I understand that your fascination with film music started at an early age and it was the music of James Horner that was the main reason that you began to become interested in the film score and also the orchestra?
Yes. It was James Horner’s score for “An American Tail” that first caught my interest in film music. I loved the movie as a child and my dad used to come home with records sometimes (often film soundtracks) and I was so excited the day he brought home the soundtrack album for “An American Tail”. I listened to it over and over and I remember one day having a sort of epiphany in realizing that all those beautiful sounds I was hearing was a conglomerate of a bunch of individuals playing together in an orchestra. It kind of blew my mind. Not long after “An American Tail” came “The Land Before Time” which was equally wonderful and then James Horner was officially my hero. I’m pretty sure I bought almost every single album of his growing up. He was it for me.
Were any of your family musical in any way?
Not really actually now that I think about it. My grandmother on my father’s side was always very encouraging of the arts though. When we would go to visit her and my grandpa, she always had sketchbooks and markers for us and I remember her giving us tapes that told the history of classical composers and introduced some of their work.
You wrote your first orchestral piece at the age of sixteen which was performed by an orchestra was it at this time that you decided that you wanted to become a composer of film music?
I’m not one hundred percent sure when the desire to be a film composer actually struck. I know I loved film music from an early age. I found a little booklet that I had filled out the first day of school in I think the second grade and it asked what my favorite kind of music was and I wrote “movie background music,” so in a way I feel like that dream was there for a very long time whether I fully realized it or not. Definitely though, hearing my first orchestral work played live at the age of 16 was a major turning point. You just can’t beat working really hard on something and then hearing it played live.
What musical education did you receive and was there any particular instrument or area of music that you focused upon during your studies?
My mom started my sister and I in piano lessons probably when we were about 7 or 8 years old (I have a twin sister) so the piano is and was always my main instrument of study. We had a few different piano teachers growing up and I continued to take piano lessons when I attended Pepperdine University for my undergraduate degree. My focus there shifted to music theory and composition though and I quickly realized how much time composing can take up so my piano studies became less and less as I became more immersed in composing. I then went on to USC for their Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program, which was really amazing.
You have worked on a number of Horror movies, do you think it is harder to write for this genre as opposed to say romance or comedy?
I absolutely love working on horror movies. Horror and sci-fi are probably my two favorite genres to write for because they are a ton of fun! We’re suspending reality in those types of films which can make for a much vaster musical palette and the opportunity to do all kinds of strange things, which I really enjoy. Plus you get to write some great drama, action and suspense in a horror or sci-fi film. Comedies can be really fun as well. Romances are probably the toughest for me as I’ve never really been into those types of movies. I’m definitely more of a horror girl.
One of your first scoring assignments was for BILL THE INTERN which was produced by Will Hess, this was in 2003. How did you become involved on this project?
BILL THE INTERN was actually the first feature film I scored so it’s a historical one. I was working on a short film while at USC and we were recording the score on what was then called the Spielberg Scoring Stage there. In the middle of recording, some guy walks in wearing camoflauge cargo pants, a fishing vest and a tool belt. He stands there listening for a while and then during a break he approaches me and tells me he’s making a feature film and would I want to write the music for it. As odd as his outfit was, I said sure! This was my first introduction to Will Hess. I am so glad I said yes to his film because we are still really close friends after all these years and have worked on many films together with many more to come! He’s practically like family to me at this point and he even introduced me to my husband. That’s one thing about this business that I think we take for granted sometimes is the people that we meet. I’ve been so lucky to work with so many talented film makers over the years who have truly become great friends.
One of most recent assignments is for the Padraig Reynolds horror movie WORRY DOLLS, you worked together before on RITES OF SPRING, does the film maker have set ideas when it comes to the music or are you given free rein to create the score?
Padraig is one of my absolute favorite directors to work with because he always has such a clear vision on what he wants for the score. We normally start our conversations early on as he will send me the script to read and even music ideas he is thinking of during the process. Once we get to the spotting session he knows exactly what he wants in the film and I write notes as fast as I can! We work really well together as we are always on the same page musically. We bounce ideas off each other throughout the process and he will come over to the studio to listen and sometimes we end up workshopping one cue for hours to really hone in and get it right. His vision and his musical sensibilities are fantastic. I’ve had times where I’m stuck on a scene and not sure what to do and so I’ll give him a call and get ideas from him.
The soundtrack to WORRY DOLLS has just been released on Movie Score Media, it is an exceptional score, it has many sides to it contemporary and also has a feel of the old style Horror soundtrack was this something that you set out to do when you began to work on the movie?
Thank you so much. That is very kind of you to say. I think that mix of contemporary and old style horror kind of happened with what we both like musically, Padraig is a big fan of the horror films from the 70s and 80s so he always likes a bit of a throwback feel.
What size orchestra did you use for the score and how much time were you given to write and record the music?
We had a 31 piece string section for this and they were 31 strong! They made a huge difference on this score and really brought it to life. The AFM musicians here in Los Angeles are just amazing! I feel like I had somewhere between 6-8 weeks to write and record everything.
Staying with WORRY DOLLS how much music did you write for the movie and did most of the score make it onto the MSM release and were you involved in the compilation of the cues for the release?
I feel like I wrote somewhere around 80 minutes of music for the movie and I feel like most of our score did make it onto the MSM release. I was involved in the compilation of the cues a little bit but most of that work was done by Mikael Carlsson of Movie Score Media who produced the soundtrack album. He really has a great ear for putting cues together and coming up with an album flow.
You utilised a childlike voice on the score for WORRY DOLLS which is certainly chilling, who was the vocalist?
That vocalist was actually my niece, Emma May. Padraig said he wanted a little girl to sing the song at the beginning of the film (Padraig wrote that tune by the way – he used to be in a band called The Nukes for those of you that don’t know) and I immediately thought of my niece. I had seen her earlier that year and she sang some songs that she had written to me so that was how I knew she could sing and she was about the right age of voice for this too. She was really excited to record the vocals for this. She even practiced singing to the creepiest doll she had.
You conduct as well as compose, do you conduct all of your scores for film or do you at times pass the baton to someone else so you can monitor the scoring process?
To date I have conducted all of my own scores, but I definitely wouldn’t mind passing the baton off to someone else one of these days so I can sit in the booth and really listen.
James Horner was a big influence upon you, are there any other composers of film music or indeed any type of music that you would say influenced you in the way you write or indeed in the way that you place the music in a movie?
James Horner was hands down the biggest influence on me and the way I write to picture. Obviously, as I got older I began discovering so many of the other great composers out there so I am sure they have all had their influence on me as well. I’m also a huge musical theater fan so in addition to film scores, I grew up listening to a lot of musicals. Les Miserables and Miss Saigon were listened to a lot as well as all the great music from the Disney films during that time. Musicals may not be film scores, but they are still a way of telling a story through music and there is just nothing more powerful than that.
I understand that you are at the moment working on RED ARMY RISING which is directed by Will Hess who you have collaborated with many times, at what stage of the proceedings do you like to become involved on a project, do you at times like to see a script or is it better for you if you come in at the rough cut stage so that you can spot the movie with the director or producer?
RED ARMY RISING is still in pre-production at the moment but we have had a few conversations (and laughs) about it so far. My next project with Will Hess will be his documentary about mardis gras called KING CAKE: A BIG EASY STORY, which he is currently editing. I tend to like to get involved in the project as early as possible. I usually like to read the script so I can start thinking about things. I may not even write a note until after the picture is locked and we’ve had a spotting session, but knowing the story early on let’s that creative thought process begin.
You have worked on a number of shorts, ie: THE LOST SOUL which has a running time of 11 minutes, THEY WATCH which has a duration of 13 minutes etc. Is it difficult for a composer to develop a score and establish themes on movies with such short running times as opposed to working on a full length feature film ?
I do feel like I can definitely get into a feature more as we spend so much more time on them and there is so much more screen time to really develop themes and the sound of that film. I can for sure develop themes and ideas for shorts though if they will lend themselves to that sort of thing. We have some strong themes in THEY WATCH and although it does have a short running time, it does a great job of telling its story and exploring a few of its central themes.
Do you favour any recording studio or orchestra when you are recording your film scores and when writing do you have in mind any particular soloists?
I love working in Los Angeles with the AFM musicians. It’s hard to beat that although recording at Abbey Road with the amazing musicians in London would be a dream one day. As far as studios go, I was really impressed with The Bridge Recording Studio when we recorded WORRY DOLLS there. I also love the Newman Stage at Fox and the Eastwood Stage at Warner Bros.
Do you have a set way of working or a routine that you like to keep to, by this I mean when writing for a film do you start with the main theme and work through to the end titles or maybe work on smaller cues first and then start to develop the central themes?
Yes – I normally like to spend time writing the main themes I know I will need for the film first. I spend time developing those and finding the themes that are just right for each film. Once I have those established and have sort of come up with the sound and musical palette for the film, then I actually like to just start writing chronologically (maybe not the opening titles though until I’ve gone through the whole film). I feel like I keep discovering new things in the music as the film develops in its story.
Do you work on all your orchestrations for your film scores, or at times is this just not possible?
So far I have done all of my own orchestrations for my scores. I do think it would be great to collaborate with another orchestrator one day though.
Have you a particular favourite score of your own or by another composer?
If I had to pick my absolute favorite score of all time, it would probably be “E.T.” by John Williams. One of my other top favorites is “Field of Dreams” by James Horner.
In 2012 you worked on NINAHS DOWRY this was a collaboration between yourself and two other composers, Julia Newman and Cody Westheimer how did you become involved on the project?
I have known Cody and Julia since my days at USC. We met there and have been really close friends ever since. NINAH’S DOWRY was Cody’s film and he brought in Julia and I to work with him. The three of us work great together and had a really fun time collaborating on this film.
You have also written the music for animated shorts, does the scoring process differ at all when working on animated films?
I think most composers would probably tell you that animation is one of the toughest things to score and I agree with them. There’s a lot of nuances and little fast changing moments to hit in animation, but boy is it fun! I really enjoy working on animated films. I feel that despite different styles in films, the one thing they all have in common is that you are there to help tell their story through your music – no matter what the genre is.
What is next for you?
I am currently working on two feature films (an action thriller and a horror) as well as a TV pilot. I’m also writing a stage musical (a comedy) with my sister. I am definitely keeping myself busy with lots of different projects these days but it keeps things interesting!