Jeremy Nathan Tisser is a name to remember. Here’s a first reason:
Following his five Global Music Awards, young composer Jeremy Nathan Tisser recently won at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards in the category SONG/SCORE – SPECIAL FEATURE for the main theme of TV show Composers on Composing – together with his longtime mentor composer Mark Watters – and I got the chance to talk with him right after that. Let’s jump right into how the theme came about:
Mark Watters is my mentor and initially he mentored me a little bit while I was at USC. Then a year after I graduated he hired me as his assistant. I worked there for two years. I’m now on my own but Mark still calls me when he has certain projects or he recommends me to things. I got a call from him while he was in the middle of doing the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra concert for the music of Disney Animation. He told me that Bambi Moé, his former boss at Disney, was doing a new TV series for PBS called Composers on Composing: “We need to write a theme but I’m slammed, so you’re helping me with it!” And I said, “Ok, let’s do it!”
Because the show is about composers who come from Rock’n’Roll. The first episode was for example, which is based on Steve Porcaro from the band Toto and it’s him going from being in the limelight to being in a dark room writing for the show ‘Justified’ where not everyone realises it’s the guy from Toto writing the music. So then the idea of the theme was that we wanted it to be a rock ‘n’ roll film score hybrid. We started out with some modern pop synth elements, then the electric guitar comes in and eventually the string section comes in for that orchestral sound to tie it all together.
But not only did Jeremy win in the category song/score together with Mark Watters but he was also nominated in the category SONG/SCORE – MOBILE VIDEO GAME for his Epic Cat Runner score. While Jeff Broadbent won for his ‘Wei Lai Zhan Chang’ score it was very special to Jeremy to be nominated against composers like Jeff and especially Inon Zur. The latter was nominated for his works on ‘We Moba’ and ‘Jiu Long Zhan’ and considered by Jeremy as another mentor of his:
When I was five or six years old I was in my temple and Inon was playing the keyboard every Saturday. He was the organist at the synagoge. So I grew up watching Inon playing keyboard for a living while he was trying to support the film scoring career I didn’t really know what it was at the time. He was doing Power Rangers and Digimon at the time. Then some years later when I was studying film scoring at California State Universtiy, Northride, I called Inon and asked him if I can come over. We kept in touch and I got to work for him a little bit on Dragon Age II and got to go to one of the scoring session. So to be nominated alongside Inon for that category, even though I lost, was just the coolest thing.
The craziness of Hollywood: Scoring the comedy ‘Actor for Hire’
When you speak with Jeremy who was also assistant to composer Frederik Wiedmann, it’s obvious very quickly how much he’s bubbling over with passion for what he does and how open he is to tackling new projects. Everything he experienced in the past years he told me in a very vivid manner and so it was great fun to talk with him. Both, a new project and a fun story, were his descriptions regarding Actor for Hire. The comedy will be out on January 1st and got a lot attention already during its festival run the past months.
Here’s a first impression of the movie as well as how it all came about:
I was recommended to the film by a friend of mine, composer Lucas Cantor. Lucas and I met when we worked on the Emmy’s concert for the Television Academy in 2014. Lucas is very busy at the time and so he didn’t have the time or the ability to take a basically no budget feature that was gonna have a two or three months deadline and to do jazz. Any composer who knows jazz knows that it’s the hardest thing in the world to mockup and even more so when you have just a quartet.
All they wanted was a jazz quartet: Drums, bass, keyboard and saxophone. Then everything is super exposed, you can’t cover the terrible midi sound of one saxophone with four others because it’s gonna be out there by itself. When you mock up the jazz piano you literally just play the little soloistic things in between because it just doesn’t sound right otherwise. Also walking bass lines is never gonna sound good unless you’re a basist. Trying to mock this up is just impossible. I did it though and it was fun.
As you can imagine not everything went as planned and it all started with the sound of the alto saxophone nobody could recognize. While listening to five tracks from the score you can read the story about how it all came together below – all based on a music budget of $600:
I started mocking up a theme that I wrote and the midi just wasn’t coming across. They couldn’t tell what instrument was playing the theme. The director Marcus Mizelle thought the main instrument was an organ. Then I sent the mockup to my friend Sam who played drums on the score and said: “Hey, you’re a musician, you know the difference in sounds. What do you think this is.” And he went, “Man, you know, that accordion is so different but I love it.” So I asked, “Accordion?!” And he just said, “Yeah, the melody.” And I was like, “Dude, that’s an alto saxophone!”
So a director and a trained musician could not figure out what it was. At that point I thought, “Alright, we’re doing a new thing here.” So I called my quartet guys and I said, “Come by, my parents have a cool guest house and wanna put a microphone in the room. I’m gonna print out music for all of you and we’re gonna press record and we’re gonna play like 15, 16 variations of the theme. Major, Minor, 5/4 time signature, 4/4, 3/4 time signature. We’ll do it fast, we’ll do it slow, we’ll do it swing, we’ll do it rock, we’ll do it bossanova, Latin etc. Then I cut everything up into separate audio files, gave it to the director and said, “Here put this in the movie, let’s see how it works.” We had solo sections, we had the theme, we had so much to work with and we ended up using that as the basis. So instead of creating mockups, instead of working with temp music we just took these recordings and put it into the movie and then I crafted cues based on the notes and feedback from the director. From there we went to the Bridge Recording Studios, recorded the jazz quartet for the final project and it was a blast.
If you started listening to the 5 cues from the soundtrack you should by now have listened to the song Keep on Swingin’ as well. Of course there was another story behind that one:
That was a fun one. It got thrown on me after the score was finished. They originally had a Cool and the Gang song that was temped into the scene where they’re having a house party with actors and other people. It’s where we meet a couple of the other characters who are gonna be in the movie throughout. People are doing coke on the coffee table, just like they would in a Hollywood Party, and people are making out in the hallways. The “Welcome to Hollywood” kind of thing. They tried putting in about 20 other songs from local funk bands – 20 tracks and not one of the songs fit the scene. So they came to me and said, “Sooo… Could you do this?” And I said, “Only because I love you guys.”
I ended up writing the song with my good friend Fletcher Sheridan [N.B.: Fletcher is one of the main singers of John Powell]. He wrote the lyrics and I did a funk song. I had Fletcher sing on it and so I sent it to Marcus and he said, “It sounds like a couple of white boys sitting in the room trying to make funk music.“ Which is funny because Fletcher and I are both a couple of short scrawny white boys. So I said “Alright, alright, whom do I know who I can call up because we got no money to do this and I gotta do it all on favours.” And so I remembered that I went to collage with TJ Wilkins. He’s freakin’ incredible and I called him saying, “Hey, what are you doing? Are you free tonight?” And he was like, “Yeah, what’s up?” And I said, “Good, come by my studio at six, I got a song for you.” I give him the lyrics and he said, “Alright, play it back.” So we play it back like three, four times and he was just listening and bobbing his head in the studio and getting down, just feeling it out. Then he takes the lyrics, does this James Brown version of it and just lays this thing down. And, wow, it just changed the whole flavour of the song in all the right ways. So then I sent that to Marcus, he had to listen to it a few times to let it sink in and then it just worked. That was it. Bam. So that’s the song in the movie.
On Actor for Hire‘s vimeo channel you can somehow feel already how much fun everyone had on the set. When I asked Jeremy if he was on one of the shootings he told me that unfortunately he wasn’t but that “their shoot days were crazy.” He told me a story about how the crew had to run to the sidewalk, only had one take and then had to run before the cops came. Based on a 14 thousand dollar budget, there wasn’t any money to get permits so that’s how things had to be done.
You could call the phrase “Fake it till you make it” one of the key elements of the movie. But all the more Jeremy told me that it’s also about honesty because everyone starting out wants to create something out of themselves but you don’t want to lie to people. Jeremy also said that it probably is so well received at festivals because everyone in the audience can relate so well to it.
It gives you an honest view into the world of Hollywood and what it’s really like coming up in that industry. But it’s still fun and it makes it enjoyable. So even people in Hollywood can watch it and they won’t be cringing. It makes people revisit their past and take a look back at to where they are. It applies to all platforms in Hollywood.
