Movies

Behind the Doc: Composer Jeremy Nathan Tisser Discusses We Stand Corrected: Dannemora

Inmates escape prisons all the time, but most of the time they don’t make headlines the way the 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility escape did. The Showtime series, Escape to Dannemora, was based on the events, along with the Gravitas Ventures’ documentary We Stand Corrected: Dannemora. The documentary was told from the point of view of the correctional officers who worked at Clinton Correctional Facility at the time Richard Matt and David Sweat carried out their elaborate escape plan. It also gives an in-depth account of what goes on behind the walls of the maximum-security prison. We wanted to learn more about this captivating documentary, so we spoke with someone wo worked on the film, composer Jeremy Nathan Tisser. Below Jeremy talks about the process of bringing the film to life, through the score. You can currently watch We Stand Corrected: Dannemora for free on Tubi.

Inmates escape prisons all the time, but most of the time they don’t make headlines the way the 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility escape did. The Showtime series, Escape to Dannemora, was based on the events, along with the Gravitas Ventures’ documentary We Stand Corrected: Dannemora. The documentary was told from the point of view of the correctional officers who worked at Clinton Correctional Facility at the time Richard Matt and David Sweat carried out their elaborate escape plan. It also gives an in-depth account of what goes on behind the walls of the maximum-security prison. We wanted to learn more about this captivating documentary, so we spoke with someone wo worked on the film, composer Jeremy Nathan Tisser. Below Jeremy talks about the process of bringing the film to life, through the score. You can currently watch We Stand Corrected: Dannemora for free on Tubi.

How did you decide on an initial sound palate for the We Stand Corrected: Dannemora

This was decided over the course of many discussions. When Richie Elson, the director, first came over to show me the project, he hadn’t cut anything together yet. He had just started his interview process and wanted to show me all of the pictures and documents he had discovered. We tossed around the idea of going full orchestral as this is one of America’s oldest prisons, and we thought it would be nice to have a more ‘Americana’ sound. After the film was cut together, we realized that was going to work. We needed something a little darker and much more subtle. We landed on the idea of a solo piano melody with some light strings and synth to symbolize the town’s isolation from the big cities. Dannemora is a very small and intimate town that centers around the prison, so the sound of the documentary we felt should be more intimate.

At what point were you brought on to We Stand Corrected: Dannemora? Is it more challenging to begin work when it is already complete or still in production?

I was brought on to the documentary sometime in late 2016. Richie wanted me to start brainstorming thematic ideas while he cut together the documentary. As the project progressed, he’d send me new discoveries he’d made, and we’d have more discussions. I knew the concept I wanted for the main theme almost right away. For me, it’s a bigger challenge to work on something that is still in production. Music’s job is to serve the picture and the story, without getting in the way of dialogue. This is crucial in any film or television series, but more so in a documentary. It was impossible on this film to write any actual music until Richie began cutting the film together, because we didn’t know how long each interview would end up, or where the transitions would be. The music needed to support the interviews, and then soar in the spaces between dialogue with the melodies.

What instrument did you find created the most intensity for project?

We used just a couple of soft synth sounds that I designed in the computer for the intense moments in the project. I think the synths were Diva and Zebra, both from uHe. I also designed a couple of sounds with my modular synth rig. I created a pulsing bass, as well as some dark pads. We used these under the strings when we need some intensity

You have scored a lot of popular video games. How is scoring a project like We Stand Corrected different than video games?

With a project like We Stand Corrected: Dannemora, you’re really locked into the timing of the dialogue. You may have someone sitting in a chair talking for a good minute or longer, and the music needs to enhance the story without detracting from the speaker, while still moving the project along. Subtlety was the key in this project. With the games I’ve scored, I’m often asked to write big percussion grooves underneath a full orchestra playing their hearts out. Even if the score is all MIDI, done in the computer, the game developers I’ve worked with still want that big ‘Hollywood’ sound. Since I’m not locked to picture and dialogue timings most of the time in video games, there’s often more creative freedom to really develop a tune or idea.

Who decides the volume of the score before? Some scenes are a lot louder than others, like the one when Cuomo is investigating how the inmates dug the hole and escaped?

This is done at the final stage of the film. Once the music is finished, we move to the mix stage or “dub stage”, as it’s referred to in Hollywood. Here, the mixers take the dialogue, sound effects, and music, and they mix it all together to try and create what looks and sounds like a cohesive project with all three sound elements working together, almost as a single unit. The music needs to always be there to enhance dialogue without getting in the way, as I mentioned. However, when the dialogue goes away, we may turn the music up a bit to try and elicit certain emotions that match the picture. But also, if the music is too low when there’s no dialogue, the audience feels as if something is missing from the project. So to fill the space, we may turn up the music within those gaps.

Where did you get your musical inspiration for the doc? Did you watch other like projects before starting this one?

For this project, the inspiration really came from the story itself. It’s so much deeper than a simple breakout. It took years of budget cuts and system failure for the conditions to be exactly right. People always ask, “how could they have let this happen?” In 140 years, not a single inmate had ever successfully escaped, so the state said “why are we spending all this money? It’s safe”. From that moment on, everything began falling apart. I personally avoided watching similar projects while working on this, because I wanted to come up with something unique and special to this story alone.

During this recent time of quarantine, did you binge watch anything in particular that you would recommend?

I went back and watched Star Trek: The Next Generation. What an incredible piece of entertainment history, and the quality still holds today! This show reignited Star Trek, leading to multiple television shows, nearly 2 dozen films, and an entire fan culture dedicated to creating fan films! My 2 year old daughter loves it!

What projects are you currently working on?

At the moment, I’m working hard on my solo album. It’s a prog rock record. There’s a few film and game projects coming up, but not anything I can mention publicly yet. You’ll have to wait for those announcements. In the meantime, feel free to visit my website at www.jeremynathantisser.com, or you can follow me on Instagram @jntmusic, and twitter @jeremytisser. Stay safe, stay healthy, wear a mask, and wash your hands!

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Jim Napier

Jim Napier

Jim has been a self-proclaimed super geek ever since he got his first computer all the way back in 1992– and he has been ‘plugged in’ ever since. Fed by a steady diet of movies as a kid, he has expanded to new platforms to fuel his inner geek! Movies continue to feed Jim’s creative side, while technology is constantly changing and creating new toys that woo and draw him in!