Music Addicts can be found everywhere, especially in film; Ziad Hamzeh, of Irrefutable Proof (2015) and Always Brando (2011) fame, is one of them. Music Addict (MA) sat down with Hamzeh, via Zoom, to talk music and sound in movies and theatre. Hamzeh has been in the film industry since 1984, starting his career with Syria: War and Power (1984) as producer, director, writer, actor, and editor. Being so closely and heavily involved in as many productions as Hamzeh has means that you have worked closely with everyone involved in those productions, including the composer. And when you work closely with a composer, you must truly know and understand the emotional appeal of your film.
When asked “How important is scoring?” Hamzeh bluntly answered, “Well, let me ask you, how important is breathing?” Establishing the gravity that scores hold in film, “It is excruciatingly important. But, you see, music has that ability, unlike words, to penetrate the psychological and emotional state of the viewer or the listener.” Hamzeh is more than 1,000% correct about this, according to not only those in love with music, but according to health professionals. Music adds an extra layer to the visuals of a film, Hamzeh reminded us of an excellent example from the past:
“One time, the Academy of Motion Picture tried to present Chariots of Fire (1981). At that time, the music for Chariots of Fire, so they put a little piece of video with dialogue and sound and they played it in front of the audience without the music that underscored that particular scene and the scene looked incredibly flat. Almost unwatchable, and that’s an Academy Award-winning film. Once they added the music and they played it again, you could absolutely tell the difference where the power of the music sweeps the audience and unifies the entire vision of what that scene’s about.”
For Hamzeh, to avoid the rut Chariots of Fire experienced, the scoring process starts as soon as he begins writing. Hamzeh claims to hear the music and the notes while he’s writing a script, a profound style of writing that allows the synchronicity of the writing to match the music and vice versa. This creates the perfect union for a scene or a series of scenes to play out exactly as designed on the visual and audio front. Hamzeh pointed out that the composer is one of the first hired during pre-production, preceded by the cinematographer, sound, and then production designer.
Hamzeh founded two theatres in LA, the Open Fist Theatre Company and the Egyptian Arena Theatre, in addition to the Hamzeh Mystique Films production company. So, Hamzeh has a plethora of experience with sound in both mediums. When it comes to theatre, scoring and sound play a similar role, but the execution is different says Hamzeh:
“In theatre, unlike film, it completely depends on the spoken word and on the dynamic of a relationship we are experiencing in front of us. Is music important? Incredibly so, that’s why there is musical theatre, that’s why there is a Broadway! And that’s why there is also off-Broadway, where it uses specific transitional moments in a particular scene on stage and or more encompassing where it is underscoring many different parts of a scene. They’re both very important, but the execution from one to the other will differ quite a bit.”
A great distinction in Hamzeh’s quote is the difference between Broadway and off-Broadway; Broadway does have an emphasis on musical theatre but does put on straight plays like Burn This and Seawall / A Life (my recent favorites), while off-Broadway has a tendency for straight plays.
To pick Hamzeh’s brain more on film scores, MA asked for his favorite scores, to which he gave many favorites, unable to pick just one: Love Story (1970), 1984 (1984), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). For favorite composers he listed John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and James Horner. Of his own films, Irrefutable Proof holds as his favorite, stating that the heavy Syrian influences adding a sense of ambiguity to where the story takes place was one of many reasons for the score choice.
The conversation wound down with Hamzeh giving a warning about the underestimation of sound and scoring in film. Film is 50% visual and 50% audio Hamzeh points out, and many young, amateur, and student filmmakers overlook this fact. When creating a film, be mindful of the audio / visual balance and how it enhances the audience’s experience!
“I’m in awe of what music can do, I have a tremendous respect for composers.” Is the perfect summary of MA and Hamzeh’s conversation that raised praise to many wonderful composers, scores, and sound-designers for films.