24 April 2023

Wallaga Lake musician Tony King scores prestigious gong for short-film soundtrack

| Albert McKnight
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Tony King won a Cannes World Film Festival award for his soundtrack for the short film Black Canvas. Photo: Supplied.

A Far South Coast musician who took out a trophy at the prestigious Cannes World Film Festival has peeled back the curtain on the process of creating music for the movies.

Tony King was presented with the festival’s January 2023 Best Soundtrack award for the music he created on the short film Black Canvas.

“I was amazed because it’s a prestigious festival and there’s a lot of competition, so I was very chuffed!” he said.

“It’s the kind of work that I love doing and I want to do more of it.”

Asked how he composed soundtracks, he said he started by watching the film, making notes about what it felt like.

He formed a palette in his mind of the instruments that he would use to create an emotional map of the film, then watched it again with the sound off to focus on the actors’ faces, which he said was a good way to gauge what was going on.

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He then set up his orchestra using thousands of samples, starting melodies, writing themes, adding basic chords, building it up and fine-tuning it.

“It is very, very time-consuming!” he said.

“It can take you all day to get a minute of music sometimes.”

Mr King said music was the last element to be created for a feature film and it might have to be finished quickly. Sometimes a composer was given only about four and a half weeks to create a film’s worth of music.

He said much of a composer’s music might not be used in the final film. For instance, a composer might end up creating seven or eight hours of music for a one-and-a-half-hour film.

Mr King became involved in Black Canvas because the original musician planning on writing the score had to drop out, so its director, New York-based Kaye Tuckerman, asked him to help.

“Being an old friend, I said ‘No problem’,” he said.

He said the 18-minute-long film was a “really great story” that was loosely based on the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist and person of colour who was taken under the wing of Andy Warhol and rose to fame in the US several decades ago.

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The film tells the story from the perspective of a woman, rather than a man, and Mr King said it dealt with racism and bigotry.

He said when he started writing the soundtrack, he thought about how Basquiat had a high art sensibility but was also street, so he used operatic and classical influences as well as hip-hop grooves and jazz to try to capture those personality traits.

Mr King, who is also known for his work in the band Beautifully Mad with Nina Vox, is no stranger to writing music for film.

Burbank Animation Studios chose him to score nine of their animated films, including Mulan, The Littlest Mermaid and Prince of the Nile: The Story of Moses.

He also made the score for the feature film Wanted in 1997.

“I mostly dealt with animation, but it’s very hard to get these jobs in Australia because there’s so little work and so many good people doing it,” Mr King said.

Asked how he did find this work as an artist on the Far South Coast, he said thanks to the internet, artists could collaborate with people worldwide.

“Ten years ago, that wouldn’t have been possible where I’m living on Wallaga Lake,” he said.

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Mr King is planning on performing gigs with his band this month and said while he didn’t have any other film scores to work on at the moment, he was hoping to do it again.

“I’m itching to do some more of it!” he said.

The Cannes World Film Festival aims to unearth rare gems as well as highlight a new generation of emerging talents and future filmmakers deserving greater visibility and recognition.

It has a worldwide, IMDb-qualifying monthly and annual competition of all genres for those in filmmaking across the globe.

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