Frozen’s Orchestrator Skypes with Art of Film Music Class
How did Tim Davies, lead orchestrator and conductor of Frozen, the highest-grossing animated film of all time, end up Skyping with Moravian College students April 16? It started with a simple request. A week earlier, student Meghan E. Mawhinney ’16 asked Sean O’Boyle, Moravian’s artist-lecturer in composition, if they could watch the movie in his class.
O’Boyle, who teaches Mawhinney’s MUS 193 Art of Film Music course, was only too happy to oblige, with a bonus. “Well, I figured if we were going to watch the movie, we should talk with someone who worked on the film,” O’Boyle explained.
As it turned out, Davies, one of the most sought after orchestrators in Hollywood, is good acquaintances with O’Boyle. In addition to their shared loved of music, the duo both halt from Australia. “You are close friends with him?” a student asked O’Boyle before their interview with Davies. “We’re friends. All Australians are close friends – because there are only like 400 of us. We all know each other,” O'Boyle cracked.
In all seriousness, O’Boyle pointed out the music composition industry is a familial place. “Because of the field we are in, we work with fantastic people and that leads you to work with other fantastic people,” he said. “All of sudden, you know a lot of good people willing to help one another.”
Inside room 207 of the Brethren House, the Art of Film Music students peppered Davies – via the internet video chat – with inquiries about his background, as well as his successes. The questions were as varied as the majors in the classroom, which included nursing, music and computer science students, to name a few. The questions included, “How long did it take you to orchestrate the film?” to “Did you write Olaf’s song?” (Olaf, of course, being everyone’s favorite talkative snowman in Frozen.)
ABOVE: After a student requested that his class should watch Frozen, O'Boyle reached out to Davies, a fellow Australian, about talking with Moravian students.
ABOVE: The class' students, which hail from several different majors, asked Davies questions about his job responsibilities, as well as which Frozen character was his favorite.
The Grammy Award-nominated composer, who has worked with the likes of Amy Winehouse, Cee Lo Green, Nas, and many ensembles, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Metropol Orkest, couldn’t have been more forthright with the students.
When asked about working on Frozen, Davies explained he didn’t conduct the film’s biggest song, “Let It Go,” and admitted he knew very little about the movie during production. “In fact, when I was conducting the songs, I had no idea what the movie was, what it was about, and I had no idea who (the characters) were,” he laughed. “We had no idea when we were working on (the movie) that it would be that big a deal.”
However, Davies did watch the movie, which is a rarity for him. While he creates music for films, he’s not a huge film fan. “I don’t watch movies,” he said. “I don’t even like film music, that’s the funny part.” This is especially ironic since he has orchestrated and conducted recent feature films such as Endless Love, Muppets Most Wanted and Edge of Tomorrow. Additionally, he is currently working on arranging the score for Fox’s animated film Book of Life for two-time Oscar winner Gustavo Santaolalla.
As an orchestrator, Davies described his responsibilities as providing “the nuts and bolts of the score.” His main goal is to recreate the composer’s vision and put that product in front of the orchestra.
Despite all of his professional achievements during his 15-year career, Davies noted that before Frozen took off, he was still considered a somewhat unseasoned orchestrator in animated films.
“A year ago, I was up to replace someone to orchestrate on a big animated movie, and the studio was worried because I hadn’t done a proper big animation before,” Davies recalled. “And now, a year later, I have conducted and orchestrated one of the biggest ones of all time.”
While he’s not a “film score geek or nerd,” Davies has a passion for arraigning and working with orchestras. During his hour-long conversation with students, he detailed his career path to becoming one of Hollywood’s busiest orchestrator, working his way from disheartened University of Southern California student to his Frozen success.
While he didn’t enjoy studying film score at USC, and subsequently dropped out, Davies ended up getting work, writing orchestrations for friends and small projects, and later serving as a copyist. One of his biggest breaks came through a USC contact, which helped him land a job as an orchestrator on a video game for Sony Gaming. When the project’s conductor got sick, Davies filled in and continued to receive work from Sony. Eventually one project let into another and his calendar filled up. Today, Davies said he’s “maxed out” right now on work, which O’Boyle pointed out was a great problem to have.
Despite his film success, Davies’ first love remains being a Big Band composer, and he oversees two bands, one in Los Angeles and other in Australia. “When I die, that’s what I want to be remembered for,” Davies explained.
When asked for an inside scoop about a possible Frozen sequel, Davies admitted he didn’t know anything for sure, but given the first one’s success, he’d expect another. However, he did acknowledge he’d soon begin work on a Peanuts movie, as well as the surely anticipated sequel to Hot Tub Time Machine.
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