Digital Worlds Director James Oliverio composes original score for JFK documentary by longtime collaborator

UF Digital Worlds Institute
5 min readDec 16, 2022

Written by: Ryan Helterhoff (MAMC ‘23)

James Oliverio, Director of the University of Florida’s Digital Worlds Institute, recently composed an original score for the independent documentary film “Inside the Warren Commission”, which explores the work and legacy of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, better known as the Warren Commission.

William VanDerKloot, a long-time collaborator of Oliverio’s, created the film. VanDerKloot has been an Atlanta-based filmmaker for over 40 years, producing documentaries as well as the official Olympic film “Time and Dreams”, which helped Atlanta win the bid to host the summer games in 1996.

Atlanta documentary filmmaker William VanDerKloot and composer James Oliverio at the world premiere screening of “Inside the Warren Commission” at the Atlanta History Center

“Inside the Warren Commission” (IWC) delves into the task force established by President Lyndon B. Johnson to investigate the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy. The commission was named after its chairman, Chief Justice Earl Warren. It resulted in the Warren Report, a comprehensive overview of the facts and circumstances surrounding Kennedy’s assassination. Despite its political and societal significance, the report remains largely unread by the American public — something this documentary aims to change. Interviews with authors and former political staff throughout the documentary provide a comprehensive view of the report and its findings.

VanDerKloot became interested in the commission after attending a presentation at the University of Georgia Library by Charles Campbell, a former staffer to Georgia Senator Richard B. Russell, who was a member of the commission. After the presentation VanDerKloot determined that he wanted to investigate this often overlooked historical document and the process that went into creating it so that more people could understand its significance.

Although the emergence of Covid-19 delayed aspects of the multi-year research and production of the film, VanDerKloot pressed on.

“Filmmaking is a collaborative art form,” VanDerKloot said. “Inside the Warren Commission includes materials from a number of archives, libraries, networks and individuals. Additionally, and most importantly, I collaborated with a core group of very talented artists including Composer James Oliverio, Motion Graphics Designer James Powell, Sound Designer JC Richardson, and Narrator Monica Pearson.”

To effectively underscore the film’s message, VanDerKloot knew he needed a one-of-a-kind soundtrack that combined Cold War era political unrest with well-known period pieces. He enlisted Oliverio’s musical expertise to bring this turbulent period in history to life.

“Music played a major role in the film,” VanDerKloot said. “I used a few key period songs to highlight the era, but the majority of the music consists of an original score by James Oliverio. The score sets the scene for each segment of the film, and is integral to the visual storytelling.”

Oliverio has been composing music for over four decades, and it has remained a constant throughout his diverse career, which includes digital media, research in emerging technologies, academic development, and more.

“While running my film post-production studio in Atlanta, I created hundreds of original scores for a variety of media, ranging from regional and national TV commercials to TV shows and feature films,” Oliverio said. “Filmmaker William VanDerKloot was often a collaborator and client, and although my focus changed considerably when I became the founding Director of Digital Worlds in 2001, he still calls me when he has a major production that needs original music.”

Oliverio found the composition process for IWC to be both challenging and exciting. The documentary covers a wide range of topics, from politics and assassination to conspiracy theories and interpersonal relationships, making it difficult for Oliverio to create a unified soundscape that is broad enough in scope but narrow enough to elicit the appropriate emotions from the viewer. He did, however, enjoy the challenge, spending many evenings and weekends fine-tuning the score.

After receiving an early rough cut of the film with temporary “placeholder” music tracks, Oliverio and VanDerKloot discussed the placement and emotional tone for each new music cue throughout the film. After creating themes for the various characters and scenes, Oliverio’s desired unified soundscape began to emerge.

This process is familiar to the filmmaker and composer duo, as it is reminiscent of a project they collaborated on over 30 years ago to help bring the Olympics to Atlanta. The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games commissioned the film “Time and Dreams” to help the city win the bid to host the 1996 Olympics. VanDerKloot directed the film, which was released in 1989, and Oliverio composed the music. It highlighted Atlanta’s rapid growth and the talented youth who represented its future. To showcase the city as a growing hub of innovation, VanDerKloot’s film highlighted both the scope of Atlanta’s dynamic culture as well as its dedication to upholding the values of the Olympic games. Oliverio was able to negotiate with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra to not only perform his original score, but to also be featured onscreen at several key moments in “Time and Dreams”. Oliverio, VanDerKloot, and film editor Amy Linton traveled to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch to complete the final mix for the film.

Composer Oliverio, director VanDerKloot and editor Amy Linton at the Lucasfilm SkyWalker Ranch working on the film “Time and Dreams” commissioned as a part of the City of Atlanta’s successful bid for the 1996 Olympic Games (circa 1989).

Oliverio says that working alongside VanDerKloot again after many years of collaboration is a privilege.

“Working again with master documentary filmmaker Wiiliam VanDerKloot was truly an honor and a labor of love,” Oliverio said. “As a child of the 1960s who grew up in the shadow of the Kennedy assassination, I was both intrigued and thoughtfully inspired to do my part to help bring this story to life for multiple generations of Americans to also contemplate.”

(L to R) Atlanta documentary filmmaker William VanDerKloot, former CNN President Tom Johnson, and music producer James Oliverio at the premiere of “Inside the Warren Commission” at the Atlanta History Center.

“The film “Inside the Warren Commission” premiered on October 5th, 2022 at the Atlanta History Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Both Oliverio and VanDerKloot were present, as were community members and some of those featured in the documentary. The film features interviews with the following:

  • Tom Johnson, former CEO of CNN and the Los Angeles Times, and former White House assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • Roger Mudd, former CBS News anchor and Washington correspondent.
  • Philip Shenon, author of “A Cruel and Shocking Act”.
  • Max Holland, author of “The Kennedy Assassination Tapes”.
  • Charles E. Campbell, former Executive Secretary to Senator Richard Russell
  • Earl Leonard, former Press Secretary to Senator Richard Russell
  • Judge Stuart Pollak, former Warren Commission Staff Attorney

--

--

UF Digital Worlds Institute

News, stories, and updates from the Digital Worlds community at the University of Florida.