You are a film maker as well as being a composer, what came first for you, making movies or scoring them?
I have been studying piano since I was five. My father has always been a cinema goer so I grew up with this passion for films as well. He especially loved the 60’s western films directed by Sergio Leone and the films by Francis Ford Coppola. My music and cinema background has been influenced by Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola’s themes. I was born in the 70’s and I grew up watching Spielberg, George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis and Joe Dante’s films. I named only some of the greatest storytellers of that period.
I started studying piano when I still lived in Germany then I continued my music education under the direction of Franco Scala. After that, I attended the Gioacchino Rossini conservatory in Pesaro. At 15, the burning desire to get to know what was going on behind the camera lead the way to my first video-amatorial experiments. In 2003, I shot an independent feature film named “Cinque giorni” (five days) which was a tribute to the TV show Dawson’s creek. It was also the first feature film I composed the main theme for. Giuseppe Zanca helped me out by composing most of the additional tracks. It was a wonderful experience. From that time on, I went on composing music for my films. This activity then evolved in time. Right now, cinema in Italy is going through a tough crisis and yet I haven’t managed to shoot my debut film funded by a big production. On a brighter note, I was appreciated as a composer and I have been collaborating with independent filmmakers for three years now. Working with them really fulfilled me.
When you write the score for a film or project that you have directed do you find it easier or maybe more difficult to score it?
Since I was a child I always thought of cinema as an inevitable and necessary twinning with music. If you remember the time of silent cinema, a small orchestra would set music to the images projected on screen. Therefore in my opinion, cinema is always meant to be accompanied by musical scores. When I used to shoot my first film experiments at the age of 15, I already had in mind the kind of music that would have suited that exact moment and how to edit certain sequences. Over the years, I realized that the language of visual storytelling, the value of music in a scene and the metrics of editing absolutely need to complement each other. To compose music for my feature films has never been difficult. The real challenge was doing it for other directors’ films. I consider myself very lucky as I had the chance to work with directors of great music awareness like Domiziano Cristopharo and Angelo Licata. These artists know the result they wish to achieve and I can say that working with them has been very stimulating. Both of them give a relevant and vital role to music in their films.
RED KROKODIL is one of your scores that has recently been issued into compact disc, were you involved in the release of the soundtrack?
Thanks to the internet, I have been involved in this project straight away. Domiziano Cristopharo introduced me to Kronos Records’ boss Godwing Borg. He is a film soundtrack fan like no one else. After listening to Red Krokodil’s music score, he did everything to convince me to release a music album version of it. I’m still very grateful for that. His wide range of internet acquaintances allowed my name to become popular even beyond Italy’s borders. Red Krokodil’s soundtrack first reviews are very positive and that makes me feel particularly proud and rewarded. I think it’s a good sign especially now that Italy is facing the most serious economic crisis since the post war period. By using Facebook, Goldwin and I discussed a lot over the choice of the tracks for the album. After that, I began working on the production of the album. It was a very tough job but I really wanted it to have exemplary quality. In order to achieve this goal, I hired Roberto Noferini, Sebastiano Severi, Denis Zardi and Federica Bacchi, some of the greatest musicians of my area. I composed, orchestrated and produced all the music tracks, then my friend Giuseppe Zanca took care of the additional orchestration and the final mixing. My collaboration with Giuseppe has been going on for 12 years. In 2012, Giuseppe and I decided to compose a music score for the Italian comedy “Regalo a sorpresa” (Surprise present) which was released the following year. Collaborating with him has always been very productive and stimulating. In 2003, we both worked on the soundtrack for a Dawson’s creek fan-film named “Cinque giorni” (five days).
I met Domiziano Cristopharo on Facebook and we became friends. Facebook has always been our way of communication because I live in Forlì, a provincial town in the north east of Italy, while he lives in Rome. Now, I am about to complete his latest film’s soundtrack named “Bellerofonte”. This is our fourth collaboration.
Angelo Licata found me by chance on Sound cloud, while he was listening to one of the tracks I composed for my film “M.A.R.C.O”. From that day on, we regularly kept in touch on Facebook and sometimes we spoke on Skype.
You played piano on RED KROKODIL, is it the piano that you utilise when you are writing music for film or do you use a more hi tech process?
