Marco Beltrami – Logan

March 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

Two-time Academy Award-nominated composer Marco Beltrami (“3:10 to Yuma,” “The Hurt Locker”) has written music for superhero movies before, but nothing like his latest, “Logan,” the tenth film in the X-Men film franchise in the last 17 years.

Set in 2029, the film follows James “Logan” Howlett (Hugh Jackman), AKA Wolverine, who has moved on from his days at the leader of the X-Men and now lives in an abandoned plant near the Mexican border caring for his elderly patriarch Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). When Logan and Professor X learn of a new child mutant, who possesses some very familiar abilities, they make it their mission to get her to safety before she is destroyed by the men who created her.

During our interview, Beltrami, 50, who has also scored such films as “Hellboy,” “World War Z” and all four films in the “Scream” franchise during his 23-year career, talked to me about the film references director James Mangold talked to him about as inspiration for the film, and why this “X-Men” film feels different from others. He also explained why he recused himself from voting for this year’s Academy Awards.

Congratulations on “Logan.” I have to say, it’s the best superhero film I have ever seen, especially since it doesn’t feel anything like a conventional superhero film.

It definitely does not fit into the strict superhero genre. It’s a lot of other movies.

Why do you think it was important to give this film a completely different tone than any of the other “X-Men” films before it?

I think [director James Mangold], when he made the previous Wolverine movie (“The Wolverine”), he started to make it a little bit different [than the past films]. It turned out the last act [in “Logan”] was made in the mold of other movies like “Seven Samurai.” I think he really wanted to play [Wolverine] as a real character rather than a superhero. [“Logan”] is a road picture and a father/daughter story. It’s about a man who has lost everything, even his desire to live. I think it has a lot of deeper, darker connotations.

What kind of conversations did you have with James about what you both wanted to achieve with the score?

[James] spoke to me about references and things that inspired him. “Taxi Driver” was a big influence. So was “Paper Moon,” although that film doesn’t have a score. He was talking in terms of the feel of the movie itself. Musically, he wanted to achieve some of the rawness and grittiness of some of those 70s scores. He wanted something not polished. Nowadays, movies are very polished. He wanted something more rough around the edges. Overall, I think the main concern for me as a composer was that the music didn’t get ahead of the picture. In many respects, [“Logan”] doesn’t have a thematic score. We didn’t know if we were going to be able to get away with that because it is a big studio superhero movie, but a lot of people seem to be responding to it.

You’ve written scores for a handful of horror movies in your career. Did some of those elements find their way into the “Logan” score? I’m specifically thinking of the tracks “That’s Not A Choo-Choo” and “X-24.”

Oh, yeah. It’s always fun to explore that kind of stuff. I think the most horrific part of the film is the scene at the farmhouse. To me that’s very horrific. The sounds that we created for X-24—there’s some synthetic [sounds] because he is a synthetic character. There is this bending and processed and pitched-down cello sound we use. The sound is organically base, but also manipulated. That’s something I enjoy doing. Even if there’s no grandiose theme to it, hopefully the score has more of a sonic continuity. That was sort of the goal.

Another of my favorite tracks is called “El Limo-nator,” which I found reminiscent of parts of the score from the original “Terminator” film. I know you scored “Terminator 3.” Did you get inspiration from the original for that specific track?

You know, I guess everything is related somehow. It was sort of hard to pass up on the title. It’s always fun titling those things. Yeah, there is that relentless drive which is very similar to “The Terminator” in that respect. There is a sort of unstoppable feel to it.

You’ve worked with many directors in your career—Wes Craven, Guillermo del Toro, Kathryn Bigelow. Are your favorite directors those who are hands-on or hands-off with you as the composer?

It depends on how the director’s work inspires me. I think that’s the main thing. If I have the inspiration, it’s great. I’m into it. [James] is very hands-on. He likes being collaborative. I think it’s a collaborative business. Sometimes a director will hear what I’m doing and send me down another avenue that’s based on something else. That could be very enlightening. It can be challenging and often more work, but you can also come up with things you might not ever have thought of. I think that’s how you grow as a composer or in any field. [James] doesn’t say things just for the hell of it. He was very inspiring to work with on this movie.

Is it more fulfilling when you write the score for a film that becomes a critical success like “The Hurt” and “3:10 to Yuma” than a film that gets critically panned, or is it all work to you?

It’s always nice to have someone recognize the film or the score as an achievement when you put a lot of work into it. There have been films I’ve done that have not been well received that I still put a lot of work into and felt good about the score. It’s just the way it is. You can’t always predict these things. It’s the process that’s important. Everything else afterwards is something beyond your control. But, yeah, when you work your ass, it’s better if the movie does well.

“La La Land” just won the Oscar for Best Score of 2016. I know as a past Oscar nominee, you are part of the branch that votes in that category. What were some of your favorite scores of 2016?

Well, I have to be honest. I didn’t vote this year. I was working on a picture in Russia last year and when I got back at the beginning of November, I was so busy. I immediately started working on [“Logan”]. I only saw like two films. So, I really can’t say what I liked. It’s odd because I usually watch all the movies. I’m very involved in the Academy. I’m in the executive branch. It was tough. I took off Christmas Day, but other than that, I worked straight through the year.

Daniel Pemberton – Steve Jobs

October 26, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

The first time British composer Daniel Pemberton read Aaron Sorkin’s script for “Steve Jobs,” he had no idea where any of the music he was asked to write would fit in to a movie that was so dialogue-heavy. It wasn’t until director Danny Boyle explained his thematic ideas for the film that Pemberton knew exactly how he wanted to approach this massive challenge.

