Why I Love Scores
By Kaya Savas
March 17, 2020
You may have noticed that there’s been a lack of updates on Film.Music.Media in terms of new content. Of course, a lot of it has to do with what we’re all experiencing right now in terms of COVID-19, and the worldwide effort to help flatten the curve and protect those who are vulnerable. The main reason though is that my father passed away on January 29th suddenly and without warning. He woke up one morning, came downstairs for a bit, then went back up to lay in bed and watch some TV. He wouldn’t get up after that. And like that, in an instant, my family’s entire world screeched to a halt. My wife and I jumped on a redeye back home to Maryland, and in a whirlwind 48hrs he was in the ground, and all was quiet.
Then in the blink of an eye, every ounce of responsibility fell onto the shoulders of my brother and myself. Our mother is unable to assist in anything, so all of a sudden it was up to us to figure stuff out. I won’t bother you with the full details, but my father didn’t have a will. He was also in the middle of selling our childhood home and moving to a brand new home he built for him and my mother to live out retirement in. So, you can imagine the complications that come with every single piece of property from bank accounts, houses and cars all being in my father’s name and with no will. This is where I tell everyone to have that difficult talk with your parents, children, spouses, and yourself to make sure everyone is prepared for death, no matter how old. My father was not prepared for death, and now it’s a living nightmare.
At work, I was the only person in my department, so everything was already on my shoulders. I had to drop everything, go bury my father, then zip back after 10 days and try to catch up. I was staring at a wall of emails that would not go away. I was also preparing for a 12-day vacation to Japan that my wife and I planned last year, and we were leaving in less than two weeks. The coronavirus was national news, but it wasn’t what it was now. We decided to take our chances, and take our vacation anyway. As we took off, my mother was admitted to the ER for emergency surgery to remove her gallbladder. And then due to unnecessary difficulties I won’t go into, she was in the hospital for 3 weeks.
In Japan, I would coordinate with my brother at 3am (thankfully I had jet lag so I was up anyway), and then try and enjoy our vacation during the day. My brother had his plate full too, because his best friend’s dad passed away that week. His best friend is also his co-worker. So, he was covering shifts, dealing with our mother’s situation, and everything with our dad’s finances. I was on the sidelines on the other side of the country trying to help with what I could.
We finished our vacation, I came back to work, but was told I would have to work from home for two weeks. WarnerMedia announced that anyone who traveled to an at-risk region would have to self-isolate for 2 weeks. Well, then the pandemic happened. WarnerMedia then enforced anyone who could work from home should, and we don’t know when we can return to the studio.
During all this time, all of this madness, all of this pain, all of this anger, all of this frustration, I fell back hard on one of the most important things in my life. Scores. Scores have always been a way for me to deal with my emotions, and a way for me to cope. And I needed them more than ever. It also reminded me why I fell in love with scores in the first place.
When I was little, I was bullied. It was both physical and verbal. In fact, there isn’t a time I can remember where I didn’t have a constant bully till I got to high school, and I started playing football. But anyway, when you’re bullied as a child you feel terrible. I mean, that’s not shocking news. But you do feel terrible. You feel worthless, you hate yourself, you have zero confidence, and you blame yourself for it. And, guess what, you have NO one to relate to or talk to. Talking to parents, or a teacher, or anyone really doesn’t help. Your non-bullied friends are not much of a support system at that age either. So what did I find?
I can credit my father for indirectly helping me discover my love for film, tv and game music. His friend owned a record store in Washington D.C., and he would bring all the promo copies home. Back in the day, record labels would send over a promo copy of a cassette or CD so that the record store could take a listen and see if they wanted to cary it in their store. These are not for sale copies, so my dad’s friend would give him a boxful of them all the time. My dad would then bring that box home, and I would peruse through it.
I fell in love with movies at an early age too, Fantasia being the first movie I ever saw. Maybe that had something to do with how my brain would process sound and imagery, who knows. But I became fascinated with movies. So when my dad would bring home these boxes of cassettes and eventually CD’s, I would recognize movies on the covers. I began to pluck them out of the mix and set them aside. In fact I still have the cassette tape of the Jurassic Park soundtrack that I had when I was 6. I have a vivid memory of listening to the score on my Walkman while riding in the car, and as we drove by a line of trees or a forest I would be transported back into the movie.
