reel to real
Sight and sound: Mixing it up with an Austin film composer
Austin’s thriving film community has for years lived in the shadow of our nationally renowned music scene. Our rich musical history has well earned us the moniker of the Live Music Capital of the World, with more aspiring musicians arriving every day. While the two creative scenes generally operate independently of one another, there are individuals who manage the difficult task of residing comfortably within this city’s two greatest artistic communities—such is the case with film composer Lauren Morris. Laruen has been supplying local Austin films with scores and sound designs for the last few years, marrying a love of film with musical talent (and a very well-trained ear).
We let Lauren sound off about her background, her career and how she uses her unique musical style to bring movies to life.
Tell a little about your musical background.
I have had a lifetime of private singing and instrument lessons with incredible teachers. I began taking private guitar lessons when I was about 12 and quickly was put in front of audiences by my teachers for solo performances. I grew up Irish Catholic, and rudimentary hymnal singing in the old gothic church had a tremendous influence on me; I remember when we had our first guitar player come for a concert. The church had never allowed guitar before and our player was a Celtic guitarist from Ireland. I didn't know who he was, but I was enchanted—it was a big deal. That church had the most amazing acoustics and to get to sing "Oh Holy Night" at midnight mass from the balcony was incredible.
When I became an adult and migrated to San Diego, I found the Irish pub scene, and that's where I really found my voice. I started writing and playing instrumental jigs and reels and then began writing original Celtic folk music. My band Celticana had some great musicians. We had magical chemistry and some good stuff came out. In two years we went from playing the pubs to playing theaters and concerts and having representation, touring and selling records. We had a good run as a four-piece band. Having a niche is a good way to sell records.
How did you get into doing music for films?
I felt stagnant and wanted a change. Music isn't always something I've wanted to do, but I can't stop. I have to do it.
After moving to Austin, I knew I couldn't recreate Celticana so I jumped into this festival called Art Spark. I had to write music for a live play and perform it live. It was quite a pressure cooker and a good shot in the arm. We did a fantasy-esque type of play and so my style of ambient music fit in well. The actors did the play, and me and my Motif did the music right there. It was a great experience. Also, that summer I did a couple of film competitions with Andrew Reyes and scored his work. I ramped up my studio, which was already an arsenal. But I sold off all of the big gear and traded it in for a DAW, Logic Pro, monitors and a control surface and I started engineering. I found that I loved it. I also found out that all of my training with Celtic music transferred over very well into film scoring. That's when I found out about sound design. I had found my new niche. I've been creating and engineering sound design ever since.
How does a sound design differ from a score?
Sound design kind of has a broad meaning in the postproduction film world. It can encompass talents from several individuals who are good at specific tasks such as mixing the dialog with the field audio, with the musical score and the Foley. For example, a civil war period film, where there are battles and horses and old guns and a wide spectrum of sonic events going on, versus a sci-fi thriller film with spaceships and laser weapons and bouncy, booming indoor sets. It can be very challenging. My talents lie in working with and creating from scratch various types of sonic textures and sounds that are unnatural and not necessarily musical. I combine them to make completely new sounds for the film score.
What types of films have you scored so far?
I enjoy thriller and horror films. I think they are a blast to score because I don't feel limited texturally. So, most of my work is in that genre and that's where I seek to offer my talent. However, I have also done some romantic comedies and I've done a couple of local drama shorts.
What is your process for approaching each individual film score/sound design?
My process is to really support the scene and the actors. That takes a lot of experimentation and layers of sound. I also do Foley where necessary. I audition different textures and types of instruments while watching the scenes and then I create my compositions from there. I work mostly with virtual instruments, but I also have an in house instrumentalist, Robert Mitchell, who helps me with live tracks and he also inspires me quite a bit. But with film, I do my scoring, I edit and then I mix everything. I'm newly signed to a sound design film company in New York, so I'm doing shorter pieces and sending them out to my agent.
What has been your experience working with Austin filmmakers versus those from other parts of the country?
Yes, region does make a difference. People in different parts of the country have different work ethics and they vibe differently. I've had good experiences here in Austin and have made some great friends who come back to me to work on their new material. Austin is a vortex for talent. It is a good place to get better at what you do and to transition into something new; a good place to find inspiration.
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you or your work?
Getting signed the way I am now is really exciting. It is a great time to be making instrumental film music. Local filmmakers should always consider using a composer if they can. Recording artists should also consider sound design elements for records. I am looking to get my comedy commercials out into the market so we are available for that as well.
Interested in hiring Lauren to compose something for your project? Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.