Category Archives: Interview

An Interview with Paul Henning

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Last month I was privileged to conduct an interview with composer Paul Henning where we discussed (in part) his work in orchestrating Star Wars: The Force Awakens, his work as a performer in film orchestras and the ongoing work of the legendary John Williams. I was fascinated to learn about the process that goes into recording a film score and how the process of orchestrating a score actually works. If you follow the link below, you can check out the audio interview I conducted with Mr. Henning. I hope you enjoy!

An Interview with Paul Henning

Film composer and musician Paul Henning’s most recent project was writing the score for the Tribeca Film Festival opening night documentary ‘Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives’. The film premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Paul had a somewhat unconventional role writing music for this project. While the focus was the cadre of huge music artists Clive has worked with, Paul scored key moments of conflict, loss or emotional gravity that were vital to the story.

Paul also recently released his debut album, ‘BREAKING THROUGH’. The album was crafted with a nostalgic, Americana vibe drawn from Paul’s love of the expanses of the Western US and his love of American History. The album features piano solos performed by the Paul and recorded live with a 48-piece studio orchestra. Here is a link to selections of the album for your review: http://www.paulhenning.com/breaking-through.

Paul has served as Concertmaster for the Golden State Pops Orchestra since 2004. He’s also worked on the score orchestrations for over 50 feature films, including ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens, ‘The BFG’, ‘Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb’ and ‘Chocolat’. In addition to his film writing, he also works on orchestral arrangements that have been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and London Symphony.

An accomplished pianist and violinist, Henning has performed with the Hollywood Studio Symphony on the soundtracks to ‘Frozen’, ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’, ‘The Maze Runner’, ‘Furious 7’, ‘Moana’, ‘Storks’, ‘Monsters University’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’, among many others. He has also played violin for artists including Barbra Streisand, Michael Bublé, Neil Young, Aretha Franklin, Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban. Henning has served as Concertmaster for the Golden State Pops Orchestra since 2004.

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Composer Interview with Scott Doherty

Scott Doherty is a lifelong musician, though some might say a reluctant composer. After moving from his hometown of Maine to Los Angeles at the age of 18, Scott’s early musical pursuits included playing live music to large audiences at venues like the House of Blues and the El Ray and performing in the South Coast Repertory Theatre production ‘Against Oblivion’, among other productions. He was led to study and pursue sound and music composition and since then, has composed music for numerous film and TV projects, including ‘Weeds’, ‘Orange is the New Black’ and most recently, ‘The Holdouts’. We sat down to talk with Scott about his career as a musician and composer.

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How did you get into composing for television?
Looking back, I feel like it was something I didn’t directly aim to do. I was in the band world playing keys for other bands and I hit a point with where I felt somewhat stilted, which moved me away from the record format and more into instrumental music. From there I dove into the recording studio and was just fascinated by everything. It was over the course of a year that I was asked to write a couple of score-based projects. I was asked to direct a few shows, music for a documentary called ‘Becoming Santa’, and these projects felt more like a perfect fit, using music to tell stories. Not long after, I ran into a friend who was a music supervisor and she’d become the head of music for the E! Network. I began to work on a string of shows for them, doing theme songs for different shows. I was still craving writing music to picture,  and about that time is when the opportunity for ‘Orange is the New Black’ came in. I was asked to join in the series that would be on Netflix, and at the time, digital wasn’t what it was today – so it was really a leap of faith.

Yeah, I remember at the time it was announced it seemed really weird like, television on Netflix? How does that even work?  *laughs* Yeah, people were really unsure of the platform, but I saw the entire first season of ‘Orange’ before the rest of the world did and I fell in love with it:  the story, the characters, the incredible actors. I just had no idea how lucky we would become with this series.

With each season (of Orange is the New Black’) being released all at once, what is the schedule for creating the score for each episode, compared to a regular television series? Has everything already been shot?  There are a lot of similarities actually, in the way that we have a similar production schedule to a regular show on network cable. There’s about a week to do each episode, and production is usually about three to four episodes ahead of us, but it is still the same production flow. The difference is that we’re not getting feedback week to week from audiences. Because all thirteen episodes are available at once, Netflix encouraged us (in fact they sent a note about it about halfway through the first season) to think of it really as a thirteen hour-long movie, rather than a normal, episodic TV show. And that changed the way that I look at the character theme arcs and making sure that whatever happens in episode one, that same day the audience could be watching episode eight, so the continuity needed to be there.