In “Steve Jobs,” which explores some of the career milestones of the late Apple co-founder and his relationships with his colleagues and estranged daughter, the film is broken down into three distinct acts. The first act takes place in 1984 with the launch of the Macintosh. Pemberton said Boyle described this act as “Vision.” The second act is set in 1988 during the launch of the NeXT computer, four years after Jobs was fired from Apple. Boyle described this act as “Revenge.” The final act happens in 1998 with the launch of the iMac. Pemberton said Boyle described it as “Wisdom.”

With those three words, Pemberton was put on a track to write a score reflective of some of the technological advancements Jobs was able to create during the highs and lows of his incredible career. During an interview with Tribeca, Pemberton, 37, talked about why writing music for the “Revenge” section excited him the most, what kind of research he did for the project, and how he feels Steve Jobs himself has changed the way he works as a composer over the last 20 years.

You’ve had quite a year writing the scores from “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and now “Steve Jobs.” What was your reaction when Danny Boyle asked you to compose a score for his new film

Well, I had a meeting with Danny last year that lasted half an hour. He was a really big fan of my work on “The Counselor.” After the meeting, he flew off and immediately started filming, so I really didn’t have any time to take it all in. It was amazing to be asked. I mean, how would you feel if someone asked, “Do you want to do the new Danny Boyle film with a script by Aaron Sorkin about Steve Jobs?”

I read that when some of the actors were auditioning for their roles, they weren’t given the real script to read from because the studio didn’t want any of it to leak. When did you actually get to see a script to start working from it?

I got the script early on. I thought it was phenomenal. Then all this Sony hacking kicked off, so I didn’t really get back to them. I thought, “Well, they probably don’t want to hear from me right now. They have too many things on their plate.” Two weeks later, I remember asking my agent, “Is anything happening with the ‘Steve Jobs’ movie?” He was like, “You haven’t told them you like the script?! Email them back now!” So, I sent them an email and two minutes later they wrote back and were like, “Oh, we’re so glad you want to do it!” So, I kind of played it cool in the most stupid way possible.

To read the rest of my interview with Daniel Pemberton, click HERE.

Lorne Balfe – Terminator Genisys

July 4, 2015 by  
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With a fresh approach in mind for his latest project, Scottish film composer Lorne Balfe was given the opportunity to build on a major franchise with an iconic music history. In “Terminator Genisys,” the fifth installment of the series, Balfe took on the challenge of giving the franchise’s theme his own spin and creating a score that would be different while still give fans the sounds they wanted to hear.

During an interview with me, Balfe, 39, whose recent musical scores include animated films like “Home,” “Penguins of Madagascar” and “Megamind,” talked about working with the already memorable “Terminator” theme and why the process was beneficial to him as a composer.

There’s a lot of history behind this film franchise. How much pressure does that put on you to allow yourself to give your own take on the score, but also appease fans wanting to hear the original theme?

Well, I haven’t felt the pressure until now! (Laughs) When they told me I could use [the original theme] that was great. When you do hear the famous [sings main “Terminator” theme], you smile. It’s nostalgic. I’m coming from working on things like [the video game] “Assassin’s Creed,” so I was invited into this [film] world. This is not my world. I am just a guest. That’s how I looked at the world of “Terminator.” The fans are very important and they are very loyal to the theme. Visually, there is a nod to the past, but you can’t just take the music and pretend like it’s going to work. There is a lot more development in this film, especially with the relationship between Sarah (Emilia Clarke) and Arnold’s [Schwarzenegger] characters. That had to be delved in a lot more musically than what happened before.

So, how does that work as a composer? I mean, you have this iconic theme in front of you. Are you allowed to do anything with it? Do you put your own spin on it? Can you keep the framework, but add something new to it?

I think halfway through the process I started doing some research to see what hadn’t been done yet. I had been a fan of all of the films. I think when you break that theme down and you simply play the melody and simple chords on the piano, it’s a beautiful theme. There’s an innocence to it and an emotional connection. I tried to embrace that. That’s something I don’t think had been touched on before. How do you take the famous [sings main “Terminator” theme] and give it a fresh approach in the same way the film has given the franchise a fresh approach?

What kind of conversations did you have with director Alan Taylor before starting your job? Did he give you free rein or were there a lot of notes?

It was a very interesting process. With “Terminator Genisys,” we literally had meetings every single day. What’s really scary about being a composer is when you sit in a room and write and you don’t get any feedback. You could go down a path and it could be a bad path. So, I think it was great to have that interaction immediately. It’s our job to translate what the director has been thinking and dreaming of. And it’s always evolving.

What influences did you have when writing the score? I heard a lot of heavy metal stuff going on.

I think it’s a mixture of every metal known to man being used. The tricky thing musically was the sound design, like the sound of the T-1000. Things like that are so iconic visually that we wanted to give it a sound motif that wasn’t necessarily a melody but still musical. That one sound that is only two notes long probably took longer than the whole score, ironically enough.

Maybe you can shed some light on this for me. There’s this sound a lot of film composers have been using over the last decade or so that is reminiscent of a foghorn. I want to say the first time I heard it was in Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds,” but you also hear it in films like “Inception” and “The Dark Knight” and others. Why is that specific sound used so much and where did it come from?

Where did it come from? I think that is a long, long, long debate. I’ve read articles about it. The one note thing has been done before, but that one note sonically is always different. It’s just a case of giving it a different approach. The one note really is an immediate hit with the T-1000. I think people might wonder if what we are doing there is sound design or music. That’s something that has been happening in the last 10 years. Sound design and music have become more of a hybrid and less defined in their own separate worlds.

