Category Archives: Interview

An Interview with Chad Cannon, Composer of American Factory

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Chad Cannon, who composed the score for the Netflix original film American Factory. Composer Chad Cannon has traveled the world drawing inspiration from cultures, history, and human stories to create moving scores for documentaries, animation and live performances. His debut soundtrack for the documentary Paper Lanterns received an IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Awards) nomination for Best Original Score for a Documentary, and was lauded as “haunting, mystical” by The Japan Times; while his soundtrack for Cairo Declaration, co- composed with Xiaogang Ye, received China’s highest film prize, the Golden Rooster Award for Best Music. Chad most recently scored Netflix’s documentary, American Factory, which won the Best Director Award for a Documentary at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and is the first film released by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground. His other recent works include a symphonic Americana score for PBS’ documentary CyberWork and the American Dream, as well as scoring Chris Meledandri and Illumination Studios’ animated short, The Dog Days of Winter.

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How did you get started with composing for films and documentaries?

So I studied music at Harvard, I was studying music and Japanese there, and then I did my Masters at Julliard, also in composition. But all along I kind of knew…I’ve always like film, I thought it would be really cool to have a career that intersected film and music. So when I graduated from Julliard I moved to L.A. and I started working with this orchestrator named Conrad Pope, he worked for many years with John Williams, and the first project he hired me on was Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, so I got kind of dumped right in the middle of a huge film score project, and as an orchestrator it’s a little less pressure then a composer obviously, because the orchestrator’s job is really to help the composer prepare all the conducting scores in time for the recording sessions, so you’re the one putting the notes on the page eventually. So from there, I kind of transitioned into writing more for film, and I had an opportunity to score a couple of feature documentaries with my brother who directed feature films for CrossFit. …My brother just had me write some custom music for those films. And then I had this opportunity to write for a film called Paper Lanterns, which was a Hiroshima documentary about the 12 Americans who had died in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. So that was my first feature doc(umentary) that was more serious and I had an opportunity to write a more rich, orchestral for that film, and it was also a crossover score where I included some traditional Japanese performers in addition to this American orchestral sound that I was creating. So that led to me being accepted into the Sundance Composer Labs which happen every summer at Skywalker Ranch, and that lab is how I got connected to the American Factory film.

How did you get involved with American Factory

The Sundance Labs people knew I’d done quite a bit of work in Asia and they thought “Oh, since this is a film that is very much connecting Asia with the U.S., maybe he would be a good match” and so they referred me to Julia [Reichert] and Steve [Bognar]  who were the directors of American Factory.

How did you approach scoring the documentary?

Well, anytime I get a new film, the first thing I like to do is experiment with new materials or new instruments, just to sort of develop a sound world that I can draw from as I start getting clips of the film. So I tried two things at first that didn’t actually end up working out very well for the film. One was, because of the glass factory I thought “What if we used glass instruments?” and had glass be the heart of the score. So I got all the glass I could find and recorded myself playing rhythms on them. I got wine glasses, and did a bunch of tones, and I tried a bunch of stuff. And Julia and Steve heard it, and were like “Oh, this is cool but it’s too ‘twinkly.’” And that’s because glass creates a lot of high overtones, which creates a “twinkly” sound. And because there’s quite a few ominous, or dark themes in the film, as well as a huge amount of factory noise, from a sound design perspective this film was very difficult because the sound designer Lawrence Stevenson had to navigate, when you’re recording the audio in the factory and it’s hard to hear, just from the amount of noise. So anyway, the glass approach didn’t really work.

And then the next thing I tried was to include traditional Chinese elements, especially from Fujian Province, which is where the Fuyao headquarters is within China, and I had happened to have been there before…Steve and Julia also considered that, but then they said “We’re Americans,  we’re from Ohio, we don’t want to make this feel like it’s exoticizing the Chinese component of this movie. Make it more universal in the approach.” So ultimately we ended up focusing on a low woodwind sound; so there’s a lot of bassoons, bass clarinets, some lower flutes like alto flutes…and the reason we went in that direction is because Julia had heard a Mozart piece called the “Gran Partita” and this piece is for woodwinds with two horns and a double bass, and it’s just a really unique instrumentation…and ultimately I think she was right in leaning in that direction, because the woodwinds’ timbre goes well against all the metallic glass timbre that you hear in the film. The factory noises are complimented by this woodwind sound, as opposed to competing with it. There’s something about that combination that ended up working nicely, and I ended up writing a lot of music for these slow woodwinds.

