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The tension of “Jaws” wouldn't be as palpable without John Williams' score. “Psycho” wouldn't pull us out of our seats without the sharp notes from composer Bernard Herrmann. (You can hear them in your head right now, can't you?)
And “Stuck in Love,” a new comedy-drama film, wouldn't be the same without the sounds of Mike Mogis and Nathaniel Walcott, members of the Omaha-based indie darlings Bright Eyes, who join a trend of rockers, not composers, scoring films.
“Stuck in Love” — starring Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly and Kristen Bell — is about an acclaimed writer dealing with his now-failed marriage, two teenage children and the fact that he hasn't written a word since his marriage dissolved. The action all takes place to Walcott and Mogis' music, which may feel familiar to fans of their band.
“The sort of sounds that we do or arrangements we do are similar to what we'd do on a record,” Mogis said.
The movie's writer/director, Josh Boone, is a longtime fan of Bright Eyes, which includes Mogis, Walcott and songwriter Conor Oberst. Boone wrote the movie with the Omaha band in mind — and even wrote specific Bright Eyes songs into scenes of the film.
The film is somewhat autobiographical, and the band's songs are important to the characters.
“I think Josh wrote them in a way that the music that they're listening to affects how they're feeling,” said Laura Katz, a Los Angeles-based music supervisor who worked on the film along with Andy Ross. “There are actual plot points based upon the songs. The music helped propel the story.”
The score was composed in Omaha at Mogis' ARC recording studios over two months last year. Mogis and Walcott had previously scored only one film, Omaha director Nik Fackler's “Lovely, Still,” so they took on the project knowing it would be a challenge.
“Putting myself in situations that I'm a little uncomfortable with is what has helped make me a better musician and producer,” Mogis said. “Pushing yourself in the directions you're uncomfortable and unfamiliar with is a positive thing to do.”
The score was so well-received by others working on the film that Mogis and Walcott now have an agent and are looking to do more film scores. They're considering projects that may begin later this year.
With “Stuck in Love,” Boone and the film's music supervisor initially wanted to license several Bright Eyes songs. As they talked about licensing the songs, they had the idea to bring the band on board, making music specifically for the film.
“Bright Eyes has been one of my favorite bands since 'Fevers and Mirrors' came out (in 2000). So when I met with the music supervisor for the first time, he said, 'Who's your dream (to score the movie)?' And I was like, 'The Bright Eyes guys.' And somehow he helped make that happen,” Boone told music blog indiewire.com.
Mogis and Walcott approached the film similar to the way they would approach a Bright Eyes album, and the score has elements and instruments you would find on Bright Eyes' 2012 album, “The People's Key.”
As is typical with scoring a film, Mogis and Walcott received early cuts of various scenes, which have a temporary score attached to them. The temporary score can be popular songs and music from other film scores that gives the composers a feel for what the director wants.
Mogis and Walcott then composed music scene by scene, and the music was evaluated by the producers and director and either accepted or sent back for changes.
Sometimes, entire pieces they created weren't used. The song “At Your Door,” a collaboration with Big Harp, was created for “Stuck in Love's” main title. Eventually, the producers chose the song “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
“At Your Door” is included in the film's soundtrack and still reflects elements of the scene it was scored for.
“I had written the song to emulate certain things that were happening. It dips down during certain dialogue. It ends abruptly when a door closed,” Mogis said. “Musically, I wish we had just written it as a song.”
Mogis works mostly with guitars and recording production, and Walcott focuses on horns, strings and keyboards, so the scoring project was very collaborative. Often, they'd compose separate pieces and then work to combine their ideas.
Having worked together for years, both said the process was very smooth. Mogis said that having a creative person in the studio whom he could bounce ideas off was invaluable to the process. Walcott agreed, adding that Mogis has a good ear for knowing what works and what doesn't in the context of the film.
Mogis thinks there's a certain element that rock musicians bring to the table that traditional composers lack — which may be why so many rock musicians are scoring films.
Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood won praise for his sparse score of “The Master” last year, indie rock band Yo La Tengo provided an understated sound for 2009's “Adventureland,” electronic duo Daft Punk created a soundtrack perfectly suited for 2010's “Tron: Legacy,” and Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor won an Oscar for his score for 2010's “The Social Network.”
“There are certain sounds that are more from the rock background,” Mogis said. “We have a slightly different sonic palate that we're accustomed to and comfortable using that translates to a different sonic soundscape.”
“Stuck in Love's” soundtrack also includes a collaboration between Walcott, Mogis and Saddle Creek Records band Big Harp, as well as a new song from Oberst.
Though it encompassed two straight months of work, Mogis and Walcott enjoyed the entire process, especially the emotive quality that music brings to a film.
“Music, even if it's subliminal, conveys such a feeling that we're all sort of aware of but don't pay much attention to when we're watching a movie,” Mogis said. “It's a pretty powerful addition to the story, and it's kind of another character in a way.”
"Stuck in Love" trailer