Is it a goal of yours as a film composer to create a piece of music that is always going to be remembered? Themes from “The Godfather” and “Jaws” and countless others are going to live forever. Is that something you think about in this industry – to write something as iconic as that?

Honestly, I don’t think if you set out to do it that way it happens. If I wrote a piece of music and my only intention was that I wanted it to be memorable, I probably wouldn’t sit and write it to film. Yes, I may have a good idea for a melody, but there is a director and a producer and dialogue. All that is going to change the whole formation musically of what I’m going to tell. What makes this job enjoyable is being part of this storytelling experience. If you asked John Williams when he wrote [the score for] “Jaws” if he knew it was going to be memorable, I doubt that he would think that way. Well, I don’t know. All I know is that I never think long-term like that.

John Powell – How to Train Your Dragon 2

January 2, 2015 by  
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British composer John Powell broke into the Hollywood scene in 1997 when he wrote the score for the blockbuster action film “Face/Off” starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. Since then, Powell has gone on to write more than 50 movie compositions over the last 17 years, including “Shrek,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “X-Men: The Last Stand” and the first three film of the Jason Bourne trilogy. In 2010, Powell earned an Academy Award nomination for his work on “How to Train Your Dragon.” Last year, he returned to write the score for the critically-acclaimed follow-up, but found the process a lot different compared to previous gigs he’s taken when composing for a sequel (“How to Train Your Dragon 2” was the 10th sequel he’s worked on).

During an interview with me, Powell, 51, talked about how “Dragon 2” director Dean DeBlois wanted him to start from a clean slate with the second film and how it was helpful for him to get that creative freedom. He also spoke about why he’s decided to slow up a bit in Hollywood over the last couple of years and revealed some of the sneaky things he’s been able to get away with as a composer.

You revisited two movie franchises last year with “Rio 2” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” Is writing a score to a sequel easier because you have the original template you wrote sort of in place and have something to work from?

In the past it has been, but those two were a bit different. I only wanted to do “Rio 2” because I enjoyed working with everybody the first time. (Laughs) I’m sort of trying to avoid writing for films for a while and concentrating on writing other things for the concert space. But when [director] Carlos [Saldanha] asked me to do it again, I did it because I just loved the musicians and loved everybody involved. I’ve done a lot of sequels. Like for the [Jason] Bourne sequels, the third one (“The Bourne Ultimatum”), everyone said, “Well, we like the first two movies, so just do more of that.” In the case of “Dragon 2,” it was very different. Our very thoughtful director (Dean DeBlois) is the one that said, “Make sure you get a fresh start and have as much creative input as you would if it was a new franchise.” That saved me from the traps you can have with a sequel by not allowing anyone to campaign for any of the music from the first movie.

Is that unusual for a composer to get that kind of freedom? I would think the production would want to use a lot of the original score.

Yes. Normally, if the first movie was successful and they liked the music, you’re job for the second one is kind of done for you. I think [composer] Danny Elfman came up against the same thing in “Spider-Man 2” (2004). He wrote all this new music, but they wanted the same stuff from the first movie. In this case, my director basically protected me from that. So, as we reintroduced ourselves to the world of “Dragon,” every idea and theme is taken from the first movie and used in about the first seven minutes. When we meet our two heroes again – Hiccup and Toothless – what we did was use some of the music for the first movie, but it’s more refreshed. After the first seven minutes or so, it’s all new material for all the new scenes that follow this new story. I would only use music from the first film after that if it felt appropriate – some of the heroic themes for each of the characters at certain moments. But, really, most of the rest of the film is new material.

You mentioned that you wanted to take a break from writing film scores. What brought you to that decision?

(Laughs) I know this sounds strange, but one of the reasons was because my son was about to become a teenager. I thought, “You know, he really hasn’t seen that much of me.” I’ve been working on three or four films a year since he was born. I’m not going to get much more time with him. So, I decided to calm down for the last couple of years. He’s a teenager, so things are going to be complicated anyway. I thought I would need all my patience with him that I might’ve used for complicated directors and producers. (Laughs) That was part of the reason. Another reason was that I thought I was going to get stale. I didn’t want to write scores that might’ve been more interesting if I had more time to think. I did have a break after “Ice Age 4,” so in that time I had a chance to go back and study and re-equate myself with why I enjoy music. I definitely think “Dragon 2” was the beneficiary of that. There is stuff in “Dragon 2” that I probably wouldn’t have thought of if I didn’t have a chance to sort of re-ponder.

Yeah, it amazes me when I see a composer who is credited with four or five films in one year. In 2008, you actually came out with six film scores (“Jumper,” “Horton Hears a Who,” “Stop-Loss,” “Kung Fu Panda,” “Hancock,” and “Bolt”). How does someone manage to keep up with all that work and make sure the music for each of those films doesn’t start running into each other?

You know, it’s partly about where you are in your career. I got to a point where I had a few hits and people really wanted me, so you get the opportunity to work on better and better films. I worked on “Happy Feet” for about four years prior to those movies, but while I worked on that, I was working on all these others films. Once you get into that groove, you’ve got your mind in a certain place to be creative and excited about every project and can put a lot of energy into it. I think “Dragon 2” is film No. 52 for me, so as you get older you want a chance to sort of rest a little longer. (Laughs) I think when you’re busy you’re sort of excited that you’re working on great films with interesting people, so you don’t have any problem with the fact you’re so busy. After a while though, it starts to sort of take a toll on your body.

I didn’t realize how physically demanding it was to write a score.

(Laughs) Well, it’s not like digging a ditch. It’s not like doing manual labor or being a doctor. You have to remember, this is a lot of fun to do. A lot of times, it is very easy to do. A lot of composers won’t tell you that, but it is.

