Composer Michael A. Levine Talks Bringing the SXSW Hit “Served Like A Girl” to Life Through the Score
“Served Like A Girl,” a documentary film chronicling the lives of female veterans as they compete for the crown of Ms. Veteran America made its much anticipated debut last month at SXSW. Through this film the director, Lysa Heslov, set out to put a spotlight on the issue of homelessness among female veterans and correct misconceptions about female soldiers’ frontline roles. While Heslov succeeds at both of these, one can’t help but notice the film’s score which brings the characters’ raw emotions even more front and center. After doing some research it’s no surprise that the film was composed by Michael A. Levine, whose extensive resume spans from "Resident Evil: Biohazard" to the famous Kit Kat “Gimme A Break” jingle. We decided to sit down with Levine and discuss everything from his favorite character in the film to what his goal with the music was. Read the full interview here:
-How did you initially become involved with “Served Like A Girl”?
Three weeks before its first screening! The composer they had hired didn’t work out. The film’s editor, Monique Zavistovski, whom I had worked with on another documentary, City 40, recommended me.
-At what point of the project where you brought in?
I got a call on a Friday and had a signed contract on Tuesday. By then I had already been working for three days, but don’t tell my agent…
-How would you describe your score for the film?
Color-wise, it’s Americana with little touches of the exotic: guitars, strings, harmonica, piano and the occasional zither or mallet instrument. What was tricky was to get a sense of the intensity of the experiences the women veterans had endured while still acknowledging their incredible resilience and positivity.
-Do you have a favorite character in the film and why?
Ginny Blaxton, mother of Nichole Alred, one of the women in competition. Because of the traumas these women had endured, there is so much weighty stuff – by necessity – in the film. Ginny is the comic relief, a hoot every time she is on screen. It’s arguable that the film wouldn’t work without her – certainly not as well.
-Musically what was your goal for the film?
To tell these veteran’s story with respect and dignity.
-You have created commercial jingles such as Kit Kat’s “Gimme A Break”, scored television shows such as “Cold Case” and now this documentary. Is each approach to a project different for you? Or do you have a method you normally follow?
Three words: story, story, story. If the score serves the story – however profound or silly – you’re doing your job right.
-The film made a big splash at SXSW this year. Have you been surprised at all by the response?
Not really. When we finished the film mix, I turned to Lysa [the film’s director, Lysa Heslov] and said, “You made something better than a good film. You made an important one.” The struggles of women veterans is something people don’t know much about and will be fascinated to discover.
-Do you know if the film is going to be released on VOD? Or where people can watch it who didn’t attend the film festival?
The filmmakers are talking with distributors now. I think you’ll be hearing a lot more about this film in the coming months.
You can learn more about Michael here.