More than a movement, there is an idea that came into my mind when I was researching and working on the lyrics I wrote for Today (Say No To Child Labour) the song for ILO I mentioned at the beginning. In this globalized world, every day, we touch, buy, use items that might have seen the labor of children. From chocolate, to coffee, to clothes and toys, I would love to be able to buy products knowing that they don’t include child labor exploitation. So, how about creating a global certification that says “Child Labor Free”? Children have the right to stay with their families, to get an education, to play, to develop social skills and to follow their aspirations. As a consumer, and former educator of twenty years, I would appreciate knowing that I am buying an item that doesn’t take that away from them. This is an idea I had in 2012 and now I see that it’s happening. I browsed the internet and found out. It made me really happy!
As a part of my interview series with popular culture stars, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elena Maro. An artist with a solid background both as a performer and as a writer of original music and songs for theatre, Elena Maro is living her childhood dream as an active composer, songwriter and singer for Film, TV and Media in Los Angeles. Elena’s award winning music is included in several projects based in USA and worldwide and her eclecticism covers various styles and creates each time some unique and memorable sounds. Elena’s goal is to make meaningful music for meaningful projects and her approach to scoring is, first and foremost, to serve each story with honesty and respect.
Thank you so much for joining us Elena! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was born and raised in Italy and since when I was a little girl and I was sitting with my mum on the couch on Sundays afternoon watching old Hollywood movies, I dreamt of being involved in the creation of these wonderful things called films. I was particularly captured by the songs and by those magnificent orchestral scores that were so close to the classical music I was exposed to every day (I am a professionally trained classical ballet dancer). The visuals captured my attention, but, for me, music was were the magic really happened.
That dream stayed locked somewhere in my heart for many years and in the mean time I became first a ballet dancer, then a singer, then a songwriter, then I studied piano and composition and started writing original music and songs for theatre, where I also got to learn music production and sound design, while I was working as a playwright and actress. I had my fun, I have to say, my creativity found so many ways of expression and I am extremely grateful for this. Theatre is where I learned not only how to create effective visual music, but also how to work in team with directors and producers.
Then, six years ago, as co writer of a song for the world campaign against child labour for International Labour Organization — UN Agency, I came to LA, and the moment I saw the city lights from the plane I felt in my heart that Los Angeles was definitely the place where I wanted to be.
After that first visit to the City Of Angels, when I got back to Italy, I started making plans and working hard to be able to move there to work as a composer for Film and Television.
In 2016 I left my permanent job back there, jumped on a plane (and took a leap of faith!) and flew to Los Angeles.
Three years passed and I wake up every day with a heart filled with gratitude. This place keeps on giving, if you just keep believing and working toward your goals.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
More than a particular story, what I really still find interesting and stimulating is that, being based here in Los Angeles, you are constantly offered the chance to actually meet with all the people working in the industry. All the biggest names are here and I am still amazed by their humbleness and kindness in talking and sharing thoughts on the film composer’s job. Not only that, every time I get to work with local musicians, I am impressed by their skills and their level of expertise. I wrote, conducted and recorded a Christmas song with Chris Walden Big Band during a Masterclass at Capitol Studios last year, and those musicians made a stunning performance. I still remember stepping on to the podium to conduct and being self conscious all of a sudden that this girl form the Piedmont countryside was there, in such an iconic studio (Studio A), to conduct her music with those incredible musicians. Then, after the first notes came out, it was, once again, just like stepping into another dimension, it was the magic of music leading my way through time, through life, peacefully, naturally.
Being in Los Angeles also means that, even when you are working on a small budget movie, you can call and have the best musicians recording your score. Believe me, hearing your music played by those artists is already a dream come true! Every time I have a recording session I feel like Alice in Wonderland.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It is not related to my work directly and it still happens all the time. Being involved in the entertainment industry means going to several social events, so I get to talk to many people. I used to teach English at Italian State Schools, but still my first language is Italian, then it is not unusual that I say a word instead of another and sometimes I totally embarrass myself and the other person.
