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Edwin Wendler: Flying "Non-Stop" First Class Up Hollywood's Musical Ladder

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Composers, Orchestrators, Conductors, Musicians and Music Engineers are always the last ones to bat after a film is about to be locked. For those who don't know what the term "locked" means, it's the final step in the process before a film is going to be put in the can and released after all the editing, special effects work, reshoots (if necessary), dialog looping and music are all put together for everyone in the world can see the finished product. Sometimes, unexpected things happen that would force a film to be delayed such as a poor test screening or a shift in the release schedule which causes at times for music to be replaced entirely and at the very last minute, another composer has to literally has to rescue the film musically and meet the new date.

Composer Edwin Wendler is one such talented composer who has exhibited the skills to play write with the very best Hollywood has to offer. Edwin has displayed time and time again that he is up to any task. His latest film which has him working with the esteemed and brilliant John Ottman for his latest film, Universal Pictures' action-thriller "Non-Stop" starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore in Neeson's latest action-adventure in a genre he's pretty much dominated for the last five years. He is an immense talent who for those who haven't heard his score to the film "Escape" starring C.Thomas Howell and John Rhys-Davies is one that truly displays his excellent gift for melody and rhythms.

For this very special interview, Edwin candidly talks about "Non-Stop", scoring the film with John Ottman, his working relationship with acclaimed composer, we look back on "Escape" and his other thoughts and feelings about working in films. So sit back and enjoy the musings of this excellent and gifted talent that is Edwin Wendler.

Let's talk about what what made you become interested in music.

EW: Both my parents are professional singers, so I grew up in a household where there was singing, piano playing, and lots of classical music on the radio. My father owns a huge collection of classical music LP’s, audio cassettes (Remember those!) and CD’s, as well as thousands of books about music. When I was a small child, I memorized the songs from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and performed them for my parents. Many years later, I was thrilled when I participated in a composer signing, and Richard Sherman was sitting two chairs down from me. His music meant so much to me growing up.

Let’s talk about your recent work as composer of additional music on the upcoming action-thriller “Non-Stop” starring action megastar Liam Neeson and Oscar nominee Julianne Moore. What got you interested in this project?

EW: John Ottman called and explained that he really wanted to work on “Non-Stop” but that the scoring schedule on that movie conflicted with the editing schedule for “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” He asked if I could help complete the work on “Non-Stop,” and I felt honored that he trusted me with the responsibilities that come with that task.

Did you spot the film with John Ottman before you started writing, and did he have a specific plan as to exactly what he wanted the music to sound like stylistically?

EW: Yes, we spotted every scene I worked on and John explained what kind of music would be best, making specific suggestions about melody and rhythm. At the beginning of the project, John composed the main theme, and he selected sounds, textures, and synth patches that built the musical vocabulary for the score. I listened very carefully to all his cues to make sure there was continuity and cohesion in the score.

How did you and John collaborate from writing the score to the conclusion of it? What is it like working with someone of the caliber of John Ottman?

EW: Usually, I would send a first version over to John, sometimes sketches for alternates. John would give very detailed notes for revisions and once he would sign off on a cue, it would be presented to director Jaume Collet-Serra and producer Joel Silver. John would then call and discuss how to best incorporate their feedback in the next update. I really appreciate John’s guidance, knowledge, and experience throughout the process. Plus, John always creates and maintains a positive, fun work environment, sometimes by simply making a funny comment here or there. A little bit of humor really does help a lot, especially during deadline crunch time. John has been working successfully on so many movies, and it’s great to listen to his work as it is taking shape. I’m always learning from his choices regarding tone, melody, and tempo. Also, John is always on top of everything, no matter how busy he is.

How much score is there in the final version of the film?

EW: It’s a total of 96 minutes of score. There is only one source cue which runs for a mere 5 seconds.

What were the recording sessions like, and what can you tell us about the mix?

