Am I am right in thinking you began your scoring career with CARTOON SUSHI which was a TV project from 1997, how did you become involved with this particular project?
I began my career scoring an independent feature film shot on super 8 in 1986 called THE CHIMING HOUR, directed by Scott Storm. I followed that up with a second feature called WHISPER FROM THE MOUNTAIN, which starred Bryan Singer. During the 80’s I scored many student films for Bryan and other friends. One of these was a claymation short called “Smile” by Scott Storm, which ended up being broadcast as part of CARTOON SUSHI.
You did one more TV project in 1997, which was entitled FINAL DECISION, when scoring a TV series as opposed to a feature film what would you identify as the main differences between the two?
FINAL DECISION was a feature film, about 90 minutes long. I don’t know if it was somehow repurposed as a TV show. In any case, I don’t think there is a fundamental difference between the art of scoring shorts vs. features vs. TV. The big differences are in the budget and other resources available, live orchestra vs. samples for example.
You have also worked on a number of shorts, do you think it is probably more difficult working on a movie that is quite short induration, by this I mean is it harder to develop the themes or principal cues in a short period of time.
In my experience, film music works best when the themes are instantly memorable and recognizable. That doesn’t change between a feature and a short.
THE WAY OF THE GUN was a movie you scored in 2002, which is one of my favourite action scores, the music I think aided the movie a great deal, were you given any specific instructions by the director on how the music should sound or where indeed it should be placed?
The liner notes I wrote for the CD in 2000 detail this better than my own memory can recall now, but as I remember it, Christopher McQuarrie outlined things he didn’t want in the score, and one by one, I violated all these preconceptions to come up with the final score. The spotting of music evolved over the post-production process. I remember Mc Q didn’t want a lot of score and the execs at Artisan wanted it wall-to-wall.
What size orchestra did you use for THE WAY OF THE GUN?
It was about 45 players supplemented with some samples, piano, additional harps, additional timpani, etc. Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Bassoon, Contrabassoon, French Horns, Trombones, Tuba, Harp, percussionist and strings.
What musical education did you receive and were any of your family musically inclined?
I attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, where I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Film Scoring. My whole family is musically inclined to some degree. My dad and my uncle were hobbyist songwriters and record-makers, so I grew up in a creative environment and access to musical equipment like synthesizers, sequencers, and four-track recorders.
Was music something that you were always attracted to and were you also always focused upon writing music for film?
I was always into music, from a very young age, even film music. The first two albums I bought when I was a kid were MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR and the soundtrack to SUPERMAN THE MOVIE. I didn’t really focus on pursuing film composing as a career until I discovered the film music program at Berklee.
According to a certain website that lists your credits, you are working on the up and coming MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, MI 6. As a producer is Tom Cruise involved in any way when it comes to the style of the score or the spotting process?
I have no idea if I’m working on the next MISSION IMPOSSIBLE or not. No one has said anything to me about it. I can say however, that on MI5, Tom Cruise was very involved in setting the tone of the final score, and also contributed actively to the spotting process.
What would you say is the purpose of music in a movie?
Hopefully, it is enhancing the audience’s emotional connection to the film without hitting them over the head. Sometimes, it helps smooth out rough portions of a film or covers shaky performances by the cast, or the writing, or directing. I always hope that when the whole project is complete, listening to the score on its own, away from the film, still tells the story of the film in the listener’s mind.
Orchestration is an important part of the composing process for many composers, are you able to do your own orchestrations on the majority of your projects or is it sometimes not possible with deadlines looming etc?
I always think orchestrally and make as many orchestration decisions as I can while I’m composing the cues for the films I score. But I do also value the contributions an orchestrator makes to the process, and I also need that second set of eyes to look things over. Sometimes stuff has to be written so quickly for a film that having a shorthand with an orchestrator helps save time. However, I write every note of my scores myself. I don’t use the orchestrators to ghost write. And my cues are composed orchestrally in midi-mock ups. I do not just write a melody with chords and give that to the orchestrator.
In the all of the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movie’s the original theme has always been retained in some form or another, do you think with a franchise such as Mission Impossible it is important to continue to use the theme or at least permutations or arrangements of it. I ask this because the latest MAN FROM UNCLE movie score had no traces of the original theme by Jerry Goldsmith, which many fans were disappointed about?
I think it is fun to incorporate the previous themes into a new instalment of a franchise. I understand some filmmakers and composers who decide not to do that, but to me, it is part of what makes working on a franchise film enjoyable. I liken it to an actor who revels doing Hamlet and being able to put their own spin on it. One doesn’t want to do franchise films exclusively, just as an actor doesn’t want to do only Shakespeare.
