The drama follows entrepreneurs Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) and Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson), who in the 1950s had their white friend Matt (Nicholas Hoult) pose as the front man of their real estate empire. In turn, they became two of the wealthiest African-American real estate owners at the time.
“Nobody knows this story. It’s one of those lost stories in history,” Salinas stated at Gold Derby’s Meet the Experts: Music panel, moderated by this author (watch above). “It’s absolutely phenomenal. These guys — yes, they used a white guy to front for them — but also just the fact that they were multi-millionaires, and I think, at one point, they owned 150 properties in L.A. They had come out and were sort of accepted as African-American real estate owners. And then they decide to go to Texas and open a bank. Spoiler alert: bad idea. It’s a different place. This is in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, and it didn’t work out so well.”
Salinas, who’s friends with the filmmakers, joined the project early on and spent 13 months composing the music. The early jump was important because he had to write an original jazz piece for a band to perform at Joe’s club, the Plantation Club. “There’s three ways [to do it]. There’s the Altman way, which is to film them actually doing it. We didn’t do that. But there’s the next best way, which is you pre-record the song,” Salinas explained. “You have to compose that, and the actors, musicians mime to it. The worst way is, ‘Eh, we’ll wing it and then try to cram something in that looks like they’re playing.’ So we actually had to compose music prior to the shoot.”
Salinas then went down to location in Atlanta to coach the actors in the band how to mime to his composition. “They’re actually all musicians, but it’s still hard because they haven’t heard this music before,” he said. “They’re trying to fake it and they can’t actually hit their instruments, so it’s a weird miming thing. I think it came out.”
As for the general score of the film, which is full of jazzy, bluesy tones with a cheeky, playful feel, Salinas wrote it based on two components: the period and Bernard’s own beautiful mind. “The lead character is a genius, maybe even a little on the spectrum. So we had to figure out a way musically to communicate his sort of magical mind and how he’s thinking,” he shared. “The orchestral score is more based on his psychological state and then the jazz component is more about the period and just the sort of ‘sticking it to the man’ heist quality. The movie is basically a civil rights, buddy movie, heist drama.”
Salinas, whose credits include “Cartel Land” and “A Private War,” revealed that he tends to underscore initially because of his documentary work, so narrative directors tend to encourage him to do more. But “The Banker” helmer George Nolfi had a different kind of note. “Sometimes George was like, ‘What the f— is this sh–?’ Salinas, I thought you were good. Am I gonna have to hire Bear McCreary?’” he joked. “Other than that, I think he pretty much liked most of it.”
Video by Andrew Merrill
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