Still’ Music: Michael J. Fox Requests “No Violin” for Emotional Doc

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The most difficult tasks for a film or TV composer are often documentaries. There is often very little money involved, and finding the right tone and musical approach can be a challenge that takes weeks or months.

Three of this year’s entries in the Emmy category for original documentary music are exemplary with their musical depictions of people and places: John Powell’s “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie” about the actor and Parkinson’s disease; Blake Neely’s “Pamela, a Love Story” soundtrack about former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson; and Erica Procunier’s three-part nature series “Great Lakes Untamed

“Still” was Powell’s first documentary, with big-screen soundtracks including the “How to Train Your Dragon” trilogy and the “Bourne” action series, and who wanted to work with director Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”). ).

“Davis wanted music that was upbeat, that celebrated a life,” Powell says of his Apple+ movie. Guggenheim said that when Fox’s doctor agreed to do it, the “Family Ties” star insisted that he “don’t have a violin” — apparently worried that a string episode might emotionalize scenes of Fox’s heightened physical challenges as a result of his Parkinson’s disease.

For a “musically transparent” sound, Powell opted for an 11-piece ensemble that included guitars, keyboards, harp and clarinet (and, intriguingly, two violins). “Four or five months (and) treated it like an opera or concert work.”

Neely’s approach to Netflix’s “Pamela, a Love Story” was different. “I wanted it to be synthetic because I was going for the ’80s, ’90s pop sound,” says Neely, reflecting her time as a star. “I felt the strings and woodwinds would be too much. It’s not a sad story and putting strings or an oboe underneath didn’t work for me.

This was the 10th film from director Ryan White (“The Case Against 8”, “Good Night Oppy”), where Neely says the composer “loves music”. So the 112 minute movie has about 85 minutes of music, all played by Neely on piano and synthesizers. “It was all about trying to find warm voices; I thought live musicians might feel a little saccharine.

He also liked the “hopeful ending” of the Anderson story, in which he starred in the “Chicago” reenactment, but as is often the case with documentary filmmaking, this came at the last minute as the crew was shooting at the time. scoring

Canadian composer Procunier (“Ghostwriter”) recorded an estimated 145 minutes of music in about three months for the Smithsonian Channel documentary “Great Lakes Untamed”; Canada.

“Music really had to take on all the different personalities of water, the inertia of this immense power,” he says. “I’ve been tasked with not just the diversity of ecosystems, but how water has changed, changed and progressed throughout its entire journey.”

Procunier created most of the score in his studio (he says, “five minutes from Lake Huron”), but added guitar, violin, and cello for an “organic, earthy feel.” He added that his main theme should be “flexible yet powerful and recognizable” to be used throughout the series.

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