November 19, 2018

Girls to the front: five minutes with Anisha Thomas

Anisha Thomas has been writing music to rebel against ‘The Man’ since she was knee-high. Today, this femme fatale is a force to be reckoned with, having worked on an impressive roll-call of projects, and now at the helm of her own production company, Sound-How. An inspiration for women everywhere, we sat down to pick Thomas’ brain about composing an award-winning film score.

When did you first decide you wanted to be a composer? 
Before I could remember– I’ve always loved coming up with my own tunes. I started piano at age 6, but my piano teacher at the time wasn’t happy with me composing. She wanted me to focus on practising, so I was initially discouraged. At the age of 14 though, I actually remember the moment where I felt I was being rebellious in choosing to write music. I would write everything from classical pieces to cheesy love or break-up ballads– I couldn’t hide it any longer. I have been writing music ever since.

Tell us one of your most vivid early memories of music.
My first ever performance at the Sydney Opera House was when I was 9 years old. It was a huge deal for me at the time. (Still sounds like a big deal! –Ed.) Back then, performing was a nerve-racking experience, but I was never one to face away from a challenge, and neither am I one to do now. I played a Bach Minuet.

I remember being really nervous, but there was an excitement about being on the Opera House stage. I made a few mistakes, and being a perfectionist then (and now) I wasn’t too thrilled about that, especially since I was performing alongside other young talented musicians! But I do remember feeling a sense of achievement that I still carry on with me, even today.

What do you enjoy most about screen composing?
When you compose music for a film, seeing that marriage between sound and visuals, and knowing that you were a part of that, is truly the most rewarding part for me. The music is unbelievably important – it becomes a crucial part of the story telling, the characters, the setting and the tone. You get to see your music come to life in a completely different way.

Tell us how you create screen music.
It usually starts with a conversation with the director, and sometimes the producer as well. Finding out the general tone of the film and the ‘sound they are looking for’ is crucial. Sometimes directors and producers are quite set on a particular sound, whilst other are more open to having ideas and suggestions.

Usually then comes a ‘spotting session’. This is when the composer, director and sometimes the producer will watch the movie together and look for ‘cues’ or places within the film where music would appropriately fit a scene or event. Sometimes this process happens long distance, especially if the director is overseas.

There’s a lot of back and forth dialogue between myself and the director. It can usually take at the very least three re-writes before the final version is complete. Live musicians will eventually be hired to record the score.

Tell us about Sound-how – the screen music production company you founded.
I wanted to establish a company that not only provided top quality sound services on and off screen, but was also socially aware. It’s also about making a difference to the music and screen industry in a way that could provide greater opportunities. Integrity and ethics can often lack in a lot of industries, including ours – and that’s speaking from personal experience!

Tell us about the award-winning film Curated Illusions that Sound-how produced music for.
It was truly an incredible experience. Curated Illusions tells the story of a young woman, Skye Reed, who is left with amnesia after an accident. She uses social media to rediscover who she is. However, she starts to realise that what is portrayed on social media is very different to reality. The film has a dark but emotive feel.

There is a strong message behind the film, and the music had to bring out this tone – I used piano, strings and some electronic synths, pads and ambient drones to create this. I also processed the piano electronically to echo the confusion that Skye feels. The strings were there to further enhance the emotion of the story.

Rachael Belle Myers, the writer, director and producer, worked hard to get the film recognised. A lot of female directors don’t get the same opportunities as their male counterparts, so it’s simply amazing to see more women having their stories told onscreen. Curated Illusions was awarded Best Film at the Cause Film Festival 2018.

What are you working on now?
At the moment I’m near completion on a score for a short film, called Prey. The director Joseph Guinto captures a very prominent issue that is often overlooked – domestic violence. Joseph has been amazing to work with – he’s been open to very different and unique ideas for the sound.

The score uses piano and a variety of orchestral instruments, but I also play around with synthesisers to help enhance the mood and the strong emotional impact of the story.

Anisha Thomas has written scores for both film and TV productions for a range of genres including comedy, drama, thriller, horror and documentary. In addition to composing music for screen, she has worked with the Australian Art Orchestra, Australian jazz legend Sandy Evans, composer Ursula Caporali and a variety of choreographers and dancers including. Annalouise Paul, another well-known figure in the dance and theatre industry. She holds a Bachelor of Music (Composition) from the esteemed Conservatorium of Music, Sydney

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