Before adding my tracks to the digital scoreboard, I usually spend hours at the piano in order for me to identify the ideal mood for a certain scene or for the whole film’s main theme.
I grew up studying Bach and Mozart, but the real benchmarks for my classical music education at the piano are authors like Beethoven, Chopin, Listz and Gerswhin. Among the others, Listz was a phenomenal composer and a keyboard virtuoso. He used to turn some of his compositions for orchestra, like “Mephisto Valzer”, into a solo piano performance. He also had an amazing talent using the whole piano keyboard to recreate orchestral colours. Listz’s music reminds me of Eastern European melodies, whose sound I tried to get close to, while working on Red Kokodril’s themes. This film is set in Russia; therefore I wished to recall some symphonies belonging to Sovietic lands and Bielorussia but with the specific goal to make them as catchy as possible and not hard to listen to. Once I have chosen the main theme and the harmonic successions, I add them in to the digital scoreboard. Then I create a MIDI file and I choose the main instruments and the musical arrangement of the other instruments. This is my work process in order to create the main theme or themes for a film. Sometimes you have to operate in a different way if you just have to pick a specific track for a particular scene. In that case, you need a specific arrangement to highlight certain moments of the scene and you should work on the file video at the same time. Nowadays music composition programs are very sophisticated and versatile. They give you the chance to watch a file video which can be easily synchronized with the chosen music. I utilise Apple computers and I am a very faithful LogicPro user.
Where and when were you born and can you recall your first encounter with music of any kind?
I was born and raised in Germany, where at that time, my parents ran a restaurant and I lived there until the age of 6. The radio in our car was always on and constantly played the most famous Morricone’s tracks like Duck, you sucker! The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Once upon a time in the west and A fistful of Dollars. In the 70’s in Germany the French piano player Richard Clayderman was very popular and I remember my parents loved listening to his music. Thanks to him and to his music, I soon became fond of the piano. I first started playing the electronic organ Farfisa, then in 1981 my father bought his first upright piano.
Is any of your family musical in any way?
The only member of our family who orchestrated music was my grandfather Antonio Galimi who regrettably I never met as he died before I was born. In 1940 he was imprisoned in Addis Abeba in South Africa. During this time, he wrote beautiful music scores and one of his friends used to write the lyrics. When he finally managed to escape and leave South Africa hidden inside a barrel, he brought nothing but all his music scores with him. My mother treasured all of them inside a display cabinet and from time to time I still love reading them. After 75 years these old manuscripts are still intact.
What musical education did you receive?
I started studying piano privately when I was 5 and I won several piano competitions between the ages of 11 and 14 years old. I later continued my studies with Franco Scala, one of the greatest Italian Masters. Thanks to his support, I was admitted to the Rossini Conservatory in Pesaro. I attended this school for 8 years then I quit to help my parents run their restaurant.
I began as a classical pianist by first studying Bach and Clementi. Then, I was drawn into the Romantic and post Romantic trends. I had a taste for Chopin, but Listz and Gershwin left a deep mark on my way of seeing and interpreting piano scores.
My musical education also includes solfeggio (reading and singing music notes), choral singing exercises, harmony and history of music.
Your score for RED KROKODIL for me has a sound to it that is highly emotive, fragile, melancholy, intimate and also romantic; I was at times reminded of composers such as Preisner, Williams, Delerue and Morricone whilst listening to it. What composers would you say have influenced or inspired you?
Master Ennio Morricone was certainly the first composer to musically inspire me. In Bellerofonte soundtrack that I’m completing these days, people might notice Morricone’s touch in some parts.
However, only three composers really influenced my works from a stylistic and emotional point of view over the last few years. The first and most important one is James Newton Howard, then John Williams and Cristopher Young. These composers don’t really need any introduction, but among them JNH distinguished himself for being versatile without repeating himself like many other famous composers do. JNH started his career composing beautiful scores for some thrillers like the beautiful but underestimated “Flatliners” by Joel Schumacher. For this film he wrote a very complete score that mixes electronic elements with melodic, epic and harrowing symphonies accompanied by the mysterious liturgy of well-conceived chores. He also composed scores for ambitious horror films like “The Sixth Sense” and “Stir of Echoes” by using very experimental orchestral textures. When collaborating with Disney for the films “Atlantis” or “Maleficent” he would use a symphonic orchestra. Maleficent’s music really amazed me for the complexity and the development of its music score. It was epic like Disney dictates but very grandiose like only JNH can do.
