Guy Farley is probably one of the busiest composers working in TV,FILM and the music business in general, you have probably without knowing it heard some of his work as he is a composer that is comfortable scoring, adverts, shorts, feature films and TV series and shows. My thanks to Guy for his time and for a great interview.
Was it film music that attracted you to becoming a composer?
From and early age, I loved the sound of film music, what it evoked, the drama and great melodies. Also, I grew up going to the local cinema and the music was a big part of that experience for me, I liked going out and buying soundtracks.
What musical education did you undertake?
Classical in essence, I studied piano from the age of 6, classical repertoire, organ, choral
and musicianship which took on all forms in the study of music.
Later, I studied harmony and conducting to further my interest and ability as a film composer.
Your score for THE HOT POTATO is a favourite of mine, there are definite nods to John Barry throughout, was this sound something that you set out to create, or did the director have specific instructions as to what style he wanted?
The director, Tim Lewiston, said to me at the start that he wanted the sound of the 60’s movie era but not taking itself too seriously. After all this was a caper movie set in the 60’s, the music didn’t need reinventing nor was it exploring characters in depth that might have required another type of score.
He had tried other more modern band led music on the edit which had not worked.
At the start of the edit, they were struggling to find temp music from scores in the 60’s era that could work in the story telling of THP, actually quite difficult to find. Although some of Barry’s music was used in the temp, in the end there wasn’t much temp at all during the edit and I was writing and delivering demos all the way through. Better for me I would add and gave me more freedom, even in that style.
On seeing the film for the first time I completely got this take on the music, it made it more humorous too. If JB had been available he would have hired him to score the film.
I know that you were lucky enough to see John Barry conduct at the sessions for CHAPLIN, what composers would you say have inspired you or even influenced you in the way that you write. These can be film music composers or classical?
So many, classical, contemporary, film composers, bands and many styles. I suppose my whole musical life, everything I grew up listening to that affected me, that I loved, produces what I write. I often find on hearing the work of a composer I haven’t heard for a while that I can immediately hear that writer’s influence in my music. I love that process because it is a language and when I come across beautiful or affecting musical progressions, melodies, harmony or orchestration I keep it in the back of my mind and where I can I use the language and just try to make it my own.
In my studio I have a library of scores with yellow markers of parts that interest me, creation of sounds that I have heard, its a permanent form of study for me and I love it. I love reading the scores and seeing the blue print of how the music was originally conceived and written.
In terms of names that come to mind instantly, here you go: Dvorak, Mozart, Bach, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Holst, Vaughan Williams, to the likes of Gershwin, John Adams, Steve Reich, Glass to Genesis, Pink Floyd, Supertramp to Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Claus Ogerman, Antonio Jobim, Stan Getz and Piazzola,….then in film, Herrmann, Barry, Goldsmith, Bernstein, Williams and Morricone and so on and on…I try and listen to as much music as I can, modern, contemporary, pop and classical. I want the work of other composers to take me somewhere different from what I am used to or go back to.
Going back to the HOT POTATO, what size orchestra did you have for the score, and where did you record it?
From memory, big band plus strings, so Jazz drums (an original 60’s kit), Double and Electric bass, 30 strings, 2 trumpets, 4 saxes, 3 trombones, tuba, 4 Alto flutes! doubling bass flutes, concert and piccolo. Vibraphone, Xylophone, various percussion, timpani, harp and piano. Andy Dudman recorded and score in Studio one at Abbey Road. We mixed it at British Grove.
You have collaborated with director
Anthony Hickox a number of times, does he have a hands on approach when it
comes to the style or the placing of the music?
Tony and I met in the early 80s and became good friends. His mother was an Oscar winning editor, Anne Coates and his father, Douglas Hickox, a well known director. We used to do movie night back then, every Sunday, we loved film.
My first film score was also Tony’s first film as a director, Rock A Bye Baby, a short film ghost story and the start for both of us, a big learning experience too.
I have worked with him several times since on different projects and it is a relationship I always enjoy, he gives me freedom, encouragement, ideas, direction and he tells me when he ‘hates it’!
He is one of those rare directors today who wants to hear the theme and the sound early on. Once he gets that he lets you be the film composer. He doesn’t interfere. He listens to demos of every single cue, often without the film! He’ll listen in a airport, while travelling or out at dinner and I get a ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ back.
