We Create Music Blog
November 01, 2013

Film Music Friday: Jeff Cardoni on A Perfect Man

Jeff Cardoni

Jeff Cardoni

When Jeff Cardoni's biography is written, 2012-2013 will surely be remembered as his golden age. With TV series like The Defenders, The League, WilfredFull Circle and The Michael J. Fox Show on his scoring docket, plus the documentary Teach and an unending slate of respected indie films, Cardoni's got an enviably busy - and creatively varied - career at the moment. We stole him away from the studio to chat about his latest film A Perfect Man - a unique romance about a philandering husband who unknowingly falls back in love with his wife over the phone.

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You’ve taken on so many projects this past year. What stood out about A Perfect Man such that you wanted to take it on?

A Perfect Man was actually done last year, but it was still just as busy a period for me on other projects. I believe I was on CSI:Miami, The Defenders and The League at the time. I was referred to director Kees Van Oostrum from the producer on a film I had just scored. He asked me to screen the film at The Lot in Hollywood, and as I was watching by myself in an empty theater, I kept thinking to myself "I have to score this film!" I tried to keep a poker face when I walked out and sat down with Kees, but I went home that night and wrote a few cues from watching it and that sealed the deal. I was drawn to the film because of the acting, the visuals (Kees is a pretty renowned cinematographer as well), and the fact that it was a drama with the opportunity to really have music play a role in the film.

Did you have dedicated time that you could devote fully to A Perfect Man, or did you have to juggle writing for it with your other projects? Was there any creative “bleed” from one project to the next?

You know, I find that the busier I am, the more productive I am. Somehow my brain seems to step up and rise to the occasion if it gets really busy, but I wouldn't have it any other way. All of the projects that I was on were so different that keeping each separate wasn't really an issue. One benefit of not being pigeonholed as a composer yet is that I get to work on a wide variety of styles, which creatively keeps it interesting and varied.

Did the instrumentation change at all from conception to execution?

Not really. I knew that the score was going to be pretty emotional as well as dramatic and a bit whimsical. So we knew from day one that we'd use an orchestra for sure. But I wanted to find a few unique instruments for the lighter moments to offset it a bit. At the end of the day I ended up using a 35-piece string orchestra, harp, autoharp, the Moog guitar and bowed saw - you can hear it in many of the cues, sometimes more subdued and textural. It always seemed to add a unique sound that gave a bit of personality to some cues to balance out the more traditional strings and piano.

A Perfect Man has romance and quirk, but also some pretty serious pathos in there. How’d you get that emotional balance just right in your score? 

It's always a fine line to get the emotional moments right without being melodramatic. I love going for the heartstrings but you have to be careful these days, or it can be a bit too much. I think, again, adding a few unique instruments helped with the varied tone, and then just really keeping it simple and not too overbearing on the more serious things, so the dichotomy of the emotions wasn't too jarring or manipulative. But we weren't afraid for the music to be a character in this film, which honestly attracted me to it, because it didn't have to be so subtle.

In a way, both Liev Schreiber and Jeanne Tripplehorn’s characters are duplicitous in this film - though in very different ways. Did that mutual “secret-having” get expressed at all in your score?

I suppose it did in a subliminal way. It was interesting because the opening cue of the film is a song, which starts as score and then turns into source when the characters meet in the bar in the first scene. And it's a total misdirect, without saying too much, because they are, at least metaphorically, not what they seem. But musically, this song plays most of the thematic material that comes later in the film, hopefully without giving anything away.

I’ve read that you’re pretty proud of your main theme. Can you tell me why? 

I'm just old-fashioned in the sense that I am a fan of melodic scores. The composers that influenced me most, from Jerry Goldsmith to James Horner, many times took a simple melody and somehow cleverly weaved it into almost every cue in their scores. As far as A Perfect Man, I was most satisfied that when I went home for that initial screening, I sat at the piano with a piece of manuscript paper and came up with the simple melody that became the theme and it stuck through the whole process. It just felt right and totally organic to my initial viewing of the film.

It's rare that the first thing that comes to you ends up being the piece of music that you hang the whole score on, so when it does, it just feels right. I'd like to think that after watching the film, if you heard the melody it would tie you back to the film. The only other time that happened to me was for a film called Just Friends that I scored a few years back, where same thing, the first melody that I came up with ended making it through until the end. That's when you feel like maybe you actually were the right guy for that job!

What was it like putting on the songwriter hat when you were writing “For This Sin?” Did you have to flex some writerly muscles that you don’t often get to use?

It felt perfectly normal, because musically, it pretty much just played out all of the thematic material of the film, from the chord changes to the melodies. Also, I spent many years as a guitarist in touring bands, so even that muscle was not used as much lately, that comes back to you pretty quickly.

Lyrically was a bit tougher because I don't write lyrics as much, but I was pretty happy with them in that they were a bit ambiguous and hopefully a bit intellectual. But it was great fun to write a song that is linked to the score, and I think it works because of the visuals and the location as well - the shots of Amsterdam are so beautiful and let you know that this is not America, so tonally I think "For This Sin" works. Plus, where else do you get to write a song that clocks in at 5:30 and has a live orchestra playing on it?

I understand your wife, ASCAP writer Jules Larson, sang “For This Sin.” Must be nice to live with someone who can help you out with your work! Have you paid back the favor?

Absolutely! I'm very lucky - she's my secret weapon and such an amazing songwriting talent in her own right. We have two studios at our house and there are times where I ask her to help with some vocals and it's very convenient - plus, she's a great singer. And she knows lyrics, so it was nice to have her approve of my lyrics to sing, because if they were bad, she wouldn't want to put her voice on them!

As far as paying back the favor, I probably owe her a few. We actually met when she sang on a film score for me, and then through the years she's had her vocals on various films, The League theme song, The Michael J. Fox Show theme song, and probably a few more. I have done my part for her. I produced her last last record Let's Stay Young. But I'm lucky and grateful.

How has ASCAP made a difference in your music career?

ASCAP has helped my career in too many ways to count. To have an organization as powerful as ASCAP fighting on your behalf in the business now, but also anticipating changes in the future, is something very impactful to our future livelihoods. From internet streaming to digital downloads, the business is changing, but I feel much better knowing that some of the most powerful people in our industry at ASCAP are on our side. When you're just starting out, you don't realize how important performance royalties can be. But once you do, you want to protect them, and ASCAP is out there every day, fighting for our collective futures. That is an amazing thing.

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Get to know Jeff Cardoni at www.jeffcardoni.com or his Facebook page: facebook.com/jeffcardonimusic

A Perfect Man is now in theaters. Find out more about it at the IFC Films website.