Right, so if each season is like a movie, does that mean there is more there in terms of character motifs?
Yes, and with ‘Orange’ there is such a diverse cast, with so many “lead” actors and actresses, so we really try and focus in on a specific melodic theme or sonic world that is created to support each character, and some of that makes its way into their flashbacks. Some of those themes are in fact born in flashbacks because with some characters we don’t get to really know them until those moments. But it really does feel more like scoring a film than a television show in that regard.

So with Season 5 coming on June 9th, have any of the (musical) themes changed over the years?
Oh most definitely. One of the biggest would be Dayanara’s theme, which started as her and Bennet’s love theme and as their relationship went on the rocks, it created a flipped version of the same theme, but more dark. Suzanne’s (“Crazy Eyes”) theme starts off more aggressive, but as we get to know her, the innocence comes out. And then there’s a hybrid of the two, and also there’s some situational themes that come back over time. I really feel the prison itself has a real character to it, there’s an “essence” of what prison sounds like.

Definitely. What about Piper? Because she’s the one who’s really thrown headlong into all of this at the start.
I feel like the way we’ve worked with Piper through the seasons is more situational in terms of themes. Some of them have been more whimsical, a theme to reinforce the isolation she was feeling (in the SHU), then in – I think it was season three –  there was the “Piper 2.0” theme with an aggressive Piper finding her voice and that carried over into season four. There really isn’t one central theme for Piper, it really changes from season to season for her.

I actually misunderstood what this show was going to be about. Because when the preview for the pilot came out, I saw that Piper was being sentenced to this relatively short time in prison, so I thought ‘Orange is the New Black’ was meant to be a one-off, a one season and that’s it sort of deal. And then I saw articles about season two, three and I’m like “why is this show still going?” And that’s when I read the summaries and realized this show was a lot more complex than I imagined.
*laughs* Oh yeah, but it’s really something like ’24′, which plays out in real time. And it’s also hard to gauge how much time is actually passing in these seasons. We’ve seen one Christmas and one Valentine’s Day so far. But it really does feel like we haven’t even covered a year yet. No one is too specific with covering sentences. But this latest season (season 5) will cover exactly three days. That was the story motif for this season.

Wow, so there’s a lot of stuff packed in to this season?
Yes! It starts off with a bang and keeps on going, I wish I could talk about it but there’s only a week to go now. What’s great about the first season though, is it uses Piper to introduce us to prison, to what it would feel like to have something from your past that you may have forgotten come back and affect you. And also what it would feel like to be one of those people outside of the walls and suddenly find themselves inside it. And so I think they were able to use her story to get us into prison, and as soon as the 2nd season started, the focus is now on every other inmate. It’s no longer about the singular struggle of this woman, it’s now more about the life of women in prison.

So in theory this show could run indefinitely?
Absolutely!

So, one last question, you said it was the same production flow as a regular television show. So is recording the music anything like film where you have the footage playing out in front of you?
Yes, it’s exactly the same. The way it breaks down is, we go to a spotting session where we sit down and watch the editor’s cut with temporary music put in. And we discuss it and say, “what do we like? Are there any character themes missing? Does it need to be funny or sad?”  And then we have about five to six days to complete twenty-five to thirty pieces of music for the show. We go to a music review and watch the cues one by one, and it’s usually “love it”, “change this one thing” or “try again”. Then we have another day to review it before we start all over again. I tend to write and record the music at the same time. The best-case scenario for me when writing is to turn the music off and watch the same scene five or six times to see if a natural pace or rhythm comes through. And a lot of times the performer’s work is so strong that I begin to hear the music in my head straight away. I try to capture that emotional reaction as quickly as possible.

Wow, that is so amazing! Well thank you very much for sitting down to talk with me about Orange is the New Black
No problem! Thank you.

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Bernard Herrmann talks The Bride Wore Black (1968)

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Bernard Herrmann talks The Bride Wore Black (1968)

Normally when I share composer interviews, it’s for a relatively current film. But when I found an interview for the 1968 film The Bride Wore Black that was given by composer Bernard Herrmann, I just knew I had to share it with you.

The Bride wore Black (released in France as  La Mariée était en noir) is a revenge film directed by Francois Truffaut. It tells the story of a woman named Julie Kohler, whose husband is killed on her wedding day as they’re leaving the church. The crime occurred because five men were horsing around with a loaded rifle in a building across the street and it went off, fatally striking the newly married groom. After learning the identities of the men responsible, Kohler sets out to kill every last man responsible.

