Batman won’t be the only superhero on display when the 1989 Warner Bros. Pictures DC film “Batman” screens at Kodak Hall at the Eastman Theatre on Friday, February 10 at 7:30 p.m. The film will be accompanied by live musicians from the Empire Film and Media Ensemble, a not-for-profit organization entirely managed by Eastman School of Music students. The students of EFAME will emerge triumphant after overcoming the action-packed challenges of Danny Elfman’s iconic musical score.
Obtaining the rights to “Batman” was a superhero effort—the score had to be adapted for live performances, and it required the buy-in and sign-off of both DC and Warner Bros. The EFAME will be the first ensemble to perform the score live with the film.
Senior Writer and Editorial Manager Anna Reguero spoke with Brett Miller, an undergraduate music education major and pianist who is also the music director of EFAME. Miller serves as the assistant conductor for the “Batman” production—essentially an extra set of ears for Beal Institute for Film Music and Contemporary Media Director Mark Watters, a major name in the film music industry, who conducts the performance—and has gained an uncommon amount of experience playing live-to-film scores, both with EFAME and his own performing pursuits.
AR: Tell me about the challenges of playing music for live film. Is it hard to stay in sync with the screen?
BM: There are a lot of tools specifically for live-to-picture concerts that help the conductor and musicians stay entirely in sync. First, the conductor typically has a click track and an earpiece with a separate video monitor. This monitor has what is called “Punchers and Streamers,” which provides visual aid in addition to the click track. This helps if there is a particular musical moment approaching a section of the film. Additional musicians will have earpieces to keep these sections perfectly aligned. While these tools are useful, it takes an absolute master at the craft to execute them. We are lucky to have six-time Emmy Award-winning composer and conductor Mark Watters leading us in this performance. In addition to being Director of the Beal Institute, Mark Watters has conducted countless live-to-picture concerts, and I can’t wait to have him back on the podium.
AR: How do you prepare for live-to-pictures concerts and what is the rehearsal process like?
BM: We follow a typical professional schedule with two-click track rehearsals preceding a dress rehearsal in the hall with full tech. A ton of work goes in before these rehearsals, technical and music-wise. The Empire Film and Media Ensemble (EFAME) is a student-run, 501(c)3 organization; our team has specific tasks to ensure these live-to-picture shows go on perfectly. The team consists of Ashley Vogler, our marketing director; Xander Day, our personnel manager/outreach coordinator; Danny O’Connell, our production assistant; and Michael Witt, our production assistant/webmaster. About a month before the show, we touch base weekly to review the production. About two weeks out, it becomes all hands on deck, ensuring everything goes seamlessly by the time we get to the first rehearsal.
AR: What about the music from this film excites you?
BM: It’s a Danny Elfman score so you know you are in for a treat! I can’t wait to hear the first five notes of the score at our first rehearsal this week. I always laugh when thinking that this iconic theme was written by Elfman in the bathroom of a 747 aircraft while traveling between productions. This project is the largest that EFAME has tackled. An orchestra nearing 70 people and nearly 100 pages of music per part is a demanding task for the musicians. We are so fortunate to have the resources here at Eastman to get what is a top-tier group of musicians who all share the excitement of performing this exciting score.
AR: In addition to directing EFAME, you are also an undergraduate student at Eastman. How did you get experience playing and conducting for live film accompaniment? Tell me about your degree, when you’ll graduate, and what your aspirations are after you do.
BM: I got into live film accompaniment in an interesting way. When I was 11, I started to accompany silent films with live organ accompaniment. I still do it today and I’ve been very fortunate to have played for groups and organizations like the Library of Congress, Kimmel Culture Campus, and Rochester’s own RBLT Auditorium Theatre. Knowing an ensemble like EFAME is here in Rochester was a huge selling point for why I wanted to go to Eastman. It only seemed like a natural transition for me. Regarding my degree, I am a current junior at Eastman studying music education. My primary instrument is the piano, and I am currently studying in Dr. Joseph Rackers’s studio. I always knew I wanted to teach in some compacity, but I want to continue conducting and producing these concerts. Eastman is one of the few schools that harvest an environment in which a student like me can have such a diverse path.
For more information and to purchase tickets to “Batman in Concert,” please visit EastmanTheatre.org or call 585-274-3000. Use code ESMBOGO at checkout for a two-for-one ticket discount.