Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, film composer Pedro Bromfman has been writing, playing and producing “Music For Images” for well over a decade. A Cum Laude graduate from Berklee College of Music, Pedro has worked as a session musician, music producer and arranger before his passion for film scores brought him to Los Angeles.
Was music for film something that you were always attracted too and at what age did you become interested in music generally or first play a musical instrument?
I’ve loved and studied music since I was a kid. I started playing guitar at age 11 in Rio de Janeiro and got more and more serious about it as I became a teenager. By the time I was 15 years old I knew I wanted to be a professional musician. I’ve always been very interested in film as well, but to be honest, I had no idea this is the path my music would lead me to. However, I do remember being completely moved by film scores. For example, Ennio Morricone’s music in Cinema Paradiso, I was probably 13 years old when I saw it in a movie theatre and I was completely obsessed with it. I didn’t really know composers could make a living composing for films. I had a career as a musician, composer/arranger and music producer before I moved to Los Angeles and started composing music for shorts and documentaries.
My mother loved music and used to tell me she had always wanted to be a singer but she had never really had any musical training. My father loves classical music and he is an avid concert goer but has no musical aptitude or studies. I was the first one in my immediate family to play an instrument. My grandmother studied piano in a conservatory but, by the time I was born, she had already stopped playing. The major influence in my desire to lay and study music was certainly my mother. She passed away when I was young and I think her passion for music and her desire to be a singer were influential in my musical studies. I didn’t realize this for many years…
What musical education did you receive and what instruments or areas of music did you concentrate upon specifically?
I’ve studied classical and electric guitar as a kid as well as music theory, harmony, ear training, etc… By the time I was 16 I was really into Jazz and started studying Jazz composition and arranging while still playing the guitar. I moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music when I was 18 years old, to study Performance and Composition. At Berklee I had my first experiences studying counterpoint, traditional harmony and orchestration, something I would dive into right after college.
Your most recent scoring assignment is ROBOCOP, which we all know is a re-make of the classic sci fi film, your score is certainly a powerful one, how did you become involved on the movie?
I was brought into Robocop by director José Padilha. We had worked together on two movies before this: Elite Squad and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within. MGM hired José primarily because of the Elite Squad franchise, the biggest in Latin American history, and allowed him to bring on board key members of his team.
I was pleased to hear parts of the original Basil Poledouris ROBOCOP theme within your score, was this something that you thought of doing when you were asked to score the film or did the films director ask you to include it?
I’ve been a fan of Robocop and the original score for many years. I flew to Toronto right after they finished shooting, to meet with José Padilha and to watch some of the scenes being assembled, and I brought a copy of Mr. Poledouris’ score with me. I knew from earlier conversations this was a very different film and we had talked about creating a very different score, but I did want to try and find a place for it in the film. At first it seemed difficult to find a spot for such an iconic and heroic piece of music in a dark and much less heroic score. Until we decided to place it with the Samuel L. Jackson character, an over-the-top TV personality who sees Robocop as the salvation for all of America’s problems, and it just seemed to fit really well. It was just a matter of changing the orchestration a bit and bringing some electronic elements so it wouldn’t completely stand out from my score.
What size orchestra did you utilize for ROBOCOP, and what percentage of the score is made up of synths and samples and did you conduct the score?
We recorded a 75-piece orchestra at Air Lyndhurst studios in London. I’ve also recorded solo cello, hang, guitars, bass and quite a bit of percussion before recording the orchestra. I’d say the live instruments represent 60-70% of the score and the remaining 30-40% are a mix of synthesized sounds, pulses and beats, sounds designed and developed by me and my programmer specifically for Robocop and processed acoustic instruments. I did not conduct the orchestra; we brought in a great conductor, Gavin Greenaway. On this project I really needed to be in the booth and hear how the orchestra was blending with all of the pre-recorded tracks we had created. I really needed to hear the balance of the orchestra with all of the electronics and percussion as we were recording.
José and I have a great working relationship. He tends to hire people he trusts and usually let’s them do their job with little interference. There is certainly no micro-managing with him which is great! However he knows what he likes and what he is very quick in letting me know if I’m going in the “wrong” direction, if a piece of music is not “right” for the scene. He has a very clear vision of what his film is and the elements he needs to make it come through.
How much time were you given to write and record the score?
I worked on the score on and off for about 8 months. I had the privilege of being involved with the film from very early on in the process. I would write some music and send it over to the editing room, sometimes it would take weeks until I had feedback or until I received a new cut of the film to continue working. It was a very organic process and we had time to find the score we needed for the film.
Do you think we will see a sequel to this re-make?
I really don’t know. I think this is all about numbers, not my area of expertise. The important thing is we are very proud of the film and that it stands on its own with or without sequels.
When you began work on ROBOCOP did you at first establish the main themes and then work around these and create the remainder of the score based on these, or did you begin by writing the smaller cues and leaving the larger cues till later?
We’ve determined the themes first. We started with the family theme, the new Robocop theme and the Omnicorp theme.
Do you orchestrate your film scores, and do you think that orchestration is an important part of the composing process?
I do a lot of the orchestration as I compose the music. I think the choice of instrumentation, breakdown of the orchestra and numbers of musicians determine a lot of my choices early on in the process. But a good orchestrator is an invaluable asset in film music. Especially when you’re getting close to the recording session and I’m trying to finish the last few cues and re-work the ones already approved to the new picture edits, it is maddening… It is impossible to keep your sanity and review every voicing and counterpoint.
Who as in composers or artists would you say has either inspired you or influenced you either in the way you compose or approach scoring a movie?
I am a big fan of film music. Ennio Morricone as I mentioned before is an amazing musical influence. He is certainly one of my favourite composers, not only in film but in general. I am also a fan of composers pushing the boundaries of film music and incorporating different instruments and unexpected sounds with the orchestra. Composers such as Thomas Newman, Santaolalla and Alberto Iglesias. Jazz and Brazilian music are a huge part of my background as well as British rock and experimental music. I think every experience I’ve had as a musician somewhat contributes to the composer I am today.
Have you ever come up against writer’s block or just had a difficult time on a score, if so what do you do when you become stuck on certain things?
I think every score you work on presents its challenges and difficulties. A lot of times, starting a new score can be overwhelming. Thinking you’ll need to have 80 minutes of approved music by the time you’re done with the film can seem like a daunting challenge. In my opinion the best solution for writer’s block is taking a score one day and one piece at a time and sitting down everyday to compose something new. No matter how good or bad you think that piece of music is I usually tell myself I have to finish one idea a day. Film music is about transpiration and not inspiration meaning you can’t sit around waiting for something to hit you out of left field you have to search for it and find it. The deadlines are usually brutal and you can’t afford to waste time. Of course some themes do come to you in a moment of pure inspiration but that’s usually not the case.
The temp track is something that is discussed a great deal, some composers find it helpful others find it distracting, how do you feel about the use of a temp track on movie you have been asked to score?
When I’m dealing with extremely tight deadlines, temp tracks can be invaluable. It is impossible to conceptualize a score, discuss it in length with a director, create all of these custom sounds and experiment with different instruments when you have 4 weeks to compose an entire score. In that scenario temp tracks give you a very good idea of what the director is looking. However, experiences like we’ve had with Robocop are, to me, by far the most rewarding ones. Not having to chase a temp score, being able to spend time creating a palette of sounds and figuring out exactly what your director wants and the picture needs is a rare commodity nowadays. Being involved very early on also represents a lot more work for a composer since you have a lot more experimentation to do and, the film is constantly changing, scenes are trimmed, moved around, removed, added and your music has to follow along every step of the way.
How many times did you view ROBOCOP before you began to get any fixed ideas about what music you would compose and where music should be placed to serve the picture in the best way?
We didn’t have a film assembled when I started out. I started with a few scenes trying to establish the themes. As the film started to take shape we had a more organic idea of where my music should and shouldn’t be.
Were you involved in the sequencing and compiling of the soundtrack compact disc for ROBOCOP?
Yes, I tried to create diversity and keep it interesting. There is around 80min of music in the film and 54min in the CD.
You have also worked on TV scores and provided music for video games etc is scoring a game very different from writing the music to a feature film, what would you identify as the main differences?
The main difference to me is that, in writing for a video game, you have very little control as to where and how your music will play in any stage of the game. You’re much more detached from a very creative aspect of film music which is scoring a scene and all of its nuances. In a game, everything has to loop and you have to create several different intensities for every piece. You can’t really plan to start a piece really small and build it up throughout a scene. That is done by the programmers who tell the software, when more enemies appear on screen release more stems. It is somewhat more mathematical; you’re not really scoring a scene and adding your sensibility to it. I think in a video game the music is driven more by the action than the emotion. Of course, video games now also have cut scenes, and those are scored like scenes in a film. I think with advances in game-play technology and programming, video game music may start changing significantly in the near future, allowing composers more control.
What is next for you?
I’ve finished Robocop and a much smaller European film earlier this year and, to be honest, I’m still not certain what I’ll be doing next. I’m likely doing the music for a Netflix show later in the year and I’m currently meeting on a few different movies.