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Lil Balzac 2

This was the first film score I wrote for a mid-length film, coming in at about 24 minutes of music for a 38 minute film. The story of writing the score for Lil Balzac 2 is a notable one not only because of the ways I developed as a film composer, but also because of the ways I developed as a professional collaborator.

I got the call to write the score to Balzac 2 out of the blue. A filmmaker named Angus Reid, based out of Greenfield, MA, did a search for many composers and arrived at my name. Perhaps it was because I was a local of the area growing up, or perhaps it was my loose connection with the other producer on the project, but after a short conversation with Angus it looked like the collaboration was about to begin.

Balzac 2 was set to be a wacky sequel to an equally wacky original premise. Balzac, our protagonist, hero, fool, loser, and frequently drug addled miscreant, gets talked into being a getaway driver to a bank heist. Being the opportunist he is and lacking general discretion or common sense Balzac jumps into the role head first and immediately regrets his decision when we see why he was selected: the current getaway driver is a drunk and the boss of the operation has him dealt with by his hired muscle. The action that ensues is a crazy bank heist scene that sees one of the team getting shot, a cop car flying off a bridge after having a body hurled at it, and Balzac coming out seemingly unscathed. After the remaining criminals and Balzac arrive at a safe holding area, the true colors of our boss and his hired muscle come out as they both tell Balzac that the other one is preparing to off them. In true Mexican standoff fashion they stare each other down and ask how the loot might be split.

Finally there is an exchange of gunfire that leaves Balzac caught in the middle and both end up riddled with bullets with Balzac again seemingly unscathed. Florida, the muscle, somehow survives his gun wounds and then he and Balzac make their way to the river with the remaining cash. In what could only be called a superhuman fight scene Balzac and Florida finally duke it out for the last of the cash once Florida realizes that Balzac has been dating his sister. The epic final fight has hilarious moments and reaches a climax with Balzac finding strength he never knew he had and upper cutting Florida over the side of the fence into the river. Unfortunately, the money falls with Florida and Balzac is left with some stray twenty dollar bills that found their way to the ground. After declaring victory and being “eighty dollars richer” than he was this morning, Balzac gets a final call from his pal, Scuggs. Scuggs says there are cops outside his house because of course Balzac left the getaway van and some dead bodies at Scuggs’s house for the police to find. Like a true friend. Balzac then walks off into the sunset and the legend continues.

This was a truly fascinating score to compose. Angus asked me to take the story arc incredibly seriously and to compose in a classic leitmotif style ala classic Hollywood. I got to compose themes for characters, and also epic action sequences for the heist, bridge car chase, and ending showdown scenes. With the characters themselves being so ridiculous and almost camp, the music being the “straight man” in the relationship was a fun dynamic to play with.

Working with Angus was thrilling. While there were some initial challenges in communication style and finding a common language to talk about the music, once we got there it was rewarding. I learned a lot from Angus about how to talk to directors who know some things about music, but still want the composer to bring their talents to bear and have ideas. It’s a delicate balance between giving the director exactly what they say they want vs. reading between the lines of what they are saying and getting at what they really want. On Balzac 2 I had to hone my director-speak-to-music-speak translation skills constantly. Fortunately, we were not starting from square one as Angus had knowledge of other composers’ works to use as a reference point and this helped immensely as we worked to tease out his musical vision from moment to moment.

Balzac 2 marked an important step forward for me as a composer. I learned a lot of practical real world lessons about teaming up with a director to make a unique vision come to life. I learned about structuring my time and also being clear in my communication. I learned how to ask for more money when the scope of the work changed and how to value my own work as a professional. I think this project allowed me to step a little further out of the “imposter syndrome” phase of being a film composer and more into the phase of “I can do this.”

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