Romeo and Juliet turns 424 years old this year, and in 2021 composer René G. Boscio became part of a new film to infuse the centuries-old play with some Latin flavor.
You know the story. Two young members of unfriendly factions, Romeo and Juliet, fall in love causing an uproar. But the pair can’t bear to be apart, which ultimately leads to their demise. In this new version, which premiered at Sundance in January, the cast is primarily black and Latino, and the story comes to viewers through smartphones and social media’s unique perspective.
PopAxiom spoke with René about his road from Puerto Rico to LA and making music for Romeo and Juliet.
“I began playing drums when I was around 11,” he says about the start of his musical journey. “I used to skateboard and play video games and play video games about skateboarding — Tony Hawk. The soundtrack was all these punk bands, and I got very into Blink 182. I wanted to be like Travis Barker.”
René “switched over to guitar, and I spent most of my teens playing in rock bands. I would have these little ambient, electronic side projects.”
The time came for college. “I knew I wanted to make music, but I didn’t exactly know how. I was interested in Berklee, but it didn’t quite work out financially. So I went to the conservatory in Puerto Rico.”
René completed a bachelor’s degree in classical composition. The process was his “introduction to the orchestral world. My family is very much into the rock and pop world. This was my first time being in front of all these orchestral instruments. It opened up a different world of musical exploration for me.”
“At that point, I started noticing music in movies,” he states before pointing out a particular movie, “The Holiday.”
The Holiday is a 2006 romantic-comedy by director Nancy Meyers. Unlike most romantic comedies, however, the score for this film came from Hans Zimmer. “That score was the first that popped out to me because it was pop-y and jazzy with an orchestra and guitars.”
René said to himself, “This is what I’d love to be doing, a combination of those styles.”
A flame lit up in René. “I started reaching out to film students and begging them to let me score their shorts. That’s how I got started, by doing these short films while finishing my bachelor’s.”
After graduation, René attended a two-day workshop for composers. At the center of this event was one of the most prolific composers of today. “I met Blake Neely at a workshop, and he ended up changing my whole world.”
During the workshop, “Blake gave us homework to score a scene,” he says. René caught Blake’s attention. “For a couple of weeks, he and I emailed each other back and forth. Eventually, he offered me an internship.”
René flew out to LA and spent a week with Blake in the studio. “At this point, I didn’t even know composers had teams. That’s how far removed from how things work in Hollywood I was. When I got here, it was him and Nathan Blume. I spent that week seeing how everything worked. It was all very eye-opening to me. By the end of the week, he offered me an assistant position.”
Working for Blake “was amazing,” he says, “It was like a master’s program in real-time. At first, it was mostly assistant tasks like cataloging music or doing tech work. Slowly, he started giving me more opportunities to arrange cues, all the way to writing music for the many shows he works on.”
First-hand experience from a veteran like Blake is priceless. What’s one lesson René took from his time? “How important it is to craft your sound and not use stuff out of the box. Often, when you’re working with virtual instruments, you’re able to pull up a preset. With some instruments, you just push a button, and it writes the cue for you.”
“It was always essential for Blake to take anything pre-made and tweak them to a point they became a unique sound.”
About Romeo & Juliet
“It’s my first feature film, and it’s at Sundance,” René says of Romeo & Juliet. “It was on my five-year list of goals when I started freelancing a few years ago. It happened! I’m very excited.”
“The filmmakers took on-screen representation to heart with a talented cast of black and Latino youth,” he says, but adds, “But we didn’t want the music to be too on-the-nose.”
René plucks on an instrument. “I take something simple and sample it. Then I create my virtual instrument and add different layers and textures, which will help create the score’s unique sound.”
Romeo and Juliet’s score is “not entirely orchestral,” he says, “but it’s not wholly electronic.”
The mix of Latino instruments, traditional instruments, and electronic music creates a sonic blend throughout the film. “It’s also one of those things,” he says, “that if I didn’t point it out, you might not even know they’re Latino instruments I’m using.”
René reveals “Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross” as having had “a huge impact as far back as Nine Inch Nails.”
“David Fincher films were always …” René makes a sound as if his mind were being blown.
More influences include “Sigur Ros and Alex Somers. Gustavo Santaolalla from the Latino side has influenced a lot of what I think of as Latino cinematic sounds.”
René’s got a dream project in mind that he hopes to one day make. “Think of Hocus Pocus from the Latino perspective, exploring the Brujeria side of things. When you think of something like Sabrina, that kind of dark, coming age thriller-horror story but with a Latin angle, I would love.”
“I’m currently wrapping up a feature called 7th and Union,” René answers when asked what’s coming next. “It’s directed by Anthony Nardolillo. I don’t know how much I can say, but it’s a drama.”
Is Carey Williams’ Latin-infused Romeo & Juliet on your watch list?
Thanks to René G. Boscio and Lumos PR
for making this interview possible.
Read more interviews from Ruben R. Diaz!