“Welcome to Short Term 12” is the first track of the film’s score. It starts with three calm notes from Joel P. West’s acoustic guitar. He lets a few seconds pass then is joined by a piano, two violins, a cello and double bass, all plucking in unison. About 30 seconds in, an electric guitar echoes West’s acoustic.
“The innocence conveyed through composer Joel P. West’s simple guitar plucks suggest things are not as scary at Short Term 12 as it may first seem,” said Allison Loring of Film School Rejects — a movie website that writes with the movie-viewer in mind.
“Short Term 12” is an Indie-film directed by PLNU alumnus Destin Cretton. It takes place in a community home for adolescents, following the stories of the coordinators of the home, Grace and Mason, as they bond with their residents.
West, a PLNU alumnus and friend of Cretton, was involved early on with “Short Term 12.” He read the script before visiting the set a couple times and meeting some of the actors. West said that usually in films the composer makes the music after it’s been shot.
“Short Term 12” won both the “Grand Jury Award” and the “Audience Award” this year at South by Southwest, a film festival in Austin, Texas.
“The mood is fraught, the equilibrium fragile, the score by Joel P. West so gentle it’s as if the composer doesn’t want to bruise the characters — it sweetens what we see without falsifying it,” said NPR’s David Edelstein.
During the editing process the editor and director use temporary music to play over the scenes. West said this presents challenges for the composer because he then has to make the music flow to the scenes in a similar way to the temporary music that the editor and director grew attached to.
“For ‘Short Term 12,’ I was able to come on early enough, [that] I was working on music the whole time they were editing so that they never used any temp. music for the edit,” West said.
The score of “Short Term 12” brought together the community Cretton and West built together. It features West’s band The Tree Ring and Canines, a band West created for his and Cretton’s first film “I AM NOT A HIPSTER.”
PLNU alumna Kelly Bennett has been playing with West for seven years and is the violinist of The Tree Ring. She talked about West’s album “Dust Jacket,” explaining that he would give you the link to download the album in exchange for something personal of yours, whether that be vegetables grown in your garden or a piece you wrote; in effect he created his own trade.
“To me that demonstrates an unconventional way of pursuing art, in saying what’s most important to Joel is that he makes the thing that he wants to make for its own sake,” Bennett said.
In 2012, West was awarded funding from the San Diego Foundation Creative Catalyst Fund. According to Felicia Shaw (Director of Arts & Culture), he was competing with more than 180 artists and was one of 15 chosen to receive funding.
“He demonstrated that an investment of funding could serve to catalyze an artist’s career. He paid it forward by employing other artists to work with him on the project,” Shaw said via email.
West said there are two sides of art — the kind that is done for one’s own understanding and the kind that is meant to be shared and published.
“There’s a lot of music and art and film that bring people together . . . it reminds me that I’m not crazy when I can hear somebody else expressing certain aspects of the human life,” West said.