Tag Archives: Interview

Music for Digging into the Past: Talking With Stefan Gregory about Netflix’s ‘The Dig’ (2021)

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Australian composer Stefan Gregory about his work on the Netflix film The Dig. Gregory makes his major feature film score debut with this Netflix drama, based on the novel of the same name by John Preston. Ralph Fiennes stars in the film as real-life excavator Basil Brown, who until recent years was uncredited for his work in unearthing the fossil of an Anglo-Saxon wooden ship on a young widow’s (Carey Mulligan) estate. With this project, Stefan makes the transition to film scoring from the world of composing and sound design for theatre. He studied mathematics in college, but his passion for music (mainly Jazz) overtook and led to him pursuing a career in writing music for theatre productions. 

Enjoy our conversation about The Dig!

How did you get started as a composer?

Improvising and composing were part of how I learnt music from a young age. My dad was a folk musician. My first paid gig was through a friend who worked in theatre, scoring a production of Hamlet for $500 which featured classical banjo and cello.

What was it like making the leap from composing for the theatre to composing for film? Was it a big difference?

It was fairly straight forward, the basic ideas are the same in film and theatre – support the story and the visual world, don’t get in the way of the text, find something that’s missing from the story that you can tell with the music. One difference is that theatre music sometimes needs to be a little bit flexible as the timing can change every night, whereas film music needs to be precise.

There are some subtler differences that are hard to put into words – something about the way we interpret film as truth, because it’s based in photography, even though the footsteps you’re hearing are probably foley. In theatre, we always know it’s fake, because we can look up and see the stage lights and the proscenium arch, so it relies more on the imagination. This changes the way music is interpreted. If you use certain filmic tropes in theatre, they might come across as cheesy or the audience might feel they’re being manipulated, which turns them off. Yet those same tropes work in film, or actually they’re essential because they’re part of the grammar of film. But all this is mostly very subtle.

Did it help that you were working with director Simon Stone, given that you’ve collaborated for a decade together? I have to imagine that would help with any transition from theatre to film.

It does really help to know you director well, as they are your main collaborator. Another flipped way to look at it is: it helps to work with directors whose philosophy and aesthetic you share, and then you’ll end up working together for a decade!

How did you decide on the overall sound for The Dig? It’s not how I imagined a film about an archaeological dig would sound, though I do love the intimacy of the music. I’m also curious about one thing: I read that your initial idea was to create music of the era. What, specifically would that have sounded like? I know you ultimately didn’t go in that direction but I’m curious as to how it differed from what you did go with.

We initially talked about referencing orchestral music of the period, and I did a lot of work on that before I saw the edit. However most of those ideas didn’t seem to work when we put them to picture – the contemporary camera and editing language seemed to beg for a more contemporary score. I avoided using piano for quite a while but eventually I relinquished, and that really helped unlock the whole sound for me. I guess there’s a reason it’s used so much. The strings and orchestra were great for the landscape but piano gave it the intimacy and human touch it needed.

On a related note, when you decided what the film would sound like, where did you start with composing the score? Was it with a single theme that expanded outward or was it more organic than that?

In this case it was a piano piece I wrote that was a breakthrough for me, the tone and style seem right and it suddenly became clear what sort of compositional world was going to work. It wasn’t the theme itself, but certain harmonic ideas in it that I ran with, and the simplicity of the melody. Interestingly, that particular piano piece was cut when there was a big change in the edit, as it resulted in the whole film feeling slightly faster and so that piece was now too languid.

How much time did you have to work on The Dig? Were you impacted by the pandemic? If so, how did you work around it with the recording process?

I was brought on before the shoot and watched the daily rushes. By the time I got properly started though, and had seen rough cut, I think I had about 3 to 4 months to write it. This coincided with the first wave of the pandemic in the UK, so in the middle of the process I and my pregnant partner and 3 year old daughter made the decision to come back to Australia. We had already sent my mother home as a precautionary, who had been helping us with child minding. My partner was now confined to bed with morning sickness, so it was becoming a challenge for me caring for my family and writing my first feature score at the same time. When we arrived back in Sydney on one of the last easily available flights we had to stay on a remote bushland property which turned out not to have phone, internet or even hot water at first. No-one would come to fix the internet and phone for weeks as everyone was in lockdown. It was a beautiful landscape however, and there was a magnificent view of a large river, which was inspiring for the music. The process of collaboration became difficult – I had to drive up a dirt track in a four-wheel drive and upload files over 4G to the director in Vienna.

Then when it came to recording, no orchestras were open for business. Eventually Iceland opened up, and we were lucky to have a fantastic orchestra and team over there who were able to provide online streaming of the session. There were people listening in from all over the world – Sydney, New York, London, Quito and Vienna – to a small studio in a picturesque coastal town a few hours east of Reykjavik. The sessions began at about 8pm Sydney time and went to about 7am. I was a bit tired by the end!

