Slaight Music Residency Spotlight: Alumnus and 'Never Steady, Never Still' Composer Ben Fox

By Emily Gagne ● March 09, 2018 15:00

The CFC is currently seeking nominations for the next Slaight Music Residency, a creative and business initiative for Canadian composers and songwriters. In the coming weeks, we’re going to highlight several Slaight Music Residency alumni through featured Q&As, during which we will discuss their past, present and future work in the screen-based entertainment industry.

Our first Slaight Music Residency Spotlight focuses on Ben Fox, alumnus of the 2015 Slaight Music Residency. Ben is up for a Canadian Screen Award (Achievement in Music – Original Score) for his work on alumni film Never Steady, Never Still.

Beyond musical ability, what practical and creative skills do you feel are necessary to succeed in composing for the screen-based entertainment industry? How did the CFC help you hone these?

Being able to think like a filmmaker is so, so crucial to success as a composer. You have to constantly keep your eye on the big picture and be working towards the creative and narrative goals of the film.

Every director is completely different, and the way they approach and understand music can vary wildly. So, it’s composer’s job not only to make great music, but to be a true ally of the director. You have to be the teammate that can speak their language and translate their vision into the music that will enrich their film in ways that only your voice can. And I think the way the CFC’s labs all work together really stresses the importance of being a great collaborator and arms you with the skills to succeed in those relationships going forward.

A still from Never Steady, Never Still. 

You composed music for Never Steady, Never Still, which Kathleen Hepburn developed during her time at the Cineplex Entertainment Film Program. How did your process change as the project grew from a short film to a feature?

Collaborating work with Kathleen on the short was a really special opportunity, and one I think the whole team made the most of. It allowed us to develop the look and feel of the movie in a lower-stakes environment, sort of like a working rough draft.

Kathleen and I were able to hone the sound and feel of the score [on the short], and develop the working language and trust we’d bring with us to the feature. By the time the feature was in production, we already had a tremendous working relationship and knew where we wanted to go. A lot of the big picture questions had been ironed out, and we were able to hit the ground running with the whole team pulling in the same direction.

What advice do you have for aspiring composers, especially as they consider applying for the next Residency?

To be a working composer you have to be a bit of a chameleon, constantly shifting genres and styles and approaches as the project requires. But in all that shape shifting, it’s tremendously important not to lose track of your own creative voice.

Yes, you have to be able to tackle anything that gets thrown at you over the course of a project. But it’s crucial not to lose sight of the fact that you were hired for a reason. Your personal instincts and flavours and all the little things you love about music that inform how you go about making it—that’s what sets you apart. Don’t snuff all that good stuff out; embrace it and wear it with pride.

Musicians play together

Ben Fox with fellow alumni Laura Barrett, Michael Peter Olsen and Liam Titcomb. 

Want to nominate someone for the Slaight Music Residency? Here’s howPlease note that nominations are due by March 30, 2018.