Composer Darren Morze collaborated with director Shawn Christensen to develop the lush sounds of Sundance entry ‘Sidney Hall.’
Sundance Film Festival entry Sidney Hall is a long-gestating labor of love for its creative team. Writer/director Shawn Christensen shaped the script based on a series of short stories he wrote while touring with his band Stellastarr (and opening for The Killers) in 2004. Sidney Hall tells the story of a young novelist who writes a generation-defining novel. Told from three different ages of the title character, the film considers the damaging impact of instant fame. But Sidney Hall wasn’t the only creative output from the tour. Christensen also formed a strong bond with musician Darren Morze. Morze would work on several projects with Christensen, including his Oscar-winning 2012 short film Curfew.
Their collaboration continues with Sidney Hall, which premiered at Sundance earlier this week. Darren Morze attended the festival in support of the film alongside the rest of the creative team which included star Logan Lerman. I spoke with Morze shortly before Sidney Hall premiered when he was appreciating the cozier atmosphere the winter film festival offered.
You’re in Sundance now. Is this your first visit for Sydney Hall?
Yeah, it is. It’s certainly a lot less crazy than I expected it to be. I’ve been to Venice and [South By Southwest] and a bunch of other film festivals, and it’s cozier. Plus, I’m a winter person, so I definitely love the climate. Apart from that, I’ve been doing a lot of events, and I haven’t gotten to see any films yet.
So, you’re there in support of Sidney Hall. Tell me about working on the film.
Yeah, Shawn [Christensen] and I go way back. I’ve scored all of Shawn’s films to date. He used to be the singer of a rock band called Stellarstarr, and I recorded their demo that got them signed. Eventually, I ended up being their sound guy. I toured around with them for eight years, and, over the course of that, Shawn decided he wanted to start writing screenplays and making short films. I asked to write the music for them, and he was excited because he wouldn’t have to worry about scoring himself. Then, he went on to make Curfew, won an Oscar for that, and our working relationship bloomed from there.
Sidney Hall is his second feature, and it’s really sort of an organic thing. It’s not the kind of situation where, like most directors, they finish editing the film and give me a couple of weeks to do the music and be done with it. Once he starts working on the script, he already has me writing the music, and he brings the music to the set to play for the actors and get them into the world. It’s a lot more free-flowing.
Did this material as you were helping create the film resonate with you at all?
That’s funny because all of Shawn’s films in a way resonate with me. It’s like method composing because he always picks these stories that run parallel to what’s happening in my life at the moment to a certain extent. I was in the hospital for something pretty serious in August, and, when I got out, I had a bit of an existential crisis. That was right around the time that I started hard-core working on Sidney Hall. With his previous film [Before I Disappear], I was going through a divorce, so I was feeling as lonely as the main character of that film. All his films seem to have a weird parallel with what’s going on in my life. The interesting thing about Sidney Hall, compared to other films where I’ve written sad, wistful music, is that Shawn wanted uplifting music. The script itself was sad enough, and Shawn wanted film that felt redemptive. I worked at making it light and hopeful rather than dwelling on the drama of what’s going on.
How do you keep a score upbeat?
Well, Shawn always wanted the score to be moving without necessarily being percussive. A lot of arpeggios. A lot of ostinatos. Just sort of always keeping the instruments moving instead of long chords. There are a few here and there, but for the most part, we’re keeping a lot of energy in the score. We’re sticking to the notes and chords that keep it redemptive and uplifting.
As a composer, who do you pull from for inspiration? Who influences you?
Well, my musical tastes run the gamut, and it’s a different inspiration for every film. For [Sidney Hall], I kept coming back to Philip Glass. There’s even a section of the film where there’s a Philip Glass piece included. The score took a weird turn because there was a point where Shawn and I started discussing it, and we started talking about included 80’s synthesizers and the music of the films we grew up with. Vangelis. John Carpenter. Eventually, as we worked on the film, we realized that didn’t necessarily work, so the inspiration turned to Glass. It’s a really unique film, and the tone the music was going for was very unique. We really worked to find the film’s own voice that fit the piece.
Your next projects are scoring for television with Dystopia and Age of the Living Dead. How is that different from film scoring for you?
The main thing that I figured out with TV is that you really just need to score the pilot, and then once you’ve done that you’ve more or less already created the language for the whole season. You’ve got your box of crayons from there unless some new characters will be introduced with their own themes. You’re creating the world and trying to figure out how far you can take it, how far you can stretch it. You try to figure out, even with the main theme, how to orient people in a vampire world, for example. TV is naturally very episodic, so you have to say what you want to say in a quicker time. With a film, you have the opportunity to develop themes over the entire flow of the two or so hours.