But it wasn’t until I was 9 that I realized my “keep pile” started having covers with the same names on them. Names like Hans Zimmer, Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell. It was the first time I was aware that there were people behind the scenes who made the movies I loved. Like actual living people. Now, this was a big revelation. Prior to this, I believed that people who died in movies, died in real life. I also believed that if I didn’t see a movie on opening day, I would never get to see it. But I also had this music. This music from the movies, but with no images and no sound effects. For the first time, my brain didn’t transport me back into the movie. Instead, I transported myself into the music. While The Rock may be an over-the-top Michael Bay action flick, I do have that cassette tape that I credit with awakening my mind to the power of music in that sense. I was truly aware of what scores were.
So, instead of having a scene play out in my head, I was feeling an emotional connection and feeling something. I had music that was happy, sad, exciting, scary, or fun. For a young bullied boy who was 9 or 10 years old, this became how I was able to connect to the world. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel alone. If I was feeling extremely down or was hating myself, I could find a piece of music from a film that was as sad and emotional as I was feeling. It allowed me to release those emotions and say to myself, “If someone wrote this music, then someone else must know this feeling too.” Or I could use scores to bring myself out of a state of mind. If I was down in the dumps and needed to feel some sort of lift, I could find a big sweeping score to lift me up. It all helped me cope with the reality of waking up every day to go to school and face terrible things said to me, or sometimes physical pain.
As time went on, I began to fall in love with filmmaking in general. Yes there were composers who would write music that made me feel things, but there was a whole team of visionaries behind the camera. I started researching directors, writers, producers, cinematographers, and even more composers from different eras. I thought to myself, this makes sense to me. The movies I loved were movies that explored the human condition. And for some reason, my past passions of wanting to be either a marine biologist or a veterinarian faded. This made sense to me as I entered my teenage years. For the first time, I could make sense of my own emotions, and realize there are other people trying to do the same. They are telling stories that relate to us and connect us all.
All through middle school, high school, college and even in my adult life it has been scores that have been helping me cope. I played football in high school, and in the locker room before games we’d usually blast heavy metal or hip-hop while we got ready and suited up. I remember just suggesting once, maybe try playing this one track and see how everyone likes it. People agreed, so I played "The Gladiator Waltz”. We were all suiting up in our pads to Gladiator. At first I could see people’s faces look confused, but as the cue built it became the most serious and cinematic locker room suit up ever! It didn’t help us win though, we lost that game. But the point is, I started finding film and film music as a way to understand the world better.
My first job was working at the movie theater that I saw movies at my whole life, because if I was going to work retail then I was going to be as close to movies as I could. It worked out too as I eventually moved my way up to being a booth operator where I got to build, thread and breakdown 35mm prints back in the day. Of course today every theater is digital, but not too long ago you’d have a 35mm print running through a projector and I got to be the one to do that.
I had found my path. I went to film school and graduated from Towson University with a BS in Electronic Media & Film. I then moved to Los Angeles with some friends where I ended up working at Walt Disney Studios for 4 years, and now have been at Cartoon Network Studios for over 4 years. While I’m not making films for a living, I still feel part of the world I want to be part of. Getting to work in production and work with our producers to create workflows, and to keep the studio and network running has been an absolute joy.
My love for film music is also what prompted me to start Film.Music.Media in 2009, right when I graduated college. I used to write movie reviews for sites like MovieWeb, but decided to focus just on film music. For me, writing was my way of analyzing. I wasn’t looking to put my opinion out there in the world, in fact when I started Film.Music.Media it was on a BlogSpot that I did not advertise or share with anyone. But through keywords and such, a small subscriber base grew, and one day a publicist (my friend, the late Beth Krakower) reached out and offered me CD’s to review. I thought I had struck the mother load! I mean I spent most of my money on soundtracks anyway!
And for the longest time I kept reviews as a part of Film.Music.Media, even when I started making interviews the main focus of the site. I thought I could do more analysis and breakdown how the scores work in short concise “reviews”. However, it was last year that I decided to completely get rid of them. And it was because I was seeing with my own eyes people being bullied for expressing their own opinions. I realized that critic culture was extremely toxic, from the random selections that make up a score on Rotten Tomatoes, comment sections on anything, down to people who buy domains and run their own review sites. It was that bullying behavior, mainly in the film music community that I saw since I was part of it, that disgusted me. It reminded me of myself trying to find the confidence to even speak up in class so terrified that if I spoke up that I would be hurt or made fun of. And since film music was my of coping with bullying when I was younger, it infuriated me.
