Today we’re talking to Greek-American composer Jay Lifton. Jay holds a B.A. in music from Tufts University and an M.M. in Jazz Studies from The New England Conservatory of Music. In 2014, Jay wrote, directed, and scored his own short film, Test, which played at over 50 festivals worldwide and won four awards. Jay’s recent projects include the drama Nia on Vacation and feature Sister of the Groom starring Alicia Silverstone, Tom Everett Scott, and Mark Blum. His upcoming series Hudson Falls, starring Richard Kind and Jessica Hecht, is scheduled to release in June. Jay has a deep understanding of music and we’re looking forward to sharing this interview with you.
Hi Jay! How have you been?
Like everyone, worn-out! My family is healthy though and I’m optimistic there’s an end in sight to this.
What is like working with collaborators as successful as those on Sister of the Groom? Tell us more about your working relationship and short hand with them.
This was my second film with Amy and so we hit the ground running. We tend to find the same things funny and enjoy many of the same films which both times made for solid points of reference. I’m very interested in how she will evolve as a filmmaker.
You brought a unique approach to A Recipe For Seduction. Can you take us behind one or two of your favorite scenes? Tell us more about your process and how do you decide the right way to approach it.
I loved how Mario Lopez played the part as seriously as possible – literally no acknowledgement of the absurdity. I took this as a suggestion for the music, that it should be serious and never wink at the camera, so to speak. I’ve known the creators (JEAN Creative) for years and we are extremely like-minded people which makes for a fun collaboration.
Let’s talk about your film festival award recognitions. Do you have a favorite?
I was very happy to see “Commercials” win best comedy series at LA Shorts last year. It’s kind of an esoteric and subversive show.
Did you approach scoring characters in Sister of the Groom in a specific way at all?
Definitely! I took a very traditional approach on this film and love character themes. Film music has become increasingly amelodic in the last 10 years and I was happy to write a score that had actual motifs. Alicia Silverstone’s (Audrey) music initially reflects her perception of life- constrained, meeting the expectations of others. Toward the end of the film you can hear her theme somewhat set free when she comes to term with her demons.
What are some of your other favorite past projects?
Last summer I worked on a film called “Nia on Vacation” (Cat Papadimitriou) that was set in Greece, which as a Greek person is of special interest to me, especially getting to incorporate bits of Greek music into the otherwise ambient score. I also worked on the cult series “Greg the Bunny” years ago and I can’t say enough good about the show or the people with whom I worked (Sean Baker, Blake Ashman, Dan Milano, Spencer Chinoy).
What were some of the other challenges you encountered with Sister of the Groom? How did you overcome them?
The biggest one was having to write music to be performed on-set, live. There are tons of variables, particularly weather and humidity when being on set- it rained on and off all week so things were stop and go. The AD will not necessarily be able to let you play the song again if the rest of the scene was perfect. You really can’t rehearse too much! I couldn’t have done this without (music supervisor) Katy McIlvane and guitarist Vinny Raniolo- every second of downtime they were working on parts and fixing trouble spots. The benefit of working in this way is much of the music was written ahead of any temp score. It was an extremely rewarding experience.
What else is happening next in your world?
I’m slated to work on an upcoming pilot called “Hudson Falls,” which stars Jessica Hecht (The Sinner) and Richard Kind (Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Goldbergs). I am really looking forward to having a real summer vacation with my family.
You can learn more about Jay at his website https://www.jaylifton.com/ – thank you for reading!