A Film Score Can Sometimes Save a Movie by Composer and Filmmaker Alexander Tovar

Composer and Filmmaker Alexander Tovar as Guy Franklin in SHOW BUSINESS (along with actress Amelia Meyers as Cassandra)

 

Film Courage:   Where did you grow up?

Alexander Tovar:  I was born in Los Angeles, between Silver Lake and Koreatown in 1984. My parents are from Los Angeles. I’m the middle child. My mother is an educator and plays the piano and my father is a composer. He taught me everything I know about music. Home life was wonderful. My parents always had music (mostly classical and jazz) playing in the house and in our beautiful garden. 

Alexander as a child

Film Courage:  As a member of a multi-musician family, (as a child) how was music encouraged?  What was the first musical instrument you picked up?

Alexander:  My father first taught me trumpet and piano when I was nine. I studied music with him and wrote my first opera when I was 10. There was never any pressure to be a prodigy or a musical genius. It was just something I wanted to do myself. My father was never strict and never forced anything on me.

Film Courage:  What was the first film you saw in the theater and with whom?  How does it compare to the first time you went to hear live music?

Alexander:   The first film I remember seeing in the theatre was “The Little Mermaid” at the Cinerama Dome. Apart from it being hilarious, it had wonderful music. The first live music I remember hearing was probably Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet at the Dorothy Chandler. I can’t say enough about this ballet. The music to this day moves me in a way I can’t describe. At this point, I was very interested in how music could convey different emotions on screen and on the stage. The visuals just enhanced the music for me. I soon learned that music just made everything much better. 

 

Film Courage:  Is there a piece of music that inspires you to want to make films? 

Alexander:   Whenever I write music, something inevitably comes to mind; mostly an old memory of a different piece of music I heard when I was a child from another composer stuck in my unconscious. There’s always a lost yet familiar melody forever percolating in my mind whether I’m composing at the piano or just sitting around. Most of my pieces evoke some visuals but they change each time I hear them. That’s what I love about Fellini films. There would be these incredibly beautiful, chaotic scenes with this Nino Rota music that was so melodic and quirky. When I saw “8 1/2,” I knew I wanted to know more about films and watch more. When I watched “Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” I wanted to write music for film. I knew music could tell a story through film, which I think is the greatest medium to convey human emotions.

Film Courage:   Favorite quote about artistic struggle?

Alexander:   It’s by Proust about neurotics: 

It’s the neurotics, they are the ones – and not the others – who founded religions and created masterpieces. The world will never know how much we owe them and above all what they suffered to give it to us.

Film Courage:   What is you movie SHOW BUSINESS about?

Alexander:   Show Business follows screenwriter Guy Franklin as he moves from NYC to LA with his fiancé. It should be a great gig but Guy soon realizes that being in Show Business and balancing his life love is easier said than done.

Watch the film on iTunes or Amazon

Film Courage:   Who is the protagonist Guy Franklin?  What drives him?

Alexander:   Guy Franklin is a writer from New York who wrote a screenplay for a short film. That screenplay gets a small award at a film festival in the Valley. He gets an offer from a producer to write a screenplay based on a kid’s book. He’s unsure what his talent and drive is in the world. When he moves to LA with his fiancé, the two of them drift apart.

Watch the video interview on Youtube here – Listen to Alexander’s music here on Soundcloud

Film Courage:   Where were you in life when you began writing SHOW BUSINESS?

Alexander:   I had just finished my first film, NOTHING IN LOS ANGELES and was doing the festival circuit. My friend, Bonnie Hargett, who produced SHOW BUSINESS gave me a copy of “The Fault in Our Stars,” a book her kids loved. Although I’m sure it’s great, I couldn’t get through it. I started thinking it’d be funny if I had to adapt something like this?  

Listen to Alexander’s music here on Soundcloud

 

Film Courage:   Where did you begin writing the script? 

Alexander:   I began writing the script immediately when I had the idea. It took a few weeks to write.

Film Courage:   What was the budget?  How did you fund the movie?

Alexander:   The budget was $50,000. Armand Hargett funded my first film, “Nothing in Los Angeles,” and Bonnie Hargett funded “Show Business.” They are old family friends.

Film Courage:   Why do you write, direct and act in the films that you make?   Isn’t that a lot to take on?

Alexander:   Because these films are primarily a vehicle for my music, I compose these films, just like a piece of music. The dialogue and images are all in my head beforehand and I only know how to do it this way. That doesn’t mean at all that’s the best way, it’s just the only way I know how to do it. I wouldn’t have much interest in writing or directing another person’s movie but scoring another person’s film, of course. I’ve always been more interested in auteurs and seeing the director’s vision rather than other people writing it, another person directing it, another person producing it, another person adding the music. Of course every film needs these people and they’re invaluable. But sometimes it can be very formulaic where it just looks like a factory film. There’s nothing special or different.