But also for the outsiders it gives you a good view into what the world is like and into what it can really be like while still making fun of it. Everyone I know who’s watched it has said it’s a really great movie and when I tell them that they made it for 14 grand their minds just explode. It doesn’t look like a 14 thousand dollar movie it looks like a million dollar movie. They did a very brilliant job for it. So if I never said anything about that you would have no idea.
Walking on an Alien Planet: Scoring the Virtual Reality Project ‘Shayd’
Another thing that lets our head explode these days is Virtual Reality. Jeremy had scored the Virtual Reality project Shayd before and so I was curious what he had to say about the future of entertainment and gaming specifically as well as how he got on board of Shayd which back in 2011 when it came out was very new to everyone. No wonder that no one less than Oculus founder Palmer Luckey was involved in it as Jeremy told me:
Shayd started while I was still at the USC. I was in the film scoring program and in the first semester Gary Schyman was one of our teachers. He was a big advocate that the composing students should be writing the music for the video games in the beginning program and so he got the video game students to pitch us their games. Julie Griffo back then did not give the best pitch and so afterwards many people were just really confused what it was. It was her master thesis, and it was a VR Disney Style Theme Park attraction where you could walk around a cave on an Alien Planet and see this whole planet.
I saw it and I immediately knew what it was gonna be. I’ve been obsessed with Virtual Reality since I was a kid. Everyone else wanted to do these badass video games like shooters and so I was the only one who ran up to her and I said, “I love this project, I’d love to be involved.“
Through Shayd I’ve worked with Palmer Luckey from Oculus. I also met Chao Huang who did my first two mobile games and who also was a designer on Shayd. Additionally I now still work with James Iliff who brought me on the project Holodeck which became Survios. Now three years later I’m doing the music for them for a new VR project that will be out in 2016. So a lot of people who I work with today and who have helped launch different areas of my career, I met on this thesis project that was created by Julie.
Therefore Shayd was so far the most important project in Jeremy’s career. But at the same time the aforementioned work on Composers on Composing was another milestone for him as it helped him to achieve a lifelong goal of his: He finally qualified for joining the Television Academy and can now vote for the Emmys for the first time in his life.
Mentioning the new VR project he’s working on, Jeremy could only tell me so much about it that „it’s gonna be really nuts.“ That’s why you should definitely watch this video on Survios‘ website to get a first impression; especially if you’ve never heard of anything related to Virtual Reality.
How to get jobs as a young composer: Put yourself out there and be yourself
How he got involved in many of his recent projects also leads us to two important aspects Jeremy pointed out when asking him about recommendations for young composers – and that was, networking and staying true to yourself:
They say you should write music everyday. And you definitely should write a little bit every day to keep the mind fresh – but the other thing you’ll hear and you’ll hear this from the most successful guys, is that it’s about 80 percent business and networking and only 20 percent music.
So it doesn’t matter how good your music is if you don’t go out there and to meet people and to hear it. So don’t be afraid to go out, talk to people, meet new people. Don’t just meet composers, meet everyone because you never know who knows someone. If you’re still at university meet the filmmakers there, meet the animators and game developers. After school find the post production groups. You never know when editors for example will ask you for music and when they decide to throw your music in the project so that then the director wants to know who that guy was and then they’re gonna say you get the gig. There’s tons of meetups, film festivals, it’s just everything. There’s no one answer to give. Just put yourself into all the different situations.
But more than that also don’t try to do what everyone else is doing. Maybe the Junkie XL Mad Max sound is gonna get really big the next couple of years, the crazy big Taiko drums. And epic trailer music is what everyone wants to write because they love the sound of the word epic – but everyone is writing like that. So why do you want to do what everyone else is doing? Do what you like to do. Do what makes you happy. Do write the music you can feel good about contributing to the world because music is a contribution to history. It’s a contribution to society and if you’re not proud of your contributions for society why would you do it?
