Composer Miles Hankins (right) pictured with the cast and crew at the premier of Long Shot.
How do you balance a burgeoning love story with laugh-until-your-stomach-aches comedy through music? We spoke to film composer Miles Hankins about his work on Long Shot, a new romantic comedy starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen. Hankins gives us an inside-look at composing a score that pulls your heartstrings while making you laugh out loud.
ProductionHUB: How did you get into this and at what point did you realize you wanted to be a composer?
Miles Hankins: Actually, being a film composer was pretty much the first job I ever wanted. After seeing Lawrence of Arabia in 70MM when I was about 9 years old I was pretty much hooked. I didn’t want to be an astronaut or a fireman, it was always going to be movie music for me. I studied composition, piano, violin and theory from an early age, and studied at the University of Miami School of Music, the Eastman School of Music and privately with composer Daron Hagen in New York.
Alongside all of this, I was a jazz pianist and also deeply immersed in electronic music production. When I was 26 I was selected as one of five finalists in the Turner Classic Movies Young Film Composers Competition, which was judged by Hans Zimmer. They flew me out to LA for the ceremony, got to hang with Hans and plug into the city a bit. The next year, I was hired to work on a TV series called “Flash Gordon” for SYFY, so I moved out to LA in the Summer of 2007 and have been scoring here ever since.
ProductionHUB: Tell me about Long Shot. How did you get involved?
Miles Hankins: I collaborated with Marco Beltrami on another Jonathan Levine film back in 2015 called The Night Before, which also happened to star Seth Rogen. When Jonathan reached out about Long Shot, it was sort of like getting the band back together.
Jonathan is very passionate about the music in his films and is a joy to work with because he gives us the creative space to explore ideas. We wanted to make sure that in supporting the comedy of the film, we didn’t neglect the sincerity of the personal story. Fortunately, Jonathan liked the themes early on and was very encouraging throughout the scoring process. It was a pretty smooth project, which is actually quite rare!
Director Jonathan Levine with Composer Miles Hankins
ProductionHUB: Going into the project, what type of score did you envision? How did you work to achieve that?
Miles Hankins: Long Shot afforded us the opportunity to have a lot of fun with the music and try a few different things. There are three main sound palettes in the score. Primarily there's a slightly off-beat indie folk band, with acoustic and electric guitars, bass and hand percussion, often played in unconventional ways. This was the right fit for the more casual, intimate and sometimes quirky sides to Seth and Charlize’s characters.
Then we have a sweeping Americana orchestral sound, pulling all the stops and allowing our themes to soar in a more majestic and patriotic spirit, and sometimes very tongue in cheek. Finally, there are some awesome action sequences in the film where we went full-tilt with a more electronic and orchestral hybrid sound. One of the joys of scoring Long Shot was never knowing which direction the next cue might take musically.
In terms of themes, we hear the main tune when we first see Charlize’s character Charlotte in the opening titles, and that theme is woven throughout the score in a variety of moods and settings. Then we have a very timid and evolving romantic theme, which always sits just behind the characters as their relationship grows. There is a sort of rejection theme, which is actually probably my favorite tune in the score, but it only plays a few times, when Seth’s character Fred or Charlotte are at their lowest points.
ProductionHUB: You got quite the compliment from Charlize at SXSW. How does that recognition feel?
Miles Hankins: It's always gratifying to be acknowledged for the work, especially by the filmmakers whose vision I'm supporting and who are very much creative collaborators in the scoring process. Charlize, who is also a producer on the film, wanted to make sure we brought a sense of magic to certain moments, particularly one pivotal scene towards the end of the film when the stakes are at their height. We worked hard to bring that out. I asked her at the SXSW premiere what she thought of the final speech scene and she said with a smile, “you brought the magic.” hat was a particularly rewarding bit of feedback.
ProductionHUB: What's your favorite scene/moment from the film?
Miles Hankins: That’s a tough one, but I’d have to say the gala dinner reception in Buenos Aires was a personal favorite. Getting to take the main theme into a lush, Gershwinesque setting was a lot of fun. I have backgrounds in orchestral composition and jazz, so to be able to flex those muscles again was pretty great.
It was also rewarding (and surprising) to hear how well the theme worked within that specific reharmonization and orchestration. I’m also partial to the “Hostage Saved!" newscast sequence where the theme plays in full sweeping orchestral glory. The juxtaposition of that music with the characters mid-drug-fueled bender is pretty awesome.
ProductionHUB: What were some of the challenges you faced?
Miles Hankins: Every project has its set of unique challenges. Often it comes down to time constraints or conflicting feedback from the studio execs and filmmakers. In this case, most of those considerations went very smoothly, and it was really just a question of finding that balance of sincerity and humor in the score to support the story most effectively.
I think comedies can be especially difficult puzzles to crack musically and it’s easy to overplay the hand and step on jokes if you’re not careful. We kept the score mostly reactive, especially through the love story and dramatic moments, and allowed the broader segments to swell more with musical support and even a few winks.
ProductionHUB: Which composers and scores inspire you?
Miles Hankins: My influences are eclectic, ranging from the great jazz legends to many European classical, romantic and avant-garde masters, to some of the more experimental electronic music being produced today. I tend not to listen to much film music these days, as so much of it seems template based and uninspired compositionally and harmonically, but there are a few voices I’m always excited to hear, like Nicholas Britell and Johnny Greenwood. And of course, John Williams continues to inspire and remind us what is possible compositionally within the medium.
ProductionHUB: What is the piece of music you are most proud of?
Miles Hankins: The 2015 Fantastic Four was a very challenging film for many reasons, but I was very happy with what I contributed to that score and pleased with the performances from the excellent Los Angeles musicians who played on it. I loved scoring the “Lego Elves” series for Netflix, a total dive into orchestral fireworks and classic adventure scoring. More recently, I'm proud of the music for HBO’s Being Serena (which was nominated for the Sports Emmy this year for Outstanding Music Composition), and for the more intimate string quartet score I recently completed for HBO’s The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti.
ProductionHUB: What other projects are you working on?
Miles Hankins: I'm currently working on a major studio feature with Marco which is a bit too early to talk about, but we have been writing for nearly five months and scoring later his month and very excited about it. I have another project with HBO in the works for the second half of the year. There are also a few films like A Quiet Place 2 in the pipeline.
Additionally, I’m building a music studio at my new home in Sherman Oaks later this year. I hope to maintain my current studio in Burbank and use the home facility in the evenings to be closer to my family when those late hours kick in. Beyond that, I’m hoping to take a day off at some point!
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