Watch the film on iTunes or Amazon

Film Courage:   Having grown up around artists all of your life and being from Los Angeles, what are your impressions from an insider’s perspective about the narcissistic side and the genuine desire to create from the standpoint of how people operate in this city? 

Alexander:   I love LA with all of my heart. It’s got everything. But it’s also very shallow. There’s obviously a lot of talent in this city but with that comes a lot of other people with huge narcissistic egos. They just want to be famous. It’s very hard not to encounter somebody who wants to be a famous actor or on a reality show. That part of LA depresses me to no end. I think the anger and depression manifests in some of the satire I’ve tried to put in both scripts.  

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“I think artists most of the time are unsatisfied in life. That’s what makes them create, because there’s a dissatisfaction or obsession with something. But I can easily feel fulfilled. I don’t think one has to suffer to achieve “great” art. Of course there are several artists who suffered severe depression, pain and addiction that somehow fueled their creativity. But I’m very proud and happy of the work I’ve done. I work at something until I can’t work on it anymore, then I say, Well, this one is done now. It makes me happy when people laugh and enjoy the films.”

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Film Courage:   You have numerous music credits for film.  What is your process for composing the score?  

 

Alexander:   To be honest, film music can be very boring. I’ve struggled with trying to make it interesting and most of the time, directors have said to lay off and make it sound more like background music. If you listen to contemporary soundtracks, you’ll hear it’s mostly drums, loud pounding drums. It works well in an action film, but it’s really just a slave to the picture. I have a very short attention span so it’s hard for me to watch anything several times. I’ll usually do it cue by cue. I really shouldn’t admit that but it’s the truth. But I would’ve love to have scored for Fellini or Truffaut or even a Sofia Coppola or someone with a more artistic sensitivity. I always feel music can sometimes save a movie. It’s hard to imagine films like “Cinema Paradiso,” “Out of Africa,” “The Mission,” or even “Psycho” without the music. 

Film Courage:   Can you share where you were in your life when you wrote a piece for Gustavo Dudamel that was performed live in front of the Los Angeles Walt Disney Concert Hall?  How did this opportunity present itself?

Alexander:   A good friend, Gregory Beech who’s an event designer and producer and who worked as the set designer on “Show Business,” hired me as the composer. I met Gregory through a friend and composer, Lori Henriques. His company was hired to put on the event for Gustavo Dudamel after the opening concert on Grand St. They needed music and Gregory asked me to write something to accompany an aerial show. It was one of the best nights of my life. 

Watch the film on iTunes or Amazon

 

Film Courage:   If a musician’s ear exists, do you feel you also possess a filmmaker’s eye?

Alexander:   Yes, I believe that’s completely true. For me, music is instinctual. I sit down and write something that comes to mind. If nothing comes, I take a break and go back to it. I think several of the greatest filmmakers have visions we can’t comprehend. It’s the artist’s instinct from his unconscious that sparks an idea that only he can convey. Peter Greenaway is one of my favorite filmmakers in the world. A movie like “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover,” has such great attention to detail. How Greenaway uses color themes and variations and incorporates music is, I think, the highest level of art one can attain. 

Watch the film on iTunes or Amazon

Film Courage:   What do you feel is the price for success?  When so many talented people who want recognition never get it, why do many admired cultural icons never achieve happiness or (at worst) take their own lives?

Alexander:   I think about this question multiple times a day. I tried to incorporate the idea in “Nothing in Los Angeles.” There’s a scene where Quinn tells the woman he’s falling in love with, What if his life passes by (as a writer) and he becomes unnoticed? I question whether I’ll feel artistically recognized at all. And I’m not interested in fame or being iconic, I’m only interested in consistently working. Artists like Philip Glass and Woody Allen work every day. If you work every day, something will eventually get done, whether it’s an opera or film. I never feel selling out is a bad thing. We all need to make money. If it moves your artistic vision further, then that’s great. The only success one can achieve is within oneself. I know that sounds very corny but it’s true. You can never expect affirmation from people, especially in Hollywood. No amount of fame or fortune or money will ever make anybody achieve happiness. It’s nice to have nice things but once you let other people control your feelings and self-esteem, you’ve given them all of your power. It’s good to listen to criticism and to fail. But then move forward and continue working.

 

Film Courage:   Where is SHOW BUSINESS currently available to watch?

Alexander:   Currently it’s on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes

Film Courage:   How did you get your two films on iTunes, Amazon and other VOD platforms?

Alexander:   We used Distribber for both films. We liked the idea that there were only upfront fees in the beginning. They don’t get a percentage once the film is on platforms, just a small yearly fee.  

Film Courage:   Now that you have two feature films under your belt, if and when you embark on another, what are some absolute musts and never agains for your production and post production?

