Already a successful musician, the multiple award-winning composer learned the art of scoring from scratch. He reflects on the dedication it took to shift his music from the stage to the screen.
“I’ve probably written more music than I ever have in the last five years,” says pianist Kyle Shepherd. But many may not know how prolific he’s been. For the past six years, Shepherd has steadily moved into composing for film, which has become an alternate avenue for his creativity. From 2008, he worked tirelessly as a full-time pianist, carving out his place as one of the most accomplished of his generation. It took years of focus, passion and dedication. And it is precisely these attributes that nurture his talent for scoring.
Shepherd’s foray into film and television scoring was reluctant at first. In late 2015, he was approached by filmmaker Aryan Kaganof, the original director for feature film Noem My Skollie, to create its soundtrack. Shepherd admits that at the time he did not even own a computer. He did not need to because the piano served all his creative needs.
Shepherd describes the process of entering this world as a baptism by fire. “It’s not everyone that gets that start in the industry. When Aryan asked me, I literally said no because I had no idea how to do it. To put it into context, I was heavily into being a performing pianist at that time, so it wasn’t even an interest of mine at all,” he says.
Shepherd approached the task through rigorous study of all the technical skills required for this work. “I started researching and studying the set-ups of composers like Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman and realised, ‘Oh my God, you literally need a room full of computers and speakers.’ To really work proficiently, you need the equipment.” From composing to sound editing, scoring is done on a computer, and he had to adapt quickly.
Noem My Skollie became a commercial success. It was the South African entry for Best Foreign Language Film in the 2017 Academy Awards. For his work on the score, Shepherd was nominated for a South African Film and Television Award and also won Best Musical Composition at the 2018 Humanities and Social Sciences Awards.