Students Create Score, Sound for Film at IFFBoston

Kimberly Ashton
April 29, 2016
A still image from "Black Canaries."
Courtesy of Jesse Kreitzer

When student Jose Parody '15 first saw a clip of the short film Black Canaries in January 2015, he knew right away what the story of hardship, labor, and struggle sounded like: an earnest, yet desolate, dirge. Inspired, he sat down to write a note to the movie's creator and director, Jesse Kreitzer

"[The film] has a lonesome quality to it and leads me to hear a small ensemble of instruments—humble and emotional ones, perhaps a lonely violin, guitar, harmonica, backed by some low vocal humming and chanting," he wrote in his pitch to become the composer for the film, a 1900s coal mining folk tale.

Kreitzer, a filmmaking student at the University of Iowa who had included Berklee's Film Scoring Department in his search to find someone to score his master's degree project, knew he had found his collaborator. Parody's note had something the letters from others didn't: a heartfelt reaction to the film. 

Watch a clip from Black Canaries: 

"When Jose came along, first and foremost, he told me about how he connected to the material ... and that level of personalizing [the letter] in that way stood out above the rest. It wasn't just a generic 'here's what I do; have a listen to my reel.' Jose really embedded himself in the film," Kreitzer said. 

At the time, Parody, who has since graduated, was part of a joint film scoring/electronic production and design practicum, taught by EPD chair Michael Bierylo and George S. Clinton, Berklee's film scoring chair at the time, that aimed to simulate the real-world experience of procuring projects and working with directors. For this collaboration, two separate classes—FS-481 in film scoring and EP-P481 in electronic production and design—ran at the same time and included both separate and joint class meetings. Filmmakers interested in working with Berklee students were able to fill out an online call for submissions, and students interested in working with them sent back pitch letters. No money was exchanged for the work.

"The first thing that got me was that it was visually stunning," Parody, a Miamian who majored in film scoring and music business/management, said of Black Canaries. Both he and Kreitzer "reached to each other's comments and visuals and music in a very honest and direct way." 

As part of the practicum, two electronic production and design students joined the project to work on the sound design for the film. Both Filipe Antunes '15 and Austin DeVries '15, said that, like Parody, they were immediately drawn to the movie. 

"Black Canaries stood out to me because of the artful story it was trying to tell, paired with the look of it being shot on real film," DeVries, of Seattle, Washington, said. Together with Parody and Antunes, an EPD/music production and engineering student from Brazil, DeVries created the audio world of Black Canaries

In fact, Kreitzer said, the three Berklee students—who are all currently pursuing careers in the film and video game industries—created 98 percent of the film's audio, down to the sounds of the crackling fire, brisk wind, and even the characters' breaths. Despite being totally manufactured, it ended up sounding like something "very personal, like a handwritten note, rather than something that's been sort of constructed by engineers and a full suite of composers. 

"Frankly, I just couldn't have done it without the aid of Filipe, Austin, and Jose, these three guys who just really took the film and ran with it," Kreitzer said. "[They] really inherited the film on their own terms and brought something to the table I never could have."

Black Canaries is showing at the Somerville Theatre on May 2 at 7:15 p.m. as part of the Independent Film Festival Boston. It's also part of the Rainier Film Festival, the Newport Beach Film Festival, and the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival, and is in consideration at 40 other festivals.