Two Nelson area composers had their talents recognized through a high profile nomination — an Emmy.
Robert Neufeld of Nelson and Adham Shaikh of the Slocan Valley were nominated for Outstanding Music and Sound for their work on the National Geographic project Untamed Americas.
The four-part series explores the Americas giving people an up-close look into great wildlife spectacles of the desert, mountains, forests and the coasts.
Working from their respective studios in the West Kootenay, Neufeld and Shaikh provided the backdrop of music for the vivid images of the dramatic series narrated by actor Josh Brolin.
“It is nice to be recognized,” said Neufeld of the nomination coming at the end of a challenging project that consumed them for six months. Days went 14 to 16 hours seven days a week.
Both Neufeld and Shaikh found the assignment trying at times with a great deal of input into creative decisions coming from National Geographic, said Neufeld.
“Adham and I battled it through,” he said. “We had to work really hard to get through the different opinions about what people thought the score should be.”
Between Neufeld and Shaikh, there was always one of them unsure they’d see the project through. Said Shaikh, “Luckily one of us would talk the other back into it. We managed to reaffirm each other.”
Having worked with National Geographic before, Neufeld knew to hang in there, that a challenge wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“We may come out smelling like roses in the end,” he told Shaikh who reminded Neufeld of that statement when nominations came out mid-July.
“We felt like we’d been vindicated a bit because it had been a bit of a rough ride,” said Neufeld.
Shaikh also a record producer and sound designer was surprised at the nomination “given that here we are in the little Kootenays working away. You don’t necessarily think that anyone’s going to remember or notice.”
At the onset, Neufeld noticed Shaikh. Even though he didn’t have the breadth of experience of other artists suggested by National Geographic, Neufeld approached him to work on this project because he “liked Adham’s music.”
“I just had a feeling that we’d make a good team,” he said.
And they did.
“It turned out we made a great team,” said Neufeld. “We’re both real hard workers and Adham is incredibly self disciplined and incredibly determined not to mention talented.”
For Shaikh, this was an amazing project to work on with Neufeld, a “super talented guy.”
“We worked really well together,” said Shaikh. “I found him just an awesome co-creative partner and we seem to have a great language back and forth with complimentary skill sets.”
Shaikh describes himself good at finding live musicians, cutting in rhythm and drum while Neufeld’s talents lie in the emotional and orchestral side of a score.
Neufeld’s formal musical training is in clarinet, piano, percussion and composition. The graduate of UK’s Royal Academy of Music and of the National Film and Television School has worked on documentary and fiction projects for internationally-known clients as BBC, CBC and Nova, Discovery Channel. He was previously nominated for an Emmy in 2008 in the same category recognizing a project on the Titanic for the History Channel.
Shaikh first came to the Kootenays about a decade ago to do sound design on Sacred Planet, Jon and Karen Long’s project narrated by Robert Redford shedding light on diverse landscapes, people and animals.
“It certainly was something I put out to the universe that I wanted to do more of,” said Shaikh.
Since then, he’s handled many projects including the CBC documentary Secrets that garnered him a Leo Award handed out by the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Foundation of BC. Shaikh’s album Fusion was also recognized with a Juno nomination for World Music Album of the Year in 2006.
The duo would love to collaborate again and they look back on this Emmy-nominated piece of work as a success.
“In a project with such a scope, seven producers, lots of different agendas, there is always compromise, arriving at things you don’t necessarily have as your own vision, but somehow between Robert and I, all the stuff that I wrote, I feel really happy with it. At the end of the day, we survived,” said Shaikh.
Neufeld said National Geographic wanted to go heavy on guitar to break the mold of natural history films that feature orchestra.
“I am proud that we stepped up to accomplish that,” said Neufeld. “I think we developed the score to the point where it really serves that series well…. There are scenes we scored that are quite inspirational and they are quite unusual. We took some creative risks in what we made, for sure.”
The duo relied heavily on the talents of local musicians such as featured guitarist Rylan Kewen, Craig Korth who played dobro and mandolin, Andy Parks on electric guitar, Soniko Waira on native flute, and guitarist Darren Mahe.
As well, DC composers helping on the last two episodes were Lenny Williams and Chris Biondo.
“One of the great thing in our community is there are so many talented musicians in so many different disciplines,” Shaikh said. Added Neufeld, “As a film creator, even separate from National Geographic, I am reaching out constantly to different musicians for elements to use in sound design.”
The 65th annual Emmy Awards Ceremony will be held this fall. Untamed Americas was also received nominations for cinematography. Neufeld is planning on attending the ceremony while visiting his daughter who lives in New York City.
Neufeld isn’t focused on bringing home that golden statue. The inner affirmation he feels about his work takes centre stage over the unpredictable nature of the awards given.
“If you do good work, you will get nominated,” he said “At some level it’s about excellence and at another it’s also about who happens to like what.”
Shaikh likely won’t attend with travel to New York and entry into the event being pricey.
“They don’t always make these things accessible to the little guy,” he said.