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Music student creates score for award-winning student film

A profile of the composer of A Royal Pain, the Calvin College student film that won the Best Student Film award at the Chicago Comedy Film Festival, and his experiences writing the film's music.
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The process of creating a film’s musical score is one of the toughest experiences of filmmaking. For senior Logan Knoppers, it was also the most rewarding.

A music composition major, Knoppers created the score for "A Royal Pain," the seven-minute animated film that won the Best Student Film award at last month’s Chicago Comedy Film Festival. The film was a collaboration between several media production majors, and its directors turned to Knoppers for the original score.

“They decided they wanted an original score,” Knoppers said. “[It was] partly because it’s always good to have original material and partly because that would allow them to have a score that was highly synchronized with the action in the film.”

The process of linking the musical score with the action of a film is known as “Mickey mousing.” According to Knoppers, the general practice of film scoring is for the composer to compose the music with the visuals of the film playing in front. For "A Royal Pain," Knoppers instead created the film’s music without the final animation.

“I was given the rough animatics with approximate timings,” Knoppers said. “This meant that I actually determined the exact timings, and then they animated to my music.”

As a result, Knoppers’s score played a central role in the making of the film.

“The music in this film was actually an important part of the structure of the film rather than a way to communicate dramatic and emotional effect,” Knoppers said.

Creating the music for "A Royal Pain" was a new process for Knoppers—it was his first big composition.

“I had hardly composed anything before this project,” Knoppers said. “This was my first serious composition.”

According to Knoppers, the score was fully orchestrated, complete with parts for instruments as varied as violins and cellos to trumpets and French horns. Each section of the score was completed separately with the aid of student musicians from Calvin’s many ensembles. The process of recording the various instruments was an important one for Knoppers.

“I think the recording process and the mixing process that followed were almost as helpful of learning experiences as the composing and orchestrating,” Knoppers said.

Helping out the media production majors with their film was equally important to Knoppers.

“It was great to be composing music for something and to help their creative vision come alive,” Knoppers said. “It was [also] great to talk with the directors about what they wanted for the film and to discuss ideas with them.”

Knoppers also spoke highly of Calvin grad Daniel Reinisch, the film’s co-director.

“Dan was fantastic to work with in both the recording studio and the editing room,” Knoppers said. “He was a great help in realizing my vision for the music.”

Knoppers looked back at the entire filmmaking process fondly, calling it his best experience at Calvin.

“Not only did it allow me to write a great score that I can add to my portfolio, but more importantly it was a massive opportunity for me to learn about so many things,” Knoppers said.

Thanks to the experience he gained on "A Royal Pain," Knoppers was able to ease into working on a new project this fall. 

“The film I worked on is called 'Sugar High,'" Knoppers said. “[The film has] a weirder score because the filmmakers wanted a score that made it seem like things weren’t right.”

After "Sugar High" has its premiere at Calvin’s Media Showcase on Saturday, Knoppers plans to continue collaborating with aspiring filmmakers.

“I plan to collaborate like this at least once, probably more, before I graduate in a year and a half,” Knoppers said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

For more on "A Royal Pain," see the earlier Rapidian article.

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