California State University, Long Beach
Inside CSULB Logo

Richey Scores Cheney Documentary, Shown At Sundance In January

Published: February 15, 2013

Craig Richey, a keyboard studies lecturer in the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music, recently completed the score to “The World According To Dick Cheney,” a 2013 Sundance Film Festival documentary helmed by RJ Cutler, director of “The War Room” and 2009’s “The September Issue” (which Richey also scored). The Sundance festival took place Jan. 17-27.

Richey was invited to appear at the festival on a BMI Composers Roundtable panel that explored the creative relationship between composer and director. A Sundance Institute Fellow (a graduate of the 2006 Composers Lab), Richey initially appeared on this panel at Sundance 2006, and at Sundance 2011, where he collaborated with other Composers Lab alums in a live scoring event organized by composer Rolfe Kent. On Friday, March 15, “The World According To Dick Cheney” will be the premiere episode of new Showtime Biography Series featuring portraits of notable Americans.

There have been few U.S. political figures in recent memory more divisive than Dick Cheney, the 46th vice president of the United States under George W. Bush. The politician’s life, career and relationships are profiled in the documentary accompanied by a series of sit-down interviews with Cheney, as well as his closest friends, all to reveal, as the film says, “How did Dick Cheney become the single most powerful non-presidential figure in American history?”

Richey, who joined CSULB in 2001, was thrilled to return to Sundance. He remembers his 2009 visit after scoring “The September Issue” about Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

“I felt the Wintour documentary was aimed at a specific audience. But after watching `Cheney’ for five minutes, I saw this film was aimed at an entirely different audience,” he said. “This is a big film, one of those great filmmaker’s subjects that reveals a pivotal period of history. Watching Dick Cheney as vice president gave the film a gravity and a sense of historical longevity I hadn’t dealt with before. I can imagine this film being watched for years to come.”

Richey’s creative process began when he peeked at early footage. “I originally gave the filmmakers a bunch of music from my personal library,” he recalled. “As it turns out, of the final 57 pieces of score in the film, 12 of them came from that library. It’s nice when it works out that way. It means less work for me and music that is more apt to work in the context of a documentary.”

Richey believes documentaries are often driven by their scores. “They need so much music that a variety of musical styles are required,” he explained. “I go to work using broad strokes until I decide what interpretation is appropriate. For instance, what size of musical group is possible under the budget? What can we afford? That is a question asked by any film. Eventually, Showtime came up with more funding to support a small orchestra.”

Richey doesn’t feel a film score needs to crack the mystery of its subject right away. “I asked myself, ‘What piece of music feels like a theme for Dick Cheney?’ It felt quite surreal to compose for Dick Cheney,” he laughed. “But that was the starting point. Once that piece of music was in place, the score went off in different directions peppered with little musical fragments that turned out later to be focal points for all kinds of musical cues.”

Subject matter dictates musical decisions, Richey feels. “There was something so mature and serious about this film that I felt it deserved a string orchestra. It elevated the whole film to its proper level, even though there was the occasional departure into steel guitars,” he said. “When I looked at footage dealing with 9/11 that featured President George Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it was my responsibility to bring a sense of urgency and gravity to all this. It was up to me to create energy and movement with an emotional quality through the use of strings.”

Richey portrait
Attending the premiere of the Cheney documentary at the Sundance Film Festival were (l-r) director/producer RJ Cutler, director/editor Greg Finton and composer Craig Richey.

Richey feels his previous Sundance experiences helped to prepare him for his current assignment. As a Sundance Institute Fellow and Composer’s Lab graduate, he remembers a fast-paced 10-day adventure that shuffled musical advisors.

“Basically, I found out I could function under that kind of pressure,” he recalled. “The response of my Sundance mentors gave me a sense of confidence. It was a critical pat on the head. I learned at the Sundance lab to trust my instincts and not re-do what someone else did.”

Richey, a native of North Carolina, made his New York debut as guest soloist with the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall. He has appeared both in solo and chamber music recitals throughout the United States. His teachers include Joseph Kalichstein, Martin Canin, Bela Nagy and Anne Epperson. Richey, at 19, was a recipient of a special award from the National Federation of Music Clubs for outstanding performance in chamber music at the Kneisel Hall Chamber Festival in Blue Hill, Maine. His chamber music mentors include Artur Balsam, Joseph Fuchs, Leslie Parnas and Joseph Kalichstein. Richey also served as staff accompanist at the Juilliard School. He taught for 10 years at the Third Street Music School Settlement in New York City where he directed its chamber music program. He received his high school diploma from the North Carolina School of the Arts, his Bachelor of Music degree from the St. Louis Conservatory and his master’s degree from the Juilliard School.

As a lecturer in keyboard studies, his responsibilities include working one-on-one with piano performance majors and with the accompaniment class where pianists are paired with singers and instrumentalists. “It is important to offer students a collaborative experience with other musicians,” he said. “I love teaching and I never plan to give it up. Being a teacher and a composer is a great way to keep your musical chops. Sometimes, it is challenging to juggle both facets of my career, especially given films’ unforgiving deadlines, but I am very grateful for my position here and it has been fantastic to see our piano program accelerate by leaps and bounds. In the 10 years I’ve been at CSULB, I have seen us reach the point where our program is the most-talked-about viable alternative to such private schools as USC. These are gifted students here and I am very proud of our musical reputation.”

What is next for Richey? “My next film assignment is titled ‘Uncanny,’ but after that, who knows?” he said. “All I really know is that ‘The World According to Dick Cheney’ is already generating plenty of critical buzz.”

Richey, along with fellow composers Lili Haydn and Ryan Miller, was invited by the Sundance Institute to do an impromptu live Google Chat, a conference call with viewers asking questions about the process of writing music for film.