St. Louis Park-raised composer scores big in Hollywood

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012 11:14 AM CDT

Composer David Reynolds’ work has brought him into contact with some of the legends of the film industry and back to his native St. Louis Park.

Reynolds has written music for such mainstream films as “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “Get Smart” but has also scored a number of television shows and independent films. One of those films, “Dorfman,” brought Reynolds to his hometown for a sold-out screening on opening night of the Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival at ShowPlace ICON Theatre in St. Louis Park.

“It’s extremely unusual in a sense that he’s in Hollywood and writes a soundtrack for a film and it opens in his hometown no more than a mile from where he grew up,” remarked his father, George Reynolds, amid a gathering of college friends and family. The composer’s parents still reside in St. Louis Park.

George Reynolds added, “When we heard about this, we thought, ‘Holy smokes, this is a fun thing.'”

David Reynolds said the film screening marks the first time he’s been able to travel back to Minnesota to open a film with friends and family.

“It feels fantastic to be here,” he told audience members following the March 16 screening of the film’s Minnesota premiere. “Dorfman” has previously been a part of the Hollywood Film Festival and Miami Jewish Film Festival. Talks with distributors for a wider release are ongoing.

The musician’s mother, LaDonna Reynolds, said she recognized her son’s musical talent at a very early age.

“We’re very proud parents,” she said.

Early beginnings

His parents enrolled him in a preschool program with the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis. David Reynolds pursued his love of music by playing in a band and taking lead roles in musicals at St. Louis Park Senior High School, as well as in a choir at Westwood Lutheran Church in St. Louis Park. By about the age of 9, he had developed an independent streak and began to stray from the assigned pieces by the likes of Bach and Chopin.

Of his entry into musical composition, Reynolds said, “It was basically a rebellion against piano lessons.”

Intro to film

After graduating from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Reynolds began writing ad jingles, creating industrial videos and performing other work for a Minneapolis communications agency. A coworker, John Gaspard, invited Reynolds to score his feature film, “Resident Alien.”

“It was really fun, so I was like, OK, this is what I want to be doing,” Reynolds said.

After working on music for another Gaspard film in post-production work in the Twin Cities called “Beyond Bob,” a Minnesotan in the film industry told Reynolds he had already cornered the regional market for post-production work and suggested he try his luck in Los Angeles.

Reynolds ended up talking his way into a selective University of Southern California film-scoring program as a result of a three-hour conversation with the late Buddy Baker, a musician who worked with one Walter “Walt” Disney.

Despite receiving a rejection letter, Reynolds sent Baker samples of his work for the films Reynolds had scored in Minnesota. Though all slots had been filled, Baker agreed to take Reynolds on.

At the age of 28, Reynolds sold his half of a house in Edina, hitched a U-haul trailer up to his Saab and hit the road in 1993. Upon arriving he chained the trailer to a tree and spent a week gathering items from the rental and sleeping on the couch of an acquaintance.

He learned the ins and outs of film composition through the USC program. Although computers have made life for film composers easier, Reynolds in the early part of his career, had to rely on his own mathematical skills to determine exactly where a particular measure fit with movie footage he received.

Making his break

Reynolds said he developed a habit of carrying scores with him as he followed the late USC instructor and renowned film composer Elmer Bernstein out to his car after class.

“Finally, when the year was over, I begged him for a job,” Reynolds admitted.

Bernstein had written music over a lengthy career for numerous famed films, the likes of “The Ten Commandments,” the original “True Grit,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” The pair found common ground, and Bernstein hired Reynolds to proofread his scores after another staffer compiled them into orchestra-ready form.

“I learned even more from that than I did by going to school,” Reynolds said.

A diverse scoresheet

From there, Reynolds launched his career, sometimes writing scores on his own and at times working with other composers. For example, he assisted Christopher Young on films like “The Man Who Knew Too Little,” starring Bill Murray, and Danny Elfman on “Wanted,” a thriller starring Angelina Jolie.

When working on major Hollywood productions, Reynolds has had the chance to work in studios used by Frank Sinatra and for the recording of “The Wizard of Oz.”

“For a kid from St. Louis Park, it’s a little bit like what the hell am I doing here?” he said.

Meanwhile, his work on independent films forces him to use creativity to ensure a score sounds good on film despite a small budget.

“The diversity is great,” Reynolds said.

He added, “I love what I do. I lot of people want to be in movies. Not everybody gets the opportunity to do it. I’m one of the fortunate people to get out there and do some work.”

He’s traveled to major film festivals like Sundance and Tribeca in the past, but called his return to St. Louis Park for the Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival exciting as well.

Reynolds said, “It’s fun to be able to come back and share the experience with my family and friends.”