Composers have the wonderful and challenging job of creating the sound of a film, and it’s even more interesting when it’s a Christmas movie. Just ask Chad Rehmann, who’s the composer for Paramount Network’s upcoming original film Dashing in December. It was his job to not only bring the movie to life, but capture the sound of the Christmas season.
Chad joined me for a discussion about working on Paramount Network’s holiday romance, what exactly the sound of Christmas is, and how this compares to his work on two of this year’s Hallmark Channel films, Christmas on the Menu and A Very Charming Christmas Town. Learn more about him before you tune in to Dashing in December this Sunday at 7:00 p.m. ET/PT exclusively on Paramount Network.
Brittany Frederick: How did you get involved with the Christmas movie genre? As a lot of what you’ve done over the last few years is in the horror genre, which is totally on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Chad Rehmann: I started working with a production company back in 2008 which distributed a lot of Christmas movies. These films aired on numerous channels throughout the world, including a couple on ABC Family. From there, I went and spent a lot of time in the horror and thriller [genres], and then recently started working with another production company that did a lot of thrillers and started getting into the holiday film game. So that’s how I started in Christmas films, with a lot of horror/thriller in the middle!
BF: Everyone has this general expectation of what Christmas music sounds like. How do you work within that sound, while also creating something that’s unique?
CR: It’s something that I struggle with a lot. For me, it all starts with the story. It starts with the characters and then the Christmas stuff comes later. I’m developing themes. I’m developing a place for which the film can take place. Then it’s through my orchestration really, later on – what instruments to use, how to use them – that the Christmas flavors start coming in.
I pull a lot from the characters’ past. So if the character has a job in technology or business, maybe they have a little electronic or non-traditional instrumentation used in the background. Or if the protagonist is a free-spirited person, maybe more jazz stuff in her character sound. And the setting itself. Two of the films that I have coming out, one takes place in Solvang, and one takes place on a ranch. So that’s really interesting to try to figure out, “Okay, how do we do Christmas, but also stay true to the location that we’re in and bring out that location musically?”
BF: Every composer has a different creative process. What’s your process in the studio?
CR: I actually am pretty old school. When I have the time, I still use pencil and paper. It eventually gets on the computer. I’d say for these type of films, 70, 80 percent of what I do is on the computer and then the other 20-30 percent is live instruments on top of that. But for me, it’s a lot of pencil and paper at a piano.
I know a lot of composers that start on the computer, but for me, I grew up trained a little more old school, and technology is not what I would consider a strength of mine. It’s one that I use and utilize, but pencil and paper is where I always start. If I didn’t have that, I’d be hobbling a little bit in the beginning.
BF: What’s interesting about the slate of films you have coming out is that Dashing in December is for Paramount, which is moving into the original film space, and two are for Hallmark, which is very well-established with Christmas movies. Are there differences creatively in working with the two brands?
CR: Hallmark and Lifetime definitely have their own defined sound. There is an expectation from the audience and from the network as to what we have to deliver. For Paramount’s Dashing in December, however, the director and I approached it entirely different than the other films, in that we wanted to tell a romantic drama on a ranch that happens to take place during Christmas, as opposed to some of the other films I’ve worked on where it’s a Christmas film, and this is what happens in the Christmas film. We did it a little backwards. We said, “Okay, let’s just write music as if we’re writing for a drama.”
To be honest, a lot of the stuff that I normally use in scores like that, flutes and jingle bells and all that kind of stuff, it was all out. We really stripped it down to just guitar, strings, piano, and a couple little moments with solo violin, just to really bring out that rustic ranch nature. And the other cool thing about it is Paramount, through their library, was able to use a ton of amazing source music. We still get a lot of the Christmas feel, but that comes from the source, and then the score really helps propel the drama.
BF: Do you have favorite cues or favorite scenes from Dashing in December that you want the audience to listen out for?
CR: One of the cool things about Dashing in December is the location is gorgeous! Some of the drone shots and montages gave me an opportunity to celebrate the beauty of this place without having to fight against any dialogue or sound effects. Those were the cool musical moments to be able to delve into.
BF: Once audiences have seen these movies, do you have another project you’ve done that you’d recommend they check out next?
CR: One of my favorite scores that I’ve worked on is a film called Camp Cold Brook with Chad Michael Murray and Danielle Harris from the Halloween franchise. That was completely different to what I’ve ever done, because we hardly used any traditional orchestral instruments. We created many of the instruments from scratch. It takes place in a haunted camp, so we made instruments out of swing sets and walkie-talkies and all these cool things that one would find at a kids camp.
For me, that was the most experimental thing that I’d done. So I would say if they heard this score and they want to see how far in the opposite direction I could go, Camp Cold Brook was definitely a stretch for me and an absolute blast.
BF: Composing is somewhat of an insular experience, so what has this year been like for you? Has your work been affected by current events or not so much?
CR: I saw a comic, when it first started, where a composer was reading the news and it said something like, “Hey, we’re seven weeks into quarantine.” And the composer was like, “Wait, there was a quarantine?” And it’s so true.
Composers, and most post-production people really, spend so much time indoors. My studio is in my house, so the big change for me is having the kids home from school doing the virtual learning thing. So the distraction and, “Daddy, I need this,” was a little more than I was used to. But once we got in a groove, it’s all panned out.
I must say that because composing is such an isolating experience, I have always made it a point to get out, have lunches with people, get out and do stuff. Not having that has been a little difficult, but I just feel lucky and blessed that I’m still able to work. They haven’t shut down production in L.A. again, which is great news. I know they shut it down in the beginning, and when it was back up in June I think everybody rushed to make as much content as they could because we didn’t know if it was going to get shut down again.
A lot of times also with post-production, it’s fun to be in the room with directors and producers and sound engineers. Having to go to the virtual thing, yeah, you’re able to still get work done, but it is just a different vibe.
Dashing in December premieres this Sunday, December 13 at 7:00 p.m. ET/PT on Paramount Network. For more with Chad Rehmann, visit his website.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.