One question that I can’t get off my mind is, and forgive me if this comes out wrong, did you write some of this music to “mimic” what an archaeologist does? A lot of the smaller, more delicate moments remind me of the gentle brushing and probing that an archaeologist has to do to remove these precious artifacts from the ground, and I was wondering if that was done on purpose.

Haha! I love this observation. It wasn’t quite as deliberate as that, but it was scored to picture so probably something was going on in my subconscious.

What’s one thing you hope viewers take away with them when they watch The Dig and hear your score?

I hope they hear the score as part of the cohesive whole experience of the film, and don’t think about it too much – all the elements of film working together sympathetically. As far as the experience, it will resonate differently with different people, and everyone will find something slightly different in it. Certainly there are some big themes in there; life, death, time, earth, legacy, love.

Do you have a favorite part of the soundtrack?

A few. I like the montage that starts just after the Piggots arrive, and continues under Basil showing little Robert the stars through a telescope, and cuts to the misty morning. I also like the section after they’ve pulled the body from the plane crash, with the sunset and Rory and Peggy – it feels slightly unexpected musically to me.

Thank you again for taking the time to talk about your work on The Dig.

Thank you for your questions!

A big thank you to Stefan Gregory for taking the time to speak with me about his work on The Dig. You can check out the film on Netflix!

Have a great day!

See also:

Composer Interviews

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

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Music, Basketball, and One Amazing Coach: Talking with Composer Grant Fonda about The House That Rob Built (2020)

Just recently I spoke with composer Grant Fonda about his work on The House That Rob Built, a documentary film that looks at the life and career of Rob Selvig, the iconic coach of the University of Montana’s Lady Griz basketball team. Underfunded and sidelined by men’s athletics, the Lady Griz bloomed under the fresh Title IX regulations that brought equal funding, scholarships and facilities to women’s collegiate sports. Selvig’s hard-driving style took the team from humble roots, playing before empty stands, and built them into the preeminent women’s basketball program west of the Rockies.

Los Angeles based composer Grant Fonda has collaborated with numerous creatives on a wide array of notable projects, including the acclaimed The Dating Project (dir. Jonathan Cipiti, 2018), the award-winning Down The Fence (Netflix, dir. MJ Isakson, 2017), and the multi-award winning Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton. Grant has been a collaborator in music departments for award-winning composers Thomas Newman and Heitor Pereira on Spectre, Finding Dory, Bridge of Spies, and Minions. He also has worked with with the late James Horner on Titanic Live! and John Debney on a live show for Disneyland’s California Adventure.

Please enjoy my conversation with Grant Fonda about The House That Rob Built.

How did you get started as a composer?

I’ve been around music for as long as I can remember. My grandfather was a classically trained pianist and always encouraged me to make music, even before I started taking lessons. He and my parents fostered creativity by letting me pursue my passions, and I always gravitated back to music, always dabbling in creating my own tunes. One teacher after another said “Hey, Grant, you’re really good at this. You should think about composing for a career.” In a way, I guess you can say that I finally fell out of pursuing a career as a music educator and fell into composing. 

What was your starting point in composing for The House That Rob Built?

As is often the case in this business, it started with a relationship. I had been the composer for Jonathan Cipiti’s The Dating Project and Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton, both produced by Family Theater Productions under the guidance of producer Megan Harrington. Jon and Megan really wanted to get the “team” back together again for The House That Rob Built, so I got the first call! Naturally, I was delighted. 

This might come out wrong, but when you were writing this music, did you think of this primarily as music about basketball first and the man second, or about the man first and the basketball second? Or was it an equal focus between the two?

Without question, Rob as a person, the team as a unit, and the individuals of the team always came to the narrative forefront over the game of basketball itself. I was always thinking about the intensity of basketball, but directors Jon Cipiti and Megan Harrington were quick to remind me that the story was firstly about the heart of the players rather than the game. That heart, legacy, and connection had to translate to viewers without getting lost. 

For the instruments, what did you decide to include in the orchestral mix? I hear a lot of strings, but I know there’s more than that.

You’re right, a string quartet forms the foundation of the score. The only other truly-orchestral instrument in the palette was a felted piano, but the soundscape also features the Nyckelharpa (a Swedish keyed fiddle) and the voice of the amazing Hannah Rose Lewis. I suppose that you could also say that there’s an “orchestra” of synths –– I wanted the synthetic part of the sonic universe to feel simultaneously organic and forward-thinking while embracing a bit of a retro vibe at times.

