Local Artist Profiles

Nine profiles of local artists


(page 8 of 9)

Composing Dreams

It’s quite fitting that John Paesano won an Annie Award for his work composing music for a children’s television series, because it was his childhood dream all along that brought him to where he is today.

The Birmingham native received the 2013 Outstanding Achievement Award for Music in an Animated Television Production at the 40th annual Annie Awards — the “Oscars” of the animation industry — for his work on the DreamWorks Animation spinoff series Dragons: Riders of Berk. The series was inspired by the box-office hit movie How to Train Your Dragon.

“You’ll have to excuse my public speaking skills,” Paesano joked during his acceptance speech. “I spend 90 percent of my time in a dark cave with animated characters.”

Working with a small team of five people, Paesano secured the job with DreamWorks Animation after a competitive audition. His L.A.-based company, Mad Olive Productions, is a grass-roots music house specializing in original music composition.

Paesano, 36, has been pushing toward becoming a composer since he was 10 years old, when ambition struck while watching the 1987 film Empire of the Sun, directed by Steven Spielberg and scored by John Williams (who’s scored all but two of Spielberg’s major films). Coincidentally, Spielberg also co-founded DreamWorks Animation, so it seems as though after 26 years, things have come full circle for Paesano.

Not only was Paesano’s television series based on How to Train Your Dragon, but expectations were high because of John Powell’s Oscar 2011 nomination for the film’s score. It was crucial for Mad Olive Productions to keep the original musical themes intact while mixing in new sounds.

Average moviegoers might understand the power of music, but they rarely realize how much work goes into scoring a single scene. A combination of computer mockups and live orchestra recordings totaled more than 400 minutes of music for the weekly show that’s already been picked up for a second season.

Paesano got started by taking piano lessons in Birmingham. He went on to study music at France’s Conservatoire de Paris, then graduated from Boston’s Berklee College of Music for Film Scoring. At 21, he lit out for the West Coast, landed himself an agent, and has been in L.A. ever since. Having been mentored by some of the industry’s best-known composers (Hans Zimmer, Jerry Goldsmith, et al.), Paesano feels his career has just taken off.

“There’s no defined path to [becoming] a film composer,” Paesano says. “It makes for a very tough endeavor. You never really get into this job to make money; you write music because you love writing music.”

Paesano has recently shifted musical modes — from dragons to sci-fi thriller. He now holds the title of lead composer in his first major motion picture, The Maze Runner, scheduled for release early next year. A live orchestra will be used for the entirety of the film — and for a composer like Paesano, that’s another dream come true.


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