The new widow is completely ruthless in her pursuit of vengeance:

  • victim #1 is pushed off a balcony
  • victim #2 is poisoned
  • victim #3 is locked in a small closet where he suffocates to death (she sealed the door shut with duct tape
  • victim #4 would’ve been killed with a handgun but the police arrested him before she could get him
  • victim #5 is shot in the back (fatally) with an arrow as she posed for a painting of Diana, Goddess of the Hunt. After noticing that he’s painted her on the wall in a mural, Julie decides to leave the painting as is, knowing the evidence will lead to her arrest. After arriving at jail (where still-alive victim #4 is also serving time), she ends up working in the kitchen where she is last seen taking a food cart towards the men’s side of the prison (a scream implying she’s completed her task of vengeance).

The music for this film was written by the legendary composer Bernard Herrmann (perhaps best known for his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock on four of his films, including Psycho). I haven’t found many interviews with Herrmann thus far, so it is fascinating to hear him talking about his work with any film. I admit I haven’t actually seen The Bride Wore Black (not yet anyway), but after watching this interview and reading more about the plot, I definitely need to check this film out.

What do you think of Bernard Herrmann talking about The Bride Wore Black? Have you seen the film? And if you have, what did you think of it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

See also:

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

 

Brian Tyler scoring Partition (2007)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link

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Brian Tyler scoring Partition (2007)

Partition is a very sad story, set in 1947 during the partition of India (when Pakistan was created as a Muslim nation). It is based on the Romeo and Juliet story type, where two people fall in love even though it is forbidden. In this case, a Hindu man, Gian Singh, slowly falls for Naseem, a Muslim girl, even though all the rules of their respective religions forbid this.

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With Naseem separated from her parents and Gian finding himself responsible for her, the pair end up bonding over their mutually traumatic pasts and get married, having a son named Vijay. Things become complicated when word arrives that Naseem’s family is actually in a certain village in the newly formed Pakistan. Naseem leaves to visit, promising to return in a month, but her family is so infuriated that she’s married a Sikh that they lock her in a room and forbid her from returning to India. Gian is determined to rescue his wife, so he disguises himself as a Muslim and crosses into Pakistan.

After a disastrous attempt to rescue her, Naseem’s mother recognizes that her daughter really does love Gian and she lets her out so she can catch her husband at the train station. But just as the couple is able to reunite, Naseem’s brother Akbar pushes Gian onto the train tracks and he is killed by the approaching train, to the horror of Naseem. While the police arrest Akbar for murder, Naseem and Vijay are able to escape to England and make a new life.

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What makes this film notable for me is that it features a score by Brian Tyler, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite film composers. This behind the scenes video shows Tyler at work in the studio, annotating his score and recording with a rough cut of the film playing on a screen in front of him. He also worked with the Hollywood Studio Symphony for recording the score as well.

One big thing with the music that Tyler wanted to create is, that while there is a sense of Western music in the score, there is also a frequent callback to the sound of India as well. He wanted to create the feeling that you (the audience) have been transported through time to this very traumatic period in the history of India and Pakistan.

There is something magical about watching Brian Tyler on the podium conducting his music, I definitely need to hear more of this score now. If you’ve seen Partition, I would love to know your thoughts on the film and the score in the comments below.

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Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

See also:

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

See also:

Brian Tyler conducts The Mummy (2017)

Brian Tyler talks Rambo (2008)

Brian Tyler talks The Expendables (2010)

Brian Tyler conducting and scoring Now You See Me 2 (2016)

Brian Tyler talks War (2007)

Brian Tyler “Alien vs. Predator: Requiem” scoring session (2007)

Brian Tyler “Law Abiding Citizen” scoring sessions (2009)

Brian Tyler “Dragonball Evolution” scoring session (2009)

Brian Tyler talks Fast Five (2011)

Brian Tyler “Battle: Los Angeles” (2011) scoring session

Brian Tyler “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (2014) scoring session

Brian Tyler “Power Rangers” scoring session (2017)

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Hans Zimmer talks Inception (2010)

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

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Hans Zimmer talks Inception (2010)

I have watched a lot of movies, but few have bent my brain more than Inception (2010), a film set in a world where it is possible to enter the subconscious and “extract” information. Cobb, a “dream thief”, is tasked by a wealthy businessman named Saito to perform “inception” on the son of a rival, which is planting an idea in the subconscious mind, and it is supposed to be an impossible task.

The stakes for Cobb are pretty high: he’s been on the run for years after being framed for the murder of his wife (she actually committed suicide believing she was still in the dream world), and if he succeeds, Saito will make the charges go away so he can return home to his two children. But…in a world where we enter dreams within dreams within dreams, how do we know any of this is even real to begin with? (That question is never really answered by the way, we’re meant to make our own conclusions).