I have a great working relationship with Tony, we each respect what the other does and we are equally passionate about the creative process to the point of a good shout and rant!
MODIGLIANI is another wonderful score, how did you
become involved on the project, and how much music did you write for the movie?
From the moment I set eyes on the film I wanted to score it.
The editor, Emma Hickox (sister of Anthony), had cut together a short assembly of scenes which got to see.
I went to my studio, completely inspired by the emotion in the excerpts I had seen and wrote my theme, I think about 3 or 4 minutes of music. I then recorded what I had written with an orchestra whilst recording for a pop session at Sony Whitfield Street and delivered it to the editor. The director was still looking for the right composer and had already approached Elmer Bernstein! To my good fortune the editor, without my knowing, had put my piece to a very emotional and poignant scene in the film, one they had found no temp music for. At the end of the screening the director asked Emma where the music was from and she told him I had written it. We met the following morning and the journey began instantly. I wrote a complete original score and did some arrangements and production of various other pieces needed.
There was nothing in the film musically that I wasn’t involved with, he wanted me to oversee all of the music.
You have worked on feature films and television productions; do you find that the two are different when it comes to scoring say a TV series or a documentary as opposed to writing for motion picture?
No, in that the writing process is still the same, themes, motifs, sound palette and the development of the music. Yes, in that the canvas of film has always seemed much bigger to me and more attractive.
It is one story told in one sitting, say 90-120 minutes. The music presents itself at the start and weaves through the film developing as needed to the end. One body of work.
In TV, especially a series, the music approach and the amount of music required has to work with the needs of the series and there are all sorts of constraints in TV different from film. There are different instructions and requirements, keeping the momentum, the energy and the interest as you move from one episode to another and I find this process completely different from say working with auteurs in film. All directors are different of course as is their approach to music and the job of the score. I have always found in TV that once you get going and the music is accepted, generally you are left to get on with it and produce the finished music on time and on budget. In film each director I work with wants to hear every single piece in demo form and I feel that the working relationship is somehow much closer and more collaborative.
Much of this is ruled by sheer production pressure in both cases.
In documentary, you have the added difficulty of the voice over. This means the music will invariably sit low in the mix and hardly be heard. Frustrating when you put your heart into writing a good piece of music but the music must serve the film and I always think, in documentary scoring, its wonderful to have the odd moment where the music is out on top, but it never lasts long!
Do you perform on any of your film scores?
I do. If an orchestra is required I always conduct. I find this to be the most important and efficient job for me as the composer and in the recording and production of my score. No one knows the music like I do.
I don’t like my own piano playing but when necessary I will play those cues. I like the interpretation of other musicians. Strangely, I have often found that people prefer my performance than more talented session players, probably because I am the author of the music, I have lived with it for longer and in some way I must ‘feel it’ slightly differently. Its open to interpretation, especially with the picture. If there are synth parts, I play and record all of those in my studio.
You worked on A GOOD AMERICAN with
Christopher Slaski, did you collaborate or were you each responsible for sections of the
Chris and I have known each other for a long time now and have a lot of shared musical interests. We have worked together on all sorts of projects from Film, TV, advertising and arrangements for artists. We know each other very well and our musical sensitivities are the same. On AGA, Chris had met the director in Berlin before I got involved. He asked me if I would collaborate, a pleasure to do. The film allowed the score to be divided evenly into certain types and styles of cues, emotion and action.
We produced a cue sheet with the director, Friedrich Moser and in this instance Chris decided to take on the emotion supporting our protagonist, Bill Binney, whilst I took on the action and terror. We shared our ideas from the start, we agreed on our orchestral line up so that we knew what instrumentation we were writing for and we sent each other demos before they went to the director. Once the score got going we were able to interchange and use each other’s themes and ideas in the scoring process. We wanted the score to have integrity in its sound and not to sound like the work of different composers, which I think we achieved well.
Your scores are very thematic, do you think that the use of a main title theme to introduce the film or TV program is becoming a thing of the past?