Really? What do you mean?

Well, a lot of times they give you a temp score and they just want it to sound like the temp. That’s why so many scores in Hollywood sound so generic and derivative. You’re not allowed to be creative. One of the things I spent a lot of energy on was trying to sneak interesting things past everybody. I would try to think of things they hadn’t heard yet and probably didn’t want, but tried to figure out how to write it in a way that it would work for them. (Laughs) I find it exhausting to write because I don’t want to write what everybody else writes. I want every score to be different. I could probably churn [scores] out a lot easier if I was lax about it. When I’m working on a film, I’m on it nonstop for about three months and I’m thinking about it all the time. My wife has spent most of her life looking at these blank stares on my face.

So, what subliminal messages have you snuck into a score in the last 20 years that you haven’t told anyone about?

I do tend to throw fun stuff in when there is a choir singing. Ahs and oohs are fine, but sometimes if there is something that will work rhythmically and you want to put words to it, it gives it more bite. So, I like to play around a lot with Latin phrases. In “X-Men: The Last Stand,” there is a lot of Latin. There is some stuff in there about [director] Brett Ratner. So, I would have the choir sing something about how the director is sexy and the most gorgeous man in Hollywood.

Wait, so all of this stuff about Ratner is in Latin?

Oh, yes. It’s all in Latin so you would never really hear it. (Laughs) The great thing about Latin is that nobody really speaks it. Even if it’s in English and is sung by a choir, it’s hard to hear.

Anything sneaky in “Dragon 2?”

In “Dragon 2,” there is some stuff in Gaelic. My family comes from the north of Scotland, so my grandmother spoke Gaelic. When I was young, she would sing something called “mouth music” (puirt á beul), which are these sort of working songs. So, I found 17th century poems and had them translated into Gaelic. That’s what you hear, for instance, when Hiccup and his mother are flying around.

Because your original score for “How to Train Your Dragon” was so well received and earned you an Oscar nomination, did you feel pressure to recreate that success with this one?

It wasn’t so much me thinking, “Oh, I got an Oscar nomination for the first one, so I have to get another one.” It was really about [director] Dean. I really didn’t want to let Dean down. He is a wonderful man. Also, I had been working with [producer] Jeffrey Katzenberg for a long time – since DreamWorks was first formed. So, they really liked the first score. There is an audience that really liked the first score, too. So, the first thing you think is, “Well, I better not fuck this up.” (Laughs) Honestly, if they had turned back to me at the last minute and said, “You know, let’s just go back to the first score,” I would’ve done it if they really felt it would’ve supported the film in the best way. I just wanted to write new material and make it as successful for the movie as it possibly could be and for a listening audience as well.

Christopher Lennertz – Horrible Bosses 2

November 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

Composer Christopher Lennertz admits he likes to dabble in a little bit of everything when it comes to writing music. His professional credits prove that to be true with Lennertz composing music for a number of different mediums including feature films, TV shows and movies, and video games. In recent years, Lennertz has focused much of his time composing the scores for feature comedies like “Identity Thief,” “Ride Along” and “Think Like a Man.” In his newest movie, he revisits the score he wrote for the 2011 comedy “Horrible Bosses” to write the music for the sequel. During an interview with me, Lennertz, 42, talked about expanding on ideas for “Horrible Bosses 2,” getting respect as a comedy composer and explained why trust is the most important thing in his line of work.

“Horrible Bosses 2” is the first sequel you’ve worked on where you wrote the original score. Did you revisit your original score for this new movie?

Yeah, it’s great to be able to take a year or two off and then come back to a set of sounds that you are familiar with. It feels like it’s nice and fresh. But, yeah, it’s great that I got to go back and do a new scored based on a whole new story.

So, do you borrow from the original at all or start on a clean slate?

Oh, I think it would be a mistake not to have a continuation of the thematic material of the first score. Whenever you look at a series that people love, whether it’s James Bond or “Indiana Jones” or “The Hangover,” I think you want to make sure they’re all in the same world.

How were the conversations different for you between Seth Gordon, who directed the original “Horrible Bosses,” and Sean Anders in terms of what they wanted from you in these films?

The conversations weren’t drastically different because Sean really wanted to continue with what we already had developed in terms of that world and those characters. I think Sean was very trusting and wanted to stick with what we had developed in the first movie and just expand it into the new characters, especially with [actors] Chris Pine and Christoph Waltz. It was interesting to explore a bunch of new characters with a new director. There was a lot of new life and energy, but still felt good to be back with the family.

Do you like when a director is very hands on with you as a composer or would you rather have more freedom to experiment?

I think there is a middle ground that’s really great. I don’t like when there is nothing. I feel like the director knows what they want. It’s their vision. If they’re not really involved and don’t explain what they want, it’s not a collaboration anymore. But if they get so specific that you’re not able to try new things, then I think it can hinder the creativity. I like when [directors] are involved but also give me some time to try things and explore ideas.

Do you feel composers for comedy movies are given enough credit for what they do in comparison to composers for dramas? I mean, at the end of the year, comedy scores are hardly ever considered for major awards.

They almost never honor comedies, you’re right. It’s interesting because I feel like comedy [composing], much like comic acting, looks relatively effortless when it works and looks very painful when it doesn’t. But it’s actually very difficult and the difference between it working and not working is small. I think comedy requires so much precision timing to make it work well. A lot of people say that if you can do comedy, you can do anything. I wish everyone would realize that. At the same time, it’s not why we do it.

Do you think there is enough respect for comedy composers in the industry?

