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.