George Kallis is a LA based music composer. He has composed soundtracks for a wide range of movies belonging to various genres. He is the music composer for the third installment of the After series, After We Fell. He talks about the initial process of composing for the movie, an original song ‘After Our Dawn’ and his future endeavours, among other things.
Hi, George. I’m Afiyah from The Movie Culture. How are you?
George Kallis: Very good. Thank you very much for having me.
Q. First of all, After We Fell is the third installment of the After series, and it is an emotional roller coaster. And obviously, music plays an important role in driving the emotions. Did you see the final cut of the movie? How did you feel about it?
George Kallis: Yes, I mean, I basically scored the music to the final cut. And it was interesting to me because, as you said, it was the third installment. The music was based on the couple in the first two movies, Justin Bernett brought out an amazing score. So when I talked to Castille about it, the director, she basically mentioned that we are going through more serious problems, through adult-like problems because Tessa, the protagonist, is finding out about her health problems, and they also have a long distance relationship. Also, we have Robert coming into the picture. So all these problems kind of sounded to us like more developed couple problems, like a more mature problem. So, we wanted the score to reflect that. We wanted the music to sound a little bit deeper. And the way I technically did it was to base the score around the piano, but dropped the melody. The new thematic material that we wrote for the movie was to drop it to a kind of warmer register, like a deeper register with the piano. And that kind of reflects the idea of that maturity in the relationship. Also, we placed a lot of emphasis on the string orchestra as well, which I think gave us a much deeper understanding of the couple’s complex emotions. And I made sure that the thematic material, that the melody could be played in both minor and major keys. So, in a sense, we could actually play around with happier moments and kind of more complex and sadder moments.
Q. As you mentioned, for the first two installments , the music was done by Justin Burnett, and then by you for the third installment. How did this development come about?
George Kallis: Well, I don’t know exactly how it was. I mean, I worked with Castille Landon on two films before, Apple Of My Eye and Albion : The Enchanted Stallion. And when Castille was getting ready to shoot the film, she gave me a call saying- Hey, I’m working on this franchise. She actually never said what the film was, she only described the whole situation and what type of music she wanted. So she requested me to send some music in, so the producers could hear it. And I said- of course. And coming out from a large period of orchestral writing, I realised that I actually didn’t have specific music that the franchise was requiring. So I spent the rest of the day composing the themes based on Castille’s description. I haven’t even seen the franchise or the film, but Castille was so great at describing what she really wanted on the emotional, as you said, roller coaster that this couple is going through that I was inspired immediately and I composed two tracks, which contained those themes. And a few months later, I got the call from producer Brian Pitt that everybody loved the music and I was being hired to score the film.
Q. Because this is a series, did you ever feel the need to maintain a sense of continuity with Justin Bernett’s composition? Or did you just entirely go about it your own way?
George Kallis: I think, because of the direction that we discussed with Castille and what I said before, that the couple seems to be in a much more developed kind of relationship and the seriousness of the problems that they’re going through, we wanted the score to have a bit of a fresh start. I mean, Castille saw it as a kickstart to the franchise again, so, in a sense, I had a blank canvas to say- How would you kind of recreate this world, without straying too far from what the first two films were made of. We kept the piano and the kind of thematic situation very similar, but I think we took it to a different level where it shows the couple in a more serious progression. So we kept the connection through maintaining the piano as the main instrument, and certain different sounds, but the thematic material is completely different.
Q. And After We Fell also has its own original song ‘After Our Dawn.’ Which, by the way, is an immensely beautiful and intense song. Could you tell me a little about the process of making the song?
George Kallis: Yes, basically, this came quite late in the whole picture. I was finishing up the score, and I realised that the melody could support a chorus of a song that is based on the score. So I reached out to Castille, whom I wrote songs with before. We wrote a song for Albion: The Enchanted Stallion together, and I said to her- would you like to have a go at writing some lyrics. And she had already written some lyrics. So she sent them to me, and then I started sketching out the arrangement. We pitched the idea to the producers, and the producers thought it was a great idea to have an original song based on the score. They recommended Taylor, who was part of the production team since the previous film, so she was very close to the franchise. And Taylor came with a lot of enthusiasm. And she also had a writing partner, Ryan Steffes. And he came in and we started collaborating and recreating some of the lyrics or creating some of the melody here and there just to fit the franchise as best as possible. And together with my other producers, George Solonos and Nico the Owl, we created this song. We wanted to please the fans, we wanted to make sure that the lyrics really spoke for the couple and spoke of the complex and,I would say, intoxicating relationship that they have.
Q. Given the progression, as you mentioned, with the couple, I guess an original song was due. And it’s really wonderful, actually.
George Kallis: Oh, thank you.