There are many groups on Facebook plus the forums online where film/tv/game music fans gather to share and discuss. And I would see time and time again someone posting a link to a piece of music they love only to get shot down or criticized for liking something. In some cases by people who called themselves critics. I used to be part of an organization called the IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association), but after witnessing certain behavior and even being attacked by a member on my own Facebook wall. I did bring up the behavior I saw, and no action was taken. So I stepped away. As I backed away, I saw the behavior continue. I would see on forums how people would attack certain composers, dragging their name through the mud just because they don’t like their music. These were beyond general opinions or discussions. I would see other people trying to share and discuss things they like, only to be belittled and bullied. There was even a whole thread started about Film.Music.Media a few years ago, calling me a “masturbatory” reviewer who only reviews things so composers will let me interview them. Which doesn't really bother me, you will always have someone who hates you. But the bullying is where I drew the line, I had enough. I wasn’t going to be part of that world anymore, so I shut down reviews on Film.Music.Media and wrote a carefully crafted article that I knew would get a response.
I put myself in the spotlight knowing I was going to take a beating, but I wanted to prove how aggressive and toxic people are on forums and in Facebook groups. I wanted to call out the bullying, and just call out critic culture as a whole. I didn’t point fingers, I didn’t name names. Very soon after posting the article, I did see a post on a forum, from an actual member of the IFMCA, calling me “trash”. A few others reacted negatively. But surprisingly many reacted positively, and I got a lot of messages of support. The biggest surprise, many composers I know emailed or messaged me saying how much they support my decision and how great it was that I called out what I did. I knew I made the right decision for myself, for Film.Music.Media to be a better educational resource, and hopefully stood up a bit for some of the people who were victims to online bullying.
You should never put down or belittle someone for their choices in anything in the arts or entertainment. You may hate a piece of music or movie that someone else loves, but it doesn’t give you the authority to put down that person for what they connect to. It really is possible to discuss and compare/contrast opinions without being hurtful. I recommend discussing your favorite films, books, shows, games and music with family and friends, and not strangers on the internet. Don’t let a Rotten Tomatoes score dictate your opinion on a movie, you have no idea who those people are and you’ve never met them.
Now fast-forward to today, as I’m sitting here, typing this. Reflecting on the madness of what 2020 has been for everyone, and my family so far. Scores have helped me through all of it. The emotional nuance that you can be absorbed into from a piece of music that was written for picture is astounding. It’s a beautiful thing when you find a piece that truly connects with you.
So, for anyone whose ridden in my car as I’m blasting a cue and staying silent, you know where my head is at. If I’m taking a moment just to close my eyes, and put my headphones on, you know where my head is at. My family and friends are my biggest support system, but sometimes you just need to be inside your own head with a piece of music. And for me, that music has been scores my entire life.
Who knows how 2020 will turn out? I know I have a lot to be grateful for, and that others are going through just as hard and even harder times. People are losing jobs and work, and the world is at a standstill. I thought sharing this might help me vent, but also give perspective. We all cope with pain and hardship in different ways, and I found my way of coping when I was very young thankfully. Not only have scores become a form of therapy in a way, they allow me to feel connected and not alone. Scores allow me to follow the narrative blueprint of a story, they allow me to learn something about the person who wrote the music, it teaches me story structure and pacing, and sometimes I just want to hear my favorite themes blasted as loud as my speakers allow.
We’re all in this together, the world is a weird and fucked up place and life is short. If you can find something that helps you find meaning and analyze this existence on this spinning rock in the ever-expanding universe, then hold onto it. So, keep discussing stories with your family and friends. Remove toxic people out of your view. And be kind to one another. Please, be kind to one another. Art and entertainment are 100% subjective, no one deserves to be attacked for what they connect to. If someone is trying to reach out and connect by sharing what they love, embrace them. We aren’t talking politics here, we aren’t talking medicine or scientific facts. We’re talking about the stories we love and the different ways we consume them.
A big thank you to the storytellers, especially the music makers. Your stressed nights doing last-minute changes you don’t agree with aren’t for nothing. You have no idea if there’s a lonely and hurt child out there that needs to know that they’re not alone. Your music may let them know exactly that. Keep telling stories. Keep analyzing what stories mean to you. And keep encouraging others to open up and share what they love. Never feel ashamed for liking something just because someone else might not like it.
To anyone reading this, I hope you're staying safe and are surrounded by those you love. Things will begin to pick back up here at Film.Music.Media soon. Just know if you're feeling lost or hurt, you really are not alone. As a child it was way tougher. Now I have an amazing wife, family and friends to keep me afloat. I'm grateful for everyone in my life, and grateful for all the people out that I'm connected to through our love of scores and the stories that connect us all.
- Kaya Savas (Founder, Film.Music.Media)