The new Australian surfing feature film Drift, which is currently in cinemas across Australia, features a compelling music soundtrack guided by music supervisor Mr Andrew Kotatko, a Charles Sturt University (CSU) theatre/media alumnus.
Andrew has worked previously on a range of feature film projects with directors as diverse as Academy Award winner Jane Campion, Rowan Woods, Daniel Nettheim, Samantha Lang, Sue Brooks, and most recently, French director Anne Fontaine (Coco Avant Chanel) on her forthcoming film Two Mothers, with actors Naomi Watts and Robin Wright. He's also worked with CSU alumnus Trent O'Donnell on the first series of the black comedy TV series Laid.
He explained his role and how he came to be involved in Drift, which tells the story of brothers Jimmy and Andy Kelly who struggle to establish a surf-based business and lifestyle in the beautiful surf-rich Margaret River region of south-west Western Australia in the early 1970s.
"A music supervisor oversees the music for a feature film," he said. "It is both a creative and technical role, in that I get to present a range of song ideas for specific sequences within a film, but also have to keep the budget in check in regard to music licensing costs. I often commission new music for a film and recommend songwriters and musicians that would be a good fit for the job. Sometimes I assist composers by sourcing temporary score ideas for a film while it's being edited; it's a great opportunity to discover the musical tone of a particular film. Guiding the key creative team towards an exciting and cohesive musical journey is what it's all about for me, and I'm still very passionate about it seventeen years on.
"Very often I'm recommended for jobs and Drift came my way through the film's very talented sound designer, Robert Mackenzie, with whom I had worked on the film The Hunter. I then met with Drift's co-director, Morgan O'Neill, and producer Michele Bennett (Chopper), and they showed me a couple of sequences in the film to gauge my thoughts and see if I was clued in, musically speaking. I was obviously very excited by what I saw, as it presented an opportunity to showcase some fantastic music in a very dynamic way. Drift was a Music Supervisor's dream come true."
While noting that every film is challenging in its own way, Andrew says Drift had a significant music budget for an Australian feature, so there were very few compromises in terms of getting the right music for the film.
"Morgan O'Neill is a musician himself and had strong ideas on what he wanted and didn't want, as did co-director, Ben Nott. Sometimes those ideas were different to my own, but I think we were able to resolve any friendly difference of opinion simply by screening sections of the film with shortlisted songs; that always puts things into context and a group decision was made.
"The biggest challenge for me was trying to balance classic songs from 1972 (such as 'Only Good for Conversation' by Rodriguez, and '20th Century Boy' by T.Rex) with more contemporary, retro-rock inspired pieces like 'Govinda' by Kula Shaker, and 'Gold On the Ceiling' by The Black Keys. I think we succeeded in that balance, and it's great to hear such positive feedback from audiences about the music.
"Peter Howe's exquisite song 'I'm Alive' is from the classic Australian musical surf film Morning of the Earth. It was serendipitous when I discovered that my dear friend, ARIA-winning singer-songwriter Gyan, had recently recorded a demo of the song herself. Things often happen like that; they'll drop into your hands like a gift from musical heaven. Thankfully, Morgan and Ben both loved Gyan's interpretation and it became a sort of love theme for the characters Andy (played by Myles Pollard) and Lani (Lesly-Ann Brandt).
"Composer Michael Yezerski's original score also bridged the gap between the past and present. He recorded the melodic main theme with a bunch of vintage equipment, old guitar pedals and a rare analogue synthesiser, but also composed some very exciting electronica for the suspenseful surf competition sequences."
Andrew says of his student days at the then-School of Communication at Charles Sturt University, "It was a very interesting time for me. I was finding my feet and felt a bit like a babe in the woods most days. In a way, I don't think that ever changes if you pursue a creative life, but the theatre/media degree gave me a wonderful opportunity to explore both filmmaking and theatre together, which I think is a unique opportunity that sparks all kinds of connections. CSU taught me greater independence and inspired me to delve deeper into my artistic passions in a very encouraging and supportive environment. Without my CSU experience, I doubt I would have gone on to make my award-winning short film Everything Goes with Hugo Weaving and Abbie Cornish, or continued my studies abroad at Binger Filmlab."