It depends on who you’re talking about. I think amongst composers and comedy filmmakers there is a lot of respect. I think they get it. I think with the general audience, we’re probably a little less well known than somebody who does a big action movie. That’s OK. It doesn’t bother me that much. I know how hard it is to [write music for comedies]. I know that I am very respectful of people who write great comedy music. I really think the world of my colleagues who do that.

How different is the process when you’re writing music for a comedy that incorporates animation like “Alvin and the Chipmunks” or “Hop?”

I love animation, so I think it’s great even when it’s not fully animated. There is always certain things you can do with an animated character that you just can’t do with real people. There’s magic in seeing the Easter Bunny going through the factory where they make the candy in “Hop.” I think for a musician, for a composer, it’s a really great canvas that you can tend to be a little more creative in. I think it’s really fun.

Films and video games are things that are never going to go away. Once you lay your final score down in those kinds of projects, those mediums live forever. Do you ever think about that when you write?

Yeah, and it makes my stomach hurt. (Laughs) Nah, I’m kidding. It’s not actually that bad. I actually try not to think about that, but I do worry that I’m going to run out of time and not be able to finish what I really want to do. That’s what I get nervous about because I want everything I do to be great. But once it has a release date, there’s really no changing the music. You just have to realize that my job is to do the best job I can do in the amount of time I get. If I look at it that way, it’s OK.

Do you care if a film you compose a score for doesn’t do well critically or do you view all these composing jobs as gigs like a studio musician would?

Well, I think if it does well critically that’s great, but if it does well commercially, it’s kind of nice, too, because then you know people actually saw it. If no one goes to see your movie, that can get disheartening. You’re like, “I worked so hard on it and nobody saw it.” I think that can get a little depressing. Luckily, I’ve worked on things that people seem to like and want to go see.

You’ve worked with a few directors on more than one occasion like Patricia Riggen and Tim Story. What does it mean for you to be able to build those kinds of relationship with filmmakers? Is that important to you as a composer to be able to go back and work with some of the same people again?

I think it’s the most important thing as far as what I do. Every time you work with someone, you gain a little more trust. They allow you to take more chances and risks. The process becomes a little easier. It’s nice to develop a long relationship with someone because then you can get into the important parts of creating quickly rather than having to start from scratch. It’s nice when you can jump right in and already have their trust.

What are some of your favorite comedy scores?

Starting from when I was a kid, I was a huge fan of Elmer Bernstein and even got to study with him (at the University of Southern California). I think the first movie I saw with an Elmer Bernstein score was “Animal House.” He ended up doing “Stripes” and “Caddyshack” and “Ghostbusters” and “Trading Places.” He was just spectacular. He was the master. Now, in the 90s and 00s, I think the stuff that Chris Beck (“The Hangover”) and Theo Shapiro (“Old School”) do is really great. When it comes to broad comedy, I think Alan Silvestri (“Father of the Bride,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”) is fantastic. Danny Elfman (“Men in Black,” “Milk”) does great comedy writing, but he doesn’t do it all that often anymore. He was especially great when he would do quirky stuff like “Beetlejuice” and “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.” I also love Henry Mancini and “The Pink Panther.” I thought that was great.

Yeah, Danny Elfman is one of those composers who can cross back and forth from comedy to drama. Do you think that’s something you’d like to try during your career?

Yeah, I’d like to. I’d like to do a little bit of everything. I wouldn’t want to spend too long in one place. I’d like to be challenged. I’ve done some action films and some horror on TV. With video games, I’ve done some Westerns and sci-fi. I like doing all of that.

Looking at all the films you’ve worked on, I think my favorite of yours definitely has to be “Adam.”

Oh, thank you. That’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. I really appreciate that.

Do you search out projects like that?

Oh, yes, absolutely. I love those kinds of projects. I look for them, but there aren’t a lot of movies like “Adam.” It was a pretty special movie. Whenever there is an opportunity for me to do something like that, I love to do it.

Steven Price – Fury

October 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

Composer Steven Price made a major impression in Hollywood earlier this year when he won the Academy Award for Best Score for only the third feature film of his career in “Gravity.” The film, which was directed by eventual Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón, stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as two astronauts who go adrift in space after their shuttle is destroyed. In Price’s next project, he writes the score for the WWII film “Fury.” Directed by David Ayer, the film follows a team of U.S. soldiers on a mission inside the confines of a Sherman tank behind enemy lines in Nazi Germany.

During our interview, Price and I talked about how a film like “Fury” was different from “Gravity” and what the process was for him to write a score set in what he calls a “hellish atmosphere.” We also talked about his Oscar win, what some of his favorite and least favorite sounds are, and why he recently pulled out of writing the score for the upcoming Marvel film “Ant-Man.”

Gravity was such a quiet film, which really brought your score to the forefront of everything taking place on screen. How different is something like “Fury” since we’re talking about a much louder war movie?

Right, it’s been a fascinating process. The thing with “Fury” is that it is a WWII film, but it has a different take on it. It’s a very visceral experience as a film. [Director] David Ayer has really gone for this authentic take on a war film. There are moments of great aggression and battles and a lot of action. But there is also a lot of emotion in the film. You’re really dealing with a family. You learn a lot about the [soldiers] and their relationships. So, there is a lot of action in the film, but there are also a lot of emotional and personal and human moments within the chaos. It’s been a very satisfying film to work on.

Do the additional sounds in a war film like this, for example explosions, help or hinder your score? How do you confront or even utilize those types of sounds?

I’ve been working on this film for a lot of months. The music and the sound design has evolved. We all worked together. It’s a sort of give and take. There are moments when you hear a lot of this wonderful sound design and then there are moments when the music can drive through those sequences on its own. The idea was that this is the first war where this kind of machinery had been used. The music itself moves forward in this sort of machine-like rhythm. It works along with the sound design while the orchestra carries more of the emotional side of things and connects with the human beings within the machines.

