Student Gavin Brivik Works on an Oscar-Nominated Film

NYU Steinhardt News

Student Gavin Brivik Works on an Oscar-Nominated Film

Film Scoring graduate student Gavin Brivik (’18) had the opportunity to compose the music for a short film called My Nephew Emmett that has been nominated for an Academy Award.

Directed by NYU Tisch graduate student Kevin Wilson, My Nephew Emmett takes place on the night a young man named Emmett Till was abducted, tortured, and murdered in 1955 in Mississippi.

Gavin agreed to answer a few questions about his experience working on the film.

What does the film receiving an Oscar nomination mean to you?

The Oscar nomination means that I worked on a film that really touched a lot of people's lives. It means that I worked on a film that really resonated with a lot of audience members and Academy board members. The nomination also created a strong bond among the entire film crew and built a strong collaborative relationship that I will have for life. It was very rewarding to work on a well-made film with a strong message. This film didn’t cut corners to tell the story either. Kevin filmed on location in Mississippi, miles from where Emmett was murdered. His musical intuition and direction were clear. I am so lucky to have worked with such a talented director. I think Emmett Till’s story is still very relevant today and Kevin did such a great job of starting a much needed conversation. Working on My Nephew Emmett has changed my career.

Could you describe what your experience was like working on the film? 

Working on the film was a great experience. Kevin and I have very similar tastes in scores and music in general. His direction was so clear and the film really resonated with me so I felt inspired to write for it. The film is set in the 1950s in Mississippi so initially we wanted to keep the score true to the South during that time, but we didn’t want to be too obvious about instrumentation. Kevin licensed a few gospel songs for the opening titles and credits, so I wanted to have the score still fit in with the source songs.

I like to record a lot of audio before I start scoring and then cut it up to the picture after the fact. I started off by recording a gospel/opera tenor vocalist, Joshua Blue, who studies at Juilliard and was recommended by a good friend, Christopher Carbin, another talented opera singer. We recorded a few hymns in various keys with different vowels and timbres. I ended up throwing in tons of delays and effects to make a more ambient score with Joshua’s vocals. I also used bowed acoustic guitar samples and hammered a guitar with mallets to create some unique melodic elements. The score is very subtle and ambient and allows the actors to have a lot of breath in the film. We wanted the score to have a unique voice that wasn’t too “Hollywood”-sounding.

What were your days like?

I worked on the film for about two weeks or so, and everyday I was working 7am- 6pm and then going off to work as a composer's assistant from 6:30-11pm. That’s still my schedule. I was also participating in the Columbia/ASCAP workshop and scoring another graduate film so it was a lot to balance out.

How did you use what you have learned at NYU while working on the movie?

I wrote this score while studying with Mark Suozzo, so he really guided me through the process. He gave me great feedback and tips for scoring the scenes. Kevin is also an NYU Tisch graduate student so my connection with him was made easier by being at the same school. I also took a recording and mixing class at NYU which has helped my production skills and the overall quality of my scores.

I also used a lot of the music techniques Sergi Casanelles teaches in his scoring classes, which included alternate ways of using samples and delays, and experimenting with spectral music. The professors at NYU have also been very supportive of style and developing an original voice. I think it’s important for modern scores to have a unique voice.

TaNisha Fordham (producer), Gavin Brivik (composer), Kevin Wilson Jr. (Director/Writer), and Laura Valladao (Director of Photography)