TALKING TO COMPOSER JAMES GRIFFITHS.

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Where and when were you born. Were any of your family musical in any way?

I was born in Swindon, UK, 17th January 1984, I moved to Norfolk when I was 3 and stayed there until I moved to London. I would say that my father was musical, and passionate about music, he certainly loved to listen to music. He later decided to pick the guitar up after I did, and for a few years he just enjoyed the casual hobby and playing AC/DC riffs.

Movie score Media released THE DRIFT last year, how did you become involved with this project, how much music did you compose for the movie and did you have a hand in the selection of the music tracks for the MSM release?

I spoke with Mikael Carlsson of Movie Score Media for a while on what the best way was to release this album. Amazingly with a Soundtrack Geek award win for Best Surprise, also nominated with Hans Zimmer and Max Richter for Best Sci-fi and an additional nomination for Best Feature Film Score for Music and Sound Awards, I was taken back so much that I had to release it with a great and strong label, which MSM is. Interestingly we released the second movie Darkwave: Edge of The Storm on the same record. It’s the second part in a series of movies from the makers of THE DRIFT. It’s a short score so it made an interesting double score album. We worked together on creating the track order and it turned out great. All in all THE DRIFT full score is about 84 minutes.

 

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You were for many years Principal Saxophonist and al Guitarist for THE BAND OF THE COLDSTREAM GUARDS, and you performed with artists such as Catherine Jenkins, Jools Holland and Sir Rod Stewart, when did you decide to make the transition from performing musician to composer?

I worked in that performance aspect for about 13 years. I learnt a great deal working with so many amazing musicians and diverse ensembles, touring the world and making great Number 1 records. We performed a huge amount of repertoire daily, which included film music, not just classical, modern wind band or marches. I always loved the diversity and I was very lucky. It helped me understand what instruments were doing within the ensemble, which part they were playing, and section they were complimenting. I used to listen to and ask my colleagues what can they do, and can they do this? In turn I got to know more about the instruments. This helped greatly with my writing and whilst I was writing music for MTV, I thought I would take the leap of faith and go from performing to full time composer.

 

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Had you always been attracted to the idea of writing music for film? When you were working on THE DRIFT were you given any specific instructions by the director, Darren Scales as to the style or the sound of the musical score he wanted?

I love film music, I always have from a young age, E.T. being my favourite score of all time as it’s a wonderful bridge between score and classical music, it gets me every time watching it on screen. I think writing scores came more natural to me after performing them for so long and when I studied my Masters in Music Performance and Psychology, I learnt more about how music reacts with the individual. I try to focus more to combine this into my writing, and to really channel the emotive response that the picture is explaining. Darren is very specific with his temp placements, it can be a great help but also a big ask when such famous scores that he is in love with are the direction to go in. When the director has often sat on the temp for probably about a year, getting away from it is tough, but ultimately once the score has its voice the temp can be used for a quick reference of emotion or pace and that’s it.

 

 

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You also conduct, did you conduct THE DRIFT and do you like to conduct all your music for film and TV, or are there times when it is just not possible for you to do this?

I love conducting, I always have, even back in my former career, rehearsing ensembles and playing under great conductors including the LSO and RPO. It’s something that I always enjoyed learning as everyone has his or her own style. If I get the opportunity to wag the stick I leap at the chance, but then also in the session I am keen to sit in the booth and hear the recorded aspect so it’s a balance. Trusting the team in the studio is the big thing, so if you have a great team then it’s more of an enjoyable process to conduct the ensemble and leave the rest to do what they do best. I didn’t conduct THE DRIFT as it was a clever tech process we will no doubt chat about.

Orchestration is an important part of the composing process, do you orchestrate all your music, or are there at times (when deadlines are looming etc.) when you use an orchestrator?

Orchestration is a big job, especially if it’s a large ensemble. If I have the time I definitely like to do it, but if deadlines are tough like now, I call in the team to help and work on it. Currently I am sharing the orchestration with my great assistant and composer in Vienna, Christoph Allerstorfer to get the job done. It’s like a well – tuned machine, when the cue’s written and signed off then off it goes!

You are at times involved with fellow composer Frank Ilfman, what are you responsible for when collaborating with him?

I was working for and with Frank for about 2 years as his assistant. I had many great experiences learning his style and how he manages his movies. He is such a wonderful composer and mentor. I would work on anything he needed, from cue sheet and Pro Tools prep, to streamers and additional music or source. I’ve just finished working for him as my schedule is quite busy and we actually just scored a feature together called 68 Kill. It’s a great movie that we decided to give a double team approach to.

 

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You went to Abu Dhabi in 2015 to conduct music from THE DRIFT what was this for? DARKWAVE EDGE OF THE STORM is also included on the release by Movie Score Media, this is a short film which runs for approx. 20 mins, how does working on a short or a television series differ from working on a full-length movie?

