FILMMAKERS GLOBAL NETWORK :: Community Spotlight with James A. Goins


Community Spotlight

James A. Goins

Composer, Director, Writer


Tell us about your work and current projects.
James A. Goins: First, thanks for the opportunity to share. Hopefully, I can give you something that others can use and benefit by. Well, let’s see. Currently, I’m in the process of developing a screenplay I’ve written – who isn’t right? [Laughs] Most of my work has consisted of composing music for stage plays, directing and writing plays and musicals. My early work dealt with mainstream music, but I found that, that really wasn’t for me. Something about theatre and film spoke to something deeper in me than pop music.

That being said, an opportunity arose to explore composing for film through the film composing program at UCLA. My wife gave me a deadline of one year then. We were pregnant with our second child, and she wasn’t playing around! She’s a former choreographer so she knows what the business is like, and she wasn’t having none of it!

Wait. You’re saying your wife gave you a one-year ultimatum to finish the program at UCLA?
James A. Goins: Yep. She wasn’t concerned about logistics or if it was possible. She just new that in 7 to 8 months, another little human being was gonna be around, and I had better be available to step-up. Yeah, so anyway, I got on it. Up at 5am, driving 65 miles to work, then after work, straight to UCLA for 4 hours, back home by 9pm or 10pm, write music, then in bed by 1am or 2am, then back at it the next day.

That program was a blast, and it gave me the chance to explore my own writing style while learning what works and what doesn’t.

“There’s really nothing that doesn’t work in scoring film these days depending on the genre. It’s important to know and understand the rules so you can break them, but it’s wide open to you as long as you’re creative and can collaborate. It also taught me if you want something bad enough you go get it!”

Well did you finish?
James A. Goins: Yep. I did it in 9 months. It’s never been done again or since. I’ll never forget the face of the admissions counselor. He literally was in shock. But he didn’t have a pregnant wife, a mortgage and full-time gig to account for. You do what you must.

I have two current projects right now. One, to get this film made which is a process as you know, and the second is composing a long-form Neo classical Jazz album with a cinematic feel. Kinda like an immersive listening experience; sort of like the soundtrack without the movie complete with sound effects, etc.

Can you tell us a little bit about transitioning from theatre to film as a songwriter, composer and director?
James A. Goins: Sure. I love theatre. Literally, I love the theatre as an art form! It’s honestly the only place you can get the human experience raw, in your face with right-now emotions, dropped lines and made-up shit. I’m sorry, can I say that? …To get you back on book with missed light cues and entrances. But beyond that, when it’s good and the theatre gods are smiling in your favor, there’s nothing like it. And it’s different every night.

But film… yeah, film provides you the window to capture the magic of performance in a kinda pseudo sterile environment. Meaning the only thing against you is time and money. But more so time. Directing for film is a time-lock scenario. Both mediums have relatively the same demand, but film usually deals with more moving parts. It’s collaborative from the get-go. Theatre affords you a little more developmental head room.

Also, the transition to film has allowed me to work with actors as if on stage. True the medium is completely different but not the intent. The intent is to capture the best performance that actors can deliver, and of course, one that the director can reasonably be satisfied that their vision has been captured. That’s what appeals to me and still does. The same also holds true for composing music for film as well. Sticking the cue enough to move and serve the story without being noticed. That’s freak’n hard but done right, your work, for better or worse, becomes immortalized in that film. I hope that kinda answers that.

What is an interesting or memorable production challenge and solution that you experienced?
James A. Goins: Ha! Oh man. Okay, this one is for the books, but it will hopefully speak more toward character and ego checking.  Here’s the challenge. I got hired to score for this small independent film in late 2018. The director was also the writer, the producer, the everything. I wanted to help, plus they had a budget, which impressed me. Directors too often treat music for their films as an afterthought. So, I get the film and… oh, man. No bueno. [Covers his face with hand and peaks through.] This was not good. But I committed. So, I put in the work. Spotting each scene, scoring where necessary and trying subtly to increase the production value of the film at least by providing an original score. The work was finished, and I delivered the score.

Cut to the premiere. A 500-seat theatre was rented out in Palm Springs and filled with anxious paying viewers as well as the cast of the film. Lights down and the film starts. My score, with themes and motifs and unifying counterpoint and character themes…gone! In its place, canned music that neither fit the scenes or had any real meaning other than, “I think this scene needs music here,” logic was used. On whole I think only 10 minutes out of a 47 min score was used.

The solution was to be gracious for the opportunity to hone my skills on a not-so-good film. I realized in that moment not even a well-crafted score would have saved the film. My ego was put in check that day and I accepted the lesson. I learned you can’t help everyone, no matter how well-meaning. I was going to help save the director’s film with my score. Thank God they didn’t use it. Oh, and they also put their name in the credits as the film composer, too! [Slaps face and laughs.] It’s just a film.

If you could share 3 Directing Tips what would they be?
James A. Goins: 1. Be overly prepared. That is your job.

  1. Always be ready to listen. This art form is collaborative. Have your ideas, but always be prepared to listen to and ‘seriously’ consider the better position. You are still the director at the end of the day, but you are not God and people work better around mortals. Think on that a moment – smile.
  1. Have fun! Make the work enjoyable to cast and crew. Learn to laugh at your mistakes and be compassionate. Honestly, it’s just a film. In the end, you’ll want to develop working relationships with people who want to work with you because of you. The body of work is second especially if you’ve developed solid working relationships. Oh, and learn people’s names and use them. Everyone is important.

Okay one more.

  1. Have a great craft service strategy. If you can’t pay people you damn well better feed them and feed them well.

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