What prompted your decision to go out and mix in the actual sounds of basketballs into the music? That strikes me as the kind of decision that will either work really well or not at all (I thought it worked great).

Thanks! That’s awesome. One of the things that kept coming up in our spotting session was the need to capture the intensity of women’s collegiate basketball, but there wasn’t going to be a lot of sound design to help us because reenactments were usually working in tandem with voice-overs, and the sound quality of archival footage was noisy. I had the idea that it’d be interesting to try and blur the lines between sound design and score by incorporating sounds of the court, but I knew it’d be a tough sell unless it was executed perfectly. It had to feel organic without being campy. Jon and Megan loved the pitch in one cue, so as I wrote, those source sounds started to become the backbone of the percussive side of the score. 

Are there other atypical sounds mixed into the score that we should be keeping an ear open for? 

The Nyckelharpa is a fun treat for the ears in this score! We had so much fun recording this at the session, and there’s part of me that wishes I had used it more often. The way that Malachai Bandy (our Nyckelharpa player) emotes in his performances is stunning and really exaggerates the sense of longing and feeling of nostalgic folk music. 

How long did you have to work on this score? Was it a close collaboration with the directors?

I worked very closely with Jon and Megan while writing, partially because I only had 21 days to write the entire score, and then about a week to record and mix it. I think I spent as much time on the phone as I did writing! Like a great coach, Jon and Megan checked in daily to see how they could help inspire me, give thoughtful feedback, and push me to elevate the story in every cue. Sometimes, solitude is a composer’s saving grace while they’re in creative-mode, but in this case, working against the clock with the team amplified the film’s narrative in a sublime way.

Was the scoring/recording process impacted by the pandemic in any way?

It wasn’t, thankfully (we recorded in fall 2019), but we almost did have to reschedule the recording session because my wife started having pre-labor for our daughter the day before the session! I’ll never forget calling Jon Cipiti and saying, “I know this is not the call that you want to get the day of a recording session, but I think that we might be having a baby instead of recording strings tomorrow.” Thankfully, our gorgeous daughter arrived about two weeks later, and the session went as planned.

Do you have a favorite part of the soundtrack/score?

I love the cue Title IX because of the unusual textures and Hannah’s masterful vocal performances, but my favorite cue in the film has to be Strong, which is featured within the last scenes of the film. This was some of the first footage that I saw, but some of the last notes that I penned. To write it well, I knew that I’d have to draw from other parts of the score and also be emotionally up for the task because the different parts of the narrative come together to pack a wallop. The resulting almost nine-minute-long cue are some of the highest highs and lowest lows that I’ve ever composed, and I still feel a lump in my throat when I watch/hear it, a year and a half later. 

Anything in particular you hope audiences take away with them when they watch the documentary and hear this music?

I hope that people are reminded that inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places and through unexpected circumstances. I hope that they’ll remember that unity can be found and thrive in diversity. And, I hope that viewing and listening audiences will be inspired to invest in the next generation to build things that are greater than their wildest imaginations. 

I’d like to give a big thank you to Grant Fonda for taking the time to talk with me about The House That Rob Built.

See also:

Composer Interviews

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 🙂

For Cybertron! Talking with Alexander Bornstein about ‘Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege’

Earlier this summer I was granted the opportunity to speak to Alexander Bornstein about his work on the Netflix series Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege. A reimagining of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, Siege takes you deeper into Cybertron than ever before, and turns everything you thought you knew about Optimus Prime and Megatron (and their conflict) upside down.

Alexander Bornstein is an award-winning composer currently based in Los Angeles. His music has been heard on television, independent films, feature films, web series, documentaries in the festival circuit, and concert halls around the U.S.  Alexander has also been at the forefront of new multimedia platforms, composing music for one of the first VR television series. His projects include (but are not limited to): The Twilight Zone, Lost in Space (the Netflix series), The Boys, Agent Carter, and of course, Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege.

How did you get started with composing for film and television?

It’s actually a roundabout story. I’d been listening to film scores since first or second grade, it was really a genre of music I gravitated to. I grew up listening to Basil Poledouris, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams and Hans Zimmer, a lot of composers that everyone’s familiar with. I then started as a filmmaker when I went to college. I wanted to be a writer/director, so I was writing feature scripts, I was directing short films, but I was always doing music on my own time. I didn’t really start to study music extensively until I was about 20 years old in my second year of college. I’d always had this passion for film music, but I didn’t really know how to write music even though I really wanted to do that. And so in college I started experimenting on my own. Then I met the right collective of professors who told me “Well if you really want to do this, this is what you need to do.” It was kind of, before I knew what was happening, I was declaring a music major and writing music, then studying with a composer. When I graduated from undergrad I decided I wanted to go to grad school and one of the programs I got into was for film scoring. I took that as a sign from the universe that I should give this a shot professionally.