EW: The sessions with the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra went very well and were overseen by orchestrators Jason Livesay and Nolan Livesay, as well as music editor Amanda Goodpaster. Jason and Nolan are a pure joy to work with: precise and fast, plus they are two of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Also, they have composed some really cool music of their own for various projects. While the recording sessions were in progress, I was creating a couple of additional overlays, plus I was exporting separate audio tracks, or “stems,” of each cue, for scoring mixer Greg Hayes. Peter Hackman, whom you know as the organizer of the Fans of Film Music events, was tremendously helpful with the audio export process. It can be very tedious and boring, and the end phase of a project is usually when you’re the most tired, so Peter’s help enabled me to take naps, which was really appreciated. I feel very lucky now to call him my partner in life. We recently moved in together and are very happy.

Let’s talk about the soundtrack album upcoming on Varèse Sarabande Records. How was it put together?

EW: John has a great working relationship with producer Robert Townson. They have done many albums together, so their process runs very smoothly. John selected the tracks for the album, and I hope fans will enjoy it.

I loved your score for “Escape”, the indie action-thriller starring C. Thomas Howell and John Rhys-Davies, from a few years ago. What was it like working on that project?

EW: I’m really glad you liked it! Thank you for your review! “Escape” was an ideal situation for me as I was working with a producer I really enjoy collaborating with. James Chankin had produced “Christmas With a Capital C,” which is when we first met. The schedule on “Escape” was a bit tight but the process was very rewarding.

After watching the film for the first time, did the themes come to you quickly or did it take a little time for you to come up with the great material that you ultimately came up with?

EW: I remember waking up, a day or two after first having seen the movie, and the main theme was fully formed in my mind. It was almost as if I was listening to it on imaginary headphones. I arranged and recorded the first demo of it the same day, and sent it over to James Chankin and co-producer Chad Hawkins. I was very nervous because strong melodies are kind of a thing of the past now, but I felt that the opening section needed to musically express a sense of optimism and idealism, which later of course gets crushed by the terrifying events in the story. My template for this idea was the Main Title for “Arachnophobia” with its gorgeous main theme by Trevor Jones. I didn’t copy that theme, of course, but I wanted a similar feel for the opening of “Escape.” Fortunately, the producers loved the thematic approach in the beginning, and we later hear variations of the main theme, especially near the end of the film.

In regards to putting together the score, were you and the director of the film on the same page from the very start in regards to how the film should sound, specifically in moments that didn’t need a full, melodic sound?

EW: By the time I was hired, director Paul Emami had left the picture and was working on another project. Interestingly, only two weeks ago, I received a very kind email from him congratulating me on the score, which was a nice surprise. In Paul’s absence, I worked closely with producers Chankin and Hawkins to fine-tune the musical approach for each scene. Given that the movie is primarily a drama, we couldn’t go overboard with the action music. On the other hand, reducing the impact of the action music could sometimes make the action sequences appear slower or less intense. So, we needed to find the right balance. There is one scene in the movie where C. Thomas Howell’s character has a personal breakthrough.The performance in that scene is so strong, I felt that music would only take a way from it, or add unnecessary melodrama. The tricky thing was how and when exactly to start the music again. It took a few attempts, but the end result felt right to us. Sometimes, it simply boils down to trial and error.

What were the recording sessions for the score like?

EW: They were highly enjoyable. James Fitzpatrick contracted the fantastic City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and it was a great honor for me to work with the wonderful Nic Raine. Jan Holzner recorded the session expertly.

Did you have to rewrite anything during the sessions?

EW: No rewrites during the session, but I still had to compose some non-orchestral cues that same day, so after the session wrapped, I immediately went back into my studio.

Let’s talk about the soundtrack that Perseverance Records released not too long ago. How did you feel when Robin Esterhammer decided to release your score?

EW: Robin had released my score for “The Interior” a few years before, and I had kept him in the loop about my current projects. He seemed particularly interested in “Escape” when I told him about the orchestral elements, and he even listened in during the recording session. Robin fell in love with the main theme, and I am so thankful to him for giving this score an outlet it wouldn’t otherwise have.

Are you happy with how the album came out?

