engineer and now Film Composer,  Ryan Cunningham to co author. Last January (2014), Ryan was looking for people to play for this awesome Sr. project Idea that, to my knowledge, had not been attempted at Dana until he had done it this past November. He and his brother, Barry Cunningham, had produced an independent film and he (Ryan) had written the music. Ryan was using the opportunity to combine all of his skills that he had learned as an Undergrad by having us perform the score live (as if we were at a professional scoring session), record it and balance it, then set it to the film for all to watch in the second half of the recital.

Now I will let Ryan  Take the stage  and Tell us a little bit about the process in creating this Project and all of the work that went into it.

Well, the capstone for the recording program at YSU is called the “Senior Project”.The only requirements that the instructor, Jack Ciarnello, puts forth for it is that it 1.) It be something that has not been done in the last 5 years or more and 2.) Be something that you’re extremely passionate about. The school of music requires that it pool all your knowledge of recording from your coursework and that it be presented in a recital setting.

Film, TV, and game music is something that I’m extremely passionate about. More than two-thirds of my iTunes library consist of score music from all 3 genres. I decided that I wanted to do something related to that because Music Recording and Sound Engineering aren’t that too far displaced from Screen Scoring. But, I had nothing original to score to. My brother Barry is a graduate assistant at the University of New Orleans and I decided we should film a short film to give us both experience and an addition to our work reel in our respective fields. Over the course of November and December 2013 we filmed a short film in the Youngstown area. It’s called “Fading Into Shadows”.

After Barry finally got done editing it, I wrote the score in about two to three weeks. During that time I listened to tracks from various TV, film, and video game sources to try and draw inspiration for the music. I didn’t want it to sound like those sources but, hey, it was my first scoring project and I needed to start somewhere. I also posted flyers and contacted people about playing in the ensemble. I would have liked to have a full chamber orchestra ensemble but sadly, that was not to be. Finally, when the music was completed and everyone recruited, the ensemble began having rehearsals in the spring ’14 semester.

We had to push the performance to November ’14 because of an oversight in scheduling for the recital. We lost some members due to this but we gained new members as eager to participate in such a rare and exciting project. the one thing i was excruciatingly frustrated by was how few string players volunteered for the project. That’s not to make any insinuations about the instrument or anything, but everyone seemed to busy or not willing to take a “gratis” gig. I obviously couldn’t pay them but was more than willing to offer my services as a recording engineer for any recitals they might want/need recorded. It was also extremely difficult to try and get some members to show up to rehearsal. I suppose I could’ve sent out reminder texts to remind people to show up. They’re not getting paid to play so it should have been on me to be responsible. At any of given time i could have just threw it all out the window and say “screw it” but I didn’t. I kept going because I am confidant that is what i want to do for the rest of my professional life.

I’ll admit that it was hard on my ego and my confidence. I wasn’t exactly happy when I had to put it off for a semester and replace some members. All kinds of thoughts were going through my head about it.:

“I have to do this over again. I’m gunna lose more people cuz they’ll see me as a schmuck that can’t hack it. I’m never gunna graduate. Why do I SUUUUCCCCCCKKKKKKK?! ”

But I persevered.

In the recital, I conducted the music for the scenes, pieced some together with the audio/video, and played it for the audience (after the intermission). Two months later, the video has been successfully completed and uploaded to YouTube.

All in all, it’s one of my fondest and proudest musical achievements. It proves to me that when the going gets tough and you feel like life’s beating you to your knees, that isn’t when you give up. It’s when you rise up and get the job done that you can finally see whether or not it was really worth it.

At this point I will take over and tell you a little bit about what it was like from the performance standpoint.:

Performing on this recital was a completely new experience for most of us involved. We received sheet music for cues.It was similar to the way that music is in musical pits in that you may have pieces with a long tacit and maybe a hit every once in awhile. However, instead of accompanying actors on a stage, you were accompanying actors on a screen and, being prerecorded, there was less flexibility for tempo fluctuations. We began the whole process by watching the film sans  live cues to get a picture of the final project. . Ryan conducted the cues wearing headphones and we took several takes to get it just right, being that this was such a new experience for all of us.

My first reaction to the music itself was that of amazement and intrigue. This was my first experience really hearing Ryan’s music and loved the darkness and neo-tonal aspects of his score. It was not quite what I expected given his mellow yet fun personality, but I nonetheless enjoyed it and felt that it accompanied Barry’s film quite well. I was also impressed at how well the film and project were put together, despite  the few difficulties that Ryan discussed prior.Also, it was awesome how the recital was similar to demoing a live recording session for a film to the public, as we played the cues (which were recorded on site) and Ryan then mixed them into the film. After the Intermission, we watched the final  result of the project.

I hope that reading about this project might inspire other composers to team with other musicians and people from other disciplines and think outside the box to come up with new types of projects. Overall, it was a great experience for all involved and one I won’t soon forget.

EDIT as of 11/2016: Ryan would like to note that he will be re-scoring the film in the future.  A few years have passed  since this project wrapped up and he has improved as a composer and feels, along with Barry, that the score could fit the film a bit better (especially since there is no longer a looming graduation deadline).

Additionally, If you are interested in seeing the film in its current incarnation, you can view it here.

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