After getting her big break on Baz Luhrmann’s epic Australia (on which she co-composed additional music, and sung and co-wrote the song “By The Boab Tree”, which played over the end credits), Angela Little has been charging forward in the worlds of film, television and video games. As well as featuring as a vocalist on the soundtrack to Alex Proyas’ Gods Of Egypt, Little made her feature composing debut with the powerful documentary Zach’s Ceremony, which she then followed up with the scores for the teen sports flick Back Of The Net, the comedy Chocolate Oyster, and the television documentary miniseries How Mad Are You? Little now provides the musical backdrop for the new Aussie charmer Never Too Late, about a group of spirited Vietnam vets staging a breakout from their retirement home.
Can you tell us your journey to becoming a professional composer?
“I actually began my career wanting to be a filmmaker! Despite having studied classical music all through school and taking music for my HSC, when I left school I decided that I wanted to study film directing. It was only when I began making my own short films and writing music for them by default that my film school buddies realised I could also compose for their films too. Suddenly the lightbulb went on and I realised that being a film composer was the career that’d bring my two passions together! I was also in bands – I formed my own band called Ophelia Of The Spirits that was influenced by artists like Tori Amos and Cocteau Twins, and then I created an epic Celtic musical show which ended up touring festivals in Australia like Woodford and Port Fairy. It was all great experience, because a film composer needs to be very agile in terms of moving into different musical genres and styles, so everything I’ve done in different areas of music really prepared me well for being able to take on any film composing challenge!”
Is there any particular movie that inspired you to move into composing?
“In the beginning, the composer who most inspired me was Craig Armstrong. At a young age, I heard his score to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, which was just incredible. I wanted to write string arrangements like that! I also loved that Craig was so multifaceted; he worked on all kinds of projects including albums, theatre, and film. He really inspired me as an artist. My other inspiration is Thomas Newman. I admire every score of his, especially The Horse Whisperer – that was on repeat on my stereo for about a year when it first came out!”
You’re based between the US and Australia; is there a particular reason for that?
“I moved to Los Angeles in 2018 when I was awarded a scholarship bestowed by composer Alan Silvestri to undertake a Master Of Music at The University of Southern California. I knew that doing the course would make a huge difference to my ability to contribute to the industry both here in Australia and overseas, and I was really fortunate also to be supported in that goal by grants from The Australia Council For The Arts, The Ian Potter Cultural Trust, the PPCA, The American Australian Association, and The AMP Tomorrow Fund. It was the most amazing experience. I got to record my music with LA’s top session musicians at studios like Warner Brothers and Capitol Records, and I studied with world-renowned composers, including a personal mentorship with Thomas Newman. After I graduated, I continued to build up my network in Los Angeles and work on both film and video game projects there, and I’m now represented by Andrew Zack at The Gorfaine Schwartz Agency. In parallel, I’ve been continuing to work in Australia, focusing on a number of Australian feature films that have given me the chance to compose and record with live orchestral ensembles here in Sydney. My ultimate goal is to continue working on exciting projects that support the industry here at home and to continue to expand my reach internationally.”
How did you get the Never Too Late gig, and what was your pitch?
“Never Too Late actually came to me through two colleagues who were working on the film, one of whom I’d worked with before, and one of whom I’d known for a long time but had never had the chance to work with up to that point. They thought that I would be a great match for the project, and the discussion process started from there with me providing music samples for presentation to the director, who fortunately really loved them! From there I had a chat with the director and everything happened very naturally. We clicked right away.”
You were in LA working on Never Too Late; how did you manage to do that with the film being made in Sydney?
“Yes, I was in LA, and hoping to be able to come back to Sydney for the recording and mixing process – but the American authorities had my passport at the time (which sounds very James Bond-like, but in fact was just a matter of having to send it in for an ID check so they could issue me a US tax number, which ended up taking months)! Try as I might, I couldn’t get the passport back in time to fly, so we did the entire process remotely. Communication during the composing process was great. I had regular creative and feedback chats with director Mark Lamprell, and when it came to the recording day, my team and I (engineer, additional composer and orchestrator) holed up together in a studio in LA with our scores at the ready to monitor via SourceConnect while the score was recorded with live string ensemble and piano at Trackdown in Sydney. We had Christopher Gordon conducting, so the orchestra was in great hands, and I was able to give feedback and hear what was being laid down as if I was there in the room. We also had a video feed which allowed me to wave at the director occasionally, and him to give me a big thumbs up! We then mixed the project remotely, with the mixer and I having initial discussions to determine the overall approach, and then him sending me mixed cues for feedback and revisions, which was also a really successful process.”
You also scored Swimming For Gold. What approach did you take on that one, and what sort of collaboration did you have on it with the director, Hayley Macfarlane?
“Swimming For Gold was a film very much at the other end of the age spectrum! The main character, Claire Carpenter, played by Peyton List, is a young former champion swimmer who’s really struggling with her identity after she finds herself sent to Australia to coach a boys’ swim team rather than competing in the pool herself. Of course the musical approach needed to reflect the journey of this much younger character, and after discussions with director Hayley Macfarlane, we decided that the score would be influenced by contemporary uplifting pop/rock. But again, as with every story, it was also about finding the beating emotional heart, and as Hayley and I continued to collaborate on the score, I was also able to write some introspective moments.”
Apart from movies, what other projects do you work on, and does each medium have its own rewards/challenges?
“I also compose music for video games, and it’s quite a different medium to film, most obviously because it’s non-linear. So music for a game has to be written in a very different way; for example, often it needs to be loopable, and have different instrumental layers that can be programmed during implementation to be added or removed to affect the intensity of the music depending on the player’s actions. I actually love composing for both media and the variety of experience that they provide; it can be very liberating to compose to a still image or a brief and allow your imagination to run wild, but on the other hand, it’s also incredibly enjoyable to craft an intimately responsive emotional and character arc that corresponds to immediate changes and shifts in the story right in front of you!”
Are there other contemporary composers whose work you admire?
“I’m really excited to see more female composers taking centre stage. Hildur Gudnadottir, Mica Levi and Pinar Toprak are great examples of contemporary composers who have really pushed the boundaries of the medium and are rapidly changing historical misconceptions that female composers are limited to writing for ‘softer’ or more feminine stories. Our ability to tell stories with music is universal; I certainly love writing big blockbuster music just as much as I enjoy writing something intimate and lyrical. These composers have made big contributions to a future where that becomes the norm rather than the exception, and I admire that hugely.”
“It’s been a really creative time. I’ve been working on two fantastic Australian feature films: Liebe, directed by Sasha Hadden, a beautiful intimate story with a score featuring live orchestra, and Streamline, produced by Bronte Pictures’ Blake Northfield and Nathan Walker, starring Levi Miller and Jason Isaacs, which features a contemporary minimalist musical aesthetic involving electric strings with lots of effects!”
Never Too Late is in cinemas now.