The central characters in The Family Fang are adult children who have not successfully grown up. To suggest this the score relies on the celeste, a bell piano familiar to most listeners from the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" in Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. I used it here to suggest Annie and Baxter's childlike qualities, their fragility, but also their aspirations ("celeste" is French for "heavenly").
The innocence of the celeste is contradicted somewhat by the bittersweet harmonies, which have more in common with the blues than Tchaikovsky. They're used to suggest the siblings' dysfunction and sadness. It's only in the last piece, the "Epilogue", that these overcast harmonies burn off.
One of the peculiarities of The Family Fang is that it not only moves back and forth between the childhood and adulthood of Annie and Baxter Fang ("A" and "B"), but many of the flashbacks are filmed documents of their childhood. In other words, they don't take place in the reality of our film, but in the reality of other films by other filmmakers. Sometimes the filmmakers are their parents, who mount performance art using the children, and sometime the filmmakers are others who are documenting the artwork of the Family Fang.
How best to score these bits of other films? One could use music taken from period sources, like pop or jazz tunes from the 1970s. In the end I went with a middle ground approach, writing music that might have been written for these films back in the day, but in a similar musical language as the score of our film. The track titled "Fang People" is an example of this. It's not one of the themes from our film, but it inhabits the same world.
This approach allowed us to create a complete creative environment for this art family, one that enveloped them as children and has carried forward into their adulthood.
Directed by Jason Bateman
Screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire
from the novel The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
Produced by Jason Bateman, Nicole Kidman, Riva Marker, James Garavente, Per Saari, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Leslie Urdang, Dean Vanech
Starring Nicole Kidman, Jason Bateman, Christopher Walken, Maryann Plunkett
Released April 29, 2016
The soundtrack is available from Apple and will be available as CD soon. Here are some excerpts.
The musicians who performed the score are:
Sharon Yamada - violin
Hyunju Lee - violin
Hannah Choi - violin
Joanna Maurer - violin
Emily Popham - violin
Shmuel Katz - viola
Sunghee Choi - viola
Alan Stepansky - cello
Patrick Jee - cello
Mike Ricchiuti - piano / celeste
Anthony McGill - clarinet
Mindy Kaufman - flute
Tori Drake - harp
John Patitucci - bass
Chuck Loeb - guitar
Joe Passaro - percussion
Other important contributors are:
Assisting Engineer - Tim Marchiafava
Tony Finno - copyist
Sandy Park - contractor
Dean Parker - Composer's Assistant
"...and so brother and sister begin an investigation into the mystery of not just where their parents may have gone, but also who they are, how much they really care about their children, and whether the present state of their career — which declined after Annie and Baxter opted to withdraw permanently — might have driven them into hiding. All this is conveyed not merely through plot and dialogue, but through a highly cinematic weave of sound and image: Set to a delicate score by Carter Burwell (already having quite a year with Carol and Anomalisa), the film’s time-shuffling structure comes to mirror the very act of searching and scanning one’s family history, searching for memories that will present our loved ones in the best or even worst possible light. " -Justin Chang, Variety, Sept. 14, 2015.
"From the opening credits, composer Carter Burwell's musical score sets a tone that sways from dancing to reflective that suits the film perfectly." - Donald Shanahan, Chicago Examiner, May 6, 2016.
"... What happens soon after leaves Baxter and Annie with even more unanswered questions as the film glides almost imperceptibly into melancholy contemplation, echoed in Carter Burwell's exquisite score." - David Rooney, The Hollywood Repoter, Sept. 14, 2015.
"Composer Carter Burwell, a recent Oscar nominee for 'Carol,' turns in another deeply evocative score." - Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times, May 5, 2016.
"Carter Burwell's gripping, ominous score suggests an untapped mystery and darkness to the material." - Andrew Lapin, NPR, April 28, 2016.