EW: Yes, very happy. Especially, Gergely Hubai (liner notes) and Chas Ferry (mastering) did great work. I am so thankful for the positive reviews the album has gotten.

If you and John Ottman were to work together again, what movie would you want it to be and why?

EW: Actually, John has asked me to do a little bit of work on “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” Of course, I said yes. It is beyond exciting to be working on a big franchise! The parameters of production are so incredibly luxurious, and I hope my tiny contribution will bring something exciting and memorable to the movie.

What is your favorite film score that you’ve written to date?

EW: I am sure that no composer has an easy time answering this question, but I’d say, “The Right To Love: An American Family.” That documentary just hit home on so many levels. I had the opportunity to express emotions about events that had actually happened, and that I had witnessed, a couple of years prior. Cassie Jaye and Christina Clack did such a phenomenal job showing the profound injustice that happened when Proposition 8 passed in California. There was, and to some people there still is, this perceived threat that gay folks will ruin the fabric of society, and the Leffews are a perfect example of why that myth is just complete nonsense. It is a true honor to have worked on that important documentary.

Who is your favorite director that you’ve worked with so far in your career?

EW: I would have to say JoséAntonio W. Danner, the director of “Wrong Hollywood Number.” That man lived in his car for many, many months, while saving all his money so we could have a score recorded with the London Metropolitan Orchestra. JoséAntonio loves and knows movies like no other person I know. He truly appreciates what music can do for a movie, and he will make no compromise when it comes to the quality of music. JoséAntonio has also become one of my closest friends, and I’m planning to watch “Non-Stop” with him when it gets released in theaters.

I'd like to extend a very warm and heartfelt thanks to Edwin for being so gracious for his time and honesty with these very tough questions. Well, at least I hope they weren't! You're wonderful and let's do this again in the future! I owe you one!

Universal Pictures' Non-Stop will hit theaters nationwide this Friday, February 28th!

The soundtrack to "Non-Stop" will be released by Varese Sarabande on March 4th and available for pre-order @ http://www.varesesarabande.com/servlet/the-1148/Non-dsh-Stop/Detail

Please check out Edwin's official website @ http://www.edwinwendler.com/ for updates on his latest work and upcoming projects

Here is Edwin's Bio:

"During his four years as a Vienna Choir Boy, Edwin Wendler toured the world, singing in hundreds of concerts and dozens of opera performances. He earned Certificates in Film Scoring and Screen Writing from UCLA Extension in 2000, and was accepted into the prestigious ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop in 2004. Mr. Wendler’s feature film credits as a composer include Home: The Horror Story (2001), The Interior (2007), Christmas With A Capital C (2010), Escape (2012), and The Mark 2: Redemption (2013). His score for the 2003 comedy short film, Wrong Hollywood Number, featured an enthusiastically reviewed recording with the London Metropolitan Orchestra. In 2010, Mr. Wendler won a “Best Score” award at the Los Angeles International Film Festival, for his epic score, Azureus Rising (CG short).

Mr. Wendler worked as an arranger, programmer, and orchestrator on movies such as So Undercover (The Weinstein Company, 2012), Unknown (Warner Bros., 2011), Little Fockers (Universal/Paramount, 2010), The Losers (Warner Bros., 2010), Turistas (Fox, 2006), and Into The Blue (MGM/Sony, 2005). Mr. Wendler’s television credits include arranging on the 2006 Showtime series, Sleeper Cell: American Terror, as well as composing additional music for the 6th season of NBC’s popular reality series, Fear Factor.

For the 150th anniversary of the University of Ottawa, conductor Laurence Ewashko commissioned the choral/orchestral piece, Consolatio (1999), which was broadcast on Canadian television and has also been performed by the Stockport Youth Orchestra, under Philip Mackenzie, in Manchester, England. Other commissions include choral works for the Illumni Men’s Chorale (Wendler is currently their composer-in-residence) and Kentridge High School Concert Choir, as well as instrumental arrangements for the Hollywood Soloists. Wendler’s critically acclaimed string quartet, The Marriage, has been performed in Canada and France."

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