Luckily enough people here in Los Angeles are extremely nice and the last time it happened, when I was talking to a director and, due to a changed vowel, I came out with a ridiculous non-sense sentence , he acted like nothing had happened. Well, he knew what I meant… But still, I think I blushed anyway…
On the other side some people tell that this language thing makes it easier for people to remember you among thousands of other people. Since it is also kind of funny, I think I’ll stick with it.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I recently completed the orchestral score for the western “Miss Happy”, written and directed by Wendy Wolverton and produced by William Brown. The film is currently in post production. It was so much fun writing an Ennio Morricone / spaghetti western orchestral score for that beautiful movie, with such an interesting female lead character that is an outlaw, but with a heart of gold. Miss Happy is a gem, a very unique film that I am sure is destined to get a wide recognition.
It is a ‘Storybook movie’ shot using miniatures in a live action/animation style that lets the story move the characters. I love the story that writer and director Wendy Wolverton crafted in an impeccable way.
Miss Happy, a side-saddle riding misfit female outlaw who robs a legendary treasure from a California mission, while trying to elude the Marshall and Posse, meets the mission orphans and a nun who help her confront her own destiny in a way that is just positive, hopeful and sweet and reminds us of values such as equal opportunities and friendship.
Also, both Director and Producer are two experts in the industry, so they share a specific vision and they know how to communicate it. This made the writing process very easy and enjoyable for me.
Currently I am working on a film called “Amuse”, written and directed by Salemah Gabriel and produced by Sooraj Vaidya and David Haye.
The protagonist, Andy, played by the rising talent Mélissa Guérin Torres, is a dancer grappling with what she believes to be a frivolous existence. Drew, played by actor Sam Thakur, is a workaholic who has it all figured out. When the two paths collide, Drew and Andy are forced to rethink the meaning of their lives. As Andy falls deeper into herself to make sense of a senseless world, Drew looks outward. By seeking purpose in his work and the validation of others, he rides the roller coaster of corporate highs and major lows.
The fate of these two characters comes to a head in a realization that the human experience is messy and the thing that brings perspective to a life is often not what’s expected nor desired.
When Salemah first got in touch with me, she didn’t know about my past as a professional dancer and I didn’t know that she is a dancer herself. During our first meeting, we immediately felt connected and told each other how incredible life it is in terms of putting the right people on your path at the right moment. I am so grateful that today I can call such inspiring projects work!
ON top of that, since music is not only what I do, it is who I am, it just feels right to create the music that will help tell a story that is so similar to my own experience. Amuse, being (and I use the exact definition the Director has for it) a tale of choice and redemption, talks about themes that many people encounter time and time again while stumbling through the journey of life. I am sure that this film will not only entertain, but also touch the viewers and will leave them with good food for thoughts.
I am also attached to this film because I will have the honor to record the score with a wonderful cellist, whom I can’t name yet, who’s featured in soundtracks by composers like David Newman, John Debney, Hans Zimmer and Michael Giacchino.. So far, I wrote a couple of tracks, a tango and a waltz, that were used for filming, and I am now writing another orchestral theme. I am looking forward to the day we record!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
As said, being based in Los Angeles, I get to meet many of the professionals in the industry, including the most prominent film composers. What really impresses me every time I talk to one of them is their humbleness and total dedication to their job. Writing music for films is a craft that needs days and nights spent refining your music writing and production skills, often on very tight deadlines, so, true passion and an extreme level of commitment are always required. There is no room for any kind of “prima-donna behavior” and every single composer I met has been an example to me because of this.
Furthermore, these composers make me question every time: am I good enough? Am I doing my best? Am I doing all I can?
Even the biggest names in the field are aware that this is a career where you are never “done”, you never know it all. A new film is often a new challenge for them, too, as there is no one project like the others, no director’s vision is the same of another. You always have to listen, to understand, to learn. Very exciting and stimulating!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Take care of your creativity and inspiration. Never forget why you chose to sit at the composer’s desk in the first place.
