Award Winning Composer Releases New Soundtrack for New Documentary The Last of the Winthrops


In this interview, we caught up with Shie Rozow, composer of the upcoming documentary The Last of the Winthrops. Shie’s score for the film is also currently nominated for a Hollywood Music and Media Award (HMMA). This film tells the story of a woman and her powerful revelations as she reclaims her sense of self after taking an Ancestry DNA test. 

PH: How did you come to work on The Last of the Winthrops?

Shie Rozow: I got an email from producer Adam Singer, back in April of 2020 just a couple of weeks after the pandemic shutdown. He was given my contact info by our mutual producer friend Katherine LeBlond, with whom I worked on Janis: Little Girl Blue, Shawn Mendes: In Wonder, and other projects. We then spoke by phone after which he sent me a very rough cut of the film, which immediately spoke to me and so I was interested. I then had a long chat with Viviane Winthrop, the director and writer of the film, by phone during which we clicked and I was offered the job.

PH: Can you talk about your process and how you prepared to create a score that nods to the Winthrop family’s long history?

Shie Rozow: Viviane, Adam Singer (writer), and I spoke about the score before I got started. They wanted a modern sounding score that also somehow acknowledged the family’s heritage, which prompted me to investigate using period instruments from the Renaissance and Baroque eras within the context of modern compositions. I wrote a theme that was primarily piano based, but recorded both Viola da Gamba and Baroque Cello as part of the sound of the cue. Viviane loved the sound of the Gamba and so we decided to incorporate it at key moments throughout the score.

PH: What are some of the challenges associated with writing for orchestra and how do you make the music as intimate or big as needed?

Shie Rozow: This score has moments that are quite grand and sweeping, but also moments that are extremely intimate. For me, the challenge was how to connect these moments so the grand cues don’t sound like they’re from a completely different score than the intimate one. I ended up doing a lot for piano (often several piano parts), which allowed me to have very sparse solo piano moments that are about as intimate as one could get. While at other times the piano had very busy parts that are part of the background texture along with the orchestra.

I also wrote for string quartet, or on occasion just solo strings quite a bit, which again allowed me to get very intimate. Yet when I wrote the more sweeping orchestral sounding cues, I actually wrote for orchestra and string quartet. So, the string quartet is playing along, sometimes supporting what the orchestra is doing, but often playing something different or a variation on what the orchestra is doing. So they weren’t just sweetening the orchestral sound, but actually a featured element. I think incorporating both the piano and string quartet in both intimate and more regal and expansive cues provided the glue that makes the score cohesive. At least I hope so!

PH: Can you discuss what it was like rewriting the entire score only a few weeks before the final dub? How many hours went into that?

Shie Rozow: That was daunting. About 4 weeks before the final dub I was sent a new cut of the film and it was drastically different from the one I had up to that point. It’s not unusual to have picture changes requiring some conforming, meaning trimming some things here and there, maybe expanding things in a spot or two. But this new edit had different structure to the story as well as different pacing, which meant rewriting the entire score. I had to figure out how to keep all the themes and general sound that Viviane and Adam liked, but rework it to fit the new structure and pacing of the film.

I think this is where my years of working with other composers really helped me. I quickly built a team that could do all the music prep work for the musicians, freeing me up to focus on the writing itself. I then did my own internal re-spot of the film, working out which themes belong where, which pieces need to be reworked in what spots, which spots need completely new music, and if I can repurpose any music that was written for scenes that were no longer in the film. I calculated how many minutes I had to rewrite and then how many minutes I had to rewrite daily in order to stay on track.. It took half a day to work all that out, and once I had,  I prioritized my list based on the longest and most complicated cues first, so I could get those to my team.

Then it was just a matter of getting it done. I think I worked 17-18 hour days non stop for those 4 weeks. We had some issues with the final cue at the end of the film and had a big Zoom meeting about it. In which we decided on a last minute picture change that had me writing a new finale that was about 7 minutes long. I had pulled an all-nighter to write that final cue so we could get it orchestrated and sent to the musicians the next day. It was recorded the following day, mixed the day after that, and I drove up to Skywalker for the final dub with all the music in hand the day after that.

PH: You also included an original piano piece created by the Winthrop family’s grandmother into one of the main themes of the film. Can you talk about how that came about? 

Shie Rozow: I don’t remember exactly when, but some time after I had started on the score, Viviane called me and told me she had found an old piano piece that her grandmother wrote and recorded and asked if she could send it to me. Of course I agreed, and when I heard the piece I immediately had the idea to interpolate it and use it as the “mother” theme in the film. Viviane’s mom was a pianist, and I loved that we had this piece by her grandmother and it just all connected in my mind.

I had the piece transcribed, and then completely rearranged and essentially re-wrote it, changing the meter, the key, and the rhythms. But, the new theme is very much inspired by and contains the melodic shape and DNA of the original piece, and it appears a few times in the film. I think it’s really special that I was able to take this piece, which really wasn’t cinematic at all, and rework it into something that is now part of the movie.

PH: As a production professional who’s been in the industry for awhile, how do you consistently improve upon your craft? 

Shie Rozow: Legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he still practices at age 90. “Because I think I’m making progress” was his response. I practice. Every job is an opportunity to practice our craft, and when I’m in between jobs I’m usually working on some project of my own. For example, right now I’m working on an album of electronic music, which I hope to finish and release next year, which is a wonderful opportunity to do something different than film/TV scoring and practice my synth programming chops.

PH: What’s it feel like to also have your score currently nominated for a Hollywood Music and Media Award (HMMA)?

Shie Rozow: I’m always surprised and humbled when I’m nominated for anything. While I’ve been messing about with music most of my life, I didn’t really get serious about it and study music until I was in my 20’s, so I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do with “real” musicians who’ve been serious about it since childhood. There’s a part of me that still feels like an imposter who’s figuring it out and any minute those around me will realize I don’t have the same long history and background as they do. So being honored with a nomination like this is truly gratifying. Like Casals says, it makes me feel like I’m making progress.

PH: Can you share any other upcoming projects you have in the works?

Shie Rozow: My soundtrack album for The Last of the Winthrops was just released and is available on all digital platforms. If you purchase the album on Bandcamp you’ll also receive an exclusive bonus track that’s not available anywhere else. I was the music editor on Netflix’s Slumberland, which comes out on Friday 11/18. It’s a beautiful film for the whole family, which was a career highlight for me and working with composer Pinar Toprak who scored it is always a pleasure. Shotgun Wedding is another film I did with Pinar, which comes out on Amazon Prime on January 27, this one’s a fun rom-com.

As I mentioned above I’m working on an electronic album that I hope to release next year. Meanwhile, I’m planning on releasing my 3rd short film score compilation album Music for the Screen Vol. 3: Joseph F. Ferro Shorts next month, which will be my 5th album release in as many months. I’m also writing a book on film scoring that I plan on publishing next year. And there are a few other projects that I can’t yet mention by name including a big summer movie release, a Netflix animated series, an upcoming animated feature and a video game. So I’m very fortunate to have so much going on and keeping myself busy.


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