Longtime SOCAN member Steven Vitali has diversified exponentially since rising to No. 1 with his debut album, Come Dream With Me, on Ottawa radio station CFMO’s Easy Listening Album Chart in 1989. These days, he’s claiming the titles of film director, producer, screenwriter, film editor, cinematographer, and actor to add to his existing musical credits as a musician, producer, singer-songwriter, and composer. Vitali moved from Toronto to Los Angeles in 2016, and became an American citizen in March of 2023, but his Canadian connections have remained strong.

Although he’s still working with several artists on musical projects, Vitali’s main focus for the last five years has been the documentary film The Jewels of the Salton Sea – on which he’s worked with his wife, Grace Vitali, and which is narrated by actor Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Thelma & Louise, The Hateful Eight).

The Salton Sea, in Southern California, is a lake that formed when water from the Colorado River was diverted to the Imperial Valley in 1905 to provide irrigation in what was then a dry lakebed. Over the 20th Century, the lake became toxically polluted, and has notably shrunk in size. Since the late ‘90s, a massive reclamation project (initially promoted by former pop star and then congressman Sonny Bono) has been in effect, although much work still has to be done. Describing the urgency of the environmental situation is what the film is all about.

Vitali had worked on soundtracks before – including providing music for Canadian Forces Snowbird Demonstration Squadron (and was named an honourary Snowbird for his efforts) – but writing the music for Salton Sea was very different.

“I was hearing music in my head – that’s the way I work”

“Being director of this film really helped me as the composer,” he says, “because when you’re the director you get to… really have an understanding for what you’re going to write later.” In most soundtrack writing situations, the composer only gets to work on the film after the shooting is completed. As the director, Vitali was present for 100% of the production. Every day while shooting, he says, “I was hearing music in my head – that’s the way I work. It’s a language I can understand… I don’t just hear the melody, I hear all the notes, all the arrangements.

“Directing this particular project for that long a duration enabled me to really understand more than the nature [of the landscape], but also the people that are part of that nature: The incredible people who are trying to make a difference in something they believe in, that will help not just California, and the surrounding areas and communities, but will help our planet.”

Vitali says, “the recipe for the soundtrack was the emotions that I was feeling as the composer, in regard to the extraordinary people that I got to meet, and the footage I was looking at.” Vitali’s goal was “combining the two harmoniously, in a way that would best reflect a profound sound for the audience.”

At press time, Vitali was working with Toronto’s Errol Starr on a re-make of Starr’s 1989 JUNO Award-winning hit, “Angel,” and with two opera singers: Elisa Bartoli in Italy, and Chelsea Snow in California. The Jewels of the Salton Sea is expected to be available on Amazon and other platforms starting in the  Summer of 2023.