I had the pleasure of chatting with Corey Allen Jackson - a renowned composer who has worked on a variety of unique projects in the realms of Hollywood, television, and independent film. His most recent work was for Chuck, the highly-acclaimed Chuck Wepner biopic, starring Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Elizabeth Moss, and Ron Perlman. Corey discovered music through his passion for rock and roll, and drew upon these influences while creating the soundtrack for Chuck. With a few upcoming projects currently in development, Corey found the time to share some insight about his creative process and discuss with me a few of his most interesting projects. These included Fox Digital Studios’ Parallels and 20th Century Fox’s The Exorcism of Molly Hartley. Corey's other credits include The Painted Woman, The Fan and The Flower, Guide Dog, and I Spit on Your Grave 2.
Read our discussion below and be sure to share on social media if you enjoyed it!
What projects are you currently working on?
At the moment, I’m collaborating with Joe Don Rooney of Rascal Flatts on the score for Southern Christmas. I am also starting work on a really cool documentary called Fire On The Hill, which is about the Black Cowboys of Compton and Central LA and their fight to keep the cowboy culture alive.
One of my coolest projects right now is Chuck, starring Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts and Elizabeth Moss. It was recently released in theaters by IFC. It’s the real-life story of the boxer Chuck Wepner, who went fifteen rounds with Muhammed Ali and was the inspiration for the movie Rocky. Past projects that are airing now are Parallels and The Exorcism of Molly Hartley which are both out on Netflix.
Who have been your favorite people to collaborate with?
It’s usually a pretty cool experience to collaborate with people and bring a project to life, but my favorites have definitely been my work with Philippe Farladeau (Chuck), Christopher Leone (Parallels), James Cotton (Painted Woman) and, of course, Bill Plympton. Philippe just makes beautiful movies and is the kind of guy who knows exactly what he wants, so it took a lot of the guess work out of scoring. He knew he wanted a more score-sy sounding score, so I got to have a lot of fun playing Ray Charles meets The Doors. Chris Leone, on the other hand, is a bit more hands off when it comes to music, so I always get the chance to experiment when I work with him. And he and I have very similar tastes in everything from music to movies to our senses of humor, so I think that has helped us trust each other. James Cotton is a super intellectual film maker who always has a reason for everything he does, which is very much how I like to score films, so it made for a really thought out, deliberate project. And, of course, Bill is just a pioneer and a revolutionary in his field, so who wouldn’t want to collaborate with him? His stuff is always a little bit on the darker side, which I love to write, so working with him is always a blast.
Who would you most like to work with?
My long shot always has been and always will be James Cameron. I just think he is a master film maker and I have yet to see something of his I haven’t loved. I also think it would be amazing to work with film makers such as Neil Blomkamp, Henry Selick, Danny Boyle, Evan Goldberg, Edgar Wright, Frank Darabont, Robert Eggers, Josh Boone, Theodore Melfi or Mimi Leder. As a collaborator, I would love to work with Bjork, Ghost BC, Lorde, ALT-J or Steve Harris of Iron Maiden.
When you are given a project or a scene to score, what is your process like? What are the first steps you take when deciding how to score something?
Well, if I’m lucky I get to work with a music editor who has already gone through and temped the movie, so that usually gives me a pretty good jumping off point. Once the movie is temped, I’ll sit down with the director, the music editor and the music supervisor and we’ll spot the picture. This is where we figure out where we want music and what we want the music to say. Once we have spotted I’ll usually listen to the temp music one more time, then I’ll turn it off and get to writing my own music. I wish I could say I have a more elaborate process, but it’s usually just sitting down at the piano with the picture in front of me and improvising ideas until I find something that feels right. Sometimes this happens right away and sometime it takes a bit more time, but this has always seemed to me the most organic way to start.
What do you wish you knew in the beginning of your career about the entertainment industry or being a professional composer, that you know now?
I always knew it was important to work as an assistant, which I did, but I wish I knew how important it was for reasons other than just writing music. Being an assistant is where you learn how to deal with different situations and different personalities and where you make connections. Sometime I wish I had assisted longer and for more people, but everyone has a different path. 2) I wish I had known not to take things personally. No one, not even your own mother, is going to like 100% of your music 100% of the time. You will get notes and you will get asked to re-write music you thought was perfect and that’s ok. You are there to serve the film, not yourself. 3) I really wish I had known the amount of people skills you need to have for this job. Writing the music is the easy part! You have to be a salesman and a businessman and a psychologist. You have to be able to explain to people why you did what you did and why you think it works but also you also need to be able to understand what they really want when they try to explain why they don’t like something. And then you have to be able to keep the business going at the end of the day. It’s a lot to juggle. Like I said, writing music is the easy part. 4) It’s not just about writing great music. You can write something incredible, but unless it fits the picture it means nothing. 5) Less is more.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I love being able to give the film its voice. It’s a great feeling when you start writing and you know it’s working. Secondly, I’d have to say the recording of a score. That’s when the score really comes to life.
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