By Scott MacClelland
A new film project has brought Alexander “Xandy” Janko home to Monterey, on a quest. It’s A Year by the Sea, for which Janko wrote a screenplay based on the bestselling stories of self-discovery by Joan Anderson, including An Unfinished Marriage and A Walk on the Beach. (Joan with Xandy, right.)
If the name Janko is unfamiliar, then My Big Fat Greek Wedding should be a clue. He wrote the score for that blockbuster 2002 movie which rapidly became the highest grossing romantic comedy in history. Since arriving in Hollywood in 1991, after completing a music degree at Princeton, he has worked on more than 65 films, writing original songs and scores, orchestrating and conducting. In 1995, he became the lead orchestrator for prolific film composer David Newman (of the well-known Newman musical dynasty), including the Oscar-nominated score for the 1997 animation hit Anastasia.
Janko composed the music for Oren Safdie’s off-Broadway 2003 premiere of Private Jokes, Public Places. The libretto of his forthcoming first stage musical, Emerging From the Night, is based on the lost love letters of two 12th century icons: the powerful abbess, Heloise, and great philosopher, Abelard. His new book, the first in an action-adventure series entitled VMS: Level-One Clearance Required, will be published in July 2014.
Janko grew up in Monterey, the son of a well-known physician, and graduated from Robert Louis Stevenson School in Pebble Beach. I first met him when, at age 12, he was the principal cellist of the brand new Youth Orchestra of the Monterey Peninsula. Its founding conductor was the Scottish-born Stewart Robertson, now with international credentials, including premieres and recordings, to his name. (YOMC was the predecessor of the successful Youth Music Monterey County orchestra and chamber music programs.)
Already an accomplished musician at Stevenson School, he fell under the wings of two Princeton composer/performers, both well known on the American classical and ‘new music’ scene, Paul Lansky and Steven Mackey. In Carmel, he was introduced to famed film composer and local resident Alan Silvestri who mentored him in the business of movie music. At the time, Janko recalls, “I was a total greenhorn. I knew nothing about him or film music.” Silvestri schooled Janko in the history and technique of film composing. “Al told me, ‘if the audience becomes aware of your music, you haven’t done a good job.’” His association with David Newman taught him the craft of composing for movies, and more. “Working with Dave was a true gift–my master’s degree in music.” Janko also credits Newman with supporting his writing and filmmaking projects. “He’s my biggest fan!”
On April 1, Joan Anderson joined Janko and a crowd of actors and Anderson-fans at Orleans on Cape Cod for a reading of Janko’s screenplay. This was part of a campaign to attract private investors in the film. Using social media, the word has rapidly spread, especially among those who have found resonance in Anderson’s memoirs. They include Janko, who only stumbled upon A Year by the Sea when his then-wife had found it at a free book exchange. “I was immediately struck by the honesty of Joan’s story, and her seemingly universal struggle to come to peace with one’s self,” Janko explained. “This movie will resonate with everyone—no matter where we are in life we’re all as unfinished as the shoreline.”
Janko’s relentless creativity has taken a toll. The huge success of Greek Wedding coincided with a personal family tragedy that he says deflated his momentum for a period of time. But if you met him today, you’d see no such evidence. His energy and optimism burn intensely. “We will shoot this movie in the fall,” he declares, and adding with a smile, “I came to realize that in order to compose music, my main passion, I sometimes have to first make the movie.” Marriage again? “Yes…to my art.”
To learn more about the film A Year by the Sea: www.yearbythesea.com