Alexander:   I learned having an assistant director is an absolute must. I didn’t have one on the first film. When we filmed “Show Business,” Nice Cane was an absolute savior. I don’t know how I did it without having one. It would be nice to have craft services for the next film. And because it’s a necessity these days, we’d probably need a social media expert on set to tweet the day-to-day filming (although I don’t know who would care). 

Film Courage:   Your prior film NOTHING IN LOS ANGELES touches on a similar theme of finding meaning, success and love in Los Angeles.  Why is this an elusive carrot for so many creative-types in the Greater Los Angeles area?

Alexander:  I think being on the streets of Sunset and Hollywood and going north on Vine St. and being surrounded by so much history from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the movie studios, there’s something very exciting about that. It’s amazing how some of the most brilliant artists live right here in LA. I think it’s very inspiring.

Listen to Alexander’s music here on Soundcloud


Film Courage:   Did you travel with SHOW BUSINESS to film festivals?  If so, what were some of the interesting questions audience members asked during Q&As?

Alexander:   We traveled all around the country: Kansas, New York, Florida, Carmel, Santa Fe. It was so much fun seeing the reaction in each city. Sometimes there were no laughs where we thought people would laugh. Very fascinating from a writer’s standpoint to see what works with certain audiences. I think the consistent question was, Am I really like that character I play in my films? The answer is no. Those characters, Quinn and Guy, are merely distortions of my anxieties and neuroses.

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“I never feel selling out is a bad thing. We all need to make money. If it moves your artistic vision further, then that’s great. The only success one can achieve is within oneself. I know that sounds very corny but it’s true. You can never expect affirmation from people, especially in Hollywood. No amount of fame or fortune or money will ever make anybody achieve happiness. It’s nice to have nice things but once you let other people control your feelings and self-esteem, you’ve given them all of your power. It’s good to listen to criticism and to fail. But then move forward and continue working.”

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Film Courage:   Do you think it’s within the DNA of a great artist, entrepreneur, composer, filmmaker, writer, etc. to never be satisfied or fulfilled? 

Alexander:   Yes, I think artists most of the time are unsatisfied in life. That’s what makes them create, because there’s a dissatisfaction or obsession with something. But I can easily feel fulfilled. I don’t think one has to suffer to achieve “great” art. Of course there are several artists who suffered severe depression, pain and addiction that somehow fueled their creativity. But I’m very proud and happy of the work I’ve done. I work at something until I can’t work on it anymore, then I say, Well, this one is done now. It makes me happy when people laugh and enjoy the films. 

Film Courage:   What’s next for you creatively?

Alexander:   I have three screenplays in my drawer with music composed for all of them. Right now, we’re trying to reach a larger audience with “Nothing in Los Angeles,” and “Show Business.” I would love nothing more than continue to make films and score them. I don’t think I’d act in them. That just takes too much energy sometimes. And I don’t think anybody would miss it. 

 

BIO: 

Alexander Tovar was born in 1984 in Los Angeles to a musical family. By age 10, he had written his first opera and soon began formal training in piano, trumpet, and guitar.

He attended Alexander Hamilton High School playing trumpet in the prestigious jazz. band. By his senior year he had written a piece for full orchestra,which caught the attention of Robert Kraft, the current president of Fox Music. Mr. Kraft introduced Alexander to Philip Glass, who asked him to come work for him in New York City.

Fresh out of high school, Alexander moved to New York City to work for Philip Glass and Nico Muhly. Later, he returned to Los Angeles  studying philosophy at PCC and then transferring to the University of Southern California getting his B.M. in music composition.. In college, his piece, Eudaemonia, was selected on the New Music for Orchestra concert, conducted by Donald Crockett and broadcasted live on 91.5 KUSC..

After college, Alexander  wrote a piece for Gustavo Dudamel that was performed live in front of Disney Hall as part of the inaugural gala event welcoming the Maestro to Los Angeles.

In 2010, Alexander starting working for Van Dyke Parks. They worked on an Elton John and Leon Russell album, entitled, The Union produced by T-Bone Burnett.  In 2010, Tovar’s original score to the Crown Prince of Heaven premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

Tovar began writing his first play, a musical farce entitled Mr. Genius. He then began writing, directing, editing, acting, and scoring his own films. The first one, Nothing in Los Angeles (2013), a love letter to Los Angeles, was shot on a shoe string budget (produced by Armand Hargett) and went on to premiere at many important festivals including Cinequest. The next year he wrote, directed, acted, and scored his second film, Show Business (2015); a screwball romantic comedy that premiered at many notable festivals including the prestigious Newport Beach Festival (produced by Bonnie Hargett). He won best score for Show Business at the Milano International Film Festival Awards.

In 2016, Tovar acted in The Relationtrip, which premiered at 2017 SXSW Film Festival.

Alexander has continued to put out new albums and new screenplays. His newest, Hollywood Music, was recently released on iTunes and Amazon.

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