Art meets Commerce for UK grad
by Amy Jones-Timoney and Blair Hoover
UK grad A.J. Hochhalter (2010) composed part of the musical score for the documentary Blood Brother, a film that recently received the Audience Award for U.S. Documentary and the Grand Jury Prize at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. It will premiere in Lexington Thursday, Nov. 21 at the Kentucky Theatre.
“I didn’t expect for the film to even be in Sundance, because that’s an honor in itself just to be entered,” said Hochhalter. “When it won I was so excited since it was a barometer of how the world was seeing this film and reacting to it.”
“I earned a marketing degree [at UK] because I thought—you could be the best musician in the world or the best film composer, but if you don’t understand the environment you are going to put yourself into then you’re just going to stay in the basement being the best film composer that ever lived, and no one’s going to hear about you,” said Hochhalter.
Armed with a business background, he realized after college his passion rested with a hobby he started in high school. As a student at Louisville Christian Academy, he would spend hours playing and recording music.
“I kind of grew up in a time where computers were coming out where you didn’t have to go to a big a studio,” Hochhalter said. “You could do it in your bedroom, so I always messed around with recording music.”
But he says those who heard his recordings lamented that they sounded “too much like the movies, too intense.”
During his time on campus, he remembered the comment that seemed like a negative back when he was in high school.
“I met people at UK who started nonprofits and worked on documentaries either at my church or in class, and they would always put some ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ music in it, but then they could never use it,” he said. “They were looking for people to just take a crack at it, and I remembered back to high school when people told me my stuff sounded like a film. So, I decided to at least give it a try. I picked it up and I really enjoyed it.”
Hochhalter composed for free, just trying to get his name out there and developing a portfolio.
“I would ask people to let me write music for their movie trailers, and eventually I met the right people that kept calling back ― directors that ended up falling in love with my sound,” he said. “By that time I had a pretty large portfolio of stuff I’d done, so from there people could kind of hear my potential.”
Hochhalter spends most of his time these days at Lexington’s Listen Design Studio writing music scores for primarily film and documentary content as well as corporate commercials and radio advertisements, including UK’s newest institutional television spot and much of this year’s recruitment video.
The Louisville native is proud that the film he contributed to can be seen on the “big screen” in the city he now calls home.
“Blood Brother is an intimate portrait of Rocky Braat, an American graphic designer who stumbled upon an HIV orphanage in India and left all that he had to create a family there with the kids,” said Hochhalter. “Though Rocky never set out to be a humanitarian, his dedication proves genuine in this film from Rocky’s best friend, director Steve Hoover.”
From the beginning, the film was unique because the director and producer could not pay what other films pay because they wanted money from the documentary to go toward efforts in India.
“As soon as I saw the film ― no matter if they wanted it for free ― I was going to say ‘of course,’ because it was moving, and I was just happy to have music in it,” said Hochhalter. “It was very much a community collaborative because there are three other people that donated their music writing, so we all just kind of put our talents together and got it done.”
All the money generated goes directly to children struggling with AIDS who were portrayed in the film as well as others who are struggling around the world.
“There are a lot of people in the world that are oppressed or struggling and don’t have the life or luxury that I have,” Hochhalter said. “I’ve been blessed with this ability to be able to help and use it as a tool and weapon to fight against these awful things that happen to people, so that’s my underlying motivation.”
The husband and father of one doesn’t plan on leaving Lexington for his career.
“Lexington is the perfect place for what I am doing, but when I tell people what I do, they are surprised I live in Lexington. They think I should be in LA or in New York, but because of technology, it’s easy to work from here,” Hochhalter said. “In the past few years, Lexington has changed and there’s an artistic feel to it. I have learned that this is the perfect place to be.”
He hopes more documentary work is in his future, too.
“I like documentaries … because they’re true stories and something inherently powerful when you know it’s true, and the music is a little closer to the actual story.” Hochhalter said.
Tickets will not be available at the door. To reserve tickets to the Lexington premiere, visit: http://www.tugg.com/events/6191.