A Film Score Can Sometimes Save a Movie by Composer and Filmmaker Alexander Tovar
Film Courage: Where did you grow up?
Alexander Tovar: I was born in Los Angeles, between Silver Lake and Koreatown in 1984. My parents are from Los Angeles. I’m the middle child. My mother is an educator and plays the piano and my father is a composer. He taught me everything I know about music. Home life was wonderful. My parents always had music (mostly classical and jazz) playing in the house and in our beautiful garden.
Film Courage: As a member of a multi-musician family, (as a child) how was music encouraged? What was the first musical instrument you picked up?
Alexander: My father first taught me trumpet and piano when I was nine. I studied music with him and wrote my first opera when I was 10. There was never any pressure to be a prodigy or a musical genius. It was just something I wanted to do myself. My father was never strict and never forced anything on me.
Film Courage: What was the first film you saw in the theater and with whom? How does it compare to the first time you went to hear live music?
Alexander: The first film I remember seeing in the theatre was “The Little Mermaid” at the Cinerama Dome. Apart from it being hilarious, it had wonderful music. The first live music I remember hearing was probably Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet at the Dorothy Chandler. I can’t say enough about this ballet. The music to this day moves me in a way I can’t describe. At this point, I was very interested in how music could convey different emotions on screen and on the stage. The visuals just enhanced the music for me. I soon learned that music just made everything much better.
Film Courage: Is there a piece of music that inspires you to want to make films?
Alexander: Whenever I write music, something inevitably comes to mind; mostly an old memory of a different piece of music I heard when I was a child from another composer stuck in my unconscious. There’s always a lost yet familiar melody forever percolating in my mind whether I’m composing at the piano or just sitting around. Most of my pieces evoke some visuals but they change each time I hear them. That’s what I love about Fellini films. There would be these incredibly beautiful, chaotic scenes with this Nino Rota music that was so melodic and quirky. When I saw “8 1/2,” I knew I wanted to know more about films and watch more. When I watched “Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” I wanted to write music for film. I knew music could tell a story through film, which I think is the greatest medium to convey human emotions.
“I think artists most of the time are unsatisfied in life. That’s what makes them create, because there’s a dissatisfaction or obsession with something. But I can easily feel fulfilled. I don’t think one has to suffer to achieve “great” art. Of course there are several artists who suffered severe depression, pain and addiction that somehow fueled their creativity. But I’m very proud and happy of the work I’ve done. I work at something until I can’t work on it anymore, then I say, Well, this one is done now. It makes me happy when people laugh and enjoy the films.”
Film Courage: Favorite quote about artistic struggle?
Alexander: It’s by Proust about neurotics:
It’s the neurotics, they are the ones — and not the others — who founded religions and created masterpieces. The world will never know how much we owe them and above all what they suffered to give it to us.
Film Courage: What is you movie SHOW BUSINESS about?
Alexander: Show Business follows screenwriter Guy Franklin as he moves from NYC to LA with his fiancé. It should be a great gig but Guy soon realizes that being in Show Business and balancing his life love is easier said than done.
Film Courage: Who is the protagonist Guy Franklin? What drives him?
Alexander: Guy Franklin is a writer from New York who wrote a screenplay for a short film. That screenplay gets a small award at a film festival in the Valley. He gets an offer from a producer to write a screenplay based on a kid’s book. He’s unsure what his talent and drive is in the world. When he moves to LA with his fiancé, the two of them drift apart.
Film Courage: Where were you in life when you began writing SHOW BUSINESS?
Alexander: I had just finished my first film, NOTHING IN LOS ANGELES and was doing the festival circuit. My friend, Bonnie Hargett, who produced SHOW BUSINESS gave me a copy of “The Fault in Our Stars,” a book her kids loved. Although I’m sure it’s great, I couldn’t get through it. I started thinking it’d be funny if I had to adapt something like this?
Film Courage: Where did you begin writing the script?
Alexander: I began writing the script immediately when I had the idea. It took a few weeks to write.
Film Courage: What was the budget? How did you fund the movie?
Alexander: The budget was $50,000. Armand Hargett funded my first film, “Nothing in Los Angeles,” and Bonnie Hargett funded “Show Business.” They are old family friends.
Film Courage: Why do you write, direct and act in the films that you make? Isn’t that a lot to take on?
Alexander: Because these films are primarily a vehicle for my music, I compose these films, just like a piece of music. The dialogue and images are all in my head beforehand and I only know how to do it this way. That doesn’t mean at all that’s the best way, it’s just the only way I know how to do it. I wouldn’t have much interest in writing or directing another person’s movie but scoring another person’s film, of course. I’ve always been more interested in auteurs and seeing the director’s vision rather than other people writing it, another person directing it, another person producing it, another person adding the music. Of course every film needs these people and they’re invaluable. But sometimes it can be very formulaic where it just looks like a factory film. There’s nothing special or different.
Film Courage: Having grown up around artists all of your life and being from Los Angeles, what are your impressions from an insider’s perspective about the narcissistic side and the genuine desire to create from the standpoint of how people operate in this city?
Alexander: I love LA with all of my heart. It’s got everything. But it’s also very shallow. There’s obviously a lot of talent in this city but with that comes a lot of other people with huge narcissistic egos. They just want to be famous. It’s very hard not to encounter somebody who wants to be a famous actor or on a reality show. That part of LA depresses me to no end. I think the anger and depression manifests in some of the satire I’ve tried to put in both scripts.
Alexander Tovar was born in 1984 in Los Angeles to a musical family. By age 10, he had written his first opera and soon began formal training in piano, trumpet, and guitar.
He attended Alexander Hamilton High School playing trumpet in the prestigious jazz. band. By his senior year he had written a piece for full orchestra,which caught the attention of Robert Kraft, the current president of Fox Music. Mr. Kraft introduced Alexander to Philip Glass, who asked him to come work for him in New York City.
Fresh out of high school, Alexander moved to New York City to work for Philip Glass and Nico Muhly. Later, he returned to Los Angeles studying philosophy at PCC and then transferring to the University of Southern California getting his B.M. in music composition.. In college, his piece, Eudaemonia, was selected on the New Music for Orchestra concert, conducted by Donald Crockett and broadcasted live on 91.5 KUSC..
After college, Alexander wrote a piece for Gustavo Dudamel that was performed live in front of Disney Hall as part of the inaugural gala event welcoming the Maestro to Los Angeles.
In 2010, Alexander starting working for Van Dyke Parks. They worked on an Elton John and Leon Russell album, entitled, The Union produced by T-Bone Burnett. In 2010, Tovar’s original score to the Crown Prince of Heaven premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.
Tovar began writing his first play, a musical farce entitled Mr. Genius. He then began writing, directing, editing, acting, and scoring his own films. The first one, Nothing in Los Angeles (2013), a love letter to Los Angeles, was shot on a shoe string budget (produced by Armand Hargett) and went on to premiere at many important festivals including Cinequest. The next year he wrote, directed, acted, and scored his second film, Show Business (2015); a screwball romantic comedy that premiered at many notable festivals including the prestigious Newport Beach Festival (produced by Bonnie Hargett). He won best score for Show Business at the Milano International Film Festival Awards.
In 2016, Tovar acted in The Relationtrip, which premiered at 2017 SXSW Film Festival.
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