Saturday, December 15

UCLA alum’s film score for ‘America’ seeks to evoke emotion


Bryan E. Miller recently scored a film adaptation of the novel “America: Imagine a World Without Her.” Miller said the goal of his score was to engage audiences with music that lives up to the weight of important moments in U.S. history.
(Brandon Choe/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Bryan E. Miller recently scored a film adaptation of the novel “America: Imagine a World Without Her.” Miller said the goal of his score was to engage audiences with music that lives up to the weight of important moments in U.S. history. (Brandon Choe/Daily Bruin senior staff)


Bryan E. Miller spent the summers of his childhood building houses in 100-degree weather with his father in Albuquerque, New Mexico. With an itch to escape the blistering heat, the UCLA alumnus said he dreamed of working elsewhere, particularly in an environment where he could express his passion for music.

Now working in his own music production company and writing music for motion pictures, Miller said his dream has come true.

Miller’s original music can be heard on advertisements for companies such as Nike and humanitarian organizations such as World Vision. He has also licensed his music to television shows such as “General Hospital” and “Access Hollywood.”

More recently, his latest scoring project for a film adaptation of the novel “America: Imagine a World Without Her” by best-selling author Dinesh D’Souza, hit the big screen on June 27.

Prior to his career as a music composer, Miller said he opted out of becoming a professional musician – having played a variety of instruments like the piano and saxophone since he was 5 years old – in search of a more proven occupation within the music industry. In his search, he studied at the Grove School of Music in Los Angeles, where he first developed a desire to write music for motion pictures.

“I think I fell in love with that process as far as making something, inventing a new piece of music that didn’t exist before,” Miller said. “It goes from silence to a beautiful melody or a beautiful score soundtrack that would just stir and drive you.”

His new desire led him to attend the film scoring program at UCLA Extension in 1991. In the program, he said he learned invaluable information on how Hollywood operated and the skills that were necessary for employment from professionals such as Steven Scott Smalley, who conducted the score for “Mission: Impossible” and Gerald Fried, who scored “Gilligan’s Island.”

Miller said he improved his craft through the film program’s system of students’ giving feedback to one another’s score of a certain given scene.

“I loved the extension program because it was working professionals teaching you and guiding you,” Miller said. “But then just the sheer ‘Here’s your scene, here’s your group that’s going to play the music and now go do it.’ There’s nothing like doing it to learn.”

After receiving his film scoring certificate in 1993, Miller founded his own music production company called Sensory Overload Music. Starting out small, he said he was able to build the company’s success through bootstrapping, in which he independently reinvested profit from scoring projects – including a commercial for Gatorade – back into the company little by little.

More than 10 years after Miller founded Sensory Overload Music, director John Sullivan approached Miller to score his upcoming documentary drama titled “America: Imagine the World Without Her,” which, Sullivan said, asks whether the United States has been a force for good or for ill in the world. Sullivan said he had previously heard Miller’s work on a promotional CD distributed almost 10 years ago. Sullivan said he was especially moved by Miller’s unique scoring of “Amazing Grace,” which has sounds of Native American, tribal and South American influences.

“It showed me he had the diversity and breadth to tackle something like ‘America,’” Sullivan said.

Miller and Sullivan worked on the score collaboratively from April to May, with Sullivan suggesting an emotion for each scene the music needed to convey.

Ultimately, Miller said the goal of the score was to propel the story and engage audiences with music that lives up to the weight of the moments in U.S. history.

“(The result) was just (Miller’s) talent and his ability to interpret the context of the film and to weave in some very patriotic themes and melodies that evoke an American feel,” said Dan Blessinger, sound mixer for the film.

Despite holding a 9 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film joined the ranks of movies like “Schindler’s List” and “Forrest Gump” as one of 52 movies that received an average A+ grade from moviegoers in a survey conducted by CinemaScore.

In addition to writing music for “America,” television shows and commercials, Miller has written music for charitable organizations such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and World Vision. He said he enjoys engaging in projects that are meaningful and bring light to global issues such as malaria and the need for clean water.

Currently, Miller is writing music for an untitled documentary about a genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo. For that and all of his projects, Miller said he strives to enhance the emotional impact of the picture and move people with his music.

“Music in film is often there to serve the picture and support the picture but it needs to be beautiful on its own,” Miller said. “(Music) is able to open people’s eyes and hearts to some of the suffering and seriousness. It is such an emotional vehicle that it really can inspire people.”

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  • Shari

    Thanks for sharing this story!! We just bought the soundtrack on iTunes and love it. Best of luck to Bryan in his future projects!