Q. Is After We Fell the first teen romance drama that you’ve ever composed for?
George Kallis: Indeed, yes, it is. I’ve composed for drama-romance before but this had to be very delicate. specifically because the fans are probably the most wonderful fans for any franchise that I’ve seen before. They’re really obsessed with the story and in a great way, there’s a lot of great and positive support. So my aim immediately was to make sure that we have the right soundscape and the right kind of overall musical soundscape. And working with the music supervisors also and Josh and Dylan who are in charge of the other songs and placing them, we made sure that the music and the score interacted with the songs seamlessly in the film. So for me it was important to make sure that the soundscape was pleasing for the fans.
Q. That’s wonderful. And how is composing for After We Fell, which as I mentioned, is a teen romance, different from composing for The Last Warrior: Roots Of Evil, which is fantasy?
George Kallis: In a way, technically, it’s simpler because writing for a fantasy score, like The Last Warrior, which is a Disney film, is kind of complex musically. There’s a lot of different notes to create that kind of alter-world that they created in Ancient Russia. So that also comes with a lot of complex orchestrations. It’s not as simple as creating a score, which is mostly in your studio. You have to go out and record a lot of sessions with a big orchestra, you know, a ninety piece orchestra, and we also had a choir as well. So for all these notes, a composer has to make sure that they’re correct on paper for the orchestra to play the right notes. So the whole process is a little bit more complex.
I think the difficulty with scoring for a film, like After We Fell, is mostly to get the initial sound right, so a lot of the difficulty was at the very, very beginning, just to get a really great soundscape. And you know, that takes a bit of time, it’s not as simple as saying- Hey, I’m just going to sit down and just write something. You have to really think about it, you have to really read what the fans are saying, you have to really understand the relationship and where it’s heading on the next film too, because I’m also scoring that, the sequel to After We Fell. I had to do a lot of research. So yeah, the difficulties of the two are very different. But the level of effort is pretty much the same, I would say.
Q. You’ve composed for a wide range of movies, and a lot of these movies also integrate different cultures, ethnicities and time periods, like The Black Prince, or 93 days, or even The Last Warrior. So how do you integrate this element of diversity in the soundtrack?
George Kallis: Yes, I mean, I grew up in Cyprus. So Cyprus is like the navel of the Earth. It’s kind of between East and West. And our music influences are very much from Western music and also Eastern music. Even Indian music, I would say that it has a lot of commonalities with Greek music that I grew up with. So for me, it’s a wonderful way to be able to study and an easy way, I would say, to study different cultures and different instruments and be able to incorporate them in an orchestral template, because that gives a very authentic colour to the film. So, for example, The Black Prince, I kind of made sure that we used North Indian instruments that are more appropriate to the setting of the film. And for 93 days, it’s based in Nigeria, so I used an American-Nigerian singer and did a lot of improvisations to be able to get that authentic sound within the orchestral template that we’re using to support the drama. So yeah, it comes natural to me, and I think it’s down to my background.
Q. Yeah, and you’ve done all of them really well. I checked out a lot of your soundtracks, and all of them are just immense, amazing.
George Kallis: Oh, I appreciate it. Thank you.
Q. Since you’ve worked on such a wide variety of movies, it appears that you’re not leaning towards a particular genre or niche. So what is it that draws you in or appeals to you about any project?
George Kallis: I think the story is very important. You know, being able to be inspired by the characters, and being able to be inspired by something that has a beautiful catharsis in the end, or even something that leaves the audience thinking after they leave the film. For example, 93 days was a real story about a small group of doctors preventing the Ebola crisis in Nigeria. I mean, it’s an amazing story that hasn’t been known to the world. I mean, only a few people working in the medical profession knew it. So it was great that Steve Gukas, the director, wrote the story and directed it and we managed to tell the world about what happened. So yeah, everything is driven from the story. And I think also, I love working with different types of genres as you know, it’s kind of connected to your previous question, but it makes a composer remain interested and have variety in their work. It’s like a painter finding out different colours and being able to paint with different palettes. And I think that’s kind of a general example.
Q. Aside from the sequel to After We Fell, what other projects do you have lined up?
George Kallis: Yes, right now I’m actually just wrapping up After Ever Happy. We recorded the orchestra yesterday, actually. So we had a great session. And I’m wrapping up in a month’s time The Last Warrior 3, which is The Messenger Of Darkness. It’s the last film of the trilogy for Disney Russia. So I’m very excited about that. It’s an interesting development, because our heroes that are coming from this ancient land are all coming to the twenty-first century. And what is interesting to me is that I can combine a lot of contemporary instruments- we have a lot of electric guitars, a lot of drums in it, electric bass, electronics. So we are combining the ancient sound that was developed in the first two films with all this contemporary sound. So, for me, it’s quite interesting. And I’m working on a few other shorter projects, you know, some short projects for friends of mine, and the occasional trailer that comes along. I do that too. So, you know, I try to keep myself busy.
Q. Thank you so much for joining. It’s been a real pleasure.
George Kallis: Oh, thank you so much. I hope it was useful. Cheers. Have a nice day.
The Movie Culture Synopsis
The After series is based on the books of the same name written by Anna Todd. The third movie of the series, After We Fell, follows the new developments and problems in the lives of the lead couple- Hardin and Tessa. It comes out on September 30th, 2021.