Indignation, a novel by American novelist Philip Roth, was published in 2008. Following celebrated works of his, such as U.S. National Book Award for Fiction winning novella ‘Goodbye, Columbus’ and United Kingdom’s WH Smith Literary Award receiving ‘The Human Stain’. Shortly after receiving the prestigious Franz Kafka Prize 2001 in Prague, The Human Stain was adapted into the same-named thriller by director Robert Benton, starring Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins.
Now this summer, Indignation, adapted by producer, writer and director James Schamus will find it’s way into international cinema halls after being picked up by Lionsgate following its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. I got to meet 33 years old composer Jay Wadley during the Berlin Film Festival a few weeks later, to talk with him about the creation of the orchestral score as well as the difficulties along the way.
Feeling connected to the protagonist
After the warmly received Berlin premiere the night before, the Austrian Film Café was just the right spot to speak in comfort about Ohio in 1951 where Indignation takes place. The Book and film both follow Marcus Messner, a Jewish college student trying to find his place in the world and experiencing the struggle between moving out from home, love and religion. Jay described the film and his connection to its story as “dialogue driven, very smart, intellectual but very real and relatable on so many levels in the coming-of-age experience – especially for me as I’ve grown up in a religious family – not quite identifying with [the religious view on the world], moving to a new place and trying to find yourself, what your morals are and what you believe. I think that’s very much Marcus‘ story.”
Maybe this closely related experience to Marcus was the key to why, as Slash Films puts it perfectly, Indignation “features a truly magnificent score by Jay Wadley, full of strings and fitting with the film’s classic aesthetic and storytelling.” At this point we can’t unfortunately share any trailer or score snippets online but we will update the article once they are available for the public so that you also get the chance to listen to Conor Hanik and Tim Fain performing their beautiful piano and violin parts.
Coming home to writing for a real orchestra
Jay, who spends most of his life in New York and L.A. these days, composed, orchestrated, arranged and conducted the full score himself. He told me that it felt like “coming home” because of his studies in classical composition at the Yale School of Music where he received not only his Master of Music and Artist Diploma but where he also won two Charles Ives Awards from the Academy of Arts and Letters as well as an ASCAP/SCI Student Composer Award. Shortly after graduation in 2008, Jay provided additional music to FOX TV series Lie to Me, orchestrated one episode of Dr. Who and worked on Rufus Wainwright‘s opera for four years.
You can listen to select concert works of Jay Wadley below:
While having gained a lot of experience in writing concert music, Jay admitted, that for Indignation it was still a “daunting” task to prepare 40 minutes of film score for live orchestra recording sessions. Firstly because it was the very first time in his life he was given the chance to do it for a film. Secondly because in the recent past he had concentrated on establishing his Music Production Company Found Objects with his business partner Trevor Gureckis in the field of advertising and licensing: “Being a classical composer, graduating in 2008 in America was not a great time to make a living off concert music. Trevor was an assistant to Philip Glass for six years and on occasion I would do some copy and editing work. At one point we saw him doing advertisement and saw how lucrative it could be” Back then, Jay and Trevor decided to focus more on music for advertising rather than other fields. Therefore Jay had not written for a real orchestra in a long time because he had to concentrate much more on tracks based entirely on samples or on recording sessions with soloists only.
Being thankful for utterly experienced collaborators
Additionally many aspects were new to him while working on Indignation because of the scope of the project. Hence Jay was glad to have an “amazing crew of very experienced people” around him: Especially industry veterans James Schamus (‘The Ice Storm’, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’) and music editor Annette Kudrak (‘Drive’, ‘Brokeback Mountain’) were of big help for Jay guiding him through the entire process from spotting to the final mix. Still not everything went exactly as planned – as it always is in the film industry – but Jay only sees it as an important part of life as a film composer:
There were roadblocks and challenges that popped up where I hadn’t anticipated. But you learn from them, you adapt, and that’s what defines you as a professional: How you manage those challenges and whether or not you keep your head cool; how you move forward. If you are a problem solver and a team player you can make it through nonetheless.
Jay Wadley and James Schamus met a year and a half ago when James was working on That Film about Money, a two-part short documentary which is part of ‘Super Size Me’ creator Morgan Spurlock‘s recent short film series ‘We the Economy: 20 Short Films You Can’t Afford to Miss’. You can watch the first episode of James’ short documentary about money below, featuring Jay’s music throughout:
The long process of finding the right mood for the score
The collaboration went very well and so when James had finished his script for Indignation and everything got greenlit, Jay received a call while he was out in LA. On his way back to New York, Jay was able to read the whole script and got “very excited to say the least.” He hadn’t read any of Philip Roth’s novels at the time and decided not to read the original Indignation novel before he scored the film: “I wanted to write the score to reflect the way that James had adapted it, not bring too much of my own interpretation from the book into it.”
Jay started with a 6-minute long suite to present it to the other producers as well who had not heard his music before. As Jay told me, “a lot of the suite’s material lived in the temp score for a very long time until the last couple of weeks and then we finally cut the last bits of it out.” Jay mentioned that the general mood of the score changed quite significantly along the way: “I had read the script much darker than it ultimately played. As we developed the tone, James said that he really wanted people to see the humour in the film as well. It starts a bit sad but there is a lot of wit to it.” So when discussing the first drafts of the score in the first screenings, the cues lightened a lot and were harmonically and orchestrationally not as dense as they had begun.” Jay kept lightening the music up, until the entire first half of the score turned out to be very different to the first drafts. But also other parts were heavily discussed throughout the process: “Even up to the last week before we recorded, we stripped out the entire ending scene and completely changed it.”
Concluding words: “Be aware of what things could potentially go wrong.”
In the end all the changes seem to have been worth the trouble and the movie was received fully positive at Sundance and the Berlinale. As Jay put it: “There was a lot of laughter throughout and then I heard sniffling happening near the end. I think that means we did ok.” There was even applause in the middle and end of a scene which is a 16-minute dialogue between protagonist Marcus and his dean that takes place in the center of Indignation‘s storyline.
We didn’t hear what Philip Roth thinks about the adaption and its score yet, so if you happen to know him, feel free to send us his thoughts anytime so that we can embed it.
To end this little insight into the making of the score of James Schamus’ Indignation, here are some more of Jay’s experiences from working on the movie and what has to be considered when preparing a score for live orchestra recording sessions:
I started on very early with the themes and we had about six months to explore and make a lot of changes. We really started scoring the film after July : In August  I was temp scoring it, then I would re-score it and throw many elements away which I think was a great process for me at this point: Considering how big a task the recording process is and getting 40 minutes of parts and scores done in time, making sure you have all the right players, the right space and that everything sounds the way you want it to. I would plan that further out and would know a little bit better now, just because you don’t want to have to be worrying about anything while you are in the crunch-time trying to make sure that your sessions are gonna be perfectly synced.
There are just so many different aspects to keep track of: From the small notes on the page and the dynamics, to mic-placement, to performer placement, to noise in the hall – what are you going to do if you have problems with that? So there are a lot of things to consider and now that I’m much more aware of all the little details, I can plan for that and anticipate any potential problem areas while finishing the last elements.
It always comes down to a crunch time. No matter how much you plan, there is always going to be something that needs to be done. If you can be aware of common pitfalls and anticipate what challenges could potentially arise, you can be better prepared to handle them.