Your latest project is the western movie, JANE GOT A GUN which is co-written with Lisa Gerrard, how did you become involved on the movie and what type of score have you fashioned for the picture, is it traditional sounding Americana or maybe an Italian western influenced work and did the director have any specific instructions regarding the score?
Director Gavin O’Connor heard the piece “She King” from one of Dead Can Dance’s albums and in view of the story felt Lisa’s voice and vibe in general would be a good fit for the score. When they reached out to her she notified me. Having an Italian last name and being a “Spaghetti Western” fan of course influenced me to go the Sergio Leone route, but I found out quite rapidly that Gavin was not going for that approach at all. Like many directors of this time wanted to find a unique sound for this particular film. It was a learning curve in the beginning as many film projects are but slowly and with a lot of hard work I started to find what resonated with him and most of all picture.
What size orchestra did you utilize for JANE GOT A GUN, and what are the percentages of conventional instruments and synthetic performances?
I would have to say that a lot of the score was done live so to answer your question, most provable an 85/20 ration of live instruments vs synthetic and or sampled instruments. We recorded in Budapest with a small orchestra.
What was your working schedule on JANE GOT A GUN, ie; how long did you have to compose and record the score?
It took a total of about six months to score the film.
You have composed music for both the big screen and television, is it just the budget that the two areas differ would you say or are there numerous differences?
The advent of really good television shows in that last few years where the budgets have been quite ambitious, has set a pretty average pay scale for the industry in general. I think what really determines the actual budget of each score is the actual budget of each project. As composers we basically learn to adapt and provide whatever is necessary regardless of the budget these days.
When you work on a television series where you are scoring more than one episode, do you at times re-cycle themes or sections of cues that have been heard in previous episodes as the series progress’s ?
What usually happens is you start writing music for a show and develop themes on a number of episodes. After a while because of the time constraints the music editor starts to place pieces from the score “Bank” from prior shows on new episodes so ultimately it becomes a collaborative effort.
What about music for games, do you approach this in the same way as scoring a motion picture or is it completely different?
I had the opportunity to work on God of War a few years back for SCEA and the process here is different. On games because there is never really a conclusion to a scene as opposed to a film for example, the music has to be somewhat repetitive as a subliminal element that keeps developing without ever really resolving. It can be challenging. Visually when you think of a character in a game that keeps running and running, battling and moving through levels then naturally the music is reflective of this type of activity. Obviously there are cues you write that are specifically to address a conclusion to a level but in general that is the philosophy.
Have you any preferences when it comes to recording yours scores, as in studios or maybe solo artists that you might call upon and do you ever write a cue with a particular soloist in mind?
Each project determines that really. After working on countless projects and having the advantage of residing in Los Angeles where there is an industry of very talented musicians that make a living specifically performing in motion picture and television scores, one develops working relationships with some of the folks and calls upon them as needed. I have the luxury of having Lisa Gerrard as a soloist, which also helps too. I’m bragging… Not good… Lol…
What are your earliest memories of any kind of music and when did you decide that you wanted to compose music for film?
I will never forget how it happened. My mother played the piano so there was always a piano at home that I would hammer out ideas on from time to time as a kid, which drove everyone crazy. Later I played clarinet in the school band for a short while but it was around the age of thirteen when it finally hit me. By that time I had picked up the guitar. Everyone thought including my teacher that like many kids I would eventually lose interest in playing music. In fact I was headed in that direction until one day I heard the music of Morricone while watching a rerun of Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It seems like yesterday. It’s that moment in your life where there is no turning back. His music went right through me like a gush of heavy wind. It changed me. I have not dropped it since.
You were with Media Ventures for two years I understand, what did you do whilst there?
I interned basically.
What musical education did you receive and was there a specific area of study that you focused upon?
I actually studied fine arts. Music was a passion I never foresaw perusing as a career. I am self-taught. No formal training.
Do you when working on a film score begin with a central theme and then build the remainder of the score on that, or do you work on lesser cues firstly and then return to the more prominent themes afterwards or does this differ on every assignment?
Scoring a film for me is like reading a book. I start at the beginning and by the time I get to the end a lot the story is already there to reference from. The picture really determines what music is going to work. It takes countless hours in front of your keyboard watching each scene “seeing” and “listening” to what works. Often times you find yourself listening back to a cue you wrote and wondering how you ever go there to begin with.
You have worked with Lisa Gerrard on a number of projects, how did you meet her?
I have co-written, score engineered and produced seven film projects to date with Lisa Gerrard including “Samsara” and “Jane Got A Gun”. We also did an album a while back titled “Departum” furthermore co-wrote, recorded and produced a new track titled “Of Love Undone” for her latest album “Twilight Kingdom”. Back in 2008 I had an underground studio housed inside the vault of a bank, which had gone out of business in an area near downtown better known to local Angelinos as “Korea Town”. At that time I was scoring a lot of independent films out of there and because of my engineering skills also mastered some soundtracks releases for Lakeshore Records. Apart from that I would often help composers produce their scores as well. One day a friend of mine asked if he could hire the studio and my services as an “Engineer” to record Lisa’s voice for “Kings”, the NBC television series. Francis Lawrence (I am Legend – Will Smith) who had worked prior with Lisa on “Constantine”was the director for the series. The first day while we were having lunch in a local sushi place near by I received a call from NBC mentioning that Francis was waiting for us in the lobby of the building my studio was in. I had never worked on a project of this caliber before so it was almost surreal to be suddenly rushing back to meet him. For many years I dreamed of one day being able to work with Lisa Gerrard. I love any vocal aspect in music particularly writing for choirs. I recall that upon her initial arrival to my studio we shared an instant connection moreover she really gravitated towards my sense of production and overall creative flow. A few days after working together she asked if I could share some of my music with her and the rest I guess is history.