The NSO Symphony orchestra invited me to provide them with a suite of THE DRIFT. It was a great honour to have it performed by such a wonderful symphony orchestra and bring new film music to the country. It was even better to go back the following year with a new suite, involving Darkwave EOTS and an additional 30-piece Chorus. It sounded amazing and we have a wonderful relationship I’m sure will continue.

It is great working on shorts and I feel sometimes you have a bit more weight to really throw the themes hard into the movie as the movie is often edited in a fast pace fashion. Working on a feature however is a completely different beast. Not only the amount of music but making sure that the handful of themes are continued throughout, reintroducing the points of story and emotion. I love it; I am very much a composer that wants my music heard and not just provide an underscore. It’s down to me to make it work well in that case.

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When scoring, a project do you have a set routine or a fixed way in which you approach it, do you begin with the main title and work through to the end credits or do you create a central theme and then develop the remainder of the score around this or from it, or is every project different?

Dependant on time I obviously watch the movie through once after reading the script. I like to come on board early if possible so I can really get to know the directors vision of score and start to play with ideas for themes and characters. I do like to start from the beginning in general. I just think it helps develop the story telling in my writing and I can see everything grow throughout.

When playing around with my theme ideas in the sketch stage I have them ready for when I get to the scenes in question. Our Shining Sword for instance, they haven’t finished filming yet but I have been receiving rushes and edits to start mapping ideas out throughout the production phase.

 

 

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THE DRIFT a very grand and powerful sounding score, which for me evoked memories of Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams, what size orchestra did you use for this assignment and where did you record it?

That’s really kind and generous of you to compare me to these legends, thank you! THE DRIFT was a really interesting project as the whole ethos of the movie was; could the production team create a Hollywood size movie including all VFX and music on a shoestring micro budget. I loved the opportunity to see what I could do, and it paid off. No live musicians and just clever technology gave it the 100-piece orchestra size. Of course, I would have loved the live orchestra but it wasn’t possible under the project. I think it worked out great though under the circumstances. Everything was programmed and mixed here at Riff Studios.

Staying with recording studios and facilities, do you have a preference for any studio when it comes to recording your film scores?

I’m lucky enough to have recorded and played myself in the best studios in the world including Abbey Road, Air Studios and The Synchron Stage, Vienna. If anything, I love Air Lyndhurst in the UK. It has such a massive sound and great team working there with rich History. Abbey Road obviously has its charm and history, which I do enjoy but I think Air has a bigger fuller sound for my taste.

The Synchron Stage in Vienna, which is newly opened is wonderful, and a really big sound. I’m looking forward to recording there in the near future. The team are fabulous and technology is second to none.

 

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What composers, artists etc. would you say have influenced your style of composition or in the way that you approach the scoring of a movie?

I am a massive love of composers who have their own unique voice and style. Elliot Goldenthal, Mr Williams, John Powell, Frank of course an Johann Johansson are definitely composers who I love and respect their voice and work. Anyone who is brave enough to do something different gets my vote!

How do you work out your musical ideas, piano, or computerised method? What are your earliest memories of any kind of music?

I do work from a computer setup with the usual big libraries etc. but I do tend to use the piano to write the melodies. I just think it flows better and then I will translate that into the voice I need. Any kind of music.. gosh. Film score: E.T, Classical: Wagner’s Elsa’s procession to The Cathedral and no doubt Metallica Black album.

What are you working on now? What in your opinion is the purpose of music in film?

I have just wrapped up “68 Kill” a comedy thriller feature with Director Trent Haaga, Snowfort Pictures and I co-wrote this with Frank. It has its world premiere at the midnight screeners in March at SXSW. Currently I’m just in thick of scoring Director Richard Rowntree’s Folk Horror feature “Dogged” which will be released in the spring, It will be wrapped up in a few weeks then I will move onto the next one! Music in film is incredibly important, it’s all about emphasis of the story telling, contributing to the movie environment, emotion or character description. Watching a movie without any music is a strange experience, but also as a film score it has to work with everything else, the dialogue and Sound FX, so there also has to be a partnership between all the elements and allow for space. As a composer you have to not be afraid of silence within the score. If it’s just non-stop full on music, often it doesn’t work so well.

 

 

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How many times do you like to watch a movie before you begin to get ideas about what type of music the film needs and where music should be placed to best serve the picture, do you prefer to see a movie in its rough-cut stage or do you sometimes like to see a script?

If I have the time to watch more than once then great, often the case it’s just once, but I will have spotting sessions with the production team to go over everything before I start work officially so it still becomes a good base to get to know what’s going on.

I do like to see rough edits and working reels but I try not to do too much sketching over the working edits, as often things change adding more work to cues that now may not work at all. Also, the style and the sound of the score may need to be completely different from the original idea so it’s best to just keep informed of changes and talk to everyone involved. Of course, you also need to know what the budget can afford regarding musicians as this will play a big factor of who you write for and what sound the movie needs.

Do you perform on any of your film scores?

I love having the NSO in Abu Dhabi perform my scores and I hope there will be many more opportunities abroad and at home to bring my scores to the live audience. I always want to write scores that can be performed live, either as a small ensemble or full symphony.

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