You also won’t get every gig. I was beating myself up in the beginning because I demoed for a project and I didn’t get it. I was confused by what they wanted. But if you don’t connect with a project at the end of the day you’re not going to get the gig anyways. And it’s ok to say no if you don’t connect. It’s ok to lose a gig. It’s all a learning process to understand how to get deeper into the picture and how to write but you want to write your own music.
Recent short films: Scoring ‘Bat Boy’, ‘Selfie Hoes’ and ‘Valiant’
Getting back to his own projects there are two dear projects of Jeremy’s from the recent past which are Bat Boy and Selfie Hoes. Yes, Selfie Hoes.
Let me first talk about Bat Boy. It’s a 10 minute long short film that developed from the music video for Fur Trade’s SameTemptation. The film directed by Kheaven Lewandowski is about a boy who looks like a bat who meets a blind boy and his problems to fit in our world. When he sneaks out at one night he meets a blind boy and both become best friends. That is not the end of the story but I don’t want to spoil anything so here’s instead one of my favourite cues of Jeremy’s for you, Bat boy and the Blind kid:
And then there’s Sefie Hoes. It’s directed by Richie Elson and produced by Catrina Nova from DJ Kim Kat. As Jeremy told me it’s about “those people that go to Starbucks and they stand in line taking selfies of them. It just makes fun of all that. So you watch it and go Oh…. [imagine a cringing sound here] after watching this movie. But it’s really funny.“
Covering more and more of his young career we also got to one of his favourite projects of all time, called Valiant. The 30 minute lasting short has been in over 65 Film Festivals and also won numerous awards. Directed by Robin Phillips and produced by Sev Ohanian (Fruitvale Station) it stars Gil Darnell (Bones) and Navid Negahban (Homeland). Furthermore Fon Davis whose work you know from Star Wars, was responsible for the practical effects, the real explosions, the real miniatures and real modelmaking too. VFX were only used to enhanced explosions for example.
That short is probably my baby. My pride and joy. If I could go on a specific direction in my career, Valiant would be the one that I would choose: That one defines where I wanna go. It’s the big adventure movie in the vein of Indiana Jones and watching it is just tons of fun. It’s really quirky and it’s really funny at times but it’s also really serious and dark. It’s also very big: I wrote 6 different musical themes and it was really traditional orchestral with very jucy chords.
Musically it’s what I wanna do. We got to record it here with Local 47, I got to work with people from Star Wars in the Visual Effects. For me to be able to tell a story that looks as good as that, that sounds as good as that and to just tell an original adventure movie – that’s the dream.
And the best thing about it all: It’s still open to be turned into a feature film! Until then you can purchase the Blu-Ray via ViliantFilm.com. You can listen to a piece from the score below:
Dinosaurs and Horror films: Working on ‘Jurrassic World’ and getting ready for ‘Creep in Touch’
As you might guess Star Wars: Episode VIII would be Jeremy’s next favourite project. But while he is still working on that he already got very close to maestro John Williams when he worked on Jurassic World in the music preparation. So he was among the few being responsible that we could enjoy Michael Giacchino’s take on one of Williams‘ most iconic scores in the best way possible: Music preparation means that everything is checked for a final time before the music gets recorded live by an orchestra to let it sound as fantastic as we know it.
Apart from that Jeremy would also like to get into scoring animation. You can listen to his take on John Powell’s How to Train your Dragon score on Jeremy‘s Soundcloud. But he also enjoys writing for horror movies a lot: “Spending two years working for Mark Watters doing Disney Animation, spending a year basically just doing comedies, I’m so excited to be able to twist it around and to work on Horror Movies. I love doing Horror Films.“
He was speaking here about his upcoming Australian short film Creep in Touch which will be another horror film in his composer portfolio after scoring Tailypo and Mischief Nights before.
You can listen to Killer’s Theme from Mischief Nights below:
So while Jeremy clearly likes writing for adventure films like Valiant a lot, he’s very open for any new inspiring project of any genre: “I’m always looking for good stories to tell.“
I will end my little article about Jeremy Nathan Tisser with this exclamation of his, representing his general openness, curiosity and surgency. I hope I could give you a small idea of Jeremy’s extraordinary skills and recommend you highly to follow him on Social Media. You find all the links below: