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Composing the Music for the Met Ball Doc Sounds Like the Coolest Job Ever

The First Monday in May premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this week. The documentary offers an intimate look at what really goes into the making of fashion's most star-studded party.

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And you don't have to be obsessed with fashion to enjoy the film. Opening to the public today, viewers can expect lots of Anna Wintour, plenty of seating-chart drama, the elaborate history behind last year's China: Through the Looking Glass exhibition, and loads of celebrities, from Beyoncé and Jay-Z to Rihanna and Justin Bieber.

But nothing makes you feel like you've secured a $25,000 ticket to the actual gala quite like the music to which the whole thing is set. You can thank Ian and Sofia Hultquist for that. They're the power-couple responsible for scoring the documentary and immersing the audience in the Vogue experience.

We talked with Ian, a former guitarist turned film composer, and his wife Sofia, a sound composer and 3D audio technologist, about what it was like to work on the Andrew Rossi film. And how you go about scoring Anna Wintour.

Sofia and Ian Hultquist at the premier of The First Monday in May at the Tribeca Film Festival. Photo: Getty Images/Jim Spellman

How did you two land this gig?

Ian: I actually worked with [director] Andrew Rossi on a couple of other films. Last year, he told me he was working on something new and wanted to work with me again. Involving the both of us was actually his idea. Because the whole film is based on fashion, he said I should bring Sofia on to do it with me.

Anna Wintour played a big part in getting this film made. Was she involved in the composing aspect of the film at all?

Ian: She's not really a producer, but I think she had a producer's role where they would show things to her and she would give feedback and comments. I know early on there were a couple of notes on the music —€” just wanting a little more variety and action going on, but not in terms of us talking to her directly.

Sofia: Yeah, her involvement with the score was her watching whatever rough cuts we were working on and then we'd find out if they were "Anna approved" or not. It's a crazy thing to think about, because you're like, "Oh my gosh, she's seeing what we wrote!" But yeah, we only really ever interacted with Andrew and the editors.

What goes into scoring a documentary or film like this? How long did it take?

Ian: There's always a new challenge. I find documentaries to be a lot harder to do than narratives, and I think the biggest reason being that the story is always changing, and is always subject to change. For this [documentary] especially, even just the first 15 minutes alone, they had to line up a whole mini-backstory on the Met Gala's history and Andrew Bolton's history, and we kind of had to follow along with that. So every 40 seconds, we were jumping into an entirely new tone and range of music and still trying to be consistent at the same time.

Sofia: We actually started writing some soundscapes over the summer, to just try and set the tone. And it turns out that a lot of the stuff we did during that time didn't make it into the movie because they were still in the process of figuring out what the story was going to be. They had all of these months of footage, but they needed to bring it all together to create a story. All in all, I'd say we worked on it for a solid seven or eight weeks of mostly 12 hour work days. There's maybe like one hour and 25 minutes worth of music in it right now. It was definitely an undertaking, but we're still happy with how it turned out.

Did the China: Through the Looking Glass theme of last year's gala influence the music at all?

Ian: I think it influenced us from a visually creative aspect. There's this scene towards the end of the film where Michael Kors and Kate Hudson walk around exploring, and we put in a few pieces of music that kind of fits in — almost as if it would be playing in the installation. But it's not necessarily inspired from Chinese music.

Sofia: The whole exhibit was about the way Chinese art has influenced Western designers, so we had to be careful to not make the music sound too stereotypical, because obviously that was the whole point of the exhibit. We tried to build the music around the actual costumes in the exhibit, so when you're looking at them you're like, "Okay, it makes sense that I'm hearing this."

Ian: There's a big talking point in the film about cultural appropriation, and I think in one or two demos we did, we had the same discussion.

Were there any major freakout moments throughout the process? Anything that had you guys at the edge of your seats, metaphorically speaking?

Ian: I feel like towards the end of it, we kind of felt like the people in the movie did. Everyone is rushing to get the gala together, and we were sort of rushing to make sure everything was set and ready to go on our end.

Sofia: When we first started the writing process, we started off separately, then we'd come and bring it together. By the end we were sitting in the same room for like 12 hours a day. It'd be like 3 a.m. and we'd be un-showered. There's definitely a level of crazy that comes from that, but it's also one of those moments when you feel the most creative. I've just been telling everyone that we're still married, so it all worked out. [laughs]

Do either of you have a favorite part of the doc?

Ian: Anna's got some really amazing one-liners. [laughs]

Sofia: I don't think she means it, but she's just got this really dry sense of humor, which is great. Also, I loved seeing how much attention to detail Andrew Bolton gives when he's walking around the exhibit. It's amazing. I love seeing how dedicated he is, and how much he loves what he does.

And finally, we've got to ask. Are you two attending this year's Met Ball?

Ian: Um, no. [laughs]

Sofia: I mean, if somebody sponsors us, I'll go.


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