Award-winning composer Christopher Lennertz has been having a busy and impactful 2023. Back in May, after years of pursuing a highly successful career scoring movies, television series and video games and earning a reputation as a versatile, prolific and highly collaborative music creator, Lennertz was named a BMI Icon at the 2023 Film, TV & Visual Media Awards. In the wake of that honor, Lennertz has wasted no time in expanding his already impressive array of talents. Next month, his first foray into screenwriting and directing, an animated short film called Pacemaker (which he also, of course, scored) is getting its U.S. premiere at Outfest, and along with being a means of branching out in his creative talents, it’s also a deeply personal story for Lennertz.
We caught up with the composer, filmmaker and BMI Icon to find out more. Here’s what he had to say.
You have just written, directed and scored your own first short film, Pacemaker, which is getting its US premiere at the Outfest on August 23rd. Can you tell us a little about this project and how it came about?
I was inspired initially by my own family situation. My father-in-law got two Pacemakers before he passed, and my son came out as gay in 2020 and as transgender in early 2022. A Pacemaker doesn’t change the rhythm of a person’s heart, it just allows it to beat again as it authentically should … in its natural rhythm. So as a metaphor, anything can be the inspiration for a heart to beat true once again, which will then open that heart up to joy, love and, of course, acceptance.
We are a family who loves musical theater and the power of songs in animated musicals especially, so shortly after my son came out, I wrote the first script, he helped me craft the initial story, and I wrote the song “Rhythm Of My Heart.” We decided that this was a story that the world truly needed right now. I enlisted dear friends Darlene Caamano Loquet and Magdiela Duhamel from the animation world, who then expanded our team, and we barreled full steam into production in the UK. With all the vitriol surrounding identity and acceptance, we knew we couldn’t wait any longer to try to make a difference.
What do you hope audiences take away from this film?
The whole time, we’ve been saying that we’ve wanted to make the animated musical that a major studio wasn’t allowed to make yet. More than anything, I hope that families, parents, grandparents, teens, kids, can all see this film and realize that they don’t actually need to look that deeply into their own lives to come to a time where they may have felt like an “other,” and once they do, and realize how much love and joy can come from the rest of the world’s acceptance, that each and every human has their own unique heart and identity, then they can hopefully begin to understand and truly see their own loved ones for who they really are, and embrace and support them with unconditional love.
You’ve scored numerous films and collaborated with countless directors, animators, and screenwriters – how did you feel taking on those new roles yourself for this project? Were there any unexpected challenges? How did your creative process change as a result?
I’ve always thought of myself as a storyteller first, rather than merely a composer. That’s what made me fall in love with film and theater in the first place, so it was so fun to be able to follow this story from start to finish. I obviously used everything I’ve learned from so many of the wonderful directors that I’ve worked for in the past, but I was able to really embrace the idea of making many of the decisions myself, which was incredibly freeing. The challenges are similar, in that we had a finite amount of money to spend and therefore a finite amount of time. But I had the most amazing producers, partners, and an amazing co-director in Brian Vincent Rhodes, who is a brilliant animation veteran, so I felt so supported and guided all along.
The thing I loved about this creative process, much the same way I feel about theater songwriting, is that the story truly dictates the content, in terms of lyrics, style, arrangement, even the visual artwork. If we did our job right, then the song needs to sound like something that Grandad would sing about his love with his wife and it needs to feel and look like what his heart, now beating with his authentic rhythm once again, would envision. That set the rules, and we just followed through.
What advice would you offer to creatives looking to similarly expand their field of disciplines?
I think that the more any artist or craftsperson can give themselves permission and the opportunity to tell a story that resonates deeply with them, and that it comes from a place of authenticity, then they can truly create with a purpose and passion that transcends just a job or entertainment. Those are the projects that can change hearts and minds…and change the world. And the fulfillment that this process has given me, has also given me a confidence and passion that I think will make all of my future work deeper and more satisfying. I would do it again in a heartbeat…and plan to!
Earlier this year, you were named a BMI Icon at the Film, TV & Visual Media Awards. What has that honor meant to you?
That was such an honor to receive. While I feel I still have so much more I want to explore and create, it was such an amazing night. Thank you, BMI! Most importantly, I was able to fully express my gratitude and love for my family and friends, as well as the countless collaborators and mentors that have supported me along the way. A long career in this business can only happen with amazing people surrounding you and lifting you up, and I have been blessed to have that from the very beginning. I wouldn’t be anywhere if it weren’t for so many people both at BMI and related to BMI that have believed in me!
What can we next expect from you?
Well, I currently have Rogers: The Musical playing at Disneyland based on Marvel’s Captain America story and I’m in the middle of writing a stage musical called BeAPart about a family and community post pandemic in Atlanta. On the scoring side, I just finished a spin-off from The Boys called Gen V, a Christmas film for Disney+, and have season 4 of The Boys coming up, as well as Back in Action with Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz for Netflix.