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The visuals in this film are like nothing you’ve ever seen before: the scene where Ariadne and Cobb visit the dream world and bend the landscape around them is spectacular beyond words. Even if you’re paying attention to which level of consciousness the characters are on, it’s very easy to get lost and wonder “what is actually real here?” This is especially true when the film gets into the question of what really happened to Cobb’s wife (and why apparitions of her keep appearing in Cobb’s mind).

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The score for this reality-bending film was composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer, who returned to collaborate again with director Christopher Nolan on this project (Inception marked their third collaboration together). This brief “making of” video shows how Nolan and Zimmer brought this score into existence. Zimmer described the music of Inception as “a very electronic, dense score, filled with nostalgia and sadness.” What I love best about the score is how it changes as the characters move deeper and deeper into the “dream within a dream.” The deeper they go, the more “unreal” the music becomes; this all reaches a head when Cobb and Ariadne are in Limbo (the bottom level) while the other members of his group are moving through three separate dream levels above them.

If you’ve seen Inception, what did you think of the story? And what did you think of the film’s soundtrack? Let me know in the comments below 🙂 And I hope you enjoy this behind the scenes look at the making of the film score for this film 🙂

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See also:

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

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Hans Zimmer talks The Road to El Dorado (2000)

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Hans Zimmer talks The Road to El Dorado (2000)

While it wasn’t a big hit at the time, 17 years later there is still a soft spot in my heart for The Road to El Dorado. The story follows two Spanish con-men, Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) and Tulio (Kevin Kline) as they accidentally stow away on the ship of Hernan Cortes on his way to conquer whatever empires of the New World he may come across, and end up discovering the legendary city of gold, El Dorado, where they are mistaken for gods.

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(I wrote about one of the film’s songs here)

Miguel and Tulio are initially content with their plan to amass as much gold as possible and then sailing away to “ascend to the heavens” in a boat they’re having the residents of El Dorado build for them, but complications quickly begin to emerge. For one, Miguel is quickly becoming enamored of life in the hidden city. And, as he points out to Tulio, leaving to live like a “king” somewhere else would be a step-down from “god.”

For another, the high priest, Tzekel-Kan, is suspicious of the pair as they do not behave as the gods are supposed to (nor are they supposed to bleed as Miguel does after cheating to win a ball game) and is determined to expose the two as frauds. There’s also the looming threat of Hernan Cortes, who will surely destroy El Dorado and enslave the populace if he can find it.

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And yes, I admit, the music has something to do with why I like this film as much as I do. With the orchestral score composed by Hans Zimmer, the music is a blend of Spanish sounds (heard mostly in the beginning of the film) and a “New World” sound that takes over once Miguel and Tulio discover El Dorado. I was delighted to discover a full length behind the scenes look at creating the score for this movie, with thoughts from Hans Zimmer, Elton John (who worked with Tim Rice on the songs) and also Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh, the voices of Miguel and Tulio.

 If you haven’t given The Road to El Dorado a try, I sincerely hope that you give the movie a chance. It has terrific animation and, as I’ve said, a wonderful musical score.

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

See also:

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

See also:

The Road to El Dorado “It’s Tough to Be a God” (2000)

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Carter Burwell talks Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

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Carter Burwell talks Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

I was surprised when Where the Wild Things Are became a motion picture in 2009. As a kid, I remember having this book read to me and I enjoyed it very much, but it didn’t seem like the best story to adapt into a movie (after all, it isn’t very long). But to my surprise, the movie actually turned out to be very good. If you haven’t read the book before, the story in brief is about a young boy named Max who sails to a magical island inhabited by oversized monsters. Max makes himself their king and happily rules over them for a while until he becomes homesick and returns to where he came from. The film expands on this story quite a bit by giving names and distinct personalities to the different “wild things” on the island, but the basic elements of the story remain the same.

While Carter Burwell might not be a name as familiar as, say, John Williams, James Horner or Brian Tyler, he has done a fair share of great film scores. He composed several scores for the Twilight series (Twilight; Breaking Dawn parts 1 and 2) and collaborated six times with director Bill Condon. Burwell has certainly done some interesting work over the years.

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And the composer has some interesting thoughts to share on the story’s musical score, as seen in the video above. For instance, once Max arrives on the island “where the wild things are”, the composer thought it appropriate to completely change the music from something familiar to something more exotic (like using non-traditional instrumentation).

One part involves literally banging on pots and pans to create a musical effect. The idea is that these are things you might literally find on the forest floor on the island. Using non-traditional items to create music is always exciting and I had no idea that Burwell and his fellow musicians had done this to create the music for Where the Wild Things Are.

See also:

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

You can become a patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