De Niro, Pacino film among Saltspring composer's first Hollywood gigs
By Mike Devlin, They Might Be Giants, Times Colonist January 13, 2010
If composer Kayla Schmah had her way, it would be 1960 and she'd be Bernard Hermann, scoring with a huge orchestra films of the highest quality.
The only problem? "My dream is something I believe is long-dead in Hollywood," laughed Schmah, a native of Saltspring Island now living in Los Angeles.
"But there's ways to adapt our dreams now. You can still find great films and do scaled-down versions of live instruments and still write a great score."
Schmah, 25, longs for the freedom given to composers such as Hermann, the man behind the music for Taxi Driver, Citizen Kane and numerous Alfred Hitchcock films, including Psycho. They had the tools to die for: Decent budgets, big orchestras and the ability to pick and choose projects based on
That will come in time for Schmah and her husband, fellow film and television composer Kyle Batter. The couple is relatively new to Los Angeles; they moved to Tinseltown, a notoriously tough city to crack, in 2006 so it's slow going thus far. They also have a nine-month-old son, Wyatt, so the couple's focus is on family at the moment.
"The thing about Hollywood, it's a time investment," Schmah said. "A lot of us haven't been out here long enough to have gotten in-depth [with the movie industry]."
Schmah has done extremely well thus far, all things considered. After graduating from Saltspring's Gulf Island Secondary School in 2001, she enrolled at Selkirk College in Nelson, where she spent two years in a transfer program. She landed next at Boston's Berklee College of Music, one of the most prestigious -- and productive -- music schools in the U.S., whose alumni include Diana Krall, John Mayer, Quincy Jones and Melissa Etheridge.
Almost immediately, she put her degree in film scoring to good use. She has worked alone and as understudy and assistant to veteran composers such as Michael Levine and Edward Shearmur. A quartet of feature film jobs alongside Emmy-winner Shearmur, including scoring work on the Al Pacino-Robert De Niro film Righteous Kill, was Schmah's entry into the movie world.
There's a feeling of satisfaction from
film composing that Schmah never got
from playing, she said, despite having
studied through the Royal Conservatory
of Music during elementary and junior
Film and tv composer Kayla Schmah also
worked last year on Allison Crowe's
upcoming album, Spiral.
Composing drew me in more than performing did. I've always been a nervous performer. I took a lot of conducting at Berklee and even that makes me nervous, so film scoring was the perfect route for me.
Despite a tiny budget, she scored
2008's Disfigured almost
entirely by herself, and as close to
the Hermann way as possible -- with a
full string section during sessions at
the legendary Capitol Studios in L.A.
That was a rare treat, she said. These days, only composers on par with Randy Newman, Thomas Newman, James Horner and John Williams -- with a total of 81 Oscar nominations between them -- can do that, day in and day out, to a much greater degree and with a far bigger budget.
The majority of Schmah's work is done at her home studio, which enables her to be close to her son. Schmah and Batter (who has written music for CSI and Ghost Whisperer) share the space. Scheduling is beginning to become more of a problem, as they continue to make connections.
Last year, she heard from two longtime friends, Nanaimo-raised songwriter Allison Crowe and her manager, Adrian Du Plessis, with an offer to write and arrange parts of Crowe's upcoming album, Spiral.
Schmah, who interned with Du Plessis when she was a teen, worked long-distance with Crowe on strings parts and various orchestration, massaging the finished tracks "and melding them into my own thing, while still keeping her style intact," Schmah said.
After the birth of her son, it was a nice reintroduction to singer-songwriter music. And that it came from connections fostered long ago made it all the more meaningful.
"Ninety-five per cent of my work has come through connections," Schmah said.
"People always say it's the right place at the right time, but it's actually right friend at the right time."
© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist