Composer Ilan Eshkeri learned to play the violin and guitar and later went on to play in a rock band. Eshkeri attended Leeds University where he studied music and English literature. During this time he also worked with fellow film composers Edward Shearmur, Michael Kamen and music producer Steve McLaughlin. Eshkeri got his break following his work on BACK TO GAYA. He was asked to score LAYER CAKE, and he later received a nomination for DISCOVERY OF THE YEAR at the World Soundtrack Awards. He has since collaborated with the director of LAYER CAKE, Matthew Vaughn, on a number of other films, including STARDUST which earned Eshkeri a nomination for Breakout Composer of the Year and won him the International Film Music Critics Association award for Best Original Score. Eshkeri and Vaughn’s most recent collaboration was the film adaptation of KICK-ASS. Eshkeri’s other notable works include THE YOUNG VICTORIA, which was nominated for this year’s Ivor Novello Award for Best Original Score, NINJA ASSASSIN, HANNIBAL RISING and producing the BAFTA-nominated score to SEX & DRUGS & ROCK & ROLL. Eshkeri has also collaborated with various songwriters including Annie Lennox and David Gilmour, and has worked with Take That. Continue reading Ilan Eshkeri
A new film composer, Hélène Muddiman, is yet very experienced in various mediums having provided music for the entertainment industry since she was eighteen. Writing in a style across a wide variety of musical genres, her music can be heard in film, television, radio, and multi-media advertisements. Here score for acclaimed movie SKIN is a varied, beautiful and touching score that contains such rich melodic themes, emotive musical passages, elegant nuances and eloquent accomplished performances that one cannot fail to be impressed and moved.
Q: Your score for SKIN attracted a lot of attention and quite rightly so. Did you carry out a lot of research into Instrumentation and sounds for this project?
Hélène Muddiman: Yes I was a slave to the internet, I decided the best use of the numerically challenged budget was to buy or hire some authentic instruments like Koras, Kalimbas, percussion and even Berimbau. (Not strictly South African, but we used poetic license.) I played many of these instruments myself on the score, (with the help of ProTools) 😉 Continue reading Hélène Muddiman
Composer Harry Robinson became known during the 1970s for his score to Hammer horror pictures. Films such as THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and the excellent TWINS OF EVIL became firm favourites with soundtrack collectors. I met Harry some years ago, and eventually got around to interviewing him during the summer of 1994. He was a gentle and courteous Scotsman, who was always prepared to answer questions and give you as much information as possible. The interview I did with Harry was on a Saturday afternoon which was a hot and very dusty day in London. We sat by his pool at his home and I remember him telling me he had managed to get out of going to a wedding reception by telling his wife he was being interviewed by a very important journalist. Which is something I did giggle about for some time.
Harry was born in Elgin in Scotland on November 19th 1932; his real name was Henry MacLeod Robertson. Harry’s career was a varied one. He not only composed music for motion pictures, but acted as musical director on West End shows such as Lionel Bart’s FINGS AI’NT WOT THEY USED TO BE and MAGGIE MAY and took care of the musical duties on show such as OH BOY and SIX FIVE SPECIAL, Harry worked with some of the best known artistes from the 1960s including THE BEATLES, LIZA MINELLI and JUDY GARLAND. Continue reading Harry Robinson
John Mansell. Where were you born?
Marco Beltrami: My Dad is Italian, my Mom is Greek but I was actually born in New York.
John Mansell: At what age did you begin to take an interest in music?
Marco Beltrami: I started playing recorder in first grade, piano in second, and began writing pieces as soon as I started. I think I was always more interested in composing than practicing.
John Mansell: Coming from an Italian background, are you aware of the Italian composers that were prominent in film scoring during the 1960s thru to the late 1970s and beyond, such as Morricone, Trovaioli, Nicolai, Fidenco, Cipriani etc…?
Marco Beltrami: I was not aware of any film composers until college. My interest was until then more in the concert venue. Nino rota was the first Italian composer to inspire me and get me curious about film music and then I became aware of Morricone. It wasn’t until more recently that I became familiar with the others.
John Mansell: You studied film music under Jerry Goldsmith – what was he like as a teacher?
Marco Beltrami: He was difficult at times but great. He was a master of economy and themes.
John Mansell: What was your first foray into writing for film?
Marco Beltrami: I started with a television show called LANDS END – I worked on 22 episodes and also did the main title for the show in 1995. My first motion picture was called DEATH MATCH for Showtime, but my first real feature was SCREAM which was in 1996.
