‘Transformers’ Composer Talks Scores ‘Return of the Autobots’

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The composer on stage at the 20th Century-Fox studios in Burbank Jongnic Bontemps He’s walking around in a “Transformers: The Movie” T-shirt – this isn’t a 1986 cartoon, The $200 million blockbuster summer movie just scored.

“Violins, play a little softer,” he says to the musicians from the glass cabinet behind the stage. “It has to be emotional.” Later, after rehearsing on a different cue, he tells the string players, “It has to feel like a warm blanket.”

Bontemps writes film history. He spent just two years writing music for “”.Transformers: Rise of the Monsters, the seventh in the big-screen series, is overseeing the recording of the final pieces of the score with a 74-member orchestra. The movie opens on Friday.

Bontemps is believed to be the first African-American composer to score the music for such an expensive studio film. Still, since they met at USC students in 2011, director Steven Caple Jr. He works with – at Caple film school, on the Bontemps music program – and defended Bontemps as composer when Caple took over the seventh film of “Transformers.” ” franchise.

It wasn’t easy to persuade Paramount to risk a big summer movie for a composer whose most famous credits are documentaries (“Citizen Ashe,” “My Name Is Pauli Murray”) and a Netflix romantic comedy (“Wedding Season”). .

Bontemps actively sought work and did not take anything lightly. He wrote a 10-minute piece of music that he thought would be suitable for a “Transformers” epic and recorded it with a 40-member orchestra at his own expense. The April 2021 registration with the demo remained unanswered.

“It was a necessary choice,” says Randy Spendlove, Paramount head of music. “We thought of dozens of composers. A huge franchise with a long history. Part of that is, do we want to look ahead and think about where the franchise is and where it’s going? It’s time to try to be truly forward-thinking. JB’s relationships and diverse background played a role, but in the end it was a matter of finding a composer who understood the material.”

Months passed while Caple was filming in Montreal and Peru. Finally, in November 2021 – with Paramount moving the film’s release date to June 2023, thereby providing many more months of post-production – Bontemps was offered the role, but with one caveat: he was asked to do his job on the Paramount plot. .

“While you want to give people opportunity, you also want to prepare people for success,” Spendlove said. “The first step was to build a state-of-the-art recording studio on top of the plot.”

Bontemps was working in the same building as the director, editors and post production supervisor from February 2022 – unlike the usual situation where composers work in their own private studios and deliver music to editors and directors, sometimes just meeting. Zoom in or otherwise remotely.

Bontemps said they tried different styles of music. At one point they focused on electronics, then “more sound design paths that didn’t serve the movie as well. Even though we have this great CGI and the robots feel very real, this human element, the emotional element, can really be supported by the music.”

Bontemps said they immediately realized that “an organic, orchestral, emotional score that we’re all familiar with and has such a deep history goes a long way in connecting us as viewers with these robots.” Strings, brass and a substantial percussion section, some electronics, and what Bontemps calls “Brooklyn flutes” form the basis of the “T7” note.

The film’s unconventional settings dictate two key elements: 1994 Brooklyn, where Noah (Anthony Ramos) and Elena (Dominique Fishback) partner with Optimus Prime and his Autobots to prevent the Scourge and their Terrorcon from acquiring a powerful artifact; and Peru, where the Autobots teamed up with the Maximals, a group of monster robots from another planet, to fight the Terrorcons.

Bontemps was born in Brooklyn and knows this beat – “the sound of hip-hop, the 808 drum machine, comes from the radio with those syncopated beats and beats I grew up with.” He researched Afro-Peruvian traditions for Peru and recruited world-class soloists including Peruvian-born percussionist Alex Acuna, Mexican-born Abraham Laboriel in guitarron and charango, Venezuelan-born Pedro Eustache in Latin woodwinds, and Peruvian-born composer Erick Del. Eagle as a consultant.

In search of more unique sounds, he used the rare brass tubax, a modified double bass saxophone; and a drum set made almost entirely of rubber wheels.

As Bontemps was about to complete its 110-minute composition, Paramount hired Steve Jablonsky, composer of the top five “Transformers” soundtracks, as consultant and producer. “He was really great at helping me compose some of this music and really think about how the movie should play through the whole soundscape,” Bontemps said.

He is particularly proud of the diverse team he has put together to arrange, program and record the music. As one guest at the studio put it: “I’ve never seen two African-American and one Asian woman lead such a session on the board.”

Bontemps has a lot of experience in bringing teams together. He was leading multi-million dollar projects for software companies long before he changed his career to pursue his dream of writing music for movies. He apprenticed as a programmer and technical troubleshooter for world-class composers such as Alexandre Desplat and Alan Silvestri.

Adds Spendlove: “JB has brought a really new, really refreshing, authentic self to the sound of this legendary series.”

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