Marc Aramian has pursued various careers around the world, with one domestic stop in Hollywood as a film and music producer. The Chicago native is still finding the right camera angles and notes. But he's doing it more than 2,000 miles away from America's entertainment capital.
Aramian and his wife, writer/director Veronica DiPippo, moved to Chattanooga in 2021 after DiPippo changed careers in search of a steady paycheck rather than the feast or famine of Hollywood.
Aramian graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in industrial engineering and pursued several vocations, both domestically and abroad, before discovering his true calling - music composer. He studied under composer Robert Mann for three years, and lived in Atlanta, then the Philippines, then London before moving to Hollywood in 2001.
Over some 20 years, Aramian created hundreds of musical scores for film, TV, records and commercials. Included in his catalog is "Discovering Ardi," which aired on the Discovery Channel in 2009 and represented a collaborative effort with over three dozen scientists from around the world, exploring the origins of man. Aramian's score featured African wind instruments, vocals and percussion melded with traditional Western-style harmonies and orchestration.
Among the 90-plus TV shows for which he wrote musical scores, two received Emmys - "Blacklist: Hollywood on Trial" and "Reel Models: The First Women of Film" - and one earned a Peabody Award. He worked as music supervisor for three Disney videos games; co-composer and sound designer for "Sinister," an Ethan Hawke movie. And he composed the musical score for the flag ceremony at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.
Earlier this year, Aramian and DiPippo's film production company, Crunch Entertainment, produced a short film for Tennessee Right to Life, which featured the emotionally charged story of Regina Block.
His current film project is a docu-drama (a documentary with dramatic re-enactments) on Father Patrick Ryan, who disregarded his personal health and safety by caring for the sick and dying in Chattanooga during the 1878 yellow fever epidemic. Eighty percent of the city's population left during the outbreak. The Irish-born priest went door to door to help care for the estimated 1,800 people who had remained in the city and eventually contracted the disease. He died several days later at age 33 and was hailed a hero in the local press.
Aramian and DiPippo are currently seeking help with their current film project which chronicles the 1878 yellow fever epidemic in Chattanooga. They are in search of original source material such as personal letters, photographs, newspaper clippings or court records that are connected to that epidemic. If you have access to any of these original documents, Aramian asks that you please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently, Aramian spoke with Chatter Magazine about the inspiration for his projects and his move to Chattanooga. Below is a condensed and edited version of the conversation.
Chatter Magazine: What inspired you to produce the Father Ryan film?
Marc Aramian: Our local Catholic church, the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, is petitioning the Vatican for the cause for beatification and canonization of Father Ryan, and they commissioned us to make this film in conjunction with the Diocese of Knoxville. Stories about heroism resonate with everyone, and most Chattanoogans don't realize we've had our share of heroes right here. Plus, we believe the pandemic angle connects with people in a special way at this particular time in history. Right now we are in the research and treatment writing phase but hope to be moving forward with filming interviews soon. It will be a while before we get to the dramatic re-creations because that will take a lot of research, planning, additional funding and require a professional crew. Ultimately, our goal is to make a compelling and informative film that can be enjoyed by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Chatter: What's different about producing videos in Chattanooga instead of Hollywood?
Aramian: Hollywood is a well-oiled machine that funds and distributes films that entertain but also preach a dominant cultural narrative. Ironically, while they posture as anti-war/anti-violence, much of their product is saturated with bloodshed and graphic sex including violence against women. Despite all their slogans, human life is increasingly depicted as meaningless. And it is not even arguable anymore that such perspectives have had an overall negative impact on our culture. We were based in Los Angeles and belonged to a much-maligned minority group: Christians. We survived because we often hid our values and beliefs. In L.A., many of our Christian friends let their views slip into conversations, only to find themselves on Hollywood's new "Black List." Dismayed by the war on non-conformists promoted by Hollywood, we fled to the South, where a multiplicity of perspectives can still be openly expressed and debated without fear of being "canceled."
Chatter: What prompted the career change to film producer?
Aramian: I had a successful career as a composer that took me all over the world. And by successful, I mean that I was able to make a living at it. There are a few - very few - film composers who are quite wealthy, but most composers do it just for fun or have to supplement their income with other jobs. I was quite fortunate in that regard. When I moved to L.A. from London, right after 9/11, I set up shop as a composer but got involved in indie filmmaking. That's where I met Veronica. I helped her make a short film and realized I loved film production. We formed Crunch Entertainment at that time. So mostly my focus since then has been filmmaking with side composing jobs to help pay the bills. I still do some strictly music jobs once in a while. For example, I have a premiere [in May] in Savannah of a piece I wrote for the Wesley Monumental Orchestra and Chorus.
Chatter: What's the process of producing a musical score?
Aramian: Generally, my music career involved film or video background music. I first find out what the director or producer wants the audience to feel while watching the scene I'm about to score. The discussion revolves around emotional concepts, like: "Start the scene with the audience relaxed about this character. Lead them to think he's kind, generous and sympathetic. But when he rounds the corner out of the view of our hero, on the close-up of his face, bring in the sinister notes so we know he's plotting revenge." After this remit, I'll sit down and watch the scene and listen to the music in my head. You see, there's always music going on in my head. I can pay attention to it, manipulate it, replay it. Mostly I ignore it. But when I'm working, I keep watching a scene until I hear something I like and then start to manipulate that. With today's technology, I can easily create a mock-up of my idea that will closely resemble what an ensemble will sound like playing my score. This is what I present to the director.
Chatter: What are your strengths as a musical composer and how did you develop your talents?
Aramian: I know my way around the instruments, but I can't play any of them. I used to think of this as a hindrance, but my mentor, Robert G. Mann, told me to look at it as a strength. My writing will be unique because of my limitations. "Embrace it," he told me. It turns out he was right. As for developing my talents, every project taught me something new. Experimentation led me down new paths. Listening to the music of the masters also helps. Years of sitting down and writing, day after day, led me to where I am today.
Chatter: Which Hollywood projects and individuals stand out and why?
Aramian: I think the movie, "Sinister," is a terrific example. The director, Scott Derrickson, hired composer Christopher Young to score his supernatural thriller. He wanted a score that used only non-musical sounds. Using sound effects as a score is not one of Chris' strengths, so he hired me and two other guys to help him. The three of us spent two weeks recording sounds - like the sound of a violin bow on a spinning bicycle wheel, the sound of dragging a dumpster across an asphalt parking lot, the sound of various things dropped and broken, the sound of throwing wrenches and screwdrivers onto the strings of a piano, and so on. We electronically manipulated these sounds and loaded them into sampler instruments so that we could play these sounds using a keyboard. We had hundreds of these instruments. Scott reviewed them and picked 108 that he felt were right for the film. So we scored the film using these weird instruments. We each scored about 20% of the film. Chris was the supervising music producer, but he gave us free rein to score our scenes.
Chatter: Did your early life or background point to a career in music?
Aramian: I grew up in a barbershop-quartet family. My dad and brothers lived that life. I love harmony and music, and this background was instrumental in my development. But barbershop harmony is very limited so I branched out.