How familiar were you with the Transformers series before you started working on War for Cybertron?

I was fairly familiar [with Transformers]. I was a big fan of the original cartoon when I was a kid, because the SyFy channel would air the G1 cartoons on its morning animation block. That’s how I became familiar with Optimus Prime, Megatron, Autobots, and all that. That gave me a fleeting familiarity with Transformers growing up because of my love for G1. I watched a little bit of Beast Wars, I kept up with the series over the years and got re-introduced when the first movie came out. It was really cool to see Peter Cullen come back as Optimus Prime. So there’s always been this familiarity with the franchise as I grew up.

On a related note, did the music from past Transformers series influence your work on this score at all? Any musical Easter Eggs that longtime fans might notice?

That was a discussion I had pretty extensively with F.J. DeSanto, the showrunner, when we started. The risky thing about this series is that it is a step in a new direction for what many have seen in a Transformers show before. There’s obviously a lot of callbacks, since the show was written by fans, it is definitely a faithful update. But, to your question, we never really wanted to go too far into referencing stuff from the Robert Walsh and Johnny Douglas scores or the Vince DiCola score from The Transformers: The Movie. I can’t speak for what might happen in the future, but I think for this first chapter of the trilogy we tried to focus on creating a new sound and not necessarily incorporate stuff from previous iterations of the franchise. We talked about it when I started and decided to step away from trying that out, but you never know what could happen in future chapters.

How did you approach scoring War for Cybertron? What was your starting point with putting the music together?

The first thing I wanted to do was create three main themes for the series. Those three main themes would basically be the building blocks of all the music for the show. Once I was officially onboard, I started working on a theme for the Autobots, the Decepticons, and then for Cybertron itself. From those themes, I had discussions with F.J. [DeSanto] about what kind of instrumentation was wanted, what kind of sounds should be tried. Once I did that I went off on my own for a few months. They were just getting started on the animation when I started, so there wasn’t really anything for me to work on, so I had all this time to bat ideas around. Once I had those three themes, I presented them, we signed off on them, and then from those themes I felt pretty comfortable diving into the actual series and working on the score.

The approach I tried to take is, rather than getting too motivic, because of the amount of characters on the show, I tried to keep the music more economic and lean, for example by developing the Autobots theme based on various characters and situations. So, there’s a heroic variation of the Autobot’s theme for Optimus Prime, and likewise similar variations for the Decepticon’s theme. The theme is arranged or developed in different ways specific for a character. One thing I’ve learned during projects is that it’s difficult to get themes established, especially now with content and stories moving so rapidly with so much to go through. I wanted to rely on less [music] so I could keep repeating it to get it established more efficiently. From those three themes there are some sub-motifs here and there. For example, the All-Spark has a sub-motif that gets developed in different ways. Elita-1 has a theme of her own that starts with the same chords as the Autobot theme but then goes in a different direction. The Decepticon theme its actually part of the Autobot theme, just with different chords. Basically, there’s a “B” section to the Autobot’s theme that is uplifting and hopeful and that is the basis of what became the Decepticon theme with a more minor key in the harmony. Ultimately, this [similarity] is because at one time they were all Cybertronians.

What kind of instruments did you use for the score? Considering that it’s Transformers, I’d imagine there was a lot of electronic music? Or maybe not?

There’s definitely a heavy electronic component, that was something we decided upon early on. There is a big orchestral component as well, for the emotional as well as the action-heavy moments. Inspiration was taken from synth waves and that genre of writing, but I also looked at Vangelis and Jóhann Jóhannsson for some of the other, more static textures. It was an interesting challenge to take something like Transformers, which up until now has been fairly ‘heavy’ and taking it in a slightly different direction with more static and organic textures. There’s still some very reliable old-school synth arpeggios, the analog sounds, but you’re also getting some of these organic, processed textures as well, so it’s not a complete retread of what people have heard already.

Have you finished the scoring process for Siege? How long did scoring take? 

I began in August of 2019 and then I finished writing it in January of 2020. I was given a lot of time, which is somewhat atypical for a television production, and definitely on animation. It was a really good opportunity to make sure we were always putting our best foot forward. This has also been the case for “Earthrise” (Part 2 of the War for Cybertron series). I can take a step back and be like “Is this really the best version of this cue, do i need to fix anything?” as opposed to just grinding it out as quickly as possible.

Do you have a favorite part of the soundtrack? Any favorite themes?

