NB: Ahh, that’s the question, isn’t it? Film is sort of the dream job, in the sense that, if I can imagine my ideal life, I am partnered with a Steven Spielberg-type figure, writing amazing film music that I’ve got a big creative part in for 40 years. But, with the field being what it is right now, and you know, not necessarily getting as much creative freedom as you want, I don’t know if that’s what I want to do. I don’t know if maybe I’d rather write classical composition, be a professor at a university like UNC and be writing my own music while teaching students. That’s not the dream job, but it might be more practical. So I don’t know. Film is the dream, but we’ll see.
DTH: Do you have a favorite score from a particular film?
NB: It alternates, but my top favorites are “Jaws,” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and probably “Patton” or “Psycho.”
DTH: So what can people expect from the screening of “Sherlock Jr.” and your music?
NB: Well, the score, it’s about a 44-minute film, silent, you know, Buster Keaton, one of the greats. It’s a comedy film, so the music isn’t all that serious, but it’s got a sort of bluesy, ragtime-y, Gershwin feel to it. Something that hopefully feels like the time period, even if it’s not necessarily exactly when the film was made. It’s kind of jaunty and plucky, with some really recognizable themes. I’m hoping people are going to forget the music is there and just feel like it’s part of the film. We’re hopefully going to have a pianist playing the score live. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get it to sync up with the film. But it’s really a little genius piece of filmmaking, a lot of cool set pieces, Buster Keaton on top of a train car, and running around, and riding on a bicycle with no one pedaling and thinking there’s someone behind him. It’s just a lot of fun writing for that. You get to do a lot of frantic, frenetic music. You get to do a lot of slow and quiet sort of bittersweet stuff. It’s just like a roller coaster ride, and I think people are going to really love to take it.
DTH: Will the pianist be hidden or will people be able to see whoever it is?
NB: I don’t know yet. I’m hoping that he will probably be somewhere visible. The last time I saw a project like this, there was a pianist right in front of the screen, just below the film, so you could see them playing. So that would be the idea.
DTH: How long did it take you to compose all of the music?
NB: I’m not done yet! I’m a little over halfway there. I started in, I think the first week of September, and my goal has been to write 2 minutes of music a day. At some point in time today, I’ll sit down and write another 2 minutes and hopefully get up to 26 minutes of total time. And the process gets easier as you go along because you can start reusing some of the stuff you’ve already written. I can just take in themes I’ve already written and rework them, or an action motif and put that in a new section. But it’s tough. It’s a lot harder to write for. Right now in the part I’m working on, Buster Keaton has — his character — has actually gone inside another film. He’s in a movie theater and he walks into the film, literally into it, and so when the scene starts changing, he goes from a nice garden to instantly in the street, and then he’s on a cliffside, and then he’s in the jungle with a couple lions. So it’s been real difficult to get a musical theme going that reflects the different changing environments while remaining interesting and cohesive.
DTH: What was your favorite part of the whole process?
NB: Nothing is better than the moment where the film not only clicks with you, where you realize, "Wow, this is a lot of fun, and I really enjoy this film," but then to also write an idea for that — that just comes out of nowhere. And you put it next to the image, and then you play it back to see if it works, and you’re like, "This is great." So when you get that moment, when Buster Keaton is trailing this sinister criminal and you think of a really good idea for that, and then you play it back, and the film comes alive. Having that be your music making it come alive is really special.
DTH: Do you have any words of advice for other young composers?
NB: My advice is have an instrument, be close to the music, be in an ensemble of some sort, whether it’s choir or a trio or something, so you have experience playing the music, and then write music. Write it all the time, and listen. Always be listening to new stuff — even if it’s country. Listen to it. And try to learn something from it.