A career in the film industry isn’t a smooth path, it is more like a roller coaster ride, so it is important to stay physically and psychologically healthy, hence focused. This way, when after the “ups” the time for “downs” comes, you can have the clarity of mind to see the bigger picture, to look positively at your goals.
In my case, as an immigrant pursuing my dreams, I remind myself that, no matter what, every morning that I wake up in L.A. I am offered opportunities, I am living my dream. And I have both the right and the the duty to make the best out of this situation.
Let me tell you, it is not easy, there is no guarantee that you’ll succeed, but the moment you give up, well, then you are failing for sure and I simply don’t want to go there. Luckily enough the industry moves such at a high speed that you don’t have the time to cry over spilled milk if a setback comes or something doesn’t go the way you expected. On the other side, you are always asked to make fast end effective career choices, and this is another reason why it is important to stay focused and balanced.
This career needs you to know yourself better and better and being able to recognize the “red flag” when something is not working both inside or outside of you. The earlier you are able to make choices to avoid a “crisis”, the better. Again, time flies at rocket speed in the industry. You need to be proactive.
This is a job where you need to be able to deal with rejection and where your work is constantly analyzed and criticized, because with your music you are serving a story. It is important to try and maintain an objective point of view on your work and yourself as a professional.
Last but not least, just enjoy the ride. After all, you can look at yourself like at a wizard behind the scenes. Music is a powerful tool and if you do a great job, it will complement the storytelling!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
More than a movement, there is an idea that came into my mind when I was researching and working on the lyrics I wrote for Today (Say No To Child Labour) the song for ILO I mentioned at the beginning. In this globalized world, every day, we touch, buy, use items that might have seen the labor of children. From chocolate, to coffee, to clothes and toys, I would love to be able to buy products knowing that they don’t include child labor exploitation. So, how about creating a global certification that says “Child Labor Free”? Children have the right to stay with their families, to get an education, to play, to develop social skills and to follow their aspirations. As a consumer, and former educator of twenty years, I would appreciate knowing that I am buying an item that doesn’t take that away from them.
This is an idea I had in 2012 and now I see that it’s happening. I browsed the internet and found out. It made me really happy!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Success is waking up in the morning and bounding out of bed because there’s something out there you love to do, that you believe in, that you’re good at — something that’s bigger than you are, and you can hardly wait to get at it again today…” . This quote represents the feeling I wake up every day with. I feel a force inside of me guiding me… the same force that guided me to leave Italy and follow my dreams, the same I feel when I sit at the piano and write or when I perform…
It is a quote by Vadim Zeland, the author of “Reality Transforming”, a philosophy I suggest to check out, if you don’t know about ti already.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I was born in Turin and I spent my childhood in a small country town. At that time we didn’t have internet and the vision of the world we had came from television, films and, for me as a little bookworm, books. It was all about dreaming, more than discovering things interactively. When I turned twelve, my godmother took me to Paris. I had never travelled abroad before. Seeing Paris, all these people coming from around the world, all that art and artists opened my heart to the desire of following my dreams and go get chances wherever in the world they are. I stil remember the excitement when I was packing!
Not only that, she set an example for me keeping always a positive attitude toward life. She thought me that the most valuable thing in your life is the freedom to make choices, to dare to think outside the box and to go the unusual way if this is what makes you happy.
She also had very deep spiritual values and a strong ethic and I learned from her the respect for every single person, as when you first meet somebody you don’t know what is the journey that brought them to you.
This spiritual and moral values are also my strength in such a career oriented environment and taught me that you can build a career being through to yourself. This is why I keep on reaching for projects with a meaning.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
It would definitely be Rachel Portman.
Not only she built an amazing career as a film composer, being the first woman to win an Academy Award for her music for “Emma”, but she navigates the industry with such a discretion and grace that sets a wonderful example on how a woman can create her own amazing path in a male dominated field (woman film composers are about two percent of the category).
I love her music style, you can hear she has got consistent musical training and, since the moment I watched “Never Let Me Go”, I cannot think of a better reference for my work.
I am sure that talking to her would give me so much inspiration and that her advice would be priceless!
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!