Were you inspired by the factory machines, because in several of the manufacturing scenes it feels like the music is mimicking the frenetic action of the glass factory

For sure, there are a lot of moments..there’s one specific moment if you remember near the end of the film, there’s a sequence where Wong is sitting next to this panel of blinking lights in the dark, he’s sitting there and there’s a voiceover where he says “I think the most important thing is mutual understanding” and he expresses this admiration for American workers who can manage having multiple jobs at once…and that sequence…the blinking lights were the trigger for the music in that scene, where if you listen there’s a lot of minimalist patterns. A lot of the American minimalists will come to a pattern and they’ll repeat it for a really long time to create this meditative state and, that’s a very common technique now in film music. That pattern that I have in that scene is very much trying to show…it’s drawing inspiration from the blinking lights on the panel. And it gets you into Wong’s mind about how things are kind of dark at that moment.

And the music when we enter the factory for the first time is also rooted, grounded in a repeating bass note. The cue is actually called “The Resurrection,” …and for me the pillars of the factory, and the weight of this machinery, all of that is finding its way into the score in these heavy bass figures that I’ve been writing.

It feels like there are different themes, or different musical sentiments for the American and Chinese sides of the story, is that so or am I imagining that?

There are no themes that are specifically Chinese or American…Thematically there’s like four or five melodic ideas that spin out, and sometimes it’s the same theme but in a dark variation, sometimes lighter. Pretty much all of the musical material is tied back to that first theme called “The Forge.” There’s a parallel fifth motif that becomes the bed of pretty much everything else that happens after that. There are also themes for the Chairman and Wong. Wong’s theme is what comes back at the very end when we see this sequence between American workers and Chinese workers leaving the factory, and it’s like this fanfare for workers. The point of this theme is that it’s where I’m trying to convey the dualism of two countries coming together. And at the very, very end, there’s a long sequence with the Chairman where all of the themes you’ve heard throughout start to come back very quietly, underneath the dialogue, revisiting the places we’ve been along the way. So there are musical themes that are attached to specific characters.

How did you decide which parts of the documentary need music, because I’ve noticed chunks that have no music at all, and it feels like a very abrupt transition between music and no music.

So the way the film is edited is by chapters, and they’ll create a scene, or a series of scenes which together comprise a chapter. And the filmmakers who are also the writers, you know documentaries are written in the editing room, they don’t have a script, they just go out and film stuff. They get all the footage and then they go back and figure out what story they captured. And they could’ve told many different stories with the footage they had. They had to go through 1200 hours of footage shot over 3 years, so it’s really an incredible feat, what they did to cut it down to the film you see now. So musically, the way this pans out in documentaries is that, first of all, as opposed to feature films, and I personally feel that feature fiction films tend to get over-scored, I’m a fan of leaving space for people to just appreciate the environment that they’re in…the whole world is full of sound and interesting environmental ambience, and there’s music everywhere if you just open up your ears.

And I feel like in film it’s really beautiful when people know not to put music, because then you can be more immersed in the reality of whatever environment you’re in, even more so in a documentary. The challenges of a documentary film composer is that you can’t be too dramatic, you can’t hit things too hard on the nose without it starting to become editorializing. They’re telling true stories and representing real people, and you have to respect that. So the choices about where not to do music were largely where Julia and Steve had told me beforehand, where they said “Oh we don’t need music for this scene, or for here.” If there was music the whole time it would just start to get in the way of what people are saying.

There was one scene where I pushed for there to be no music, which was this scene where there’s no video just the recording, where the Fuyao employee had recorded this audio of the anti-union guy persuading them to vote against the union. And originally that scene had some very ominous music in it and I ultimately told them this is already such a shock where you lose the video, that you don’t need any score there because it’s already such a change from what we’ve been doing. And it’s already so ominous that the picture’s gone.

……….

It was a great honor to be able to talk with Chad Cannon about his work on American Factory, and I hope you enjoyed reading about it. Let me know your thoughts about American Factory (and the soundtrack) in the comments below and have a great day!