How many times do you like to watch a movie before you start to get any set ideas about where the music will be placed and what style of music you will write?
I wish this were the case… Often times you are given a film and the editor or music supervisor has placed music from other films to give the producers and director a sense of what the a final result might look like. By the time the composer gets it, everyone involved (except the composer) has fallen in love with the temp score. At that point it’s your job to provide music that everyone will fall in love with and hopefully be better than the temp score. It’s challenging but one never ceases to learn new things. I like scoring films because every project takes me to places outside my comfort zone. Jane Got A Gun was a good example of this.
When it comes to orchestration do you prefer to do this yourself or is this not possible on every assignment?
On Jane I had the pleasure of being introduced to Scott Smalley. Lisa worked with him on prior films one for example, “The Insider”. I had a similar reaction to Scott to the one I had with Lisa. We got along famously from the very beginning and have become good friends since. If available I would not work with anyone else again.
What was your first break into writing for film?
In 2004 I scored two films back to back. One was a film that went straight to DVD distributed by Regent/20th Century Fox titled “Pit Fighter”. A friend of mine referred me to the director of that project. The second one was a Singaporean film titled “Perth”, which had a limited theatrical release in Asia. How I got “Perth “is a funny story. At the time I had just branched out on my own when one Friday evening in winter an Italian friend of mine invited me to dinner at a Vietnamese place in Venice beach accompanied by a group of about twenty famished Italians. Imagine… We basically ransacked this poor little restaurant that had only four tables. After we ate I struck up a conversation with one of the waiters who mentioned was from Singapore and father in law to the owner of the establishment, supposedly an actress from Vietnam. Apparently this man had been very wealthy with thriving businesses in Asia, had fallen on hard times and was now on hiatus in LA helping out in the family business. Los Angeles is a very funny place. He asked me what I did for a living and I shared I was a film composer. He mentioned his son was a director based in LA currently finishing the edit on a film in Singapore and was actually looking for a composer based in Hollywood. I could not help but to show my enthusiasm on how I would have loved to take a look at this film. We exchanged information and he promised he would call me the Monday of the coming week. I did not hear from him so by Tuesday obviously I called the restaurant and to my surprise was able to reach him. He promised he would call me right back after speaking with the producer that was also based in LA. Lo and behold very shortly after, the producer called me from his mobile phone to find out that he was actually driving literally only a few blocks from my studio. He came over and a week later I was receiving reels. Months after upon completing the score while attending a screening of “Perth” at the Asian Pacific Film Festival in the Hollywood Director’s Guild, I finally had the opportunity to meet the owner of the Vietnamese restaurant and wife of director Djinn to find out she was in fact Hiep Thi Le who was cast supporting actress on Oliver Stone’s “Heaven & Earth”, alongside Tommy Lee Jones.
Do you like to work out your musical ideas on keyboards/piano or do you employ a more technical method?
I mostly work on a Mac with Cubase 8, a basic 88 key keyboard and a pretty sizeable orchestral template. I find that the writing process for me is getting things recorded into audio as soon as you get a chance.
What composers or artists would you say have influenced you and maybe the way in which you write and also score movies?
I have to say I like a lot of composers and am always downloading scores. I am the worst critic. If I listen to something long enough I end up liking it. Someone that stands out for me is mostly Beethoven and his masses. In contemporary scoring I often have referenced the work of composers such as John Williams, Vangelis, John Powell, Harry Gregson-Williams, Alan Silvestri, James Newton Howard, Thomas Newman,
Phillip Glass, Hans Zimmer, Maurice Jarre, and countless others.
You have recorded a few albums which I think are albums of film music but without a film to support, when writing the cues for these do you imagine that they are for a movie to get your inspiration?
Whenever I am not working on a specific project I like to expand my palette and explore by creating these albums. It’s a way to keep your chops up without the stifling notes one is subject to while being commissioned on a film or TV show. Later this work is distributed through multiple platforms for possible licensing use in TV shows or Movie Trailers through my newly formed company Ten Thousand Watts of Iron. I often times draw inspiration from scenes from films I like and would liked to have scored.
What is next for you?
Great question… I will let the universe and destiny answer this one…
Will there be a soundtrack release of JANE GOT A GUN if so do you have any involvement in what music from the score will be included on the compact disc?
Yes indeed to all questions. I digitally mastered the score to Jane Got A Gun for Sarabande Records here in my studio and last I heard the soundtrack is being released on Itunes and CD media at the beginning of February.