Were there any old tank movies you went back to revisit for research like Humphrey Bogart’s 1943 film “Sahara” or maybe even a more recent film like the 2009 Israeli film “Lebanon,” which I thought was amazing?

When I first got the call for this film, my first instinct was to go back and watch all these great war films and do some research, but as soon as I started reading what David was planning and talking to him, it became clear that he wanted to do this film in an honest and truthful kind of way. We started looking at ways we could make this film distinctive and make the music feel like it really came out of the story he wanted tell. So, I kind of purposefully kept away from other war films. I wanted to give this story a different kind of soundtrack.

I know every composer is different, so when did you actually start writing the score? Do you read a script first, or are you someone who wants to see a rough cut of the film first before you start writing?

On this one, it was about a year ago when I first read the script. Then I met David. They shot the film over here in England where I live, so I went on the set a couple of times, which is always an amazing treat because I spend most of my time in a tiny, dark room on my own trying to write music. So, I went on set and saw all this stuff being film and saw all the authenticity he was going for and heard David talking through a lot of ideas and concepts. So, I started fiddling around with ideas before I saw any sort of rough cut. But the bulk of my work started when they were in the cutting room and they would send me sequences. I started working on this back in March of this year.

A lot of times in the film industry, a director will use the same composer and build a strong professional relationship. One of my recent favorites is composer Cliff Martinez and the work he does with director Steven Soderbergh. I know you’ve worked with director Edgar Wright on a couple of occasions. Is that long-term relationship something you’d like to build with a director sometime in your career or would you rather work with different filmmakers?

I think it’s a great thing when you find a language you can both speak. It’s the greatest thing when you’re on the same page. Music is such a weird thing to talk about. When you do find people you can collaborate with and understand each others’ thought process, it can lead you to trying some exciting things. Like you said, I have worked with Edgar Wright a couple of times. It’s strange because you can get straight into experimenting on a project very early when you already know someone. There really isn’t a fear or the timid stuff that comes out at the beginning of the process. It’s always nice to start new kinds of relationships, but even when you revisit [directors], I think you can come up with new things each time and hopefully evolve what you do together.

After only four films as a composer, do you feel like you’re finding your own style? Is that something you want – for people to be able to listen to a score and know that it was written by Steven Price?

I wouldn’t mind that. I’m sure there are certain things I do or certain ways I put notes together. The greatest thing for me about the run of films I’m doing at the moment is that they’re all so different stylistically. For me, it’s been about getting rid of the template and trying new things. The first step for me with “Fury” was getting all these recordings of all these authentic WWII machines they got out of storage and exploring what kinds of noises they could make for me. This happened even before I started the thematic writing on this score. I was just trying to find sounds that fit into this hellish atmosphere the film creates.

What were some of the unique things you did to create those sounds?

We did all kinds of things. The first sound in the film is this ethereal jingling, which basically arises from the dog tags of all the soldiers. We got a bag full of those and played them like percussion. There’s a lot of that sort of work in the film. What sounds like an ethereal high note that you can’t quite put your finger on might be the sound of shell being dropped in a tank. So, there were a lot of sounds in the film that were derived by these real noises. When we were doing the orchestral parts of the film, we got loads of this artillery and weaponry and we played them like instruments. That sort of became part of the rhythm track for this film – this metal-on-metal, aggressive sound.

How do you feel composition in the film industry has changed over the last few years with more and more modern-day rock ‘n’ roll musicians like Trent Reznor, Johnny Greenwood and Cliff Martinez coming into the fray? Do you ever get inspired by anything that is maybe seen as less conventional as a composer?

I think it’s always been there, really, no matter who is doing it and what their background is. There’s always been wonderful music where people are responding really well to the film where the composer isn’t necessarily coming from a traditional background. I don’t necessarily think that is something that has just happened in the last few years. I remember listening to things like that when I was growing up like Jerry Goldsmith’s [1968] “Planet of the Apes” score. The score sounded like it came from a different planet.

Now, I’m being facetious when I ask this next question, but when you won your Oscar earlier this year, you beat out some heavy hitters in the industry. You beat Thomas Newman who’s been nominated 12 times and never won an Oscar; Alexander Desplat who’s been nominated six times and never won; And John Williams, who has been nominated 49 times and won five Oscars, but hasn’t won since 1994 for “Schindler’s List.” When your name was called, do you think they were all thinking, “Who does this kid think he is?”

(Laughs) I have no idea. I think that week spending time with all of them was amazing. Those people are my heroes. They were very welcoming and very kind to me through the entire process. The biggest moment for me is when they opened the envelope and I was sitting next to John Williams and he shook my hand when they called my name. That was one of the things I remember most.

What did you talk to John Williams about since you were sitting next to him for the entire ceremony?

Most of the time we were just trying to work out when our category was going to be. We were trying to time our nerves to it. It was a very surreal thing for me. I never dreamed I would be in that situation. I was an amazing experience.

What are your favorite and least favorite sounds to hear in everyday life? What sounds are smooth and calming and which ones grate on your nerves?

I’m lucky in terms of the ones I enjoy. I’ve got young kids. They are four and six years old. They’re at that lovely stage where instead of waking me up in the morning, they play together. There’s nothing better than hearing them chatting away about their day. That’s becoming my favorite sound. And I guess [my least favorite sound] would be other peoples’ music that I don’t like playing when I’m trying to do other things – playing music loudly in their gardens.

Since you have kids, do you have a lot of Disney songs suck in your head during the day?