John Mansell: I love the theme for THE FACULTY; it is I think like a macabre sounding waltz, it sounds so grand. What size orchestra did you use for this score?
Marco Beltrami: I cannot recall the exact size of orchestra we recorded up at Skywalker; I remember that. Probably around 90 or so.
John Mansell: The Scream series is probably what brought you to the attention of soundtrack collectors. In the first score there is a guitar passage which to me is reminiscent of a style that was utilised in the Italian westerns – did you do this consciously, or was it something that just developed as you worked on the score?
Marco Beltrami: There was a quirky feel to the character Deputy Dewey and the guitar seemed to fit him. Yes, I was aware there was a similarity to some of the Morricone western scores that is what gave the theme some of its humour, and Wes, the director seemed to like it.
John Mansell: The Omen is one of your recent works. Within the score you have included some of Jerry Goldsmith’s material from the original movie – was it your idea to do this as a homage to him?
Marco Beltrami: Yes, I thought the best way to pay tribute to him was not copy him directly but use some of his motives – including some of the latin text and crafting the score in a similar fashion to how he did.
John Mansell: You have worked on a number of films within the horror/shocker genre. Do you think that you have become somewhat typecast as a composer of horror scores and does this worry you at all?
Marco Beltrami: Yes, I have composed my fair share of horror scores but not exclusively and don’t feel particularly worried by it.
John Mansell: When scoring a movie do you have a particular way in which you tackle it. By this I mean do you start with the main titles and work through to the end themes or maybe you start with the smaller cues first, leaving the larger ones till later?
Marco Beltrami: I usually start with simply watching the film and getting an overall feel, then sit and write away from the film. Then I’ll try playing some ideas with various scenes. The important thing is to not get caught up with specifics at first. To me, each film is sort of like solving a puzzle.
John Mansell: Pete Anthony conducts a number of your scores – do you conduct at all?
Marco Beltrami: Yes, I do conduct but when I can afford him I like to share conducting duties with Pete.
John Mansell: Have you ever declined to work on a project, or had a score rejected?
Marco Beltrami: I did a western for Miramax/Dimension called TEXAS RANGERS. It was my best score ever I think, but they opted to throw it out. Luckily the movie was pulled from theatres right away.
John Mansell: Are there any film music composers that have influenced you in the way that you write or orchestrate your music?
Marco Beltrami: For film music composers I would say Bernard Herrmann, Nino Rota, Jerry Goldsmith and Ennio Morricone.
John Mansell: Out of all the movies that you have worked on are there any, or maybe one, that you have particularly fond memories of?
Marco Beltrami: Specific fond memories stick with each individual project – some are music related, some are not. The great thing is each is unique.
John Mansell: A number of your scores have been issued on composer promos – why is it that these were not given commercial releases?
Marco Beltrami: Usually the record labels did not feel there would be enough commercial interest to warrant a compact disc release.
John Mansell: When a score of yours is going to be issued on to a compact disc, do you have the final say on what music will go onto the disc?
Marco Beltrami: Yes, I usually pick the pieces that will go onto any compact disc and also I put the tracks in the correct running order.
John Mansell: Staying with soundtrack releases, a few of your scores have been issued on CDs that contain mostly songs, selections from your score being relegated to the end of the CD or even just a suite of music appearing to represent your work on the film. This must be slightly irritating for you?
Marco Beltrami: It is – especially when many of the songs have nothing to do with the movie at all.
John Mansell: You worked with the director of HELLBOY on three movies. What is he like to work with and does he have much input in to where music should be placed etc…?
Marco Beltrami: Guillermo is a great director and yes, we always start out by discussing where the music should go.
John Mansell: Staying with HELLBOY, there was a lot of music in the movie – do you think that the complete score will be issued in the future?
Marco Beltrami: No, probably not, at least not at this moment in time.
John Mansell: What do you think is the purpose of music in film?
Marco Beltrami: I suppose there are different purposes, but I usually like it most when the music can supply an emotional dimension that cannot be supplied by any other aspect of the film.
John Mansell: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Marco Beltrami: I draw my inspiration from everything—all styles of music, art, nature, urban environments, etc…
John Mansell: Are there any directors that you have not yet worked with that you would like to.
Marco Beltrami: I have to say yes to that. What directors? Well maybe too many to list.