I write thematically, music makes sense to me this way, but it is seen as old fashioned today. There is little melody writing in modern film scores, you have to listen to a Williams score to find a great melody. There is a general feeling that directors and film production houses don’t want the music to take over or control the film with the use of strongly thematic music and I know of one composer who was asked to remove every melody from each cue leaving just the backing tracks. I do however believe that there are no rules to scoring film, either the music works or it doesn’t, no matter what you use or how you score it and of course that conclusion is entirely subjective. Title music? – I would say a thing of the past, audiences don’t have the patience to sit and listen through, they want to be entertained instantly. The Bond films still get away with it, but it is not like it used to be, opening credits with opening music introducing the musical sound and template for the film ahead…. European film makers like melody and thematic writing and also I find they shoot film to allow for music too… I have scored quite a few European films and composers and music is definitely treated differently, dare I say with more respect, it certainly seems this way. Nowadays it seems that everyone on the production has a say on the music, you can imagine how frustrating this is and what the result is.
How many times do you watch a movie before you begin to start work on the score, and is the use of a temp track helpful to a composer when he or she is viewing a movie for the first time, or is it counterproductive?
I start working the moment I am committed to the film, my head starts work.
Of course watching the film is the most important part of the process because I react to what I see and feel and this encompasses everything from instruments, themes, styles, harmony, sound, pace, etc etc… And each film is a different experience. Usually I watch the film on my own before I see or talk it through with the director, then I like to go through it in detail with the director. By this time I have watched it a few times and produced a working cue sheet to get an important overview of my job and what is required of me. This can be created by the existing temp music or it can be a mixture of opinions (mine, director, editor) as to where and what music is needed.
I like to be well organised and I prefer to work chronologically. I don’t start a story half way through or at the pivotal moment, I start at the beginning and the score evolves as the film does. I like this process. I can always go back and use ideas developed later in the score, but I rarely do.
Temp tracks are very useful but can be very destructive. If used well and provided the director and his team have not fallen in love with the temp music, then it is a useful working guide to seeing how music works with a scene in many ways. This then translates usefully for the composer. For me its a big problem if I am asked to ‘copy’ the temp music, which usually means one of us (director or composer) has failed at our job!
Do you always conduct your film scores or is this not always possible, likewise do you orchestrate your scores, and do you believe that orchestration can at times be just as important as the composition of the music?
I do conduct my own scores, I like conducting and I believe I am the best person to produce from the orchestra what I intended with the added knowledge of everything that has been said to me by the director. Sometimes I feel being out on the floor with all those musicians is the safest place to be too!! I always orchestrate my own scores because I don’t want to risk my music taking on someone else’s voice. My demos are very detailed and they are presented to the director as the music I will record, rather than a rough idea. Nowadays, the director and producers don’t want to hear an orchestra play a cue they haven’t heard before in demo form. This is not to say orchestrators are not good, they are and I use them. Once I am happy with what I have written I send my work to my orchestrator who sets it to Sibelius and sends me the first draft to comment on. On paper I will make adjustments and amendments and the score goes back and fourth until it is ready for the copyist to prepare parts for the musicians. These all have to be perfect and faultless. The musician needs everything in front of him or her to save time and to be efficient in the performance. I always encourage suggestions and expect corrections, but I always insist on knowing. I don’t want to get to a session and hear a part I never wrote…as the composer I know the film intimately and what is required from the music and what I have written, I don’t need a counter melody or additional parts added without my knowledge. In film today, the work of an orchestrator (given that the composer can actually compose!) is to bring the demo to life without noticeable changes unless…a bespoke piece of work is required of the orchestrator, an arrangement or an orchestration of a two stave sketch for example. Trust is important here. The orchestrators I work with are far more knowledgeable than I am and I like the music to pass by them with their overview of what I have written. I have great respect for their knowledge and musical ability. In the past, many of the great film composers have relied on their orchestrators to produce outstanding work. When Jerry Goldsmith collected his Oscar for The Omen, the first person he thanked was Arthur Morton, his orchestrator. Great respect.
You have worked with a few Italian directors, does the attitude and approach to music in film differ from country to country?
I would say yes most certainly. Firstly, many of the European countries make their own films and they really encourage film making and film auteurs. I have found that European directors treat the scoring process differently than UK or US productions and that generally the composer is given a lot more freedom to compose. There is therefore more artistic license granted. They still use temp music but I find they really do want original music, they want you, someone who can do what they cannot, to be original to their film, to deliver a sound and a score that is unique to their vision as a director. In my experience this applies to all the directors I have worked with in Portugal, Italy, France, Holland and Poland and Germany.
