Dara Taylor has emerged as a fresh voice in the world of scoring music to picture as evidenced by her score to the Amazon Studios film “The Tender Bar,” directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker George Clooney and her co-score to the Lionsgate comedy “Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar” starring Kristen Wiig and Jamie Dornan. Her credits include the action crime drama “Echo Boomers” starring Michael Shannon, the Netflix series “Bookmarks,” the Netflix docu-series “Trial By Media,” the FX series “Pride” and the Karen Allen-starring film “Colewell,” for which she won a 2019 Hollywood Music in Media award.
As a score producer and composer for Chris Lennertz, she has contributed to major motion picture films and series including “Bad Moms,” the action-comedy sequel “Shaft,” Amazon’s highly acclaimed television series “The Boys,” Netflix’s sci-fi series “Lost in Space,” “The Happytime Murders,” “Uglydolls,” and the long-running CW show “Supernatural.” In 2015, she was nominated for a Hollywood Music in Media Award for her score on the short film “Undetectable,” and in 2016, she participated in the Women in Film’s Women Composers in Media concert. In 2018, she was chosen as a fellow for the Sundance Institute Composers Lab and the following year she was chosen as one of the BMI Conducting for Composers Fellows. In 2021, she was chosen for both the Grammy NEXT program and the coveted Universal Composers Initiative.
She is a proud Executive Committee member for the Composers Diversity Collective, as well as a member of the Television Academy, the Recording Academy, the Society of Composers and Lyricists, the Alliance of Women Film Composers, and Women in Media.
Tara Karajica talks to Dara Taylor about her career, women in film and her score for Academy Award-winning filmmaker George Clooney’s Amazon Studios film, “The Tender Bar.”
What made you want to become a film composer?
Dara Taylor: I always loved music, but I wasn’t sure how to channel it. I knew I didn’t want to be a professional performer, so when I first discovered composition in college I held on tight and haven’t let go since. I discovered film composition specifically during my Sophomore year of college, listening to Harry Gregson Williams’s score for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and something just kind of clicked that said: “Hmmm…Maybe it’s this. Maybe this is my avenue.”
How do you tap into what music makes you feel in order to find the perfect sound to accompany the images and the special moments that transport us to another place, another time and even another world when we are watching a film or a series?
D.T.: Usually, the first place I start, both in conversations with filmmakers and in writing, is instrumental and palette. I find that I first have to find the voice of the character, film, location, etc, in order to effectively write in it. From there, there is a lot of play, testing some things out, deleting a lot, and chipping away until the next click.
How do you get in the zone? Does your creative process differ from project to project? Do you have rituals?
D.T.: A lot of my rituals are mostly about clearing things out of my schedule. I like to schedule as many meetings as I can on a single day or two, that way I have as clear a day as I can to sit and write. I am also a morning person, so it’s about getting up, usually before sunset, getting a cup of coffee, and getting into the zone before the rest of the world wakes up and starts emailing me!
Can you talk about scoring The Tender Bar and working with George Clooney? How did you get on board this project?
D.T.: The Tender Bar is such a beautifully charming story about self-discovery and rediscovery as a result of life’s challenges and opportunities. In turn, working with George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and the entire team was certainly an incredible opportunity for me and an amazing experience overall. George gave such insightful feedback about tone to really highlight the emotional beats the score accompanies.
How would you characterize this particular score?
D.T.: The main tone that George emphasized was a sort of bittersweet melancholy and I believe we accomplished that in instrumentation and melodic content. The other part of this score is that it is interspersed between a great deal of amazing needle drops. So instrumentation wise, we wanted to find something that folded into the vernacular, but still spoke for itself.
Can you talk about your other projects? Do you have any favorites among the films that you scored? Can you talk about these experiences?
D.T.: I’ve been fortunate to work on a wide variety of projects and scores and have a special place in my heart for all of them. Last year, I co-scored Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar with Christopher Lennertz. A film directed by Josh Greenbaum and written, produced, and starring Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo and what a crazy fun adventure that was! It was a very different film and score than The Tender Bar, but there are experiences that are common throughout all film, especially pandemic films, and that’s the collaboration between humans just trying to create and live in this strange new world.
There are more and more female composers today. Can you talk about being one of them today and who was your inspiration when you decided to become a film composer?
D.T.: The landscape is becoming more equitable by the year, especially looking at composers coming up through college programs now, and it’s a beautiful sight. I always say that for me personally, the best thing I can do for any sort of movement is just be visible. I looked up to – and still do – mostly male composers growing up, but I feel fortunate to have an increasing number of women role models and colleagues.
In that sense, what is your opinion on the situation of women in film today? Do you see any changes in the film industry when it comes to female film composers?
D.T.: We, of course, still have a long way to go, but the trend that I’m starting to see now, and this is a definite effect of the increasingly meaningful advocacy of studios, is that we’re hopefully coming out of the age of what I call “cluster projects” where there is a movie about a black woman, so they find all the black women in various fields and put them on said project. And, of course, there is something to say about living an experience closer to the one depicted on screen, but the real equity comes when anyone can work on any project based on their skill, their voice, and their vibe, regardless of demographics and I’m hopeful that we’re getting closer to that.
What was the best advice you received when you started out? And, what would you say to a young girl who wants to be a film composer now? What advice would you give her?
D.T.: I think there are a lot of old adages out there and some of them gain or lose relevance over time, but I’d say that one that continues to shine true is that of being generally helpful. Help as many people as you can as early as you can. Those relationships tend to blossom and it’s great to have people in this industry that have your back. I’d also tell people nowadays not to be afraid to forge their own path. Again, there are a few constants out there, but with the ever-changing world, the industry changes as well and you might get farther than you think just by being yourself instead of trying to fit some mold you read in books and interviews.
Do you have a favorite female filmmaker and one you would like to work with?
D.T.: I love so many, I’m not sure I have a “favorite” per se, but I absolutely love what Rebecca Sonnenshine has been doing. Archive 81, I thought, was an incredible show that kept you guessing and paid off majorly at the end of the season. I’d love to work with anyone who can make something so powerful.
What would you say your sound is? What would you want your audience to feel when they hear your scores?
D.T.: I think my sound changes from project to project and as I learn and grow in my career and in life. Right now, I want people to feel the joy I feel as I write it. That doesn’t always mean that it’s happy music, but that it’s deeply felt and tied to the nuances of the narrative.
According to you, what is the best score ever? And, what is your favorite one?
D.T.: That’s hard to say, like I’ve said a few times, things change as I change and the world changes. Music is so subjective, so I’d never call anything the “best” as much as I’d never call anything the “worst.” There are some scores and composers that have excited me quite a bit as of late though and those would have to be The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by Theodore Shapiro, The Secret Life of Pets by Alexandre Desplat, If Beale Street Could Talk by Nicolas Britell, and Us by Michael Abels, all for different reasons.
What are your next projects?
D.T.: Next on deck for me is Netflix’s The Noel Diary, directed by Charles Shyer and starring Justin Hartley.
Photo credits: Courtesy of White Bear PR.