One of the more recognizable movie scores in film history is from “Jaws,” and John Williams’ work is a significant reason why the film has become a classic in suspense. So it almost seems fitting that Sonic Fuel Studios, which has scored hit films and television shows in recent years, has made its home in an El Segundo building where two of the mechanic sharks used in the film were reportedly built.
Composers Christopher Lennertz, a Redondo Beach resident, and Timothy Wynn, who lives in Hermosa Beach, celebrated the studio’s grand opening recently. After outgrowing various locations in the South Bay as their careers grew, they found the perfect spot and reportedly put $2 million into the 7,000-square-foot studio that was designed specifically for film, TV and video game composers.
“It got to a point where we said we can’t fit the amount of players we want to in this space. We can’t fit the amount of producers that are involved in movies now ... we needed a bigger spot and we didn’t want to do it in a lease fashion because it takes a lot of equipment, it takes a lot of planning to get a good acoustic space for recording,” Lennertz said. “We knew we had to build it.”
Numerous musicians are currently hard at work on the studio’s latest project, the comedy “Identity Thief” starring Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy, which is expected in theaters in February. “Identity Thief” reunites Lennertz with director Seth Gordon; they previously collaborated on the comedy, “Horrible Bosses,” which also starred Bateman.
Lennertz started the scoring process with Gordon when the director sent him the script earlier this year. After viewing a rough cut of the film in early September, Lennertz said, “It was at that point where I would start writing little pieces of music and showing them to Seth and say, ‘What do you think of this for Melissa’s character? What do you think of this little idea for Jason’s character?’”
Lennertz said. “We would go back and forth and play stuff. At that point I would play stuff that was either created on computer or they were me playing guitar or small representation of what the music would be.”
Some musicians that worked on “Horrible Bosses” are back for “Identity Thief,” including Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney; Earth, Wind and Fire keyboardist and music director Myron McKinley; and Beastie Boys keyboardist Money Mark.
Last week, Lennertz brought together a full orchestra to record at Warner Bros. Studio. That, along with the work at Sonic Fuel, will be mixed together.
“We then give it to sound stage where they do the final mix with dialogue and sound effects so they can get it out of the door by the end of January so it will be in theaters on the 8th of February,” Lennertz said.
Lennertz also scores two hit series, “Revolution,” which is returning to NBC in March, and the long-running “Supernatural” on the CW. Over the past five or six years, with a boost from “Lost,” Lennertz feels there is a resurgence of live recorded music on TV, which also includes “Revenge” and “Once Upon a Time.”
“I think it makes the show feel more like a movie and allows people to sit in their living rooms and get a little movie every week,” Lennertz said.
He added, “I’m hoping that by building a studio and having a situation where we can record live music quickly ... it will help in terms of the quality of being what’s being put out in film, TV and in video games so five to 10 years from now we’re seeing a lot of this great live music. I think it’s a good trend that’s going in an upward direction.”
Scoring video games, especially the production value, has also evolved in recent years, according to Lennertz, who scored three “Medal of Honor” games for Playa del Rey based Electronic Arts while his business partner scored “Command & Conquer,” among others.
“We do big orchestras,” Lennertz said. “We have a lot of music, but the interesting thing about video games is that the music has to be written to a story that isn’t necessarily set in stone because its dependent on how the player plays, they may go to the right, they may go to the left, they may go up and they may go down. Depending where they progress in the story the music has to be able to follow them. Another thing interesting about video games is that you tend to do a lot more music than you do for a movie, a lot more minutes to give yourself options.”
When they met
Lennertz and Wynn were roommates at USC and graduated in 1994 from the Thornton School of Music. After graduating, they had success in various fields, from commercials to indie films, and leased their first space in Marina del Rey after working out of their homes. Sonic Fuel was formed in 1999. Their first large project was the FOX series “Brimstone” in 1999.
“It’s tough to have clients come to the house especially if you have to record a trombone at 2 a.m.,” Lennertz said.
They eventually outgrew the Marina del Rey space as well as a few others before landing in El Segundo’s Smoky Hollow industrial district where they decided to buy the building instead of lease, according to Lennertz whose other credits include the animated “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “Hop.” Two other films that Lennertz scored, “Thanks for Sharing” and “As Cool as I Am,” will be released in 2013.
The studio includes a live room for 35 musicians, a control room for 20 people, three isolation booths and state of the art equipment. They rent space to various composers as well as studios in the film and television industry.
As animal lovers and with young families to “teach them the right thing,” the partners wanted to create an eco-friendly studio, which includes solar panels; wood and metal work, including table tops, that were salvaged and designed by an El Segundo artist; and green acoustic treatments, among other things.
“In all honesty, the amount of computers and the amount of amplifiers and speakers, everything we use takes energy so we started to figure how do we offset that so we don’t feel like we’re putting an undue burden on anything,” Lennertz said.
He added, “We tried to make a pretty strict goal doing things as environmentally conscious as we can and using that to hopefully create a style for the studio that is actually interesting and a little more artistic and creative than sort of an office-style approach.”
Whether it’s “Rocky,” “The Godfather,” “Star Wars,” or “Jaws,” movie music has made an indelible impression in cinema and in popular culture. But sometimes music in film has another goal.
“There have been more times than I could imagine that I’ve sat in a movie theater and sat next to my mom and then when the movie was over I’d lean over and pat her on the shoulder and say, ‘God, wasn’t that music amazing?’ She’d say ‘What music?’” Lennertz said. “I think it’s just the reality of the situation. But a lot of the times people will tell you if you love the movie and you don’t notice the music, it probably did it’s job because it helped tell the story.”
As a musician, Lennertz said one of the larger challenges on any job is to translate what the director or producer wants musically.
“You have to figure out that when someone says ‘blue’ or ‘sad’ or ‘exciting’ or ‘scary,’ what does that mean to them musically,” Lennertz said. “What scary meant for Alfred Hitchcock isn’t necessarily what scary means to Wes Craven. What sad means to Robert Zemeckis isn’t necessarily what sad means to a Merchant Ivory movie. You have to figure that out as you work with each person and that’s why I love working with the same directors over and over again because you start to realize ... this is what this person means by this phrase or direction much like an actor would, I guess.”
Lennertz, who named the Ennio Morricone score for “The Mission” as his favorite, said creating the moments that are burned into people’s consciousness is the hope of many composers.
“The hope is we get a couple of opportunities in our career to be that integral to a story that you get to put your stamp on it ... when you get to be that synonymous musically with the story, that’s a pretty awesome situation.”
For more information,visit www.sonicfuelstudios.com.