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From Film To Television: Diverse Projects Fuel Composer Fil Eisler

By: Marjorie Galas

What do a comedic film about four young single women, a documentary exploring a tragic elementary school shooting, a TV show following the murky life of an urban music industry mogul and a dark cable comedy about overly ambitious reality television producers?  They’re all recent projects boasting scores written by composer Fil Eisler.

When we last caught up with Eisler -“From Empire to Kitchen Sink: Composer Fil Eisler“-  he was well into the first season of “Empire,” the dramatic Fox hit that follows the Lyon clan as they attempt to usurp control of patriarch Lucious Lyon’s (Terrence Howard) successful record label.  Now finalizing the second half of the second season, Eisler remains consistently challenged. The unique story lines and production style of creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong provide many unique musical opportunities.  In one episode featuring Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) dressed in a gorilla suit, Eisler wove 1930s inspired horror themes in the score.  Another episode found the composer using a live, 90 piece orchestra.

“Some left field ideas provide great opportunities for the score itself,” said Eisler. “Danny also rewrites cues on the scoring stage, which I quickly have to (integrate).  It’s great creatively.”

Prior to hearing Eisler’s compositions in returning “UnREAL” his scores can be heard in two feature films.  The first was recently released “How to be Single.”  Attracted to creating a fun, modern score, he chose not to highlight the comedy in the script but rather focused on emphasizing the characters at the core of the story.

“Comedy can often be trope after trope.  I wanted to focus much more on the drama and the heart of the character,” said Eisler.

Wanting to ensure “How To Be Single” was well-distanced from typical romantic comedies, he chose to build the score off the simplicity of guitar, layering in orchestral and industrial elements.  He tampered with a number of sounds and instruments, borrowing gear from a composer friend and experimenting until he found the right sounds.  He also established themes for the main characters, primarily Robin (Dakota Johnson) that incorporated modulation exemplifying her youthful New York energy, and a guitar melody encapsulated the simplicity of Robin (Rebel Wilson).

“Newtown” – a documentary feature currently circulating through the film festival circuit, presented entirely new creative challenges for Eisler.  Unaware of the project when he connected with producer Maria Cuomo Cole, he immediately attached himself to the documentary.  “Newtown” explores the effects the tragic shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in the families and residents of Newtown, Connecticut.  Eisler was drawn into the hopefulness and sense of healing the documentary represents.  Looking for a unique way to celebrate the lives of the children affected by the tragedy, he decided to develop a score that wove together the interpretations of many composers.

“It was an off-the-wall idea,” said Eisler.  “I knew it was a risk.”

Unsure if the experiment would work, EIsler scheduled time where he could complete a full score.  However, the “composer collective” successfully offered diverse musicians a chance to work ego-free and mutually share creative ideas.

Eisler’s single stipulation given to the contributors was that the music celebrate the lives of the children prior to the shooting.  Eisler did not dictate musical styles or instrumentation and gave them free range to explore their interpretations.  Approaching the score like a tapestry, he selected musical segments and pieced them together to create a score that was uplifting and hopeful.

“I said to them ‘Let’s work for free.’ No one backed out. Everyone enjoyed the sense of community,” said Eisler.

While a release date is pending for Newtown, Eisler is currently working on two additional features.  He’s extremely excited to be part of director Lennart Ruff’s “The Titan.”   Loosely classified as a sci-fi/horror/love story, Eisler was attracted to the projects “incredible script.”  Although details can’t be shared at this time, Eilser is currently watching dailies, creating themes and making a palette of sounds to use in the score.  His second project is also in very early stages of production but Eisler can say he’s having a blast working on the big screen adaptation of “CHIPs.”

“It’s incredibly fun,” said Eilser.  “It is not a retro throw-back to the (classic 70s television show.)  It is a very modern take.”