Do you choose to live a life in music? Or does music choose you? Young composer Antoine Binette Mercier, 28, has never thought of doing anything else. “I’ve never questioned my career choice,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to write music for films, for as long as I can remember.” In spite of his young age, the composer has already written music for video games, advertising jingles, short film soundtracks (Ça prend des couilles by director Benoit Lach, among others) and documentary features like Le nez by Kim Nguyen and Take Down: The DNA of GSP by Peter Svatek and Kristian Manchester.
For his musical work on the GSP documentary about ultimate fighting champions, Binette Mercier received a Gémeaux award, a Canadian Screen Award nomination, and a SOCAN Foundation Young Audio-visual Composers prize.
“If you want to survive in the business of composition for films and documentaries, you have to create your own sound.”
Binette Mercier started off creating music for video games. While he was studying classical music composition at Laval University, a teacher put him in contact with Long Tail, an independent gaming studio. The job was so demanding that he decided to drop his university studies. “I sometimes miss the academic world,” he says. “But at the time, I didn’t find it very practical. It was a gift to be able to do music for video games.”
After three years of working there, Long Tail was bought by Ubisoft and the contract ran out for Binette Mercier. He arrived in Montreal and linked up with Apollo Studios musical services, an association that guided his choice of a professional path. “I had an office on their premises as an independent worker,” he says. “And that enabled me to get my footing, and get involved with the people and projects in the field. I wouldn’t have won the contract for the GSP documentary without them.”
Binette Mercier understood what the GSP documentary producers wanted, because of their larger-than-life musical references in George St. Pierre’s image. Directors Peter Svatek and Kristian Manchester acknowledge Radiohead and Hans Zimmer as musical influences. “In our job, we’re always dealing with the demolover, directors who are obsessed with the music they’re using to make their film before adding an original score,” says Binette Mercier. “As composers, we must understand the feelings that are touched upon. To move beyond the references provided at the beginning of the project, and find the musical tools to express the three or four emotions within a scene. Peter and Kristian had used a Radiohead song in a school bullying scene at the school where George suffers in silence and then, one day, fights back to get some respect. I went for Claude Lamothe’s cello, which has the athlete’s strength and intensity but also his warmth. Everything worked out.”
Another decisive meeting was one with Julien Sagot. Binette Mercier has been friends with Karkwa’s percussionist since 2009, when he wrote the arrangements for the group’s symphonic concert performance, and the creative exchange is still going. Binette Mercier produced the second part of Sagot, Valse 333, which came out in late 2014. The exchange has set the composer off on an artistic quest. “Sagot has woken me up as an artist,” he says. “He’s instilled a feeling of urgency in me, to find my own sound, my own style, my own language. I’ve been looking for a musical identity ever since. And that’s all down to him.”
Binette Mercier has therefore started composing his own album of “cinematic” songs in his spare time, or when he feels inspired. “If you want to survive in the business of composition for films and documentaries, then you have to create your own sound,” he says. “It’s easy in this business to just do what people ask… Plus, our creative time is often cut short. It’s up to you as a composer to do the groundwork, to feed yourself with painting, creation, life.”
When you ask Binette Mercier what it takes in this business, he replies with no hesitation that resourcefulness, determination and communication are his key themes: “You have to be up to speed technically speaking, and able to compose with a computer. You have to be versatile and meet people. No man likes to sell himself, but when I had no more video game contracts, I bought myself a $300 ticket for the Montreal International Games Summit. And I came out with a $2,000 music contract.”
Nothing like making your own luck.