All the Disney stuff! When “Frozen” first came out, that was on every single day. Now, when we go to the cinema they wonder why they can’t sing along with the songs like they do at home. I have to say, “We have to use our inside voice.” It’s always an interesting time at the cinema with them.

Earlier this year, director Edgar Wright said you would be writing the score for the film “Ant-Man,” which of course is no longer the case now that Edgar pulled out of the project. I know you have a strong relationship with Edgar like we talked about before. From your perspective, why did you decide to leave the project?

From my perspective, Edgar had invited me on to do that project and we had a lot of exciting chats about what we were going to do with it. I was very excited to do it with him. We spent a long time talking about it. When he decided to leave the project, it really didn’t feel right to take those ideas and put them to someone else’s vision. The only thing to do in those sorts of situations is to move aside and let the new team do what they’re going to do. It was a shame because I think we had some exciting ideas. But these things happen, so I’m sure whatever comes out of it will be for the best.

So, if Edgar came to you with a new project, are you at the point where you would automatically say yes to him because of the relationship you have, or would you need to know more about the material before signing on?

With someone like Edgar, if the phone rings, you’re always excited. Whatever he does, you know it’s going to be an exciting film and a very well-made film. He’s a great director. I’ve been very lucky with the directors I’ve worked with. I’m looking forward to whatever comes next. If Edgar wants me along for the ride, then I’d be happy to do so.

So far, you’ve written scores for two very different alien invasion films (“Attack the Block” and “The World’s End”), one for a film set in space (“Gravity”) and now one for a film set in WWII (“Fury”). Is there a setting or theme you have in the back of your mind that you’d like to write something for?

Really, it’s anything I haven’t done yet. I want to do something I haven’t battled yet. That excites me a lot. I have no idea what is going to come up next, which is part of the fun of doing this for a living. I hope whatever comes next I’m going to have to scratch my head and be a bit confused before seeing what comes out the other side.

Lucas Vidal – The Raven

April 27, 2012 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Spanish composer Lucas Vidal’s career was kicked into high gear in 2011 when he was nominated for Breakout Composer of the Year by the International Film Music Critics Association for the film “Sleep Tight” (“Mientras Duermes”). Although losing out to eventual Oscar winner Ludovic Bource for “The Artist,” Vidal’s stock rose quickly soon after.

“Now, a lot of people seem more interested in my work,” Vidal told me during an interview last week. “It has helped me to continue to do what I love doing. I think I’m going in the right direction.”

This year, Vidal composes the score for “The Raven,” his first film released nationwide by a major studio. Directed by James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”), “The Raven” tells the fictional story of a 19th century serial killer whose crimes are inspired by the writings of Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack).

During our interview, Vidal, who made history at the Berklee College of Music in Boston when he became the youngest student to ever compose and record the score for a feature film with an 80-piece orchestra, talked about the process he undertakes when writing music for a film and named a couple of working composers today he draws inspiration from.

Did you do any research on Edgar Allan Poe to get inspired to write a score for this film?

I always try to do some research when I write a score, but for this one [McTeigue] wanted something different and something modern. That’s why we used electronic sounds with the orchestra.

That’s interesting. Classic composers like John Williams use only orchestras and then there are other composers who can go into a studio alone and create an entire score on a computer. You combined the two.

Well, I think everyone has a different vision. Both have value. Some people only like electronic scores while others like John Williams like to use orchestras. I like conducting and working with orchestras and making music for motion – whether its film or ballet or theater. I always enjoy supporting things that are visual.

As a composer, do you like getting a copy of the script before you start writing the score or would you rather start your work after the film is completed?

I got the script for “The Raven” first. Then [McTeigue] also started sending me rough scenes from the film. That’s how it started. [McTeigue] wanted something completely different than I thought when I first read the script. He wanted a lot of weird sounds. It was challenging, but it was a very good learning process for me.

What did you think you’d be writing when you first read the script?

You know, I thought it would be something more classical and more period-oriented. But that’s exactly what [McTeigue] didn’t want. It was actually quite interesting. But what he wanted worked out very well.

You’ve worked on thrillers before. What is it about the genre that you like?

I really like how it feels like I am writing a musical script. I get to write something that is not on the screen. In a thriller, you can really play with the thoughts of the audience. That’s what I think makes music magical. It can make people think in a certain direction.

Are there any composers working today that you consider at the top of your field?

I love [French composer] Alexandre Desplat (“The Tree of Life”). I love his style. I also love Alberto Iglesias. He’s from Spain. He works a lot with [director] Pedro Almodóvar (“Talk to Her”). [Desplat] was nominated for an Oscar this year [for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”]. His vision is great. There are so many great composers out there I can learn from.

Cliff Martinez – Contagion & Drive

September 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

There’s nothing conventional about what film composer Cliff Martínez has been doing in his music studio for the last 22 years. His work doesn’t feature full orchestras like many traditional scores. His background as a rock musician sets him apart from others who took a more classical approach to the craft.

Martínez started his professional music career as a drummer in a number of bands in the 70s and 80s including a stint with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. His first scoring assignment came in 1989 when director Steven Soderbergh tapped him for the drama “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.” Since then, Martínez has scored over 20 films, including the Academy Award-winning film “Traffic” starring Benicio del Toro and the sci-fi love story “Solaris” starring George Clooney.

This year was Martínez’s busiest as a composer with the release of three films – “The Lincoln Lawyer” in March and both “Contagion” and “Drive” this month. During an interview with me, Martinez, 57, talked about his consistent work with Soderbergh and how the definition of a modern composer has evolved to include rockers like him.

How familiar do you have to be with the actual script of a movie your working on? Is your work based on what’s on the page or does your inspiration come more from conversations you have with the director?

