Film: ‘Coming 2 America’ – Interview with Composer Jermaine Stegall

Covid has changed the landscape of how movies are made.

by Michael Bergeron

“For the longest time John Williams was the model that I aspired to. I saw “E. T.” and I saw “Raiders of the Lost Ark” at a drive-in. After high school I entered college as a saxophone performance major,” says composer Jermaine Stegall. “I realized very quickly that I was highly distracted by film scoring as a career path.”

James Horner was another influence. “In “Apollo 13” when the rocket took off was a light bulb moment. Wait a minute, someone is doing this on purpose. This is timed out and calculated. It’s not a mistake that there’s a relationship of film to music,” adds Stegall.

After completing a film scoring program at USC in 2003 Stegall got an internship with Marco Beltrami for the movie “I, Robot.”

“I was hooked. Being able to record at Fox for ten days,” says Stegall. The same recording stage at Fox was where Stegall recorded the score for “Coming 2 America,” the sequel to the beloved 1988 movie.

During his internship the whole orchestra was recorded at the same time. “Now you have to record the strings and brass on different days because of Covid,” says Stegall.

“The director Craig [Brewer] was in Memphis during most of our collaborative process. When he was in town he wasn’t allowed to attend the recording session.

“No one that wasn’t essential to the recording process was allowed in the studio. The producers weren’t allowed, they were all on Zoom or Skype or Evercast. The old school model where someone is looking over your shoulder was out.”

The first flourish heard in the film is when General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) shows up near the beginning. “We’re telling the audience to get ready to smile, we’re having fun,” says Stegall. “Everyone knows about the first movie so we have to take everything to the next level. It’s a statement when Izzi shows up on screen.”

Once Eddie Murphy’s King Akeem decides to return to America his advisor Semmi (Arsenio Hall) yells “Hell no Majesty!”

“There had to be a feeling of motivation but also at the same time we’re playing with the sound of Zamunda,” says Stegall. “We used percussion and some loops so we don’t feel like we’re just in one place. We’re in the middle of both.”

Once Akeem and Semmi are in New York there’s a scene where they pass street musicians playing drums on plastic barrels. 

“In that scene there’re several different tempos. There was a note from the producers to have a feeling of anticipation. I wanted a groove that said they were excited to be back. I used a live drummer on that. He brought eight different snare drums to the session because he knew I was all about snare drums. What is the sound of Queens? For me it was the snare drum,” says Stegall.

“Once we decided on the drum sound he could just wail on that sound of anticipation and being in an urban area but without taking anyone out of the movie, because there’s no another sound like that in the movie.”

“Coming 2 America” premieres on Amazon Video this coming Friday.

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