John Mansell: When working on a score, how do you work out your musical idea – do you use piano, or a synth, or write your ideas straight to manuscript?
Marco Beltrami: I usually write pen and paper at first and then try out at the piano then do synth mock ups.
John Mansell: David and Lisa is a beautiful score – how long were you given to work on this project.
Marco Beltrami: 4 weeks/
John Mansell: Do you think that orchestration is an important part of the composing process?
Marco Beltrami: I think it is vital. I often think texturally.
John Mansell: What classical composers do you think might have influenced you at all?
Marco Beltrami: Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bartok, Schoenberg, Ives, Druckman, Beethoven, Mozart, Liszt, Bach, Scriabin, Greig and Weill, to name but a few.
John Mansell: What would you say was your most difficult assignment?
Marco Beltrami: A film called THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS. I had no idea what the director was looking for and ended up re-writing the score at least half a dozen times, before we got there.
John Mansell: At what stage do you like to become involved on a project – do you like to start with a script, or maybe you prefer to wait until the rough cut of the film is ready?
Marco Beltrami: Usually during the editing phase, but sometimes I’ll get hired before they start shooting. I don’t like doing any detailed work until I have seen the picture though.
John Mansell: What is your opinion of the infamous TEMP TRACK practice – do you find it helpful or distracting?
Marco Beltrami: Doesn’t bother me either way.
John Mansell: How many times do you like to watch a movie before you begin to get any fixed ideas about what kind of music you will write, or where the music will be placed in the film?
Marco Beltrami: Usually around 2 or 3 times.
John Mansell: What do you do musically away from film?
Marco Beltrami: These days not much. The rare time I have off, I usually like to spend not doing anything musical
John Mansell: What is the biggest orchestra that you have used on a film score?
Marco Beltrami: I think we had 97 on T3
John Mansell: Do you think that a good score is able to help a bad movie?
Marco Beltrami: Not really, though it can take on a life of its own.
John Mansell: You have worked on cinema and also TV projects – for you as a composer what are the main differences between the two mediums?
Marco Beltrami: Yes, television usually is a lot quicker time frame and usually doesn’t have the orchestral budget. On the other hand the time factor can work to your advantage.
John Mansell: Do you think that maybe the other Omen movies will get a re-make?
Marco Beltrami: I could not say.
John Mansell: When you work on a sequel to a movie that you have not scored, do you take a look at the previous film or listen to its score at all?
Marco Beltrami: Usually, if the director has an affinity for it.
John Mansell: Is there a genre of film that you have not yet worked on that you would like to?
Marco Beltrami: I’d like another shot at a western – a good one this time.
John Mansell: I understand you were a big fan of film music as a youngster and your father was a talented musician. Was it these two factors that inspired you to become a musician yourself?
Neal Acree: My father often tells the story that when I was a child, he had all kinds of instruments around the house that he used to dabble in. Guitar, violin, Celtic harp, hammered dulcimer, banjo, mandolin, and more. The whole time I was growing up he held out hope that I would eventually tell him that I wanted to learn an instrument. By the time I was 14, he had given up on the possibility of me going into music and he put away the instruments. It was just after that that I decided I wanted to pick up the guitar.
Some of my first memories are of going to the drive-through theater and seeing movies like STAR WARS, SUPERMAN, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and even ROCKY. Music is a huge part of all of these movies and even as I child I knew that those themes were part of the reason I was so moved emotionally.
I remember seeing a “making of” special on EMPIRE STRIKES BACK when I was very young. To this day, all I remember from it was a segment on sound and score where of all scenes, they played the one where a team of snow speeders searches for and find Han and Luke after they had been lost in a snowstorm somewhat early in the film – first without music, and then with. This is when I first became aware of the impact that music had on the viewing experience of a film.
John Mansell: What musical training did you undertake?
Neal Acree: I didn’t have the usual university music degree training but I’ve never seen that as a disadvantage. I did study traditional classical harmony, composition, counterpoint and orchestration, as well as electronic music. As essential as all this is to the process, I have probably learned the most from studying and listening to scores and sitting in on scoring sessions where the actual process unfolds before your eyes. In addition to that, I’ve always felt that the two most important assets of a film composer are a strong dramatic sense and a willingness to experiment and take risks.
John Mansell: Did you set out to become a composer of music for film and TV or did you get into music and then follow this path?
Neal Acree: I did a lot of experimental instrumental recording during and after high school. I would use whatever instruments and technology I could get my hands on and put down song after song on my 4 track. I had a lot of fun with it but it didn’t occur to me at the time that I was moving in this direction. In college I took an electronic music class with Mike Watts, a session keyboard player and orchestrator who regularly works with John Debney and Shirley Walker. He opened my eyes to film music and even took me to (among others) the scoring session to Debney’s LIAR LIAR. I knew when I saw that A-List orchestra at Todd-AO that I had found my calling.
John Mansell: I managed to get hold of a sampler of your film music, which contains some wonderful tracks; do you think any of your music from say GARGOYLE: WINGS OF DARKNESS or BELLE will ever get a commercial release, as the quality of the music on the sampler is excellent?
Neal Acree: Thank you very much. Getting scores released commercially, even those for major films can be a tricky process. There are manufacturing and promotional costs, re-use fees and licensing issues to name a few of the obstacles. The main issue is that most composers don’t actually own the rights to their scores to do with as they please because they are considered “works for hire”. At the moment I’m waiting for the right project for an album release but I wouldn’t completely rule anything out for the future.
John Mansell: You began by working as a music editor, orchestrator, copyist and programmer, how did you eventually break into scoring movies?
Neal Acree: I started out, as many have, by doing student films for next to nothing. This was an invaluable experience where I not only learned the craft but also assembled a demo reel that helped me get further jobs. My first real break was after having worked for Joel Goldsmith for about a year in various capacities when he introduced me to Jim Wynorski. Jim was directing a film called MILITIA starring Dean Cain and wanted Joel to write a theme. Joel convinced him to let me score the rest of the film without him ever hearing any of my previous work.
After MILITIA I went on to do several films for Jim on my own which also led to friends of his and producers from those films to hire me for other projects. It was a fateful meeting.
John Mansell: When working on a score for TV or the cinema how do you work out your musical ideas, do you use piano, synth or in your head?
Neal Acree: A little bit of each of these approaches comes into play on each project. For me the process is fairly intuitive and often involves a variety of approaches within any given cue. I generally write at the keyboard, laying down tracks and mixing as I go to create a fully realized piece of music by the time I’m done, but whenever possible I like to try different approaches.
John Mansell: At what stage of the proceedings do you like to become involved on a project?
Neal Acree: I’ve always been more visually inspired than anything else. Since my contribution to the film often involves emphasizing aspects of a scene that may not be completely communicated in the script, it helps to be able to react to picture, as the viewer would. Everything from lighting to camera movement to scene pacing can help suggest ideas so for this reason, I like to do the bulk of the work to a locked cut of the picture, even though this often occurs very late in the process. That having been said, I’m currently working on film that required some ideas to be put together at the script level which is an entirely different experience. I suppose the ideal situation for me would be to get involved early on some level but write the majority of the score to some form of picture.
John Mansell: A number of composers have released some of their scores on to promo CDs is this something that you have done, or maybe would consider doing?
Neal Acree: I have made some of my scores available as very limited promos as a means of getting my work heard. As far as a wider promotional release, I will probably do so when the right project comes along.
John Mansell: How long do you normally get from start to finish to come up with a score for a motion picture – maybe you could use DEADLY SWARM as an example?
Neal Acree: One advantage to lower budget independent films is that because they don’t have a set release date, they often allow a bit more time for scoring. That’s not always the case and with last minute picture changes and visual effects revisions, I’ve seen my fair share of near impossible schedules. I think I had 5 or 6 weeks on DEADLY SWARM which was very reasonable. One thing you have to consider is that on a big budget studio film, a composer has the luxury of working with a team of orchestrators, copyists, assistants, programmers, a mixer, an engineer, music editor(s), a contractor, an orchestra, and maybe even a ghost writer or two. This creates a unique situation for those of us who do it all by ourselves.
John Mansell: What do you think is the purpose of music in film?
Neal Acree: One of the fascinating things about film music to me is that it can function on so many different levels, often within the same film, and it is only limited by the vision of the filmmakers. So, the long answer: On its most basic, technical level, music can help smooth out the editing process by drawing attention away from scene transitions, time lapses or montages. Music can enhance the narrative or even be the narrator.
It can function purely on a stylistic level, on a dramatic level or both. It can create excitement or tension where it may otherwise be lacking or propel a scene forward by adding pace. It can help define a time period or location or even illuminate the subtext of the scene. It can tell you what to think and what to feel about a scene and even trick you into thinking the wrong thing. Most importantly to me though, music is the emotional link between the characters and events on the screen and the viewer. There are many ways that film can entice you to become emotionally invested in the characters and in the outcome of a story that you’re only experiencing for a couple of hours of your life, but music is the most powerful of them.
The short answer: The purpose of music in film is to enhance the viewers experience in ways that visual images and sound cannot accomplish entirely on their own. This answer, of course, greatly understates just how important music is in film.
John Mansell: Are there any composers living or dead that you think have influenced you in the way you write music at all?
Neal Acree: Honestly, there are few composers that haven’t influenced me in one way or another. There are so many that I admire that if I made a list it would seem ridiculously long and I’d probably still end up leaving someone out. If I had to name one, it would probably be Jerry Goldsmith. Not necessarily just in style, but hearing him talk about the craft really helped de-mystify it for me.
John Mansell: Do you think that the use of a temp track on a movie is a help or is off putting for a composer? I have been told that often the director gets so used to the temp that he is sometimes reluctant to use anything else.
Neal Acree: Temp scores can be a blessing and a curse. On the up side, they can give you an insight into what the director is looking for (or not looking for) in a way that words may not be able to convey. I have been fortunate to have worked with a few directors who had great taste in music and created temp scores that not only inspired me but encouraged me to use a different approach than I might normally have. These directors were also open to hearing something that ignored the temp completely, which is not always the case.
John Mansell: Have you a favourite score of your own and why?
Neal Acree: I’m probably most proud of my score BELLE because it has always felt like it closest represented my true style as a composer. More people have responded to that score than any of my others and I believe that’s because it came from a place deeper within me than most. 7 SECONDS is another one because I had a lot of fun playing around in the techno/rock/orchestra style. Those 2 scores, despite being very different, are probably the best representation of who I am musically, or at least who I was a couple of years ago.
John Mansell: How about by another composer?
Neal Acree: That’s a very tough question because there are so many scores out there that I really admire. James Horner’s LEGENDS OF THE FALL is definitely one of my favorites because it is so rich in melody and emotion. I think it’s one of Horner’s best. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is another, as is THE LORD OF THE RINGS. I love melodic writing as much as I love to hear fresh sounds, textures and rhythms. If you asked me tomorrow I’d probably have a different list.
John Mansell: You worked alongside Joel Goldsmith on various TV projects. What were these and in what capacity did you work?
Neal Acree: I started out as Joel’s assistant and this involved everything from managing many of the technical aspects of the studio to orchestrating and eventually helping out with some writing. I learned a lot from Joel about the business, the creative process and most of all the technology. This led to my current involvement with STARGATE SG-1 on which I am a co-composer.
John Mansell: When working on a score do you have a set way in which you like to work, i.e. main titles through to end titles, or maybe you prefer to tackle larger cues first leaving the shorter stabs till later?
Neal Acree: I generally try to tackle the main themes first and then work my way through to the end. One advantage of this approach is that as I become more and more immersed in the score, the music develops and branches out chronologically, adding a forward momentum to the music in real time. At least that’s what I tell myself. I do on occasion approach some of the key scenes earlier on so as to establish themes in context and to have places to build up to. It really depends on how and where themes will play key roles in the film.
John Mansell: CURSE OF KOMODO contains a very powerful main theme and a strong score, what size orchestra did you utilise for this project?
Neal Acree: Thank you. Actually, the score to CURSE OF THE KOMODO was created entirely with samples.
John Mansell: What is up next for you?
Neal Acree: In addition to being in the middle of the 10th season of STARGATE SG-1, I’ve just begun work on a film called JUNCTURE for James Seale, with whom I worked on a film called THROTTLE. James has such a great appreciation and understanding of the function of music in film that every score I do for him feels like a dream project. Music always plays a prominent role in his films and they always give me an opportunity to try to reinvent myself. I feel like this is going to be a very different score for me.
John Mansell: I understand you studied in England at one point – where and when was this?
Neal Acree: It was exactly 10 years ago now that I studied in Yorkshire. The program mainly emphasized electronic music but included many other aspects, including multimedia. The best thing about that trip was that every weekend I got to travel to a different corner of Britain and Ireland. I’ve always felt very close to England, and not just because of my English and Scottish heritage.
John Mansell: Many thanks to Neal Acree for taking time out of his very busy schedule to answer my questions.