Dara Taylor-scoring The Tender Bar.

Dara Taylor.

Composer Dara Taylor talks to John Mansell of Movie Music International. On scoring George Clooney’s latest movie The Tender Bar. Which is now available on Amazon Prime.

Dara Taylor has emerged as a fresh voice in the world of scoring music to picture as evidenced by her score to Amazon Studios film The Tender Bar, directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker George Clooney and her co-score to the Lionsgate comedy Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar starring Kristen Wiig and Jamie Dornan. Her credits include the action crime drama Echo Boomers starring Michael Shannon, the Netflix series Bookmarks, the Netflix docuseries Trial By Media, the FX series Pride, and the Karen Allen film Colewell, for which she won a 2019 Hollywood Music in Media award. As a score producer and composer for Chris Lennertz. Dara has contributed to major motion picture films and series including Bad Moms, the action-comedy sequel Shaft, Amazon’s highly acclaimed television series The Boys, Netflix’s sci-fi series Lost in Space, The Happy time Murders, Ugly dolls, and the long-running CW show Supernatural. In 2015, Dara was nominated for a Hollywood Music in Media Award for her score on the short film Undetectable, and in 2016, she participated in the Women in Film’s Women Composers in Media concert. In2018, Dara was chosen as a fellow for the Sundance Institute Composers Lab and the following year she was chosen as one of the BMI Conducting for Composers Fellows. In 2021 she was chosen for both the Grammy NEXT program and the coveted Universal Composers Initiative. Dara is a proud Executive Committee member for the Composers Diversity Collective, as well as a member of the Television Academy, Recording Academy.

JM. Can I start by asking was music always something that you wanted to do as a career and were you from a family background where music played a big part of daily life? 

DT. Like many, I grew up in music. School bands, choruses, and musicals left a much bigger impression on me than AP Chemistry. My mom was also the director of the church choir so I grew up picking out harmonies by ear in conjunction with my classical education.

You have worked with Christopher Lennertz on scores, what was your role when working with him and at what stage of your career did you decide to become a composer of music for film?

Before setting off on my own, I worked for my amazing mentor and forever friend, Chris Lennertz for 6 years. I assisted, score produced, and contributed additional music which culminated in our first co-score for Lionsgate’s Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar.

I knew I wanted to score film and television since college and my time with Chris is an extremely large part of bringing that dream into fruition.

What musical education did you receive?

As far as formal education goes, I studied classical voice under Judith Kellock and contemporary classical composition under Zachary Wadsworth and Steven Stucky at Cornell University. Then I went on to complete a Masters of Music in Scoring for Film and Multimedia at New York University where I studied under Mark Suozzo. But then I learned so much of what I use now on the job working with Chris, and I continue to learn something from everyone I meet.

How did you become involved on the movie The Tender Bar?

I actually scored a Yance Ford-directed episode of an anthology series called Trial by Media on Netflix which was executive produced by Smokehouse Productions (George Clooney and Grant Heslov’s production company). So last summer they reached out to my agents and told them that they needed score to accompany some of the emotional beats between the needle drops.

The film is directed by George Clooney, did he have any specific ideas on what style of music he wanted for the movie and where it should be placed?

One thing George requested from the very beginning was a bittersweet melancholy that still felt hopeful. The aim was also to not be too disparate from the vernacular of the songs (using a lot of guitars and pianos with some light strings) but still be its own entity.

It’s a sparingly scored picture I think it has about ten minutes of score, and songs/needle drops taking up much of the soundtrack. Was it difficult to work your instrumental score in with the songs/needle drops that are featured on the soundtrack, because the music becomes a kind of a bridge between the vocals and the images adding a delicate and more emotive atmosphere to the storyline?

I think the moments George and Grant chose for score helped bridge that gap and score felt very natural in those moments. And again, since we chose a palette that was not too extremely different from some of the songs, the score’s intention was to fold into the narrative, letting the whole musical landscape of the film feel cohesive.

How many musicians did you have for the score and how did you arrive at the decision to utilize the instrumentation that you did for the score?

I had about 25 musicians on the score – a chamber string section in Nashville and a handful of LA soloists playing guitars, bass, percussion, harp, and piano. When it came to strings, I wanted it to feel intimate and wistful, more like the backing track of a record than a huge sweeping orchestral sound. Then the leading melodies were typically played on guitar or piano with the support of the other solo instruments.

Was the film scored during the pandemic, and did the restrictions affect the way in which you worked on it?

Yes, this was another score fully created in the pandemic. This forced certain things like virtual score reviews and spotting sessions and remote recording. However, I’m grateful for all of the technology available that still allows for creative collaboration – a process that now has become second nature.   

The Tender Bar is quite a major project for you, was it a little daunting stepping up to work on the movie?

Oh definitely. I put on my brave face, but it was certainly a little daunting at the start. Thankfully George and the entire team were so incredible to work with that they made me feel at home rather quickly in the process. I walked away from this project with a new layer of confidence as well as it’s now much harder to be star struck.

Are there any projects on the horizon for you that you can talk about?

The next project I have coming up that I’m able to discuss is the upcoming Netflix film, The Noel Diary, directed by the legendary Charles Shyer and starring Justin Hartley, which has been a lot of fun to score!

JM. Thank you so much.