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Contender: Composer Terence Blanchard, BlacKkKlansman

December 11, 2018 | By
Terrence Blanchard

Terrence Blanchard

“The overall thing about Spike’s films is an undertone of we are all the same. We are all human beings. We are all Americans. I’m always trying to write themes that speak to that idea. That is one of the reasons we use orchestra as much as we can,” shared composer Terence Blanchard who has worked with director Spike Lee since the beginning of both their filmmaking careers. He felt he has grown as an artist along with the director.

Although the film was set in the seventies, only a few music cues had a bit of the “funk” sound popular during that time period. Lee prefers melodic, thematic material–emotionally driven music–that supports the narrative of the story and “speaks to the broader issue of what you are seeing on the screen.”

Blanchard has composed over a dozen films for Lee. He gets the script when the shooting begins. Lee might call him up to ask, “Do you hear anything yet?” Sometimes the answer is no. The cut scenes that the composer receives eventually get the musical process going. He will simply play his ideas on the piano and send them to Lee. “That’s all he wants to hear them on,” explained Blanchard. “He’ll make suggestions about what theme he wants to use, and where. We go from there.”

Once Blanchard and Lee decide on the thematic material, Blanchard does not hear from the director until they “hit the stage.” Blanchard added. “That’s unusual because a lot of directors want to hear what it’s going to sound like. They want a mock-up of the orchestration. Spike doesn’t need any of that. I think he wants to hear it the same way an audience is going to hear it for the first time.”

Blanchard affirmed Lee’s reverence for the filmmaking process, “Spike goes all out to make the best picture he can possibly make. He is the only director that I know of that will be in production and still be mindful of the postproduction process. He will do everything he can to save money through principal shooting to make sure he has enough money to score the way he sees it needs to be done.”

While the band tracks were recorded in New Orleans and taken to Los Angeles, the orchestra was recorded at Sony Studios. The scoring sessions occurred over four days. The filmmakers work to get as much done over the first two or three days, so on the last day they can do things like over dub percussion and brass to have separation. Often Lee has picked out a few scenes that he asks Blanchard to write additional cues to cover.

“For years people have had the wrong impression of Spike as a taskmaster.” Blanchard concluded, “While he knows what he likes. We have been working together long enough that I understand what he likes. He gives me all the freedom in the world to create the score. That is one of the reasons I work really hard not to disappoint.”

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