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Jonathan Sheffer

Jonathan Sheffer

By Patrick Samuel • March 29th, 2010
Static Mass Rating: 4/5

Release date: December 27th 2004
Certificate (UK): PG
Running time: 87 minutes
Year of production: 1988

Director: Howard Brookner
Composer: Jonathan Sheffer
Writers: Howard Brookner, Colman deKay, Randy Quaid

Cast: Madonna, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Grey, Julie Hagerty, Rutger Hauer, Esai Morales, Anita Morris, Ethan Phillips, Madeleine Potter, Randy Quaid

Bloodhounds Of Broadway
Jonathan Sheffer Official Website

Jonathan Sheffer has worked as a conductor on film scores for the past 25 years. His credits include Alien³ (1992), Batman Returns (1992), Interview With The Vampire (1994), Heat (1995) and most recently Public Enemies (2009).

For Bloodhounds Of Broadway, a 1988 film directed by Howard Brookner and starring Madonna, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Grey and Rutger Hauer, Sheffer worked as both musical arranger and composer and now joins us for a chat to talk about how the musical aspects of the film were handled.

Exclusive Interview With Jonathan Sheffer
Bloodhounds of Broadway went through some changes in post-production including re-cuts as well re-working the musical elements, was this when you were brought in to work on the movie?

“The movie went through two changes of regimes at Columbia pictures, and each successive studio head had to decide whether to release it or go direct to video. I’m not aware of specific editorial changes during the distribution limbo, but I recall vividly that when I went to see the movie in NY it seemed to me that it was screened without Reel 11. As a result, one of Madonna’s songs was missing. But you may be right that more specific editorial changes took place than I was aware of.”

Can you tell me a little bit about what the music was like originally and why it was changed?

“The music was not changed significantly, no more than any film I’ve ever scored. It has often been my experience that the final score is recut on the dub stage.”

When the decision was made to replace the band behind the singers, the musicians had a tough task ahead of them didn’t they?

“Most definitely! It was the single most difficult tracking I’ve ever tried to do, since the original songs were recorded without click. I created a variable click to go with the original chart, then re-orchestrated the songs, to keep them in the instrumentation of the on-camera band, something that had not been done the first time around. Nothing makes me crazier when watching a film that the disconnect between onscreen musicians and the real arrangements!”

Exclusive Interview With Jonathan Sheffer

This also means that you got to work on the bare vocals from Madonna and Jennifer Grey doesn’t it?

“Yes, we stripped everything away except their final vocals.”

Since I Surrender Dear is the only song in the movie they both sing on, was there anything that struck you in the quality of their voices?

“Vocals without any backing track or reverb generally sound rather raw. This was no exception.”

As this was pre-Mac and Protools, what kind of equipment were you using to score movies in the late ‘80’s and how has this changed for you over the years?

“Although I had used Performer on my Mac SE on earlier LA projects, where use of computers was in full swing, with supporting studio music production staffs, this was a NY-based production, which was still, at this point, a little more “hand-made”. I used a click book to determine hit points and tempi, and I wrote out all my orchestrations by hand. Fortunately, I had terrific talent in the musicians from Vince Giordano’s band, The Nighthawks, who were all proficient jazz improvisers. As a result, I didn’t need to fully arrange all the source music, but merely put piano parts on the stands and let them blow. I still delight in the results, which have a spontaneous quality that is usually absent in scores that use a lot of sequencing and computers and click.”

Exclusive Interview With Jonathan Sheffer

Are there any songs you worked on that didn’t end up in the final cut?

“I haven’t watched the movie in 20 years, but I think all the songs we worked on were in the cut released on LaserDisk (!) after the theatrical run.”

Do you have a particular favourite number or piece you are proudest of which appears in the film?

“I’m terribly proud of this score, which I researched extensively, in order to capture the feeling of early jazz (pre-swing). I drew on the sounds of Jimmy Lunceford, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong and Django Rheinhardt, and added some Gershwin to the mix, topped off with what felt like very contemporary sounds provided by synthesist David vanTieghem. There’s no piece that I don’t think really hit the mark, which is a rare feeling, at least for me!”

Exclusive Interview With Jonathan Sheffer

How long did you spend working on Bloodhounds of Broadway?

“I don’t really recall, maybe 3-4 months. I recall that I wanted the job very keenly, because I had heard about the film and its amazing cast since shooting began. Sadly, the brilliant director, Howard Brookner, was in the last stages of his battle with AIDS during the recording sessions, which he witnessed from his wheelchair in the control room. It remains an exciting and very sad memory in my life.”

Has there been one thing which has remained a constant for you in scoring for the past 25 years?

“I don’t see any common thread in my film work, just a catalogue of alternately thrilling, challenging, frustrating moments. I think I had great opportunities as a composer at a time in my life when I was not quite ready to humbly serve the directors’ visions. As a result there was a bit more skirmishing than one might have wished! Nowadays I find it far easier to conform to whatever is asked of me, and I think my responses to picture have gotten more subtle as well.

As for my conducting other composers’ scores, that experience opened my mind and my ears in ways that changed my composing, and was the launching of my conducting career, which grew enormously, and for that I am truly grateful. After further study and hundreds of concerts, ballet and opera productions, for a while the conducting of scoring sessions felt rote to me. But now I find a lot of joy just being in the mix. Music production is exciting! And the privilege of being among great musicians deepens with age.”

Bloodhounds Of Broadway is a film I tend to often revisit. With its all-star cast in a roaring (albeit late) 1920’s setting the film is impossible to imagine without its music. For that reason it’s been absolutely delightful to talk about it with someone who helped make it possible and to get such an insight into a much treasured childhood gem.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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