I was really happy with how the theme for Elita-1 turned out. She’s kind of a breakout character on the show for me and I wanted to make sure that she had a theme that could

really stand on its own. It gets some really good opportunities in the series to develop. It shows up for the first time in episode 2, and then it gets a lot of chances to develop. I was really happy with how it turned out. It was one of those instances where you write and hope that you don’t get any notes on it because you don’t want to change anything about it. Thankfully, it came through and they didn’t have any notes on it. So I was really pleased to come up with this theme for a character that I really liked and seeing it stick in the series has been really great.

I want to say thank you to Alexander Bornstein for taking the time to talk with me about his work on Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege. You can currently view the series on Netflix. There is currently no release date for Transformers: War for Cybertorn: Earthrise, though I was given to understand that the scoring for Earthrise is ongoing at the time the interview took place.

See also:

My Thoughts on: Transformers: War for Cybertron: Siege (2020)

Composer Interviews

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

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

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Exploring the Music of ‘We’re Here’: An Interview with Herdís Stefánsdóttir

Recently I was given the opportunity to interview Herdís Stefánsdóttir, a film and television composer perhaps best known for working on The Sun is Also a Star and currently working on the upcoming HBO series We’re Here.

Herdís Stefánsdóttir graduated with an M.A. degree in film scoring from New York University in 2017. Since graduation she has scored two feature films, an HBO series and a few short films. Her scoring work includes Ry Russo -Young’s MGM/Warner Bros. feature film, The Sun Is Also A Star and the HBOseries We’re Here. Herdís was nominated for The Icelandic Music Awards for her score in The Sun Is Also A Star. Herdís interned for the Oscar nominated composer Jóhann Jóhannsson inBerlin while he was working on the film Arrival (2016) and she has scored numerous short films that have premiered at top-tier festivals around the world like Berlinale, TIFF, Sundance and Palm Springs International Film Festival.

The subject of the interview was Herdís Stefánsdóttir’s work on the upcoming HBO series We’re Here, a short series about people being transformed into drag queens and coached into stepping outside their comfort zones by famous drag queens including Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara, and Shangela. We’re Here is currently set to premiere on April 23, 2020.

What drew you to composing for film and television?

I started experimenting with it a few years ago when I was in school. I was collaborating with dance projects, theater, and all that kind of stuff. I really enjoyed working with people and working on stories. It’s a totally different way of approaching music that I hadn’t done before. That’s how it started.

How did you get connected with We’re Here? It’s an interesting premise for a show

We’re Here [came about] from my agent sending in a portfolio, essentially a reel of my music that the creators really liked and they thought it was a good fit. And it is a good show, I quite like it.

How did you approach scoring a show like We’re Here?

Actually I’m not quite finished [with scoring], I’m actually in the middle of the scoring process. I just finished episode 3 and I’m working on episode 4. It’s definitely something that I hadn’t figured out before I started because what’s interesting is that the episodes all have the same theme with going to small towns. They’re talking to people and getting their stories. Each of the stories are so different and the characters are so different. So it kind of developed through the process of scoring. And I feel like where I am now, basically I’ve been creating a sound world for each person. Each story and each character gets their own sound. That’s how it’s been developing. And that sound is changing from episode to episode.

How is the process for scoring television different from scoring for film?

It’s very different. I’ve never worked on a project like this, that has real people and a real story, and it makes the scoring process almost indescribable because it’s so different from working on fictional material. It has to be so right, like when a person is talking you don’t want to go overboard and make it cheesy. You want it to be the right emotion without taking too much space. It’s a lot of work to get everything right. In film, there are moments where you’re just writing music for something where no one is talking and you can just write a piece of music more inspired by the film. But this [the show] is more like weaving a thread of music within all the stories and conversations.

About how long was the recording process for each episode?

For the first episode, that was the one I had the longest time to work on. That was when I was starting to figure out what I wanted to do, how do I want this to sound. That was more a process of experimenting and trying to get the right emotion and the right heart of this show.

I’ve been mostly working my myself in the studio and I record instruments, synths, different sounds, the piano, and my voice. Then I get friends to record specific instruments that I might need. And the further we are in the process the faster it’s happening. There’s definitely been more pressure for each episode as it goes on. And [the process] has been interesting because in a [traditional] narrative or fictional series you start creating a sound world with themes that are reused throughout. However, because each episode has its own identity, I always feel like I’m starting from scratch when I start a new episode. I would say it’s about three or four weeks per episode [to finish scoring].

Is the music for each episode connected to that of other episodes, or are they in their own musical “bubbles”?

They are definitely connected because there are two sides to it. There are the characters but there’s also all the moments in the show. Some scenes need cues to bring out a certain emotion so there’s definitely a thread connecting them. It’s a special element that defines each story or character. There is an overall sound that connects everything, even when I might play around and change the instrumentation for the different characters.

Did anything in particular influence the sound of the music you were making? That is to say, were you going for a particular sound?

