Killing Eleanor is Kevin Besignano’s first film as the primary composer, but it’s also the next step in a journey. Like many composers, Kevin started his musical career as a mainstream musician before exploring the world of music for film and TV. He spoke to me about what that transition has been like while discussing his work on the independent film.
For more on Killing Eleanor, be sure you also read my interview with writer-star Annika Marks and star Betsy Brandt on their part of the creative process.
Brittany Frederick: You’ve known Annika and her husband Rich Newey, who also produced and directed Killing Eleanor, for a long time. Was you getting involved in the film as simple as them asking you to do it?
Kevin Besignano: I’ve been trying to get into getting a film on my own for years. I’ve been working with another composer doing stuff with him for, gosh, I don’t even know…maybe four years, five years before this film. So the fact that I had a friend that was doing a film, I jumped all over it too. There might’ve been a bit of maybe me asking, potentially, do you guys need somebody? I don’t really remember, to be honest with you. But yes, in the shortest way possible, it was as easy as that.
BF: Did that pre-existing relationship help you creatively as you were putting the score together?
KB: There’s a level of you don’t have to tiptoe around each other emotionally, so you could make suggestions or not be worried about offending somebody with a potential idea. Or you just have a better understanding of the person, so it’s easier to work with them. I don’t know that I’ve ever met anybody who would not want to work with a friend on something. It really, I think, makes it easier.
BF: Killing Eleanor deals with some very difficult and emotional topics. As the composer, how did you create music that was appropriate for the movie, but not so heavy that it brought the audience down?
KB: In this case, Rich had a very clear vision of what he wanted, so my role was to just make what is, musically, what was going on in his brain appear audibly to the audience on screen. You definitely want to try your best just to serve what’s happened. So if that means being absolutely horribly sad and making everybody cry, that’s what you have to do.
BF: You also learned the cello for this film. How did that happen?
KB: I’m a guitar player and cello is not, physically, that much different. There’s no frets on it and it’s tuned differently, so I could pick it up and make sound out of it. But I had to learn a couple of different things to make it sound right, basically, or decent enough for what we were looking for.
I wanted to get, once again, what Rich had in his head and I felt that a duet between a piano and a cello was the best way to do that. We all agreed on that. So I went and rented a cello and I wrote a couple of lines, and they seemed to fit. I practiced that over and over again for a week, and then I recorded an improvised piano piece. I think it’s around five to seven minutes; however long the last scene of the film is.
And then I went back and I played the stuff that I had written for the cello over the top of the piano improvisation. It basically is one very long take. So it wasn’t anybody’s idea like, we need this. It was just my and Rich’s idea and I did my best to do something a little different.
BF: This is a major accomplishment for you personally, being your first film as the sole composer. How much does it mean to have this first one done and about to be heard?
KB: When you look at it on the surface, it’s like you’re just making music for a film, but there’s a lot of unknown things. How do you deliver it for mixing? How do you specifically record certain things? How do you break things? All the actual physical work that goes into it. I just had to wing it, do my best and do some research and ask questions. In the workflow sense of things, I’m definitely more comfortable because I know how the process works now. There’s no more questioning what’s going to happen or what’s it going to be like or what do I need.
But as far as the actual process of writing music and thinking about things, I think I’ve learned to be more confident in my opinions or the way I see or hear a scene…Now I get a feeling about something and I’m more easily able to translate that to music. Just because after you do something, you get more comfortable with it. So I think on a general scale, now that I’ve experienced it and I know my life isn’t going to fall apart and I’m going to figure it out and it’s going to be okay, I’m a lot more confident.
I do better when I’m with another person in the room and there’s ideas to bounce off of somebody. I’m not the solitary person who can sit in a room and write an album. I can do it, but it’s not fun. It’s not exciting. I don’t think I do my best job or my best work that way. So to have the actual inspiration in front of my eyes, I really enjoyed doing that. So I just want to try to work, like everybody else right now, as much as possible.
I’m fortunate enough to have a couple other opportunities in the mix right now. But it’s tough to start this line of work, because it takes time and it takes experience and it takes a lot of people seeing a body of work before you start getting handed more work. So the simple answer is, especially with what’s going on now and everybody having trouble working, I just want to get opportunities.
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.