For me, the work begins with a rough cut of the film. I can’t do much with the script. I’ve tried to write music to a script prior to seeing the film, but I’ve found it turns out to be a waste of time. After seeing the film, I like to have a creative discussion with the director. They want to hear where my instincts are taking me. Most directors I’ve worked with don’t really jump in with both feet until I’ve put some music on the table. That’s when the real creative dialogue begins.

You’ve scored a handful of films for director Steven Soderbergh. What is it about your relationship with him that works so well?

“Contagion” was film number 10 I’ve done with him. I have a pretty good feel of his likes and dislikes. He has a pretty good instinct about which of his films he calls me in to score. I get to kind of be myself for the most part. He always seems to bring out the best in me. I always wonder how he does it because on the last few films we haven’t communicated that much with one another except through telepathy and short text messages. One thing Steven does that is different is that he usually sends me the script long before the shooting begins even though I’m not writing anything for the script and we’re not discussing it that much. I have a lot of time to think thing over and let some of my ideas incubate. He’s one of the most hands-off directors I’ve ever worked with. Whenever I work with him, I always seem to create a score that is uniquely Soderberghian.

As a composer, is creating a specific style to your sound something you see as a positive thing or would you rather have the reputation of never knowing what you’re going to deliver?

I guess I’d like to have my cake and eat it, too. I want to be known for having a recognizable style. I believe having your own personal identity is what makes you competitive. On the other hand, I would like to be versatile and be challenged to go in new directions. I don’t want to be typecast as the “ambient guy” or someone who only does electronic scores. I think most of the work that comes my way is because people feel they know me musically.

Everyone knows composers like John Williams and Howard Shore. Can you name me some other composers that are doing great work, but aren’t household names yet? I’m asking you this because I think you fall under that category at this point in your career.

I think the guys who are known for their comedy scoring, they often get overlooked because their work is seen as lighter. I think writing for comedy, in my opinion, is very difficult and very specialized. That’s why the guys that are good at it are asked to do it over and over again. Let’s see, Rolfe Kent (“Sideways“), Mark Mothersbaugh (“The Royal Tenenbaums“) – those are just a couple of names that come to mind of guys that probably don’t get as much attention as they deserve.

Talk about your ideas going into a film like “Contagion” and how you feel your score represented the outbreak story. Personally, I felt you gave the film a sense of urgency and added to the panic and fear of these characters.

Well, my direction from Steven came primarily in the form of three temp scores. In a very early version of the film he used the music from “The French Connection” and “Marathon Man.” So, I kind of had this 70s flavor in there from the very beginning. Then it changed direction and it went to [the band] Tangerine Dream. That’s where the retro synthesizer sounds and ideas came from. Towards the end he threw all that out and used some really energetic and contemporary film music. I think he was very preoccupied with the pace and the rhythm of the film. So, that was probably my biggest function – to keep things moving along and moving quickly. Another mission was to magnify the fear factor. He always talked about it as a horror film. I just tried to conjure up obsessive anxiety with the music. That was probably my most significant contribution. I think the film really worked best when it was scaring you. I just tried to heighten that feel by keeping it off balance and not going in an expected direction. Then at times I really tried to underscore the more tragic and personal moments. Toward the third act, I wanted to create a more hopeful tone as they begin to get a handle on the virus.

It’s interesting some of the temp music started as retro music because that’s what the final product in “Drive”  feels like. Did you revisit any cult films to get a feel for that score or are you the type of composer that would rather start from scratch?

Sometimes if I really don’t have a sense of direction, I’ll watch other films that are similar. I kept thinking I should watch “Andromeda Strain” and “Outbreak” for “Contagion,” but I never got around to it. It was partly because I kind of had my own internal sense of direction about it. But sometimes I will do that. I didn’t do it for “Drive.” I don’t really think it was the director’s intention to really revisit the 80s. There are a handful of contemporary songs that actually sound like 80s synth pop. I think he just chose those songs because they sounded cool. I rolled with that because I wanted there to be a connection with the score and the songs. Beyond that, the film felt very modern to me. I don’t think anyone would listen to the scores of either film and think they were 70s or 80s-type scores. But both do have interesting personalities.

How do you think the landscape of film scores is changing with more composers coming from the same musical background as yourself? We have Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead, who did the score for “There Will Be Blood,” and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who won an Oscar last year for “The Social Network”  score.

When the art of film scoring was born, everybody in it came from the European, classical tradition. But nowadays, especially since the record industry is taking a dive, rockers like myself and Trent Reznor are migrating in great numbers to film scoring. That’s kind of normal now. Half of the guys that are doing it now come from a rock ’n’ rock background or have played in bands. For me, I think it contributes and enriches the art form just as immigration enrichesAmerica. The more the merrier!

Some of the sounds you use in your scores don’t feel like they were made by instruments. I can only describe some of them as dreamlike and surreal. I’m wondering outside of your studio, what kind of sounds do you like listening to?

I live in Topanga Canyon, which is like a faux-rustic enclave in Los Angeles. I love the sounds of all the critters outside – the frogs, owls, crickets, and birds. Some of the birds around here are pretty accomplished musicians. You can learn a lot from them.

Is there anything specific you’ve learned about yourself as a composer from your first film “Sex, Lies and Videotape” in 1989 to where you are today?

I’ve learned quite a bit since I first started. I guess what I’ve learned is that there are no boundaries when it comes to imagination. It’s limitless. The more I come to understand music, the more I feel like a numbskull because there is always more to learn. The more I do it, the more I’m humbled. I’m just always trying to get better at it. I pick up a few tricks along the way.