I wasn’t at all. I was just kind of open to see where it would take me. What kind of surprised me was the different people, with their different stories, and how they called out interesting things. It was like “this person needs this in their story.” All of it has been developing as we go. I didn’t decide anything before [we started]. I just knew I wanted to avoid a typical TV score, I just wanted to create a unique voice for everyone.

What do you want viewers to take away when they watch these episodes and hear your music?

I just hope it gets into people’s hearts. I hope they feel the story. I think that’s the purpose of the music. It’s a way of helping people tell the stories.

I want to give a big thank you to Herdís Stefánsdóttir for taking the time to talk with me about her work on the upcoming HBO series We’re Here. The show will premiere on HBO April 23, 2020.

See also:

Composer Interviews

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 🙂

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.

Brian Tyler talks War (2007)

War is a film that I have not seen but I’m sure I would like, given that it stars Jet Li and Jason Statham. The film is the directorial debut of Philip G. Atwell and tells the story of FBI agent John Crawford (Statham) who becomes obsessed with hunting down an assassin named Rogue (Li) after he brutally murders his partner. But, as it turns out, the story isn’t nearly as straightforward as it seems, there are some mind-blowing twists involved.

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Unbelievably, it comes out that the assassin Crawford has been hunting down is none other than his supposed-to-be-dead partner! It turns out that after being supposedly killed, he tracked down and murdered the real Rogue in order to work his way into the Yakuza to find out who ordered the assassin to take out his family. But there’s another twist: it comes out that Crawford is the one responsible for giving out his partner’s address to Rogue (albeit under heavy duress) because he’s been in the Yakuza’s pocket for quite some time. Talk about twists upon twists!

The film was produced under the working title of  Rogue (named for Jet Li’s character) but it was changed to avoid conflicting with an Australian horror film of the same name that was released the same year.

In the interview (which can be accessed in the link above), Tyler explains that he was approached to work on War after the premiere of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), and after watching some footage from the film-in-progress, he begged for the chance to score the film. Additional music for the film was provided by RZA, Mark Batson and Machines of Loving Grace.

 

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A major element of the story involves the Chinese Triad going to war with the Japanese Yakuza. As a result, Tyler created a musical blend using Chinese and Japanese instruments against one another to symbolize the growing conflict between the two groups.

I have to say, looking at Brian Tyler’s work has given me a completely new appreciation for action films and their music. A lot of people write off action films as being “mindless” or somehow “less than” bigger dramatic films, but I think action films can be just as good as any other film genre if they’re done properly.

It was really exciting learning how Brian Tyler created the score for War and I hope you enjoy the interview too.

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

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See also:

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

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

Brian Tyler scoring Partition (2007)

Brian Tyler talks Rambo (2008)

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

Brian Tyler “Dragonball Evolution” scoring session (2009)

Brian Tyler talks The Expendables (2010) 

Brian Tyler talks Fast Five (2011)

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

Brian Tyler scoring session for Iron Man 3 (2013)

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

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

Brian Tyler “Power Rangers” scoring session (2017)

Brian Tyler conducts The Mummy (2017)

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Danny Elfman talks Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Danny Elfman talks Alice in Wonderland (2010)

If I’m perfectly honest, Alice in Wonderland (2010) should be included in my “Didn’t Think I’d Like it (But I did!)” series because, well, I really didn’t think I would like it when the previews arrived. But during my spring break that year I went to see the film because a friend of mine wanted to see it and I actually enjoyed it.

This film is actually something of a sequel to the first Alice in Wonderland (1951) because Alice is now grown up and has all but forgotten her childhood adventure in Wonderland (renamed here as “Underland”), believing it all to be just some fanciful dream she had. Finding herself on the cusp of being forcefully pushed into a marriage she doesn’t want, Alice unexpectedly returns to Wonderland/Underland, where, as it turns out, she must slay the Jabberwocky, defeat the Red Queen and return the White Queen to power. Mayhem and insanity ensues, including a hilarious sub-plot where Alice accidentally grows into a larger person and briefly joins the Red Queen’s court as a woman named “Um” (due to a misunderstanding when the Queen asked her name and she was fidgeting on how to answer).

One of the highlights of this film is the musical score by Danny Elfman. The composer is well known for his collaborations with Tim Burton, and this effort is one of their more memorable efforts in recent years. The film is also notable for using the voice of Alan Rickman (RIP) as the voice of the Caterpillar.

In the brief interview I found, Elfman briefly talks about his work on the film’s score (I always love watching interviews like this one, I just wish they could be longer!). I hope you enjoy this interview clip.

