Today we’re speaking with Argentinian-American composer, Nicolas Repetto. Nicolas has scored numerous films, including director James Kicklighter’s upcoming documentary, The Sound of Identity. The Sound of Identity features the first ever transgender woman performing an opera lead in the U.S. with a professional company in a standard work, and has been featured in the New York Times. Nicolas also scored director Phil Donlon’s feature drama, The Reunion and the Park City/Slamdance premiere of episodic/pilot Tijuana. His upcoming releases in 2021 include feature documentary The American Question, fantasy feature Empire Queen: The Golden Age of Magic; and indie horror feature Spider. Nicolas has a lot of great insight into his musical process, and we’re excited to share this interview with you.
Hi Nick! How have you been?
Hi there! I’ve been well. Staying busy with multiple projects such as getting ready for the release of The Sound of Identity soundtrack on May 28th and the release of The Sound of Identity on VOD and Digital on June 1st! Now that my husband and I have been vaccinated, we are slowly starting to see our friends and travel. I recently traveled to Maine to record the fantastic University of Southern Maine Chamber Singers, a 24 piece choir, under the direction of Maestro Nicolas Dosman for my score to Empire Queen. So I’m feeling pretty good that things are reopening after a year and a half of isolation because as musicians we crave being together making music, so being able to do this makes me happy.
What is it like working with a collaborator as successful as James Kicklighter? Tell us more about your working relationship and short hand with them.
James is a fantastic collaborator and friend. He has a very refined musical palette and specific way of using music in his films. He loves themes, motifs, and ideas that help bond the story together musically. Another thing that I love that he does is that does not tempt his movies with music. He usually brings me in early to watch the film and allows me to write a bit of what we call pre-score which is basically writing music either to the script or from watching his initial rough cuts. For instance, some of my initial pre-score for The Sound of identity ended up being used in the film which happens to be the first cue, “Mr. Picker’s Opus.” If he does temp his edit, he does it with my music which presents a challenge later on when I have to write something better to outdo that track. I think over the years of working together, like in any relationship, I’ve learned to gauge what James enjoys musically in our collaborations and that has worked well for us. Lastly, he’s particularly wonderful since he allows me the freedom to play, experiment, and gives me room to present my musical ideas even if they don’t work right away. It’s a journey we take together to see what works well for the film since we are there to serve the film and story.
You brought a unique approach to The Sound of Identity. Can you take us behind one or two of your favorite scenes? Tell us more about your process and how you decide the right way to approach it.
The film explores the notion of identity and how our experiences shape who we are at our core. One scene that hit me at a personal level was when Lucia Lucas and Tobias Picker were discussing their childhood, going into adolescence and adulthood as members of the LGBTQ+ community, and how similar their experiences were. These experiences were similar to how I grew up, especially as a gay kid in a very macho-filled Latin community in Miami. I had my moments where I was bullied, called names, but there were also very touching moments and felt really connected to the community through LGBTQ+ outreach programs like Pridelines and others.
Another scene that I enjoyed scoring was when Lucia and Tobias were discussing the notion of “imposter syndrome” where an artist sees him or herself as a fraud and cannot come to terms with their achievements. I think all artists go through this, including myself. In terms of process, James and I have a conversation about his sonic vision of the score. He provides his point-of-view which is incredibly useful and important, but the film also reveals to me if the score I’m composing is working or not. For this film, I heard a violin solo in the distance playing really fast arpeggiated riffs as soon as I saw the first frame of Lucia standing on the stage with stage lights pouring over her. I knew at that instant that this would be a motif that we could use in the film and James loved the idea. It felt really natural to then add a string orchestra and electronics to complete my idea of what the score would ultimately be. In essence, as a composer for film, I am there to serve the film, the subject matter, and the story, so it is a seamless and intimate integration of music and image.
Let’s talk about your Global Music Awards win for Original Score/Soundtrack Film for The Plural of Blood (congrats!) – how did it feel to get this recognition?
It was such a thrill to receive the news that The Plural of Blood won a Global Music Award. The music wouldn’t be what it is without the powerful story that explores how a Latino police officer shoots an unarmed black adolescent. With this subject matter, and the collaboration between Mary-lyn Chambers, director of the film, and Monica Lawson, lead actress/producer of the film, we were able to craft a score that helps to reveal the trauma and acts of violence young black children in America face at the hands of certain police officers.
Did you approach scoring characters in The Sound of Identity in a specific way at all?
I thought that Lucia’s “identity” needed to have a motif that we could recall throughout the film. The “Identity” motif ended up being a solo violin playing fast arpeggios which represents Lucia and her identity. Later during the opening credits her motif idea expands into a full-blown statement played on cello solo accompanied by the string orchestra. Lucia is relatively unknown to film audiences, but through the course of the film, we are able to peel the layers away and see who she really is as a person and as an artist including the depths of her emotions. For Tobias Picker — he was the mastermind; he was the person responsible for bringing Lucia to Tulsa and basically taking a chance on her. He was pulling the strings to make this debut happen, so this theme needed to be fatherly and emotionally accessible since Tobias shows us his many sides of his personality as he and Lucia take this journey together.
What are some of your other favorite past projects?
I loved working on Angel of Anywhere with James Kicklighter as well. Here we tackled the story of an empathetic stripper who listens to his clientele as he is serving lap-dances in the backroom. The music for Angel of Anywhere had to be EDM/House/Trance, so it was a fun challenge to dig through my synths to find the perfect combination of sounds to create the bass drops on the dance floor as Angel (our main character) dances provocatively around a gaggle of older women. The score had to straddle between the source music at the club while also hitting the emotional beats during the more intense moments in the story. It was such a fun movie to work on.
What were some of the other challenges you encountered with The Sound of Identity? How did you overcome them?
Time was the challenge. I think from the time I started working on themes to when I received locked pictures, I had something like 3 weeks to write 43 minutes of the score. I was working day and night to make my composing deadline, but then with the help of my music team, I was able to meet the deadline and then we recorded all 43 minutes of the score on my 40th birthday at United Recording right here in Hollywood. It was probably the most amazing recording session I’ve been a part of plus my friends, the musicians, and my entire team was there to wish me a happy birthday while doing what we all loved doing. It’s a day I will treasure for a lifetime.
What else is happening next in your world?
Currently, I’m scoring an epic fantasy film called Empire Queen: The Golden Age of Magic which is an adventure fantasy movie filled with magic, wizards, dragons, and other lively characters all created by the amazing director and creator, Chris Dane Owens. The film is based on a series of music videos Chris released about 10 years ago. He embarked on a journey to complete this feature film and to hopefully pitch it as a family-friendly television series. I’ve also written preliminary music for James Kicklighter’s next feature documentary, The American Question, which tackles value systems around the various parts of the US and abroad while observing them through the lens of the past and the future. And finally, I have the indie horror/thriller, Spider, directed by Desmon Heck, a wonderful director I met through my socials. He had coffee and hit it off. He has given me carte blanche to experiment with some unique sonic ideas for this score and go very experimental, so I’m excited for that and the opportunity to work with Desmon. And lastly, I’m speaking with several composer agencies who have an interest in representing me as an artist. I’m looking forward to continuing my conversations with them and seeing which direction I will go. Thank you again for this— this was a treat for me.
You can learn more about Nicolas via his website https://www.nicolasrepetto.com. Thank you for reading!