INTERVIEW WITH COMPOSER, CRAIG SAFAN.

 

CRAIG SAFAN OLDER

 

Your Mother was a concert pianist, so I am guessing that you got your interest in music from her, but what would you say are your earliest memories of music?

I loved picking out tunes on the piano when I was around 5 years old. My favourite was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”.

What musical education did you receive, and what instrument did you study?

I took private piano lessons from around 6 1/2 years. I studied “popular” piano… never played a classical piece. I was taught to improvise from my very first lesson. Besides from those lessons I never studied music. I was a Fine Arts student in college.

 

 

Was it always music for film and TV that you intended to do for a career, or were you exploring other avenues and genres of music and an opportunity arose for you to work on a movie?

 

No. I never even knew that being a film composer was an actual career! I loved writing songs, stage musicals, and arranging albums. I accidentally fell into film composition.

You wrote a score for a film entitled WOLFEN sadly it was replaced, what happened on that particular assignment?

The director was fired. The producers let me record the score, but when they hired a new director the film was re-cut and he hired a new composer.

THE LAST STARFIGHTER, is a great score with a wonderful theme, how did you become involved on this movie and what size orchestra did you use for that score?

I had worked on “TAG: The Assassination Game” with director Nick Castle. When he developed “The Last Starfighter” he hired me to write the music. It was a very large late romantic orchestra. Quadruple woodwinds, six horns, six trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba. Big string section, lots of percussionists!

 

Do you have any preferences when it comes to where you record your film scores, if so for what reasons?

It depends on what kind of music I’m recording. For large orchestra my favourite has always been the Sony (previously MGM) scoring stage. For more electronic and smaller scores I tend to do a lot of work in my own studio, then mix somewhere else.

 

 

Is orchestration an important part of the process of music composition, and do you conduct your film scores, or do you prefer to supervise from the recording booth?

Orchestration is extremely important, especially in film music… it conveys the mood, subtext, and importance. I’ve always conducted my own scores. I think the energy I can impart conducting is more important than being in the booth.

 

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You worked on the TV series CHEERS, is it demanding writing music for a popular TV series when the episodes go out so frequently, and do you ever re-cycle any themes from previous episodes in later ones?

“Cheers” was pretty simple to compose. There was very little music in each episode, so I would often record three shows in one session. Also, each season I would compose and record an entire library of music cues which the music editor would use. The show was a mixture of my library and newly recorded music. Also, since it was written for only 5 players the music was very simple and quick to write.

 

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What would you identify as the main differences between scoring motion pictures, TV series and TV movies?

The three are conceptually very similar. The big difference is that with a feature film there is usually more time and more money to get things right. Also, bigger orchestras. The downside is there is also much more anxiety and politics in a feature film than in TV. TV doesn’t rely on box-office like a feature film and has a much quicker turn-around time, so the producers and executives are not as anxious.

Does budget have an impact on what a composer can achieve because of the restrictions it can have upon the number of players, or can you get around this by writing in a different way?

 

I can usually work around budget issues. The biggest trap is trying to do too much with too little. It’s best to scale back the type of music one is writing to fit the budget.

At what stage of the production do you prefer to become involved on a movie, rough cut, or maybe you look at a script, and how many times do you like to see a movie before you start to make decisions on what style of music you will write and where it will be placed to best serve the movie?

I like being involved when there is a rough cut. Often the musical style is largely decided by the director and editor, who put existing music on the film as it is cut. It is often very difficult to change the musical style when it has already been set by the director. That’s a big challenge!

Going back to your theme for THE LAST STARFIGHTER, many fans think that the opening theme has now become a thing of the past, as it is the trend in new movies not to have one, what is your opinion of this, I think the main theme is important, as most scores can be built on and around it?

I love having a theme. Some films want a bigger, more in your face, theme (like “Starfighter”). Other films have more hidden themes or none at all. In some films the music is hard to distinguish from the sound effects.

What composers or artists have influenced you or inspired you?

Leonard Bernstein, Stravinsky, Bartok, Prokofiev. In film Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Hermann, Max Steiner and Elmer Bernstein.

What in your opinion is the purpose of music in film?

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Film music helps drive a film, also it helps clarify action. It also can express the subtext of a film, showing what a character is feeling or thinking. Music enters one’s body involuntarily, so the film score can by-pass the brain and really affect the audience.

 

The TEMP track is something that many film makers use, is this something you find helpful when working on a movie, or can the director sometimes become so accustomed to the TEMP that they want the composer to basically copy it?

The temp track used to be used only during montage scenes. Now, with the ease of laying existing music on film, the temp track is pervasive and usually very constrictive to the film composer.

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Do you have a set routine when scoring a movie, by this I mean do start at the opening theme and work through to end titles, or do you tackle smaller cues first and develop the central theme from elements in these?

 

 

I usually work on a few themes and then start by writing some of the less important cues. That way I can safely get a feeling for how to handle the theme and orchestral point of view. I won’t write the opening music or the big cues until later.

You have used electronics and synthesisers in your scores, what is your opinion of what is becoming known as the DRONE sound in recent scores, is this music, soundscape or just a background filler?

I think there’s a place for music-as-sound in films. However, sometimes it becomes overwhelming and I miss actual melody.

What have you been working on recently?
My new album “Sirens” is going to be released this May on Varese Sarabande Records. It is music inspired by Homer’s “Odyssey”.

CraigSafan

One thought on “INTERVIEW WITH COMPOSER, CRAIG SAFAN.”

  1. Craig is a great guy. He answered all of my questions via email concerning his involvement with the Michael Mann film THIEF. After Tangerine Dream finished their work. I then incorporated his answers in my liner notes for the Perseverance CD.

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