A Q&A with Film and Theater Composer Alexa L. Borden

  1. Your short drama “SAPO” premiered at the TCL Chinese Theatre, congratulations! Can you walk us through your process on creating the musical world for this international story between a southern belle and a famous Colombian singer?

    Thank you! For SAPO, director Muhammad Bilal wanted a dramatic score that combined traditional musical elements to represent both main characters’ origins. I spent a lot of my childhood growing up near Savannah, GA, so I drew a lot of inspiration from that city for the character of Victoria, the “southern belle.” Muhammad and I also researched a lot of traditional Colombian music and artists that coordinated with Carlos’ character. We featured nylon guitar in the score, which I played and recorded myself. Muhammad and I worked closely to come up with a sonic language that could not only communicate the romantic moments between the two leads, but also high tension when needed as the story evolves, which led to the score heavily featuring strings and synth for a malleable hybrid sound.

    This was Muhammad’s and my second collaboration (the first being The Blue Cave, which also screened at TCL Chinese Theatre) so by the time of scoring SAPO our workflow and coordination really fell into a groove that made the process flow easily, especially since Muhammad is a filmmaker with such a keen ear and sense of direction. He considers music early in the production process, so by the time we reach post, he already has a solid idea of the musical direction for score.

  2. Another very cool world premiere you recently had was at L.A. Comic Con! What was it like to score “Uncharted” – known as a short fan film?

    L.A. Comic Con was so exciting—I’d never been to a comic con before, though I’d wanted to go for ages. I was really excited to have one of the films I scored premiere at one!  “Uncharted: Map Quest” is a short fan film based on characters from the Uncharted video game series. The team behind the production (director Nate Lyles of A Naturnal Project and producers Joseph Ray Santos and Mariah Martin) actually films many comic- and game-based short films, but this was our first collaboration for score. When they asked me about writing an orchestral action score, I was thrilled, since most of the films I tend to work on require scores of a different sort.

    I was graciously given a lot of free reins to do what I wanted with the score other than a few key hit points discussed in the spotting session, and for me that was like being a child set loose in a toy store. I had a ton of fun creating an action theme, musically charting the rhythm of each fight scene, and assigning instrument groups to each character.

  3. You frequently collaborate with another lovely woman composer, who also happens to be an AWFC member: Connor Cook and you have co-composed a lot of films together under “LexaCon”. How did this partnership start and evolve? What are your future goals?

    Connor and I met at the Columbia College Chicago MFA program and became friends almost immediately. It wasn’t long before we began working on class projects together, then decided to start working on films together, and—cut to seven-ish years and about two dozen projects later—we’re still co-composing!

    I think we found early on that, in addition to a natural friendship, we had musical voices that seemed to complement each other. We had overlap in backgrounds of classical music, but we also had different composing styles inspired by our own musical loves. We often draw from Connor’s Appalachian folk roots and my own love of grunge and classic rock. And we both love working with analog synths and creating instruments from our own sampled sounds. Along the line, we found a workflow that really allowed us to show the combination of our own artistic voices and learn from each other.

    We have lots of goals for the future! We’re currently scoring two new short films together in addition to our solo projects, and have a number of short films in the festival circuit. Our first feature film collaboration, Balloon Animal, will be having its world premiere this March at the Manchester International Film Festival.

    Besides our continuing film scoring work, it’s been a shared dream of ours for a few years to write and produce an original musical, so we’re working towards that as well.

  4. You wear many hats and work as a composer, singer-songwriter and orchestrator. What is your selection process for upcoming work? What kind of stories and projects are more appealing to you and why?

    The projects I’ve always gravitated toward are the ones with strong characters and stories made by passionate artists. I love lending music to projects that focus on exploring what it means to be human, in all forms, strengths, and flaws. Stories that allow us to find beauty in imperfection, see new perspectives, and are cause for self-reflection. I feel any project I can learn from is a good project.

    Hearing women-led and non-binary voices has also been increasingly important to me. I’m eager to continue working with filmmakers and teams like First Bloom Films (the production team behind “Balloon Animal”) whose mission is to elevate women’s voices and create a safe and uplifting environment for women and non-binary filmmakers and creators.

  5. We would love to know more about your musical theatre and songwriting work! Can you tell us about some of your past projects in that realm that have been special to you?

    I’d love to! A musical close to my heart is The Civility of Albert Cashier, which I worked on orchestrations for. The musical is based on the true story of a transgender soldier in the Civil War and features the amazing songwriting of Joe Stevens and Keaton Wooden. I also did orchestrations and arrangements for Hell’s Kitty, a horror-comedy musical by Nicholas Tana. For one of my favorite pieces in the musical (which is sung during a cat exorcism) I combined Gregorian chant and metal with a touch of theremin.

    A number of the films I’ve worked on have also included original songs, such as A Kiss on Candy Cane Lane, which featured three original songs I wrote and recorded. Connor and I also recently co-wrote “We Are The Fire” with Brenna D’Amico and Erica Wright for the short film, First Time, in addition to our song “First Time, Last Time” which was also featured in the film.

    Interview by Esin Aydingoz

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