See also:

Danny Elfman talks Batman (1989)

Danny Elfman talks Batman Returns (1992)

Danny Elfman “Planet of the Apes” scoring session (2001)

Danny Elfman talks Spider-Man (2002)

Danny Elfman talks Meet the Robinsons (2007)

Danny Elfman talks Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

Danny Elfman talks Alice Through the Looking Glass (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 🙂

An Interview with Adam Blau

(From Adam’s official bio): Adam is a rising star in the comedy world, with many directors entrusting his musical talents to bolster their projects, often working closely with writers and performers to lend a strong and humorous musical sensibility to their projects. His music has uplifted projects by some of the world’s most popular comedians, including truTV’s Billy on the Street, starring Billy Eichner; NBC’s Mulaney, starring John Mulaney; several Funny or Die shorts; and IFC’s upcoming Brockmire starring Hank Azaria. In addition to composing score, Adam regularly collaborates with the showrunners and writers of projects to create and develop a variety of songs for special episodes – songs ranging from “serious” to intentionally over-the-top satires.

Adam has also scored music and written songs for celebrated films like Warner Bros.’ License to Wed, starring Robin Williams, Mandy Moore and John Krasinski; SXSW favorite The Overbrook Brothers; Phoebe in Wonderland, starring Elle Fanning; and Indian Pictures’ Fuzz Track City. Known for his expertise in percussion, Adam has spearheaded specialty drumline sessions for high profile projects, including Christophe Beck’s We Are Marshall and Mark Isham’s The Express, as well as arranging and producing world percussion for Joel McNeely’s scores to Disney’s popular Tinker Bell films.

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What got you interested in composing for film and television?
Well, I had been a musician to some extent for most of my life…I started playing when I was very young, and I’ve always been involved with music in some capacity. And while I was living in New York I was pretty active in theater, music directing and accompanying, that kind of thing. As part of that, I had some friends who were writing comedy shows and they needed some interstitial music between scenes, or maybe they needed a song, and so I would help them out and it was really fun. And as an extension of that I wrote some songs for a friends show in Los Angeles, and while I was visiting LA I met a couple of people who needed some extra music for a film they were working on, they’d had a composer drop out of the production and so from New York I experimented with some music for this film and I ended up really enjoying it. In fact, I ended up being “bitten by the bug” and picked everything up and moved from New York to LA and it seems to have worked out pretty well so far.
Are you inspired by any particular composer?
In general sure, I have those (soundtracks) I like to listen to independent of the film, but being so involved in multiple facets of music production, it’s rare these days for me to be listening to any current film scores while I’m composing, because I do so much of that as part of my actual work. But Carter Burwell’s score for Adaptation is a big one, it really got me in tune with what a film score could be/should be…in terms of what I’m writing, so much of the scoring process is dependent on the material and who I’m working with. There is an extent to which it’s a bit of a service industry because I’m writing music for what is essentially someone else’s vision. I think a huge part of the job is finding out what the vision is for the director and seeing how the music can best manifest that idea for them. Now I’m going to put my on thumbprint on it one way or the other, but especially in writing for television comedy, it’s writing in a particular style, usually to form the “punchline.” So I do listen to works by several composers, but in terms of my current writing, they don’t really influence/inspire me in that sort of way, because it’s dependent on what the director needs.

What’s it like working on You’re The Worst ? How is the music composed for each episode: do you get to see any footage or is everything done in advance?
It’s a blast, the show itself…especially in seasons 2 and 3, goes in a very interesting direction. It’s a fairly racy comedy, but they really start talking about some more significant issues. The characters are very well conceived and written and that’s a testament to the show’s creator. The characters can be assholes at times, but over time you can understand why they might be that way. As that goes on, the show shifts tonally, there’s a spectrum of comedy to emotional stuff.
It’s a really great thing, as a composer, to be able to work in the comedic realm but also to work with the more serious, dramatic stuff, or spoofing a genre, like the ‘Sunday Funday’ episodes. And the other part that is really rewarding, is writing actual songs for the characters. Gretchen is a music publicist and she represents this one group, and Stephen (the show’s creator) and I co-wrote all of the songs that they do; and in the PTSD episode we wrote a song that serves as a “relief” for this one character. It’s an original song that we wrote together, and the song is currently being sold as a benefit for the Wounded Warriors organization. The variety is thrilling for me.
How long do you have to put a particular score together? Is there less time for television?
The schedule, for television, is just ridiculous, there is a very quick turn-around between when the picture is locked, like when they’re done editing and when the episode is released, so we have maybe a week, maybe…to get the music finished. Now, I ask for scripts very early in the process, just so I can look through and see if there are song moments or other moments to keep an eye out for. If there’s music within the show, I write it in advance and then go to the set, which is really rare, but I go and teach it to them. I prepare as much as I can in advance though, but by the time it starts being cut, and by the time the show gets to the producers, there is already temporary music in place, either composed by me or someone else, to prompt discussion about what should be in place there. And by the time we come to a spotting session where we meet to discuss how the episode should be scored, either I’ve already written a couple of pieces OR we will discuss if something is working or if we want to go in a different direction. It’s a quick process, sometimes it feels too quick but other times that quick turn-around is a blessing.

How would you describe your compositional style? More orchestral or electronic/synthetic?

It’s totally a case by case basis, I’ve written for full orchestra, like with License to Wed, which had a jazz, swingy feel for the most part. So we wrote it for a huge orchestra. And the other end of the spectrum then is the electronic stuff that I do for You’re the Worst, it is totally case by case. And with percussion stuff, my first stint with that was for a film called We Are Marshall, and there was also Yours, Mine and Ours as well.

The genre is really dictated by the material and also the budget. I would prefer to work with a live orchestra, but with most tv it is simply not in the cards (except for maybe Game of Thrones which has the budget to do it.)
What’s your favorite genre to work with? Why?

I am happy working in any genre, but I like working in comedies because it allows for working in a lot of ways, I admit I am a huge comedy junkie and I love sitcoms. But these days, if you’re doing comedy, you get to write in a number of genres and run the gamut, because writing comedy can also mean writing in a serious moment or a song, so you can try a lot of different things. One of my strengths has been being able to wear a number of different hats, learning a new genre or figuring out the core elements of a particular style and working in that new style, it’s a fun challenge trying to do that. I also enjoy the collaborative process with comedy as well.
Does one score/project stand out as your favorite?

It’s truly hard to pick a single project that I would call my favorite. I would have a hard time sitting here working day after day on shows that I don’t like so much, so I try to find something enjoyable about the project itself or the music for that project, or the people I work with, or otherwise it’s a long hard slog. But there are some standouts for me, You’re The Worst is definitely a highlight. And the people are just so spectacular to work with as well.

Me: Well thank you so much for meeting with me to talk about You’re The Worst and your work as a composer

Adam: Thank you!

You can follow Adam Blau on Twitter @adamblau .

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John Debney talks The Jungle Book (2016)

It’s no secret that I have mixed feelings about the live-action Disney remakes. It just so happens that The Jungle Book (2016) is one I dislike, only because I have very strong feelings for the animated original. My own feelings for the work aside, I have heard that the score was well done, not surprising since it was composed by John Debney (his musical magnum opus remains the score for The Passion of the Christ (2004)).

In this short interview, Debney talks about how he came to work on the score for the film, what kind of vision the director had and how Mowgli needed a theme of his own. But that’s not all I discovered. I also found a B-roll of footage from the scoring sessions, and I’m pleased to share it with you here. Please note around 1:58-2:00 the giant score that the composer is flipping through. You can also see a beat counter next to his head at the beginning of the video.

The Jungle Book scoring session B-Roll (2016)

I love watching scoring sessions, it’s something I really hope to witness firsthand someday in the future. I hope you enjoy this interview and the footage from the soundstage. I have a lot more interviews queued up and I can’t wait to finally get them published!

See also:

Film Composer Interviews A-H

Film Composer Interviews K-Z

John Debney (and Tom Morello) talk Iron Man 2 (2010)

John Debney talks The Scorpion King (2002)

John Debney scoring Predators (2010)

John Debney talks The Passion of the Christ (2004)

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 Horner talks The Rocketeer (1991)

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James Horner talks The Rocketeer (1991)

In 1991, Walt Disney Studios released The Rocketeer, a period film set in 1938, which told the story of how a stunt pilot named Cliff Secord discovered a prototype jetpack that could enable him to fly without a plane. He uses this device to become “The Rocketeer”, a hero and a media sensation. Before the story is over, Cliff will have to use all his skills to save the girl he loves from some Nazi spies, including one hidden right in their midst!

While the movie was favorably received, it didn’t perform well enough to justify continuing the story and plans for a set of sequels were cancelled (which is a shame, I remember enjoying this movie very much, though I found a hard time accepting Timothy Dalton as a villain).

James Horner was selected to compose and conduct the score for this film and the score is still highly praised as one of the stronger elements of the film. I think it’s interesting to listen to how he composed music before his big successes in 1995 and 1997 respectively. I hope you enjoy this all too brief interview with James Horner regarding his work on this film. Please enjoy!

See also:

James Horner Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan

James Horner talks Aliens (1986)

James Horner talks Field of Dreams (1989)

James Horner scoring Braveheart (1995)

James Horner talks The Perfect Storm (2000)

James Horner talks A Beautiful Mind (2001)

James Horner talks Windtalkers (2002)

James Horner talks Avatar (2009)

James Horner talks The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

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 🙂

*poster image is the property of Walt Disney Studios