Did the director of RED KROKODIL Domiziano Cristopharo have a hands on approach to the musical side of things on the movie; did he have any set ideas about the way he wanted the music to sound or how it would be placed within the film?
At the moment I am collaborating with some directors. Each one of them has got a different musical sensitivity. Domiziano Cristopharo is musically educated and determined to get what he wishes for his films. Mine and his approach on Red Kokodril’s soundtrack was totally different from the one on Bellerofonte. At first I was told to write a very melancholic theme. This request just sounded like a simple musical collaboration and yet I hadn’t seen the film, not even a pre- editing scene or a work copy. Before I had started writing the theme, Domiziano called me back saying I would have to compose the score for the entire film. It really came as a surprise. At that point he told me the main subject of the film and his point of view. I thought of the main idea of the film as a sort of an interior self-inflicted Holocaust. I chose the violin and solo violoncello because I imagined an atmosphere of desperation and loneliness. Once completed, I sent the themes straight to director Domiziano Cristopharo who was literally thrilled. He re-edited them and added in some scenes. After that he asked for some tracks that I had already composed like “C-age”, which became the leit motiv for the hallucinatory sequences, and “Endless road” that was meant to be for my film M.A.R.C.O. All the other themes were brand-new and made specifically for the film. Once finished the editing of the film, I started working on the scoring. I developed the themes I had created to adjust them to the images. I had to change the start and the end of each score. In the soundtrack album of the film released by Kronos Records, there are the catchier main themes, which are basically the ones you could easily listen to and enjoy without necessarily watching the film. However, the original soundtrack has got many more tracks. I composed many background music tracks, some incidental music tracks and some electronic ones which were supposed to be used for the dreamlike scenes but in the end they haven’t been used. I then refined the orchestration, composed some adding tracks and mixed them. Overall everything went in the right way. Nevertheless, there is always a moment where you get stuck at some point and you can’t please the director with your work. For Red Krokodil that moment was the final scene. Domiziano Cristopharo would have liked to have a concertistic track. I could have done it, but initially I was afraid it could end up being redundant and excessive for the film. For this reason, I decided to follow another path, but Domiziano wasn’t very happy. He told me: “Just think of the main theme you composed and imagine as if it was played by Listz”. So I developed the main theme which was meant to be for violoncello adapting it to the five sections of strings. The deadline was very close so I had very little time to deliver the project. I then added brasses, woodwinds, percussions and choirs. Only the piano was missing. I called my pianist friend Denis Zardi and told him to play the music as if he was playing a concert with piano and orchestra. The outcome was outstanding and the director loved it. For Bellerofonte the film approach was totally different. Domiziano Cristopharo used some temp tracks by adding repertory music in the film. He wanted an opera style kind of effect with a drop of magic and fairy tale. I wasn’t convinced about the result he would have achieved by using this temp track. I didn’t want the music to be too intrusive and predominant, but apparently that was my mistake. Domiziano Cristopharo did want it to be
regal, grandiose, epic and mysterious. All these elements had to be present in the first scene. After failing the first time, I tried to detach myself from what I had listened to and just watched the images in motion as if it was an old silent film. This was my winning card. Thankfully all the other tracks of the film have been approved straight away without a single change.
How long did you have to complete the score for RED KROKODIL and what size orchestra did you use for the score?
The post production time to complete the work lasted 3 months.
From July until September 2012.
Here as follows a list of instruments played in some of Red Krokodil’s tracks.
16 first violins
16 second violins
4 French horns
When you were working on the score for RED KROKODIL did you have particular soloists in mind for violin and cello?
When Domiziano told me the story of Red Krokodil, I imagined the main character facing like a sort of interior Holocaust. When I think of Holocaust in cinema, my memories are brought back to Spielberg’s masterpiece Shindler’s List and its theme composed by pianist John Williams and solo violinist Itzhak Perlman. Roberto Noferini is an amazing violinist and when he plays he reaches such high points of intensity that reminds me of Perlman’s style. Same story for Sebastiano Severi, who played a solo violoncello. His interpretation always inspires me.
How did you become involved on RED KROKODIL?
After writing the score “Passion & Love” for a peculiar scene of Hyde’s Secret Nightmare, director Domiziano Cristopharo and I became good friends and decided to keep in touch. Domiziano is a very engaging person who tends to involve trusted people in his projects. Working with him was an extraordinary experience for me. Unfortunately we don’t live very close to each other so Facebook was the only way for us to have a talk, share files, compare notes and express opinions in order to achieve a common goal. Unlike many people who enjoy using social networks for trivial matters, Domiziano and I worked from a distance by using Facebook. I think this is the best way to make use of this social network.
When you write a score for a movie or a short etc., do you have a preference as to where you will record the music?
I honestly think I wouldn’t find a better place than Z-Best music. It is a small studio located in Meldola, a little village 6 miles away from where I live. The studio owner is my friend and collaborator Giuseppe Zanca. I always hire him to put the final touch on my scores. Giuseppe knows my thoughts, my tastes about final mix and he always manages to produce what he has been asked for. You know as the motto goes “never change a winning team!” For this reason, I would continue collaborating with the same people unless a big production imposed me to work in a recording studio. I love meeting new people as I think it is very important to be able to confront yourself at all times. I’m also a person who needs to feel safe when he is at work. I think that an awkward situation or embarrassment could influence negatively on the quality of your work. However, cinema and TV have very short times and you need to get used to working under pressure.
Was RED KROKODIL temp tracked at all and do you think that the temp track is a useful tool for a composer or maybe it is something that can be distracting?
It’s a very interesting question and it is mostly the worry of the last generation of composers, myself included. In my opinion, the temp track is a very useful instrument for editors. I am an editor myself since I was 18 and I know how important is to have a musical reference point for a good quality action scene for instance. Directors often misuse this opportunity. I am going to tell you what I mean by that. I’m not talking about the directors I worked with. Many directors grow fond of these temp tracks that are added in their editing. Unfortunately this choice doesn’t allow the composer to be musically 100 per cent free because the director will expect a more Sound-a-like track than an original one.
In this case, a capable composer will manage to get closer as much as he can to the mood requested by the director but avoiding imitating a pre-existent temp track. If the director loves the original track more than the temp one, then the composer can congratulate himself on the result.
Some directors still don’t know some music terminologies, the differences between major or minor, pitches and so on so the temp track can be also quite useful to suggest the more appropriate mood.
Sometimes you might not be able to compose the right track straight away but after several attempts you will reach your goal. In my opinion this is the most stimulating way of confronting with the director. The first attempts gone wrong might be really frustrating. When you can finally please the director and hear the sentence “That gave me the chills”, that’s an incredible payback that makes you feel butterflies in your stomach.
On the compact disc for RED KROKODIL we are also treated to music from other movies you have written the music for, HYDES SECRET NIGHTMARE for example, which is also released on KRONOS records, did you collaborate with Kristian Sensini on the score or was PASSION AND LOVE the only piece that you contributed to the soundtrack?
“Passion & Love” is my only track in the film Hyde’s Secret Nightmare.
I think the whole soundtrack of the film was ready when I was asked to write this track.
I have never had the chance to collaborate with Kristian Sensini. I think he’s a good and technological composer. I love reading his blogs and watching his video reviews on new virtual instruments.
“Passion & Love” was my first collaboration with Domiziano Cristopharo. I can’t disclose the content of the scene where my track is on but I can say it was a real challenge for me.
Do you conduct at all, or do you prefer to have a conductor so that you may either monitor the recording from the recording booth or perform on the score?
For Red Krokodil’s soundtrack, I conducted the solo players myself. When you just have to communicate with a single player it is a lot easier. You give him indications based on the score in front of him. The player takes notes, I then come back to the mixer and listen to him play. When we record with professional musicians, it’s very funny working on a specific crescendo, a ritardato or a remarked note in detail. With the new technology we have the possibility to manage several takes in a comfortable way without any inconvenience for the musician. If one day I had a chance to make a recording session with a whole orchestra, I think it will be necessary to distinguish between two types of execution.
With synchronized execution, you have to carefully follow the images on the screen on which the score was created, while the concert execution is made for an album release.
In the first case, I would rely on an orchestra director who is used to conduct by reading the time code and at the same time on the score band and markers on the film that is played during these sessions.
Big American productions teach us that it’s very important sharing the workload. In the music field, everyone has its own role. When everything is well supervised, the most important thing is to write good music. In the second example, I would conduct an orchestra myself. I hope that this is going to happen very soon. I’m sure it would be a priceless experience.
What do you think is the purpose of music in film?
I was working on the “Closer” soundtrack when one day the director Angelo Licata told me that a good score contributes 50 % to the success of a film. I agree with his statement but I also think that silent moments need to be well weighed-out. Music is important, but silence has its own value as well.
First of all the actor, through his interpretation, has to be able to make the audience feel his emotions. Every little detail makes the difference. A very little detail can be the actor’s broken and scratchy voice or his simple gaze in astonishment. At the same time we need to remember that cinema is mainly fiction, therefore it is possible to easily build a specific mood by making the audience believe whatever one wants to. Music is an artifice which joins this incredible hocus-pocus that is cinema. If everything is well measured out, the audience will get overwhelmed with emotions.
Of course music can effectively change the audience’s mood. It can make a chase scene even more charged-up through a continual succession of quick shots supported by an orchestral rise for example. Some minutes of silence and then again the sudden apparition of the monster supported by the whole orchestra’s tone cluster that makes one jump out of his skin.
However, over the years thanks to Alfred Hitchcock we learnt to consider the other side of the coin. Bernard Hermann, by only using the string section of the orchestra did an extraordinary job for Psycho’s soundtrack, but Hitchcock himself left his audience stuck to their seats when he decided not to use any music score for “The birds” (Hermann was hired by Hitchcock anyway as a sound design supervisor). Recently many films with no apparent artistic value were released. I’m talking about the found footage genre films like “Paranormal Activity” for instance. I wonder how the audience feels when it leaves the cinema after watching this kind of film and if it would rather be entertained in other ways by films like Insidious or Dark Skies. In both of them the opening credit score is composed by Joseph Bishara and it literally makes shivers run down your spine. If I have to go see a film with no music at all, it has to be a great film. Otherwise, I prefer watching a traditional film that at least moves me. Nevertheless, there are a few exceptions. “Chronicle” by Josh Trank is a wonderful found footage film and it’s kind of a cult film for me. Electronics and music samples are playing a greater part within film music in recent years, what do you think about the increased use of electronics within film scores?
What is next for you?
Recently the rise of virtual instruments notably changed the way of producing music for cinema and television. Nowadays directors give much prominence to music in their films, but the production and post-productions times are always shorter and shorter therefore there’s no time to even hire orchestras to record the demos.
The director needs to feel the emphasis of hearing a scored scene straight away so the possibility of having a “pocket” orchestra makes things a lot easier and allows the production to choose among a wide range of alternatives. Nowadays people compose music in a hybrid way. The innovation is that VST plays straight away whatever you desire. It sounds so natural that it is quite hard for an untrained ear to tell the difference between a real and a virtual orchestra. Strangely enough the outcome is so remarkable that most of the times digital mock-up is found in films.
Quality virtual instruments like cine samples, spitfire, east west, 8dio, audiobro, vienna symphonic library can be integrated to real instruments in order to achieve amazing results.
On one side we can say the rise of VST facilitated things for the music composers. They don’t have to hand write their music score any more. The perfect sounds coming from VST are already a great source of inspiration. Now they tend to write music while they are playing. In my opinion, it’s necessary for an artist to mentally separate himself from the instrument in order not to create something very similar to something that already exists.
In September I will start the recording of “Bellerofonte” soundtrack and I will collaborate with a very talented soprano.
I will be in charge of the music for the mockumentary “Is this the end of the road?” by Marco Gianstefani. It’s a small production film that has been shot in New Zealand and deals with very interesting and revealing topics.
I was also hired to compose the music for “Dark Resurrection Vol. 2 “ a fan-film by Angelo Licata, which is due to start up the production in 2015.
For what comes next, I can’t say anything yet but I just cross my fingers!