Anne Nikitin, composer of "American Animals" #Sundance

Anne Nikitin by Matthew Catling (2).jpg

Anne Nikitin is an award-winning composer for film and television. Anne recently completed
the score for “American Animals,” starring Emmy-winner Ann Dowd and premiering at the
2018 Sundance Film Festival. Anne also scored Bart Layton’s BAFTA winner “The Imposter,” the Sundance Audience Award winner “Dark Horse,” the Netflix true crime series “Captive,” and the German film “Freistatt,” which was shortlisted for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. In 2015, Anne scored “Chuck Norris vs. Communism,” which premiered at Sundance and
is now on Netflix.

Anne has scored numerous high-profile television series and films in genres ranging from
natural history to documentary and drama. They include “BBC Natural World,” “Locked
up Abroad,” “America: The Story of Us” and the television movie “Revelation: The End
of Days II,” which was nominated for a Music+Sound Award for Best Television Soundtrack. Anne’s score for “This Beautiful Fantastic,” starring Jessica Brown Findlay and Tom Wilkinson, was nominated for a Music+Sound Award and a Hollywood Music in Media Award. Outside of television and film, Anne worked with the London Contemporary Orchestra on the score for the Damien Hirst film “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable.” Her upcoming project “Calibre,” starring Jack Lowden and Martin McCann, will be released in 2018.

We had a chat with Anne, here are the excerpts.

  • What's your process of composing music for a film? Do you read the script, collaborate with director, and what more/else?

The process tends to differ from project to project largely depending on how the director likes to work and when they are ready to bring a composer on board. Sometimes I start very early on. I read a script and sketch ideas before the film has been shot. Sometimes they wait until the very end of the edit, when there’s a locked version of the film.  It seems most common to come on board during the first few weeks of the edit, when there’s a rough assembly that they can show me.  

There are pros and cons with each scenario, but the earlier you start the more time you have to experiment.  It’s good to have time to show the director a range of ideas – sometimes surprising them with something they didn’t know they wanted and coming up with something original!  “Tempitis” is a real danger – when you come on board late and the director has fallen in love with temp music.  

Once I start, it’s a very collaborative process. I have ongoing discussions with the director and editor until the very end. It feels like you’re embarking on a journey together.

 

  • What was the most challenging part of working on this particular film?

This is a film with many complex layers so the challenge was to create a diverse score that somehow sounded homogenous. There are a wide range of emotions to score, with four very different characters, so I had to strike the right balance between tension, sadness and humor, and give each character an appropriate musical flavor. “American Animals” is also “a movie within a movie”, and pays homage to other periods and genres, so the score had to play with this idea. Lastly, it’s a film that dips in and out of real life interviews, so music was used to help transition in and out of a documentary-based world, without jolting the audience out of the drama.

 

  • What are your favorite films (from music perspective) and your favorite composers?

I’ll never forget the first film that made me sit up and listen to the score, which was “The Piano,” with music by Michael Nyman. It was such a mesmerizing marriage between film and music - something just clicked, and I thought “that’s what I want to do!” In terms of favorite composers, I adore Thomas Newman (“Road to Perdition” is an all-time favorite score of mine.)  I also love “Blade Runner” for how the music helps create the atmosphere of the film.

Most recently, I’ve been enjoying music by a rising crop of composers such as Johann Johannsson, Jed Kurzel, Max Richter, Dustin O’ Halloran. I thought Johansson’s scores for “Arrival” and “Sicario” were spine-tingling and helped bring those films to life.  It’s exciting to hear film music being extra inspired and eclectic these days. Anything goes!

 

  • What's your advice to other aspiring musicians and composers who want to break into this business?

It’s a very competitive field. You have to be dedicated, determined and very patient. It took me years of blood, sweat and tears before I got my first commission. “Practicing” film scoring might sound like a strange concept, but it’s actually very important. Try to score as many short films as possible to gain experience scoring pictures. This also helps you develop your own voice and versatility, and gives you more confidence when you land your first commission. A positive attitude when meeting directors and producers always helps. Hanging out with other composers can be your salvation. You can learn from each other, support each other, share work and even collaborate.