American Factory is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

See also:

Composer Interviews

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

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Daniel Pemberton talks Gold (2016)

*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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Gold is a 2016 American crime drama film loosely based on a true story about a fraudulent gold mine established in Indonesia and the aftermath when the fraud is uncovered. The film was directed by Stephen Gaghan and stars Matthew McConaughey, Édgar Ramírez, and Bryce Dallas Howard. The musical score for Gold was composed by Daniel Pemberton (Steve Jobs, The Man from U.N.C.L.E) and in this video Pemberton talks at length about how he got started with creating the music for this film.

 

Daniel Pemberton explains that his initial concept for the score was the sound of bells (which in themselves can create a myriad of sounds). What fascinated me about Pemberton’s approach to the score is the way he incorporated the sound of the New York Stock Exchange opening bell into the music. That sound is, as Pemberton puts it, the essence of capitalism and greed, which makes it perfect for the score. What’s also interesting is the way the composer manipulates the sound of the stock exchange bell. By altering the sound, the composer can create entirely different effects and meanings. This is one of the reasons Daniel Pemberton is quickly becoming one of my favorite film composers, he can take unusual sounds and instruments and fully incorporate them into the score (and you’d never know unless he told you).

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Let me know what you think about Gold and Daniel Pemberton’s interview in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Daniel Pemberton talks The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2015)

Daniel Pemberton talks Steve Jobs (2015)

Daniel Pemberton talks King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

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

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

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook

Michael Giacchino talks Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

I’ve been suffering from franchise fatigue as of late, which is why I didn’t go see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom when it came to theaters in the summer of 2018. However, I have heard good things about Michael Giacchino’s score for this film (he’s one of my favorite film composers since he is almost incapable of composing a bad film score). In looking through the behind-the-scenes videos linked at the top of this post, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Giacchino took inspiration from the scores that Bernard Herrmann wrote for several Ray Harryhausen films (among them Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad). Given that those are some of my favorite film scores, I almost feel bad that I didn’t give this film a chance.

Behind the scenes of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Part 1

Behind the scenes of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Part 2

Behind the scenes of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Part 3

Michael Giacchino also discusses how he pushed the envelope in how little he could get away with musically. The best film composers can do a lot with minimal music and Giacchino is good at drawing you in with a series of low, minimal notes before suddenly BOOM! the music explodes and you’re literally jumping in your seat. While I’m still not 100% sure how I feel about the Jurassic World franchise as a whole, I do think they made the right choice in picking Michael Giacchino as the composer. His scores retain the sense of wonder (and extreme danger) that John Williams established with the original Jurassic Park film. I hope you enjoy watching these behind-the-scenes videos looking at the score of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Let me know what you think about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Michael Giacchino talks The Incredibles (2004)

Michael Giacchino talks Mission: Impossible 3 (2006)

Michael Giacchino talks Ratatouille (2007)

Michael Giacchino talks Up (2009)

Michael Giacchino talks Star Trek (2009)

Michael Giacchino talks Super 8 (2011)

Michael Giacchino talks John Carter (2012)

Michael Giacchino talks Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

Michael Giacchino talks Jupiter Ascending (2015)

Michael Giacchino talks Jurassic World (2015)

Michael Giacchino scoring Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Michael Giacchino talks Zootopia (2016)

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

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

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

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook

Michael Giacchino talks John Carter (2012)

Few Disney films have flopped harder in the last decade than John Carter, an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom novel A Princess of Mars. The film follows the titular character, a Civil War veteran, as he finds himself flung to the dying planet of Barsoom (Mars) and the conflicts taking place therein. The film was meant to be the first of a trilogy, but when John Carter bombed at the box office (costing Disney $200 million in the process), all future sequels were cancelled.

The score for John Carter was composed by Michael Giacchino, who routinely turns in good work, including for this film. While many aspects of the film were criticized, Giacchino’s score was praised for sounding “fresh and adventurous.” In this interview (I apologize for the audio cutting in and out), Giacchino discusses a few details of how the score came together, including the director’s desire to express emotions through the music and which characters should get their own themes. I’d really hoped to find some scoring sessions from this score, and if I ever find some I’ll make sure to attach the links, because it sounds like some good music.

