Ariel Marx: Music to filmmakers’ ears

15 Feb

For as long as she can remember, Ariel Marx has been surrounded by musicians. From her family to her friends as a youth, and then to her college roommates, her world has been filled with music and with those making it.

Ariel Marx and Jason Ritter SundanceAriel with actor Jason Ritter at the Sundance premiere of “The Tale”

Ariel Marx has been making it as well for a long time, including for two films that premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. In Park City, her scores included the highly-regarded Jennifer Fox film “The Tale,” which stars Laura Dern, Jason Ritter and Common, and has been acquired by HBO; and a short film called “Hair Wolf” that takes place in Brooklyn. That film hit close to home, as she lives in New York City and is a member of the Adjunct Faculty at New York University.

She has also scored for dramas “West of Her” and “By Jingo,” as well as comedy TV series “UnChartered” and “The Prisoners.” You may have enjoyed her contributions to “Blind” starring Demi Moore and Alex Baldwin, Showtime’s “The Affair” with Dominic West and Ruth Wilson, and “Wonder” with Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson.

An accomplished musician on keyboards and many string instruments, she found her way to composition when she realized that “my biggest inspiration for music was through visual images. I love the multi-media experience, and the idea of not just writing for writing’s sake. I love being part of a team. It’s what drew me to filmmaking.”

Ariel Marx and Melanie Lynskey

With actress Melanie Lynskey at Sundance

While studying for her Master’s Degree at NYU, she was chosen to participate in the Columbia/ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop. She wrote music for a film called “Dear Mother,” and one of the filmmakers was also involved in the early development of “The Tale,” which led to Ariel’s meeting director Jennifer Fox.

“She had a vision for ‘The Tale,’ which is really a portrayal of a woman’s relationship with a memory,” Ariel says of Fox’s powerful and touching film. “With ‘The Tale,’ the cut was locked (finally edited) when I started working on. So, I was able to take the sentiment of the film and started playing around with a melody.”

She dug into the film’s pivotal moments first, “writing four or five minutes of a suite. It’s different with every film I’ve done, but I think it’s most valuable to start with those moments with the largest emotion. I knew the score for ‘The Tale’ had to honor the juxtapositions of the story—it had to mold to Jennifer’s view of the story she was telling. It’s been a very gratifying experience working on this film.”

For composers, every film differs as much as its director. Ariel said deciding where to start is always the biggest challenge, because not all films are locked cuts. Sometimes, she has to compose based on a filmmaker’s concept, before some scenes are shot.

“I love experimenting with different sounds,” she said. “My ideal project is just a bit of a playground, breaking a few rules and then getting back to the convention. I’m very interested in modifying sound, and I love collaborating with other composers because we often need to depend on each other—we can’t play everything.”

Sundance audiences loved “The Tale.” Though the story is a bit dark and certainly disturbing, its message resonated with those who gave Fox and the cast a standing ovation. Ariel was proud to be part of the creative team.

She is busy finishing the score for a film nearing completion and has plans to work on another feature after that. Still, she says that “I’m somewhat new to this world, and I’m looking forward to getting a lot more involved. It feels like this is a great and amazing time to be in the business. A lot of creative voices are being heard. Technology has afforded people from all different backgrounds a chance to come into this industry. You don’t need a huge orchestration background. It’s a very explorative time.”

Photos by Impact24 PR (Jason Ritter) and Tom Haraldsen (Melanie Lynskey)

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