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Cinema & Television's John Avarese on Scoring 'The Arrangement' with Drexel Musicians

A behind-the-scenes look at a multidisciplinary collaboration

Musicians playing in Drexel's Studio One

Cinema & Television faculty member John Avarese directs musicians from the Drexel University Symphony Orchestra in recording the score for The Arrangement(2020)

January 13, 2020

Associate Teaching Professor of Film & Television John Avarese is a musician, composer, and sound professional with over 40 feature film credits (not to mention countless short films and surround-sound planetarium features). He runs a production company, Three Professors Media, with Westphal colleagues Karin Kelly (Department Head of Cinema & Television) and Matt Kaufhold (Program Director of Screenwriting & Playwriting). For his upcoming project, The Arrangement, he’s handling all aspects of audio post-production, which has led to some interesting collaborations within Westphal and across the University. We spoke with John about what’s going on behind the scenes of The Arrangement, which stars Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight, Runaway Train) and is expected for release this year.

Tell us about The Arrangement and how you became involved in the project.

The film’s producer, Andrew Hunsicker, is also an actor, and starred in dozens of student films for the program. He was looking for someone to mix his movie that his son directed. He asked Matt Kaufhold for a recommendation, and he sent Andrew to me. When I met with Andrew and his son Jake Hunsicker (the film’s director), I explained that I could take on all aspects of audio post for the project, including ADR (Automated Dialog Replacement), sound design, mixing, and scoring. After I presented the music to them, I sold them on the idea of using real players. Also, the cinematographer and editor, Brian Keenan, is a 2014 graduate from our program. I scored and mixed his senior thesis film. So, there’s a history there. It’s all about relationships.

How many Drexel students are involved? What programs do they come from?

This past summer, I taught an Honors class, “Hearing the Movies,” which is about how we are manipulated by sound and music in films. I sometimes use projects that I have worked on in the past so that I can deconstruct them and demonstrate the process. The class had a few string players from the Drexel University Symphony Orchestra, and they said would love to play on a movie score. I said that if they could get 12 of their friends to agree to it, I could make it happen.

We had 13 strings: three 1st Violins, three 2nd Violins, three Violas, three Celli, and a Bass. I also asked Alison Kane, a third-year Biomedical Engineering students who organized the players if there was a good woodwind player. She recommended Nina Cheng, a third-year Biological Science major, on oboe, who was excellent. They are from all over the University.

Were there any unique challenges or opportunities to scoring this type of project?

I was fortunate enough to have a producer and director who let me do whatever I wanted. When I presented a mockup score to them, I said, “This is the score,” and they said, “great.” I didn’t have to project what they might want; I just wrote what I thought was best, which is a rare opportunity and fun.

What was challenging was that I had to write the 66 minutes of music, record the electronic tracks from my home studio and prepare the charts for the recording session in three and a half weeks. It was about 8 inches of paper.

I knew that I could have the musicians for a limited time; I think it was four hours, and there was a lot to do. Since the music must be in sync with the movie, all of the players were listening to click tracks in their headphones to keep us all in time with the film. This is how it is done, and it was something entirely new to them. Once they got comfortable, they did great.

What was it like recording in the Music Industry Program’s Studio One at Drexel Plaza?

Having taught Digital Media audio classes in the labs at One Drexel Plaza, I was familiar with the space. Being a recording engineer myself, I knew how unique and useful the studio was. However, I did not go into the session as an engineer. I let Ryan Moys, the Facilities Manager for Music Industry, run everything and do whatever he thought was best for the music. I didn’t have to think about anything but the music. This was the first time strings were recorded in the space, and he was looking forward to the session. Ryan is great collaborator and I plan to do more sessions like this.


A series of behind-the-scenes videos shows the process of recording the score for The Arrangement, featuring student players from the Drexel University Symphony Orchestra:


Nina Cheng


Jinie Eom 

Tara Feenan

Ellen Garvan

Boglaika Keamey

Kaylie Minogue

Arianna Rivera

Hanna Sturges 


Jason Finn

Esther Moon

Sunyeon Yoo


Alison Kane 

Zachary Arvanitis

Andrew Devaney


Raymond Zhang