British born composer Emily Rice is a member of the club of young composers who began as serious instrumentalists but angled into the path of composition. While many gifted performers seek the adulation of a live audience, a subset chooses instead to influence and affect generations of audiences by writing music to interact with other art forms; in Emily’s case, film and television. The choice to have your work be supportive and shine the spotlight on another’s performance implies both talent as well as a complementary nature. No doubt, her early years as a cellist in London taught her the importance of each individual’s role in an ensemble, as well as the emotional impact the entire group could elicit on an audience. Following a successful series of compositional endeavors in the UK, Rice began fielding offers from Hollywood with highly successful results.
Najmia is a film about the last days of a pregnant twelve-year old Yemini child bride before undergoing labour. The uneasiness of the subject matter in terms of social conformity and the life endangering experience of Najmia coupled with the presentation of this piece led to a win in 2015 at the Forum on Law, Culture, & Society’s International Short Film Competition. Ethical discussions were bound to arise concerning the situation in the film but Rice states, “Our main focus was to communicate the topic of humanity, especially towards the central character Najmia. The film ends ambiguously with Najmia giving birth and the audience is left not knowing whether she survives the labour or not. The film’s aim wasn’t to make judgment on child marriage and the pregnancies that result from these marriages, but to raise awareness about the need for proper midwife training and better sanitary conditions in these situations.” The film required a score that would match the intensity of the story being displayed on screen. The compositions Rice created more than achieved this goal, as proven by her nomination for Best Composer at the Underwire Film Festival in 2015 (Najmia has received four nominations in addition to those previously mentioned). Rice took some extra precautions to assist the filmmakers in avoiding any preconceptions by the audience. She comments, “We wanted the audience to come away thinking that Najmia could be any young woman, not just a young woman from the Middle East as depicted in the film, and this is why I avoided using ethnic instruments. Also, emotion is something that strings provide very effectively. As a string player (I started my musical life as a cellist), they were the obvious choice.” Emily used an early musical form known as a passacaglia as a base to create the cue in the climactic scene in which we realize that the main character is in trouble. The composer’s knowledge of the prejudices that we may carry with us helped the filmgoer experience the true message that was intended.
2015’s award winning Clone Counseling is a stark contrast in subject matter to Najmia. A comedy that concerns a man in couple’s therapy with his clone; the film needs to evoke a completely different color of the emotional spectrum when it comes to music. Emily worked hand in hand with Aaron Burch to compose a sonic backdrop to set the proper tone. The subject matter of technology and its contributions to society are not lost on Rice and her approach to composing as she utilizes a blend of organic instruments, loops, and electronics. Highly recognized composer Bruce Broughton (Academy award-nominated, Emmy award-winning, and ASCAP award-winning) recognizes Rice’s abilities and achievements. He relates, “In all of the musical combinations, whether large or small, whether with live musicians or with electronics, regardless of the demands of musical or dramatic style, Emily does a fine job in demonstrating her skill in approaching and successfully negotiating a broad range of contrasting and dissimilar requirements.”
As an artist who is cognizant of the evolution of TV and Film and the need for the compositions that accompany it to grow, Emily constantly seeks out new challenges and ways to widen her palette. In addition to live action films, animation has been popular for many decades and continues to change with technology. As continued validation that Rice is clearly a respected and contemporary member of the film and music community, the Los Angeles Live Score Film Festival recognized and selected her to score the animated film Cowboys in a Saloon (awarded Best Picture at the Los Angeles Live Score Film Festival). The score was recorded by the LA based ultra modern ensemble the Helix Collective. Emily takes an active interest in the live music scene in Los Angeles but it is her deep love of film and television composing that drew her to the city and industry. Her achievements working on commercially successful films such as the Jerry Bruckheimer production “Deliver Us from Evil” (Grossing $65 MM) and the $100 MM Worldwide hit “The Last Witch Hunter”, starring Vin Diesel, have benefited from Rice’s focus as well as longer formats like the WGN’s TV series “Underground”.
Emily continues to immerse herself in new challenges and musical experiences here in Los Angeles. The composition and orchestration for 93 Days, about a Liberian-American racing against the clock in a foreign country against the Ebola influenced panic, demands an intensity and suspense similar to other big budget films. It’s a situation to which Rice has already proven herself to be more than appropriate to contribute. Firefly (2016, currently in production) sees Emily being challenged with the dichotomy of wonderment and suspense. The child’s perspective of Maya (the film’s central character) has led the composer to seek a nontraditional approach in order to bring something fresh to the story. The score of Firefly is based on musical motifs, including a “monster hunting” theme. Rice reveals, “The ‘monster hunting’ theme is quite rhythmic as it accompanies Maya while she prepares traps for the imaginative monster. I’ve also used a lot of instruments that are typically ‘light’ to reflect the childlike qualities in the story…mostly harp, piano, celeste, and a small amount or strings and percussion.” Sometimes it takes a light touch and approach in a score to leave a strong impression.