Los Angeles, CA., (December 27, 2001)—It’s no secret that the explosion of the DVD home entertainment market has created an increase in demand for film and television composers to create scores for bonus segments. But for those unfamiliar to working within the DVD industry, moreover, the format, sourcing and performing the work can prove challenging. Composer John Massari, whose DVD work includes original scores for Disney’s upcoming release of classics such as “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “Old Yeller” and “Swiss Family Robinson” as well as full scores for the independent films “Killer Klowns From Outer Space” and “Breathing Hard” predicts work opportunities will multiply over the coming year.

For Massari, the segue into DVD work from features was organic. “I had a long working relationship with the Disney Studios (he created the theme for the company’s seminal “Wonderful World of Disney”). When the DVD format came along and Touchstone decided to do bonus segments for ‘Mission to Mars’ and ‘Gone in 60 Seconds,’ it seemed like a natural fit,” he said. However, the composer is quick to point out that an extended working relationship with a big studio or major independent isn't necessary for newcomers or vets looking for DVD work.

Here's his advice on how to land and score the assignments effectively:

Cultivate relationships with the picture editor
“Consider all the editors on both independent and studio projects that you've worked with who like your material,” said Massari. “Give them a CD or audio file of your best music—I always take time in between jobs to create new music that I can use for this purpose or apply the new musical material with a new project and most helpful, as a life saver when challenged with a looming deadline!” There's valuable logic in this. “DVD editors, as all editors, need new musical material to lay down as a temp track for bonus segments on projects. If they like what they hear, they'll play it for the producer, which can act as a great introduction and lead to one or more job opportunities.”

Be prepared to create short pieces of original music DVD bonus segments usually clock in within the thirty to ninety-second range. Though musically it doesn't seem like much, the composition can make or break a DVD’s popularity and dictate sales figures.

Strive for emotional impact
“It's easy to overlook,” said Massari, “especially when you're scoring short pieces. Endeavor to resonate on a level that heightens the drama or tightens the intensity of the action. Producers recognize the composer who can achieve this goal. Accomplish this and you'll get called for repeat business.”

Rediscover your sample library
“Push your sampler to its limit to create singular sounds that will standout and grab the viewer in a short window of time,” advises Massari, who sources from over 100 CD-ROMs and uses the Roland 700 series and the Giga Sampler as his primary sample platform. “I go through and set up a palette of samples when preparing to score a project. I’ll draw from this palette as part of the composing process. Whatever sample plays the music most faithfully and effectively gets utilized.” One of the interesting byproducts of working in this fashion is that he continually rediscovers sample sounds and finds innovative ways to use them. “That's how I created those popcorn-like sounds for ‘Killer Klowns,’ the sparkling, whirling sounds for ‘The Wonderful World of Disney’ theme, and the plaintiff mourning bell-tones used in the Cable Ace nominated ‘Ray Bradbury Theater’ episode ‘The Banshee.’ These are musical sounds, not sound effects.”

A full orchestra sound is attainable without an orchestra?
Working individually, Massari has created full orchestra sounds by using the latest sample libraries that the developers from Unisync, Ilio and East West have to offer. He sequences with a Digital Performer, utilizes samples from his own personal CD sample library, then takes the sounds and midi sequences to their most extreme and complex level at times using over 100 midi sequence tracks. The result: A realistic virtual orchestra.

When composing for the “virtual” orchestra you must have a strong foundation in orchestration This not only requires cracking open a few hundred music scores but also seeking out the knowledge of living masters of orchestration that can impart their technique and experience. Said Massari, “Attending concerts performing a work that you are very familiar with is a great education. Seeing an orchestra perform a work will give you yet another insight to the art of orchestration. Listen, listen then keep on listening!” He cautions against creating a midi track that will prove awkward for actual live musicians. “Your virtual score should translate in both the midi and real world. However, don't let that stop you from doing the complete opposite... I break the rules all the time, that's why God created midi!”

Use a live orchestra with midi effectively
Sometimes a production budget will not afford a full orchestra. When supplementing samples with a live orchestra use the parts of the orchestra that dominate the score is Massari’s rule. “If I compose a score that is heavy on strings I will not hire brass or woodwinds. I'm going to work with the section that my samples perform with the most musically expressive impact.” He doesn't prefer checker-boarding. For instance, hiring a few instruments from every section of the orchestra. “You don't get the same impact as you do when you have an entire family from the orchestra complimenting your most realistic samples. However, every situation is different, keep innovating.”

Case Study
“I was commissioned to compose an orchestral suite for a series of DVD featurettes titled ‘The Disney Studio Album.’ The initial demos were composed using samples only. When all music material was approved I had to make some serious decisions on what family of the orchestra were to remain in the midi domain and what instruments were to be awarded to human beings. Since all of my woodwind samples are extremely realistic with all their ornamentation, trills and flourishes, my percussion had all the impact that I could ask for and the warmth and expressive strength of my Viole, Celli and Contra Basses being excellent (Thanks Peter Siedlaczek and Miroslav Vitous for your masterfully crafted samples) I decided to employ a full Brass and Violin Section. The result...quite rewarding.”

John Massari began his career in music as an orchestrator under the tutelage of his mentor, composer Jerry Fielding, for Universal's TV MOW, "High Midnight." Additional film credits include HBO's “The Ray Bradbury Theater,” “The Wonderful World of Disney” theme and MGM’s cult classic “Killer Clowns From Outer Space.” He also freelances for commercial music production house Ear to Ear and his music has been heard in commercials for companies including Nextel, Pontiac and IBM. He is currently at work on music for Disney's DVD issue of vault classics, including “Old Yeller,” “Swiss Family Robinson” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”

An extensive sample CD of his work is available upon request, e-mail: jnmassari@aol.com