Smart Film Scoring and Saving Same - An Interview with Jane Saunders

Nicholas F. Mondello BY

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A rising star in the competitive world of film and media scoring, Jane Saunders brings unique perspectives and insights to her work. A classically trained flautist, guitarist and composer, Heavy Metal road warrior—and more—Saunders has drawn on her diverse musical background and has made a recognized name for herself through her film work for the Richmond City Media Group, et al. She is also seen as being a Director's dream as the go-to film scoring "fixer" for film projects in dire need of same. Saunders' work for the short film, The Letter J is already drawing extensive praise.

AAJ: So, where did it all begin for you?

JS: Well, I grew up in a musical family in Las Vegas. My father, Thom Pastor is a jazz saxophonist, was on the road with Buddy Rich, worked for decades in the Las Vegas hotels, was Treasurer of the Vegas Musicians' Union and is still actively performing. My mother was a dancer there. I went to the Las Vegas Performing Arts High School, UNLV for flute performance, obtained my B.S. in Music Technology at CUNY, and later attended SUNY Purchase for my Master's degree in Composition and film work.

AAJ: Please tell me about The Letter J and your scoring work for it. How did that come about?

JS: OK, actually I live in Staten Island and I started doing some work for the Richmond City Media Group—a creative collective -as a staff composer. We do certain media projects that focus on the Staten Island community, its artists, businesses and events. There's a vibrant artistic community there—artists, musicians and others in the "Forgotten Borough." I met and engaged with some very talented artists there, mainly with Melissa Pellicano, who is the director of The Letter J. I started scoring news videos for her. She's since moved on to the Huffington Post and is now a Video Producer/Editor at Inside Edition/CBS Television Distribution. She asked me to score the film. It has been a labor of love.

AAJ: What is the film about?

JS: It is a short film about a woman, a hopeless romantic who struggles romantically trying to find the right gentleman. Her guys all take advantage of her and have a commonality—they all seem to have names which start with "J" and all turn out to be less than marvelous. It's a short film that will be presented at various independent film festivals. That's done to try to solicit funding to develop "The Letter J" into a full-length feature. I've been asked and have scored a lot of these shorter type films and also trailers which are later presented to the big media companies.

AAJ: How do you approach your interaction and score development with the directors?

JS: I liken my role almost like writing your name on a grain of sand. You have all of these creative directions and specifics that directors will give you. Directors might say "I'd like this to sound like an 80s John Hughes film," etc. That's where the creativity lies; you have to have musical integrity, be musically creative, and yet stay within the guidelines of the Director's request—and, of course stay out of the film's way.

AAJ: What technical process do you use? Do you work with Pro Tools? Samples? Live musicians?

JS: Yes, I can and do use Pro Tools if I am incorporating a live recorded musician. I also have an extensive array of samples that can be brought in and incorporated in to Logic. I have a studio in my home and, if necessary, will use an external studio. I can also record myself as needed.

AAJ: Please tell me about you being a film scoring "fixer?" Is Jane Saunders for reworking film scores like the legendary William Goldman is for script and screenplay rework?

JS: I do get a lot of projects from Directors requesting that kind of thing. It is challenging in that there's usually not a great deal of time to produce the required musical "fix." Sometimes I'll have like 48 hours notice to produce content. When I fix, I usually have to start over. There's almost an improvisational aspect to doing that. I also take the Director's personality and objectives into it. I find it creatively rewarding and have developed a little bit of a reputation for that type of work.

AAJ: Have you ever worked in Los Angeles?

JS: Actually, yes. We lived there some years ago. My husband is a drummer and years ago—sort of a break from school—we toured from L.A. with a Heavy Metal band both nationally and internationally. I also did a lot of work writing string arrangements for Heavy Metal bands in that time. The film scoring and Heavy Metal communities didn't really interact then. However, with the sources and diverse type of film projects that come my way now, I'd certainly think that L.A. work is in the cards.

AAJ: Jane, this has been a great. Thank you. Best of Luck with The Letter J and, perhaps a future letter "O."

JS: Thanks, Nick and thanks, All About Jazz.

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