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March 12, 2019

An Evening of Perfect Harmony

The Television Academy continues to highlight the extraordinary work that is being done by innovative artists in the industry.

Latheleene Bosé Brown
  • Musician and composer Jongnic Bontemps conducts the score for United Skates at the Television Academy member event "Perfect Harmony: A Live Performance Celebrating the Impact of Music in Documentaries."


Organized by Emmy award-winning musical director Rickey Minor, documentary programming peer group governor Lois Vossen  and Miriam Cutler, Perfect Harmony: A Live Performance Celebrating Music in Documentaries was held at The Television Academy's Saban Media Center on March 6 in North Hollywood.

An evening of music and film, the event showcased a live orchestra performing original music rom a selection of scenes from acclaimed documentaries. The featured television documentary films highlighted were 13th, Always in Season, Hostile Planet, Love, Gilda, and United Skates.

Each film was preceded by a presenter and followed by a brief Q&A with the filmmaker and composer. The event highlighted the unique and important process of collaborative art, coupled with a performance by Judith Hill and presentations by John Legend (United Skates) and Ava DuVernay (13th).

The live orchestra helped to put an emphasis on the appreciation for an original film score. Osei Essed who worked as the composer for Always in Season with director Jacqueline Olive discussed the advantages of original music, “When you’re writing original music, you have a chance to really respond to the narrative in a way that helps to inform the story and flesh it out in a way that pre-recorded music probably cannot,” he said.

Vocalist Judith Hill, who performed during the screening of Hostile Planet ,was also in attendance to celebrate the importance of music in documentaries. “The music helps people to get into the right emotion of what’s happening,” she said “whether a soaring string line or powerful vocal. Composers and artists have a very important job of bringing people right into the heart of the message.”

To continue the conversation about the beauty of collaborative art and the importance of music in documentaries we spoke with composer Jongnic Bontemps who worked on United Skates, a film about black roller-skating culture executive produced by John Legend and directed by Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown. He shared with us his creative process and why it’s important to involve the composer early:

Why Getting Involved Early Allows the Composer to be a Creative Force:

JB:  "Invite the composer as early as possible for the project even if it’s just having discussions or sharing a script. [Because] when we invite music as an after-thought it doesn’t really let music inform the edit, the edit then informs the music. 

"Great films have been done that way but for me personally just to be involved early allows the project to sit with me and let ideas evolve. It does create more work because you’re on the project longer but all of it allows for you to be more of a creative force for the project because you’ve allowed it to marinate in your soul longer."

Be Sure to Involve the Community:

JB: "For United Skates….one of the important themes for the project has been authenticity. The directors and I are outsiders of the communities represented in the film. So, making sure we included the community as much as possible in all disciplines was super important because we were making the film for their community.

"The directors had a great relationship with Keezo Kane who is synonymous with skate music in the Chicago area called the JB style. They connected us and having the ability to collaborate with someone who understood that style was amazing. We were able to craft music that was authentic and had the sound that was required for people to resonate with it from that community."

Music is the Connective Tissue:

JB: "Documentaries are an amazing medium because they attempt to educate the audience. We're taking a subject and doing a deep dive into it, and hopefully the audience walks away with something that impacts their lives and builds empathy.

"Music is a huge part in helping to build that empathy. It has a way of going straight to the heart and it is the connective tissue. Music allows us to connect with what we are consuming much more viscerally and gives us the ability to lock in and keep our audience engaged."

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