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Michelle Scullion

Composer

Michelle Scullion has played jazz, funk, thrash, electronic and classical works. That versatility has helped fuel a range of compositions for feature films, documentaries and commercials, as well as theatre and dance works. 

Growing up in Stokes Valley on the edge of Wellington, music was part of a life potted with family singalongs and piano lessons. A recording of beloved symphony Peter and the Wolf inspired her at the age of 13 to pick up the flute, the instrument she has probably played most.

A two year course at Wellington Polytechnic’s music school — where Scullion began creating music for films by design students — was followed by a Bachelor of Music at Victoria University. 

In 1987 she got a call from Tony Hiles, who was helping an untried filmmaker complete an “unusual” project called Bad Taste. With Hiles and Peter Jackson throwing in their own sound effects as she watched the rough cut, Scullion “just fell about the floor — within the first four minutes I was in fits.” Scullion's exuberant, eclectic soundtrack proved a vital weapon in Jackson's breakout feature. 

After the director began receiving letters from fans wondering where they could buy the music, a lavish — some would say revolting — picture disc of her soundtrack saw release on German specialty label QDK. “It was a very personal project for me,” says Scullion. “I chose selected tracks from the soundtrack to put on the album.”

By then Scullion had been nominated for best score again at the annual NZ screen awards, this time for Flying Fox on a Freedom Treeanother passion project which had taken years to get to cinema screens. Adapted by late actor/director Martyn Sanderson from two tales by Albert Wendt, the film follows a charismatic young Samoan who rejects the values of his European colonisers.

The late 80s and early 90s was an extremely busy period for Scullion on screen. The commercials and corporate videos included Our Future Generation. Part scripted by Tom Scott, and made for SOE Electricorp, it won Scullion an award at the international ITVA ceremony. She was also working on a range of documentaries for television, from Tony Hiles doco Crisis: One Man's Fight, to award-winning projects on the Rainbow Warrior and euthanasia (I Want to Die at Home). 

Samoa and splatter aside, her drama projects have included many short films and one-off tales for television. Matrons of Honour was an older-age romance made for femme-heavy anthology series Anthology, and she also provided music for two episodes of Ray Bradbury Theatre.

1992 saw an unusual collaboration with her partner Richard Bluck and the late Paul Jenden, to make dance film The Gift

Scullion would go on to work with old friend Tony Hiles on the original version of his big-screen fantasy Jack Brown Genius. A third Kiwi soundtrack nomination followed in 1996, for Chicken, the first feature from short film king Grant Lahood, another frequent collaborator.

Scullion’s extended list of short film credits includes Lahood’s Cannes-selected double hitters The Singing Trophy and Lemming Aid, work for Fiona Samuel (Song of the Siren, starring singer Janet Roddick), and the sonically-ambitious Valley of the Stereos, which centres around an escalating sound battle between a heavy metal fan, and a hippy.

Between Chicken in 1996, and her score for sci-fi thriller Eternity in 2012, Scullion has concentrated less on screen work, while maintaining a busy diet of performing, tutoring and recording. In 2001 alone she released five CDs, ranging from an instructional album on improvisation, to collaborative album Flute and Harp Volume 1.    

Her CV of theatre work includes compositions for ensemble Red Mole and a close involvement with award-winning dance group The BodyCartography Project.

 

Sources include
Michelle Scullion
Michelle Scullion website. Accessed 22 January 2014
Tom Cardy, ‘Chill-out wind’ (Interview) - The Evening Post, 1 November 2001, Page 22 
Douglas Jenkin, ‘MUSIC BY...(Interview) - Listener, 16 July 1988, Page 36
Ian Pryor, Peter Jackson - From prince of splatter to lord of the rings (Auckland: Random House New Zealand, 2003)
Bad Taste – Original Movie Soundtrack. QDK Records, 1990