I hope you enjoyed this short interview about the music of John Carter. Let me know what you think about John Carter in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Michael Giacchino talks The Incredibles (2004)

Michael Giacchino talks Mission: Impossible 3 (2006)

Michael Giacchino talks Ratatouille (2007)

Michael Giacchino talks Up (2009)

Michael Giacchino talks Star Trek (2009)

Michael Giacchino talks Super 8 (2011)

Michael Giacchino talks Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

Michael Giacchino talks Jupiter Ascending (2015)

Michael Giacchino talks Jurassic World (2015)

Michael Giacchino scoring Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Michael Giacchino talks Zootopia (2016)

Michael Giacchino talks Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

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

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

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook

James Newton Howard talks Dinosaur (2000)

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I remember Dinosaur being a really big deal back in the year 2000. Not only was it a leap in CGI animation, it was also filmed against mostly live-action backgrounds (which I believe was a first). The film follows the story of a dinosaur named Alladar who travels with his adoptive lemur family to find a new home after the island he grew up on is destroyed by a meteor.

James Newton Howard composed the score for Dinosaur and I remember the music standing out to me right away due to the extended preview that the film had in trailers. Howard gave the score this huge, symphonic sound to highlight the live-action background and the various dinosaurs seen in the preview. I was really excited to find this video clip because “making of” clips with James Newton Howard are relatively hard to come by and he’s worked on some of my favorite childhood films.

 

As the interview clip explains, Howard uses the music in Dinosaur to direct emotional feelings, be it fear, wonder, or humor. And there is a full range of emotions to be found in the film, which shows just how talented this composer is. It was also emphasized that they wanted to make the music sound primal but not ethnic. That is, they didn’t want any music that could be traced back to a particular human culture (since this movie is set way before humans existed).

I really hope you enjoy this behind the scenes video with James Newton Howard. Let me know what you think about Dinosaur (and the music for Dinosaur) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

James Newton Howard talks Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

James Newton Howard talks Signs (2002)

James Newton Howard talks The Village (2004)

James Newton Howard scoring King Kong (2005)

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

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

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

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook

Daniel Pemberton talks Steve Jobs (2015)

Steve Jobs (2015) marked the first collaboration between director Danny Boyle and composer Daniel Pemberton (their second team-up, Yesterday, comes out in June). In this behind-the-scenes video, the composer discusses how he divided the film’s score into three distinct parts, each one corresponding to one of the three acts of the film. The first act (he explains) is full of synthesizers to match the vibe of 1984. The second act (and the one I like best) is purely orchestral. Not just orchestral, it’s more of a miniature opera (complete with singers). And the third act is squarely placed in the digital medium, referencing how just about everything in our lives has gone digital, thanks in large part to the real Steve Jobs.

 

I’m fascinated at how Pemberton essentially created three different scores for this film, that’s not something you come across very often (in fact I’m hard pressed to name another example). Daniel Pemberton is very quickly becoming one of my favorite film composers and I for one am excited to learn more about him. I hope you enjoyed the video! Let me know what you think about Steve Jobs (and it’s score) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Daniel Pemberton talks The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2015)

Daniel Pemberton talks Gold (2016)

Daniel Pemberton talks King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

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

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

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook

Daniel Pemberton talks King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

While it’s no secret that Guy Ritchie’s retelling of the King Arthur legend was a colossal flop at the box office, that shouldn’t stop you from learning about what went into making the film’s soundtrack. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword marked the second collaboration between Guy Ritchie and Daniel Pemberton and just like he did with The Man from U.N.C.L.E, the composer went all out in putting the music together.

Daniel Pemberton employed a variety of musical instruments both ancient and modern. As he says in the video, he sought to make the score visceral and gritty, something that felt distinctly unpolished. If the excerpts heard in this video are any indication, I think the composer succeeded in that aspect. It’s a shame the film flopped so badly, it sounds like Pemberton’s score for the film is really good (and it’s not that uncommon to find a great score hiding in a terrible film). I find myself hoping that Ritchie and Pemberton will collaborate again (hopefully on The Man from U.N.C.L.E 2), though hopefully the resulting film will do much better than this one did.

Let me know what you think of this behind the scenes look at the music for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Daniel Pemberton talks The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2015)

Daniel Pemberton talks Gold (2016)

Daniel Pemberton talks Steve Jobs (2015)

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

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

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

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook