Scannain talks In Orbit and composing with Emer Kinsella
Ahead of its screening at the Gaze International LGBT Film Festival on August 4th Scannain caught up with composer Emer Kinsella to talk about her involvement in Katie McNeice’s debut short film In Orbit, and about the art of composing in general.
You’re Irish but live in the States. How did that come about?
from Malahide in Dublin and was very focused on music and playing the violin
while growing up. At the age of 18, I
applied to classical conservatoires, ending up at the Guildhall School of Music
and Drama in London. The adventurer in me wanted to explore new cultures and
music led me to other countries such as Germany and Austria, where I lived and
studied for a few years in Vienna. I always wanted to live in the States and
after transitioning into film composing, I was accepted into the MFA program in
music composition for the screen at Columbia College Chicago. That’s what
brought me out here and how I ended up in LA. I’ve just hit my 5 year
anniversary of living in the States.
Where does your love of film come from? And what makes you want to compose for film?
was drawn to film from a young age. I spent a lot of time watching and
absorbing films and would re-watch taped recordings endlessly as a child.
Stories have always captivated me. I began to notice that the music I heard in
a film would stay in my memory instantly, much longer than music I’d
experienced without picture. The two combine to fully and emotionally engage my
senses. Responding to visuals and emotions is what I love about composing music
What are the challenges in composing for a short film like In Orbit?
I knew from reading the script that In Orbit had a lot of depth and emotional layers that could really be complemented by music. I think the challenge was developing material that reflected the internal messages in the film and condensing it into a shorter format. Making sure the moment in the scene hit the right tone and evoked the emotional direction we were going for but also just long enough to support the short but meaningful glimpses into the main characters’ lives. Katie was very descriptive with the initial words she gave me in order to understand the main concepts in the film and that made it much easier to jump into the music and explore ideas while still giving me creative freedom to access them from a personal perspective.
At what stage in the process did Katie get you involved and how?
involved me early on in the pre-production script stage. I’ve often joined
films in the final editing stages and this was a nice change to be brought into
the conversation much earlier. This allowed me to delve purely into the
concepts and take tonal ideas from images/test shoots that existed of the film
and then began to write a Suite that became the backbone of the score. I think
it’s good to detach yourself at first from the picture and understand what the
film is really saying and then see how the material responds to different
scenes, sculpting and refining it over time.
What do you enjoy most about the collaborative process of working on a film?
with Katie was a great collaborative experience. I’ve noticed that the stronger
the director-composer relationship and understanding is, the better the scores
are that I write. Being able to have back and forth conversations about the
scenes intentions, and then seeing how each interaction can help grow and
transform the score in new ways is a rewarding process. Katie has a great appreciation of music and
understanding of the emotional value that it can add to a film and it’s always
great to work with a director like that.
I think we really connected on topics of
internalized emotions, aspects that I love to explore through music, such as
the quest to belong but also the struggle to emerge transformed and more
connected to others. My personal music projects also touch on these topics. I
am currently organizing an immersive experiential concert experience that
explores intrinsic human emotions and provides a space for connection with the
self and others to take place in an unusual concert setting. This next concert
is called Intrinsic Strings, and will take place in Los Angeles at the Baldwin
Hills Scenic Overlook on August 24th with live instrumentalists performing
music from various film composers including myself, integrating virtual reality
insight stories, showing glimpses of people’s lives in the city.
Is it important to you to do work with Irish filmmakers? Is it about keeping the connection to home?
think it’s great to get to work with Irish filmmakers. The unique stories and
perspectives that Irish artists have to share is extremely valuable to the
industry. It’s great to see more films coming out of Ireland and connecting
with filmmakers who have experienced a similar background as me growing up can
lead to exciting collaborations. It’s amazing to be able to live so far away
but be able to connect so easily over video chat and still get to know the
filmmaker on a real personal level. I think no matter where we live away from
home, it’s great to support each other and be able to make high quality projects
through our connected understanding of our personal life experiences. I
recently had the opportunity to take one of my film scores and turn it into a
performance installation piece that was played at the launch of the
Contemporary Irish Arts Center in Los Angeles last month in collaboration with
Irish performance artist Amanda Coogan on her installation ‘The Ladder is
Always There’. It’s interesting to see how the music I develop takes on
different perspectives by working with different people.
Are there particular genres of film that you like composing for?
I am drawn towards stories relating to the human experience, and that
encourage people to look deeper into themselves and their surroundings. I
really enjoy working on Dramas, Psychological thrillers. Also horror can be
great to be experimental with, but I can access a story no matter what the
genre as it’s great to try out new things and present new ideas with music.
The percentage of female film composers in the industry is still very small, do you see that changing?
We’re still a small percentage in the industry and I think things are slowly changing but it’s a long climb and it starts with others recognizing that female voices need to be heard. I’ve noticed over the last year that there’s been a growth in female directors telling real and impactful stories reaching out to me to score their films. This summer I had a few films premiering at festivals, all with female directors.Two short films that I wrote music to just premiered at the LA Shorts International film festival. One was the film Mothers, directed by Leslie Murphy. The film looks at the roles by which we define ourselves, the importance of challenging accepted expectations and the process of letting go of the past in order to be part of the future, whatever that may lead. Another was the film Just a Drill, by Julianne Donelle. In Orbit by Katie McNeice premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh and is showing at the Gaze film festival in Dublin this month.
The Soundtrack to In Orbit is available on all major streaming platforms, including Spotify and Apple Music.