Staying with THEMES or the lack of them, in contemporary movies there seems to be a definite absence of strong themes, even main title sequences are not scored how they were, do you think that the job of the composers has changed a great deal since say the 1960,s and 1970,s and is it at times more sound design as opposed to actual music composition that some are performing?
Yes, I do. I believe it stems from the influx of rock musicians who have essentially taken over film music in Hollywood. Significantly fewer composers come from any kind of classical background than in generations past. That, coupled with the explosion of low-budget indie film making, has created an aesthetic that is based more around what I call “tonal sound design” than proper score.
When you were offered MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROUGUE NATION, was the movie temp tracked when you first viewed it and do you think the temp track is a useful tool for the composer or can it sometimes be a hard act to follow if the director has fallen in love with it?
I think it depends. MI5 was not temped when I saw it, and in fact, I didn’t see any footage with temp until very late in the process of working on the film. Christopher McQuarrie only uses temp for test screenings and does his best to keep me away the temp. He really dislikes when a score is just a rehash of a temp. So on his films, temp is a necessary evil that has been kept as minimal as possible. On the opposite side, I’ve just scored a documentary where the temp score proved a really helpful way for the director, producer, and I to all get on the same page for the musical needs of the film. So, as I say, it depends.
Do you conduct all of your scores, or is it better do you think to be able to watch and listen to the scoring sessions from the control box?
I conduct my scores every chance I get. It is nice to be in the booth, it’s certainly less tiring, but I really that conducting myself generates a different energy with the musicians. I am very invested in the music since I wrote it, while a hired conductor is doing his or her job, very capably and excellently, but without perhaps that personal connection.
How much time did you have to write the music for MISSION IMPOSSIBLE ROUGE NATION and where did you record the score?
I spent 4 months’ total working on MI5, but the majority of the music heard in the film was written in a period of about 3 weeks. There was a period of exploration between the director and I where we tried a bunch of different ideas, some of them quite a departure from expectations, before we settled on the final approach. We recorded the score at Abbey Road studios and British Grove studios, both in London.
THE MYSTERY WOMAN series was made by Hallmark and had eleven episodes or instalments, there were a number of directors involved, is it difficult to work on a series that has multi directors, as I am guessing each has their own individual ideas about music?
Sadly, in TV, the director is much more of a hired gun than in film, so almost all of the TV work I did was really with the producers more than the directors. The directors were probably given a mandate from the producers to make each instalment similar to the previous rather than each one being a departure from the last. That was my brief as composer.
When a score is going to receive a compact disc release, do you select the cues that will be representing the score, or is this decided by the film company or record label?
Usually I do it. If there are a lot of songs in the film, such as a film I did called DAWN PATROL, the label handles the songs.
What composers of film scores would you say have inspired you or influenced you?
John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Hermann, David Shire, John Barry and Elmer Bernstein.
When spotting a movie do you like to watch it through a number of times before you decide what style of music you will employ and where it will be best placed to serve the needs of the film?
Sometimes yes. Sometimes I know right away what it needs. Sometimes I try a few things before I discover what’s best. Often, if the film has been temped, I’m simply asked to follow the temp, so there really is no need to decide what kind of music to use.
At what stage of the proceedings do you like to become involved, for example do you prefer to be on board as it were as early as possible with a script, or is it better for you to start your involvement at the rough cut stage?
I prefer to come on after the film is locked, but that’s usually too late these days so I have to come on earlier. I generally don’t read the script or look at dailies, or stuff like that, because it doesn’t really reflect what the actual film will be. I like to see the film for the first time as close to its final form as possible given the time available.
Do you have a set routine of working when scoring a picture, do you for example begin with the main cues and then attend to smaller pieces as in stabs etc, or do you work through the picture from start to finish?
I generally watch the film as much as possible before I write a note of score. Perhaps a dozen times, or more. I try to really understand every scene in the film, every character’s motivations, the dramatic themes of the film, the emotional arc. Then I begin explorations, sometimes at the piano, often just in my imagination. The hoped-for result of these explorations is a roster of themes that I can use to score the film. Once I have the necessary blocks to build the score, I sit down and work through the film from beginning to end. As I score the film, I will come up with new material which I then go back and incorporate in earlier cues during the rewrite/finalising process. I try to work in 2 minutes’ blocks of film.
Before JACK REACHER and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE you had worked on smaller movies and TV projects was it difficult to begin working on more high profile projects?
Not really, as I say, it’s all just writing music that properly reflects what’s on screen. If anything, big movies are easier because there is less compromise in achieving the sounds in my head.
Many thanks to Joe Kraemer for his time and interest in MMI.