What are your earliest memories of any kind of music and do you come from a family that is musical?
The music my mother played on the piano as far back as I can remember, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin. We had a piano at home and although there was always music in the house, I wouldn’t say we were especially a musical family. My sisters played recorders and piano but not seriously. My father love opera and my parents had an eclectic collection of records, which I was exposed to all the time. It is fair to say music came naturally to me, I had a musical ear, I could pick up tunes and replay them on the piano with ease and I found music deeply moving.
You have worked on a couple of movies
where you wrote additional music, ANTHROPOID and THE CROWN, what does this
mean, in effect has the composer finished the assignment and the producers maybe
In essence it means I didn’t write the whole score. On Anthropoid, the director, Sean Ellis, wanted both Robin Foster and I to score the film. In the end, as editing moved on, Robin was writing the underscore and Sean was asking me to write a choral requiem for the end of the film as well as various arrangements of Violin works and some Django Reinhardt songs. Once Robin had finished his score, I played and recorded his piano parts in the hall at Air where I was recording the choir and other pieces.
I do like collaborations and Robin and I do different things musically, which makes it interesting. Its a good match.
On ‘The Crown’, I was asked by Peter Morgan, the writer and producer, to work with Hans Zimmer and Rupert Gregson Williams, so effectively the score was divided up between the writers. Ultimately the score is the work of a handful of composers working with and using the themes originally written by Hans for the show.
There was a lot of music for The Crown, all recorded live, so a lot of work to do, you really do need a strong and efficient production line to do this.
You scored TSOTSI, but your score was replaced, what is the story behind this as I thought your score was excellent?
Actually it was the other way around! The film was already scored by the time I got a call from my agent saying the producers wanted to meet to discuss re-scoring the film. It was a very strong and powerful film, with some great performances, the producers wanted to see if the film would take a more melodic, thematic score. There was nothing wrong with the original score and it was strongly championed by Gavin Hood, the director, the film was very, very good. The producers wanted to try a different musical direction and I was asked to write a new score. By the time they had remixed my new score with the film, the film had won first prize at Edinburgh and the success of the film had started. With it’s first top award there was no point in changing the film, especially when the director didn’t want to. My score was just a different approach and it was a wonderful experience to work on a film like this.
Recently Caldera records released a compilation of you film music, were you involved in the selection of the cues that were to be included?
Caldera have a very passionate and strong minded producer in Stephan Eicke. He really likes to get involved in the music, to the point where he hears the work in process, comes to sessions and even then won’t make a decision until it is complete and he has seen the film. He is a composer himself, intelligent and cares about every detail in the release of a soundtrack.
It is fair to say, on this and all the albums of mine that Caldera have released, that Stephan chooses the material and produces the soundtrack . He is involved with the artwork, layout, track order, booklet and most of all, the music!
TULA THE REVOLT, is excellent, will there be a full score release of this do you think?
I am not sure about this, Stephan chose the cues he liked from what was quite a long score and we have not talked about a full score release. You never know, if the demand is there it can easily happen.
Away from film you have worked with an
array of talented artists, such as Amy Winehouse, Emeli Sande, Paloma Faith
and Eliza Doolittle, is this a very different process from writing for the cinema?
Yes and its an important release for me, it takes me back to musical roots, to different genres and ideas and I love working with singers, just such a different experience. Don’t think for a moment I don’t use material from each idiom, I do, all the time. I put film into my work with artists and where needed I put pop into film scoring. Its a very different way of thinking, of production and again, no rules. I love jumping from one style of music to another and its a healthy, valuable thing to do. At one point I was scoring 4 or 5 films a year and you can easily get stuck in that zone…reams of music. I believe strongly you need a break from it and you need to work on and try different things..
What would you say is the job of music
I always asked movie goers, ‘what did you think if the film?’ I then ask about the music. If they didn’t notice the music but loved the film, then its a good score. If the music is considered good on top of a good film, then this a bonus for the score. The job of the music is to hold the hand of the audience and guide them through the film the way the director wants. Music can access all sorts of emotions and provide valuable layers of emotion that film sometimes cannot reach. Although I love a great movie score, the music is secondary to the film, it must serve and enhance the film and the narrative. For me there are no rules in film music, a musical idea either works or it doesn’t in film, but ultimately it is the film that needs to be seen as outstanding or brilliant or a success, not the music.