Interview With Jordan Riley

Director Interview: Jordan Riley

I had the opportunity to interview an old colleague of mine back in my undergrad, for whom I scored his 20+ minute short film back in 2017. He is someone whom I would equate to the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, especially due to his deep love of the Star Wars universe and storytelling. I thought he would be the perfect person to interview keeping those things in mind. He’s a dreamer, visionary, and is someone I can see making it big in the industry soon.

Question #1

My first question that I asked him was, “How did you come to be a director?” He replied, “Filmmaking, filmmaking has always been part of my DNA since the beginning. When I was about 8ish, I always grabbed my parents video camcorders (before iPhone/Red cameras) and filmed anything that I could get my hands on (it was usually hot wheels, model airplanes, and LEGO/ wood building blocks). I tended to focus mostly on action shorts based on Mission Impossible storylines. It was so much fun to tell stories using the camera. I then drifted more and more into sports, but I secretly continued to use the camcorder on the weekends and after practices. I drifted towards creating stories and storyboards. And it wasn’t until H.S. that one of my teachers took me under her wing and helped me on school papers/projects; until an assignment that reshaped my drive to go to film school and follow my passion (that I didn’t know about, which was filmmaking). The biggest as in the most important thing growing up was Star Wars! I was obsessed with Star Wars and everything Star Wars, which remains a HUGE influence, a DNA in all my work. Star Wars is my Bible to storytelling. I could talk about this forever lol.”

Question #2

My next question that I asked Jordan was, “What qualities do you look for when hiring a composer for your project? Is there one quality or thing that will get you to consider someone more than others?” He exclaimed, “Someone who is passionate and the right person for the “feeling” to that specific story. It all depends on what film I am working on. I usually have a good relationship to the composer that I have history with. Like when you see in movies and films you tend to notice directors and composers are almost always linked with each other. It shows that they understand one another and have the right feeling for the films they work with. Spielberg/Williams, Nolan/Zimmer, Burton/Elfman, Kurzel/Kurzel, Hitchcock/Herrmann, etc.

Question #3

The next question I asked Jordan was, “In your opinion, is it more important for a composer to have a unique musical voice consistent in all their work? Or is it important for the composer to have a broad range of compositional ability to draw from so they will likely be able to adapt to what the project needs stylistically in any given scene / scenario?” He replied, “Broad motion of styles, because it shows how to reach the composer and push each other in new direction without even knowing about it. In a way it’s a deep subconscious trick, always pushing each other in new ways by achieving the unknown. As actors get type casted so quickly for roles, it happens to director and composer as well. That is why it’s key to have a variety package of your work to showcase the many avenues to go down.

Question #4

Something that I’ve pondered over while taking this course, is how do I represent myself well when pitching to a director or project that I am excited about? To answer this question, I asked this: What do you want to see / hear in a demo cue from a composer? Something custom made for your project? Something from other projects in a composer’s past that might be similar? Live recordings? Are MIDI sampled recordings ok? What format do you want any demo material in? (Audio CD, flash drive with audio files, video files so you can see how well the composer scores to picture, etc…)” He replied, “Whenever I write a script, I will always listen to soundtracks. It is then it takes form within my thoughts about the feel and texture to the final film project. As a filmmaker, I am constantly working in my mind and figuring the best avenue for the project to become original and bold for the audience to see. I will tend to showcase some examples from past projects and other composers work for my composer to listen to and feel the texture of the film I am envisioning with. As a leader and filmmaker, I tend to push the cast and crew to be the best they can be and always be better than the start of the project. There is always room for growth and the opportunity to expand all our talent that we have. The examples I show the composer, I allow them to listen and to begin crafting the music. I will always like anything they give back to me. Often some works might belong in another future script etc. So, when I hear their first music track, I hear their passion for scoring. It is the most beautiful part of filmmaking when everyone is ONE team and striding to finish the film as the best it can be. Working with a few composers in film school, they tend to see rough cuts of all the shots, scenes, dialogue, etc. and build upon the scenes.”

Question #5

Here are my next two questions, “How do you budget for the music in a film? What is your opinion on a composer working for little to no monetary compensation (i.e. for free)? He exclaimed, “Visuals is key to filmmaking, acting must be spot on, but the most underrated aspect to movies is the way we feel about scenes throughout the time we spend in theaters, that is the beauty of scores. Music moves and flows through all of us in the dark theater, when a beloved character dies, we witness what happens, but we feel with music too. When the audience sees a motived person trying to accomplish something, we hear the heart beating tone of music in our blood flow making us root for that character. This is why music budget needs a committed composer to spend more time on accomplishing those treasured moments in the film. Visuals/CGI/models, to costumes to locations to music, are all important and crucial for the producers and studios to know what film product they are getting. My dream project that I continue to write, is to have a massive choir like what Lucas/Williams did in episode 1 of Star Wars for some scenes that I am writing. We all are one team; money is not important, but it is the people behind me on a project who are willing to take chances and risks for pushing cinema in new ways that have never done before. Stride towards the impossible for it to become possible.”

Question #6

A question that I think is so important for establishing a good report with a filmmaker is, “How do you communicate with your composer regarding the creative process? What can the composer do to make that easier for you as a director?” He exclaimed, “Examples are always a good start to see the direction of each creative crew member is going upon. Everyone on my crew will always have a voice to sight their concerns or experiences or insight as well to make everyone better at their craftsmanship (See #4).”

Question #7

My next question was a long one… “Is it a more important perception for a young composer to have credits assisting other “big name” composers on “big name” films even if their jobs and responsibilities on those films were more technical and nondescript like “scoring assistant” or “midi programmer”? He replied enthusiastically, “No! Be passionate about your work. It doesn’t matter if you’re shadowing a major composer or doing student films while working at “In n Out.” All it comes down to is that you know what you’re doing and able to learn along the way. No one in life knows what that exact moment of every single day of life will bring to oneself, so always be willing to adapt to the unknown paths. Experience will always be in motion and everyone in life will reach the finish line and pass it. Passion is the credits that everyone needs to have to accomplish the goals. ‘Music are sounds, films are visuals, and movies are artwork’ -JLR (a deep metaphor).”

Question #8

The next question that I asked him was, “Have you ever had a bad experience with a composer? Did you learn anything from that? Has it affected how you work with a composer since?” He said, “It is always a learning experience for everyone, especially when it’s your first time working together. A relationship with crew members is basically a dance. You are partners going around the floor hand in hand figuring what avenue you want to go down to make the film project the best you can. And that even goes to everything in life as well.”

Question #9

The last question that I asked him was, “From your perspective as a director, what is the one piece of advice you would give a young composer working to build their career in this industry?” He replied, “Just do it! Never give up; even if you feel like a failure, through failure is success. Everyone started out on the lowest steppingstone and some stones along the way were missing and broken but stones are for stepping upon, it is only in your mind that you’re able to achieve the journey you’re stepping on. In film school I had a few different composers and later adapted them to the tone and feeling to whichever story we were telling. I am a visual and hands on director from giving some references on the pacing and tone to the story and I allow the composer to write and/or conduct it. Music is a HUGE part to my films, since the visuals, sound, and music all must be perfectly in sync with each other. I truly rely on the relationship between composer and director since they both are extremely hands on with the story they are telling the audiences. They need to understand one another’s mindset on the tempo/pacing to the arc of character building, locations, twists, and turns that is yet to come.”


It was such a privilege being able to interview Jordan about these very important topics that we as composers need to know the answers to and learn from his personal experiences in the industry; further influencing the ways in which we approach filmmaking. I look forward to many more films from him, and hopefully the opportunity to score another film for him in the future!

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