No matter what film you watch, the accompanying music is what helps you connect to the movie. It gives you emotions. It gives you a sense of relief or it will have you on the edge of your seat. This is the exact connection composer Mateo Messina wants to create. The incredibly talented composer who has curated some of your favorite soundtracks including Juno, just got back from SXSW to chat with The Young Folks all about his latest work on Kay Cannon’s comedy Blockers.
Continue reading below to hear how Mateo got his start as a composer, his experience working with the brilliant minded Kay Cannon, and his yoga-ism he left us with!
After writing my first symphony, a friend asked me to score his student film. I was 24, I had no clue what I was going, but after watching it numerous times, talking it through with the director, writing a lot of bad ideas, I eventually landed on a pretty good score. I fell in love with the writing process. From that moment on I was obsessed. I went to every film scoring session in Seattle and learned from every composer who came through the doors. My education came through studying how each composer utilized the orchestra or another ensemble to tell the story through music. One of the composers, Angelo Badalamenti, encouraged me to move to LA. Six months later, I packed up all my belongings and moved South. I started out scoring a lot of short films and a few commercials here and there to pay the bills. Eventually, a director asked me to score her feature film and I haven’t looked back since. I’ve had no other occupation other than creating and producing music for film and television for nearly 20 years now. I learn on every new project and I absolutely love it!
The Young Folks: How does your decision process work when it comes to figuring out what next project you’ll commit to or which one you’ll have to pass on?
Messina: Early in my career I subscribed to the “say yes and figure it out later” method. After a while, I started working consistently as many of the directors and producers I work with are very busy themselves. The times I say no are when I don’t feel I’m the right fit for the film. This only comes when I watch a film and don’t understand it at first look. I try to be careful to not judge too quickly as I watch a lot of rough cuts. Also, I sometimes have to say no when I already have a full schedule. Since all of our careers are associated with scarcity, I feel a part of me always wants to say yes. However, I know in my heart the right thing to do is to say no when I know I can’t give it everything I have. This type of career is interesting because we embrace the characters in our story. It can almost feel a little emotionally exhausting when you get really into it.
The Young Folks: With your newly released project Blockers, it seems like a really quirky cast with a hilarious storyline. How did your process with this movie start – were you given the script first, met with the team first, or something entirely different?
Messina: I was sent the script and just loved it. The story didn’t seem at all quirky, but it was awesomely juxtaposing these hilarious bits with beautiful stories of connection between kids and their folks. I was drawn to it right away as I love films with heart. I immediately watched Kay Cannon’s Girlboss and Pitch Perfect films to understand her better. I loved her sensibilities and knew we would work well together. She and her team invited me to SOHO House in Hollywood to screen the film. It was there I was really happy to see it was already such a great film, even in its early stages of the edit. From there, Kay and I talked. Before I knew it, I was onboard and writing.
The Young Folks: How was it working alongside Kay Cannon who is making her directorial debut with Blockers?
Messina: Kay Cannon is very funny and very smart. She doesn’t seem like a first time director at all, but I’m sure that is because she made an entire season of a great show in Netflix’s Girlboss. As a showrunner, she created, built a production team, a writer’s room and also guided every director that came through on her show. She was able to articulate herself well on all of the scenes, barring a few we had to discover along the way. She is quite collaborative. I could tell she knew what she wanted, but she was always open to hearing new ideas. Basically, when you trust in your director and they trust in you, the finished film is always better.
The Young Folks: What was your inspiration for the Blockers score?
Messina: Upon first watching it, I immediately felt like it was going to be a percussion-driven score. It felt like a 90-minute hilarious chase scene with a lot of emotion in the last reel. I went down a few paths of experimentation trying some Beastie Boys (a la Paul’s Boutique) vibe, some EDM, even Taiko. I resolved to bring in a few incredible professional drummers and we spent three days in the studio tracking kits, surdo, sleigh bells, congas, bongos, you name it. Per my style, I didn’t want to play anything conventionally, so we played brushes on sleigh bells and tambourines while hitting drum kits with our hands. I guess I answered that from a purely musical perspective. If anything, I was inspired by these parents’ insane drive to go “save” their kids while the kids were out partying, exploring, growing up and having the time of their lives. In the end, seeing them all come to a better understanding of one another was inspiring to write for these very intimate relationships.
The Young Folks: Now that you’re back from SXSW, how was your experience during the festival? What is next on your agenda that we should look out for?
Messina: South By was an absolute blast. I was really happy to spend time with so many filmmaking and music friends. We went to a couple of premieres, including ours! I truly cherish moments like in the green room just before our premiere, I had a fun conversation with Judd Apatow. I love festivals for those little moments where we meet new friends and talk about the things we all have in common and love.
The Young Folks: You’ve had your music featured everywhere from hit TV shows to must-see films. Ultimately, what is your main goal as a composer you hope to accomplish?
Messina: Great question. It’s funny to me how I had written three or four symphonies before I would ever call myself a composer. I was in my early 20s and I didn’t want to be presumptuous. I had this music inside me and I found that expressing myself through music was one of my strongest forms of communication. Human beings are storytellers and I love to tell stories. My goal as a composer is to seek out great filmmakers, great stories, and put fun, beauty, and joy into the world. Even when writing for a drama, I know it is giving someone out there some relief, like “That character gets me, they feel the same way I do. …I’m not alone.” My goal is to continue to put beauty into this world and help in human connection. Wow! That sounded super yoga! Anyway, I love what I do for a career, I am grateful I get to do this on a daily basis, and I aspire to grow as a composer with each new project. Yep, still sounds pretty yoga.