That Soundtrack Though: Inside the Mind of The Tale’s Composer, Ariel Marx

All of my mentors have different versions of the same story about how one gets into the film music industry: it’s unpredictable — opportunities come in unexpected ways, and you just have to be ready to strike when the iron is hot. I have always found this insight empowering. There is a certain freedom in knowing that the path to success is non-formulaic, and you are therefore forced to forge your own. Priorities then become about mastering your craft, creating meaningful collaborative connections, and developing and honing your own voice, rather than checking off necessary prerequisites. My involvement in The Tale is a case in point.

I come from a musical and artistic family and learned to play many musical instruments at a young age. My mom likes to remind me that even my infant cries were polyphonic — a skill I unfortunately no longer have. I grew up sitting next to my mom and grandpa on the piano bench listening to them play, and sang folk songs with my dad. My sister ran away with the circus when she was 19 and became an acrobat performing worldwide. This is all to say, I grew up in an environment in which pursuing a career in the arts was very supported. Once, when sharing my music with a fellow musician, he mentioned that it sounded like a film score. This was a big awakening for me as it felt like the natural melding of my passions — both in storytelling and music.

I went on to pursue my Master’s in Music Theory and Composition from New York University’s film scoring program, where I learned the aesthetic, technical and professional skills that are critical to the craft. During this time, I participated in the Columbia/ASCAP Film Scoring workshop where I collaborated with filmmakers, Daniel Nickson and Reka Posta on their short film Dear Mother (Édesanyám). It was this collaboration that lead me to The Tale.

The Tale is a film that teases apart and questions the architecture of memory and the ways in which we become the authors of our own past in order to survive.

It is centered on a globetrotting journalist who wrote about her relationship with two coaches when she was in seventh grade. After reading the story as an adult, she questions her identity and what really happened. When I first watched it, I was blown away as I had never seen anything like it before. It is remarkable in so many ways — the story, cast, performances, cinematography, production design and editing, to name a few. Another striking aspect of this was that it is based on the director, Jennifer Fox’s own story. This meant that I had insight into, and an ability to connect and communicate with the protagonist herself — a direct line to the emotional artery of the film.

In my initial talks with Jennifer, we first discussed the palette in broad strokes — what instruments I would use. This is such an important step because you are determining the backbone of the score and what basic colors you are painting with. The same melody arranged with different instrumentation can have a vastly different emotional impact, so this decision is critical to the tone of the score. We knew that it had to feel of the same world Jennifer had created, and that it needed to sew together the strands of memory and the linear and non-linear passage of time. We ultimately decided on an intimate ensemble, grown out of some of the instrumentation of the source cues in the film — strings, guitar, piano and electronics. We explored how “present” the score would be, how themes would grow and return throughout the film and how they would evolve based on point-of-view and context.

The biggest challenge was that the music had to be as complex as the film. We asked ourselves how the music could be both playful yet poignant, child-like yet emotionally evolved, loving yet harmful, global yet personal?

I ultimately strived to write music that functioned as its own complex character — one that grew, ached, rebelled and transformed right alongside Jennifer.

It’s exciting for me to be in the industry at a time when it is growing, expanding and creating diversity in front of, and behind, the camera. The Tale is a story written by a woman, about a woman, that features complex roles for both women and men. It is brought to life by a tremendously talented and fearless team, and the breadth of support this film has received is a testament to its important story.

The Tale’s world premiere is at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival which is to take place this month in Park City, Utah.

Header Image © All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute pro.

Comment