Scoring in Hollywood
By Ed Moy
Since performing at Carnegie Hall with the Houston Youth Symphony as a high school student, Asian-American film composer George Shaw's love for music has led him to pursue his dream of scoring music for Hollywood movies.
In recent years, Shaw has orchestrated on a number of films, including Ghost Rider (2007) (starring Nicolas Cage), The Darwin Awards (2006) (starring Winona Ryder, Joseph Fiennes), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) (starring Val Kilmer, Robert Downey Jr.), Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles (2007), and Chasing Ghosts (2005) (starring Michael Madsen).
Recently, Shaw released his own CD album, 'Legendary Warriors,' which is filled with epic themes,meditative music, and pounding drums. The music blends cinematic orchestra with traditional instruments from China and Japan, including erhu(Chinese fiddle), bamboo flute, guzheng (Chinese string zither), taiko drums, and many more.
Inspired by his love of martial arts films from Asia, Shaw states that with this album, he wanted to 'compose music that would evoke images of warriors from the past.' To see Shaw's 'Legendary Warriors' behind-the-scenes interview on youtube, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L99qrn_tWl8
After studying composition and film scoring at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music and taking part in its world-class Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program, Shaw also participated in the 2004 ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop and the 9th AnnualBMI Conducting Workshop. He was a 2007 fellow in Film Independent's Project: Involve, a filmmaker mentor ship program that paired him with Emmy-nominated composer Christopher Lennertz.
At the 2001 Emmy Awards, Shaw had the opportunity to sing on stage with the USC choir accompanying Barbara Streisand.
'I'd never sung in a choir before,' Shaw recalls. 'I had absolutely no vocal training whatsoever. I was taking my first semester of choir because it was required for my degree, and suddenly the USC Choir gets invited to sing in the opening and closing of the Emmys.'
Shaw also plays clarinet for the Golden State Pops Orchestra, which is probably the only orchestra that primarily plays music from films and videogames.
'We have even had a lot of big time Hollywood composers come and speak/conduct at our concerts,' Shaw points out. 'What I'm especially excited about, is conducting the world premiere of my own piece, J-OK'EL: LEGEND OF LALLORONA, at our next Halloween concert. It's a suite based on themes from my score to J-OK'EL. It'll be my LA conducting debut. I'm also excited about performing a bunch of other cool pieces from King Kong,Nightmare Before Christmas, Twilight Zone, and more.'
Shaw recently spoke about his Asian American heritage and current projects:
Q: What ethnic heritage are you?
A: I thought I was Chinese...but a few Thanksgivings ago my cousin mentioned our Grandma is Japanese. I was like, 'no way, how come no one told me?' So it turns out I'm also a quarter Japanese.
Q: How many films have you composed music for?
A: I've scored 10 feature films so far. The most recent being ASIAN STORIES, which stars James Kyson Lee, who is known as the character Ando on HEROES. It is the funniest film I've ever worked on, though one of the toughest to do schedule-wise. I think I had about 2 1/2 weeks to write almost half an hour of music. I was also writing in a lot of different styles (rock, latin jazz, ambient, suspense, cheesy tunes,ethnic drum beats), some I had never written in before. I'm reallyproud of the film though, it had a one week theatrical run in LosAngeles and Hawaii, and is out on DVD now.
I've lost track of how many short films I've done. I do about half adozen or so each year, and they are always fun. Short films are a greatway to try out different genres, and experiment with new things Ihaven't done before.
Q: You're currently working on Treasure of the Templars, an IndianaJones Fan Film. Tell us how you got involved with the project and yourinterest in it.
A: Kenneth Gawne, who is producing and starring in a new feature-lengthIndiana Jones fan film called TREASURE OF THE TEMPLARS, emailed meseveral years ago about the project. He liked the music on my website,and noticed I had a real affinity for writing in the style of JohnWilliams, the original Indiana Jones composer. Anyways, a couple yearspassed before I heard from him again, and I was really excited aboutwhere they had taken the film. I met with the director, Jonathan Lawrence, and talked to him about howexcited I was about doing the project, and how to produce the musicwithout much money. Fortunately by now I've had some experiencecreating great sounding orchestral scores with little money from allthe low budget films I've worked on. I've been raising money from fans (see my website for more info ifyou're interested in donating), and I've secured a soundtrack deal withMoviescore Media to release the score as well as partially fund therecording sessions. But most of all, I'm having a lot of fun working onthe film. The film was started out of frustration that there wasn't an upcomingIndiana Jones 4. That was years before Kingdom of the Crystal Skullcame out. Fans have been calling Treasure of the Templars the 'RealIndy 4'. It's an exciting prequel to the original trilogy, featuring ayounger Indiana Jones, and an interesting take on the background of alot of characters from the trilogy.
Q: What kind of musical score are you using for Treasure of the Templars?
A: Obviously you can't have an Indiana Jones movie without the iconicheroic theme. That will be in the movie, but on the CD release, I'vewritten a clever parody of the theme. Everything else will be alloriginal themes that I've composed and inspired by the orchestral styleof John Williams' original scores.
Q: What are some potential Hollywood films you maybe working on in the future?
A: I haven't been offered a Hollywood studio film yet, but I'm workingpersistently to get to that level. I'm certain many of the talented upand coming filmmakers that I work with will succeed in making studiofilms and bring me along. As with many other successful composers, allit takes is one big hit film to catapult someone's career into bigmainstream film work. For now, I'm just grateful to be working with thetalented people that I am working with.
Q: Tell me about your involvement in Marcus
A: I composed the music for this small award-winning psychologicalthriller/horror film. My job was relatively easy, I only had to writeabout 20 minutes of music, which is unusual, since most horror filmsscored with wall-to-wall creepy, moody, dissonant music. MARCUS is acharacter driven piece, and the acting was terrific. I mostly stayedout of the way and let the actors' performances carry the tension inthe movie. The DVD was just released on DVD by Warner Home Video, andincludes an interview that I did for the behind the scenes features.The soundtrack album was also just released by Moviescore Media, andcan be downloaded from moviescoremedia.com or iTunes. My favorite trackis from the climactic ending of the film, where I did a dark andviolent arrangement of the Christmas tune, Carol of the Bells with myown theme superimposed over it. The soundtrack also features selectionsfrom other films I've done to fill out the album, and showcases avariety of different genres that I've worked in.
Q: You scored the Korean American romantic drama Purity. Tell me about that.
A: I had a lot of fun working with NaRhee Ahn on her first feature,Purity. It was refreshing to write lush romantic melodies and even alove song (which can be heard on my myspace page,myspace.com/maestrosc), after having worked on several very dark,moody, and violent films. The music won an award at the Park City FilmMusic Festival for best impact of music. I was very happy with how itturned out, and self released the score through cdbaby.com. The film is about the 19-year-old daughter of a Korean Americanminister who falls in love with a bad boy. It has had good audiencereaction from Asian American audiences as well as non-Asian audiences,with people laughing in the right places. But the film has haddifficulty finding distribution. It doesn’t have enoughsex/drugs/violence for mainstream audiences, and too much for Christianaudiences. The film’s official myspace page is myspace.com/puritymovie.
The Golden State PopsOrchestra Halloween Concert will be held Oct. 25, 2008 at 8 p.m. at the Warner Grand Theater in Los Angeles.
For more information about the concert or to learn more about Composer George Shaw's music, please visit: http://georgeshawmusic.com