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MAX AND ME, music by Mark McKenzie.




Can I begin by asking when did you decide that you wanted to write music for film etc?

Having grown up during the 90s with Alan Menken’s music for the Disney animations, I’ve always known that music and movies were my passion but I decided at around age 12 that I wanted to pursue it professionally. I had been playing various instruments and also got theory lessons but it wasn’t until I heard John Williams’ score for “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” that I began to research the profession of a film composer. That same year, just a month later, Howard Shore’s “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” came out and by that time I was completely taken by the idea of writing music for movies. It seemed like an unlikely thing to do at the time, with the film industry being on the other side of the world and without the internet as a resource completely out of reach as well. But I simply continued to study scores on my own, hoping that everything would fall into place eventually.



What musical studies did you undertake and whilst studying was there any one area of music or one instrument that you concentrated upon?

Early in my life, I mainly received private classical instrumental lessons (piano, vocals, flute) while also playing in a band regularly. After I graduated from high school, I attended a private school for a year called ‘musicube’ which at the time was the only private school in Germany that focused on film scoring. After that I moved to the Netherlands for four years to attend the film scoring program of the ArtEZ Conservatory. My main focus were composition and orchestration but I also took several minors that ended up being very important to me, including conducting and piano. After obtaining my Bachelor’s degree I moved to Los Angeles to finalize my studies at UCLA’s film scoring program which was a lot more hands-on and based on real life scenarios. I also furthered my studies later on during an internship at Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions as well as ASCAP’s Film Scoring Workshop with Richard Bellis.

I recently reviewed your score for LILLY’S BEWITCHED CHRISTMAS which is a great score, how did you become involved on the project and what size orchestra did you use?

I became involved with this project through Klaus Badelt with whom I had been collaborating for a few years at that point. He had done the first two instalments of this movie series and generously introduced me to the production for the third. I’m not entirely sure what size orchestra we had on this since we recorded it back in summer 2017 at Galaxy Studios in Belgium. I do know that we had a full orchestra though with musicians from the Brussels Philharmonic, conducted by the wonderful Matt Dunkley. _

Both LILLY’S BEWITCHED CHRISTMAS and THE JADE PENDANT have been issued by Movie Score Media, do you have any involvement in what music from the scores is selected for the digital and then the CD release?

Yes, I make the selections and edits myself actually. Movie Score Media offers that service but since I’m more familiar with the material and the story, I tend to do this work myself. Sometimes I also like to remix cues for the soundtrack release which is a common practice. Movie Score Media then reviews my submission and suggests further edits or track orders. They also master the album and then take care of distribution and marketing.

What composers or artists would you say have influenced or inspired you?

I would probably say the biggest influences have been John Williams and Alan Menken since I grew up on their music and studied their scores a lot. However, I also have a soft spot for classical music, especially late Renaissance, late Classicism, and Romanticism. When it comes to popular music, my taste pretty much changes every year so it would be hard to name a specific group or artist there.


Do you think it is important for a composer to orchestrate and also conduct their own film scores, or at times is this just not possible?

In most cases this is impossible due to scheduling or lack of physical presence in the recording location. For orchestration it depends on how we define that job. Most composers give out fully detailed sketches or completely finished orchestral mock ups. So the “orchestration” is technically already part of the composition. However, someone needs to sit down and notate the music, make it playable, fix mistakes, foresee and solve problems before the sheet music hits the stands etc. – that is the job of the orchestrator.  Any film composer who gets a movie with orchestral live recording will inevitably have an orchestrator (or even a team of orchestrators) because there would not be enough time to compose and notate hours of music in time for the recording sessions. Aside from that it’s always good to have someone with a fresh perspective writing down the sheet music. As far as conducting goes, I prefer to do it myself but this is by no means a requirement for any film composer. First off, a lot of composers prefer to be in the booth and hear is actually coming out of the speakers since it can sound vastly different from what’s happening in the live room. So whenever a composer conducts, they need to have someone they trust in the booth to make sure everything sounds as intended. Secondly, very often a production may not have the means to fly the team to the recording location in which case someone else needs to conduct the sessions while the creative team listens in remotely to give notes.

Themes that open movies nowadays seem to be becoming less frequently used. What is your opinion on this practise?

Anyone who has heard my music knows immediately that I love melodic writing. However, every project has different musical demands and other composers might prefer textures over themes. This is a different approach but not less legitimate than the traditional thematic scoring. It all depends on the director’s / producer’s vision, personal tastes, and what the story might need. THE JADE PENDANT is a varied and entertaining score even away from the images on screen. Did the director have any specific instructions regarding the style of music for the movie? On this movie I actually collaborated much closer with one of the producers, Straw Weisman. He was the one to bring me into the project after I had scored the trailer for the movie. We both agreed that this movie needed a traditional thematic score with Americana influences as well as Chinese colours to represent the cultural clash that happens in the story.


When scoring a short do you approach it in a different way from when you are working on a feature film. Likewise how does working on a TV series differ from scoring a feature?

From a technical standpoint it doesn’t differ too much. On a short film, I need to get to the point and make a statement much quicker with my music. There isn’t much room for thematic developments and the likes so ideas need to be presented in a clear and concise way. On TV shows there is obviously a lot more room for thematic development since one has a much longer runtime to make a statement, with several hours of music to be written over longer periods of time. However, TV schedules are as serious as movie schedules, and usually with an episode a week to be written there isn’t much time to think. Generally TV scheduling tends to be a bit crazy so a lot of writers are needed and the turnaround time is incredibly quick. On movies while still often very tight on time it’s less stressful with the amount of music to be written per week being lower.



How long is it before you begin to getting any fixed ideas for a movie after seeing the film?

I usually take about a week to ten days for research and – what Richard Bellis calls – ‘percolation’… letting the ideas sit and sink in. Some composers mistake this as procrastination but it’s actually a natural creative filtering process: You do research and put a lot of ideas into your brain, then you wait until the useful ones are filtered through. Once I know the sound and techniques I’m going for, I start writing fixed ideas which is usually after a good week or so of research and filtering. And how do you work out your musical ideas, via traditional piano, manuscript or by way of more contemporary technical methods? Apart from a handful of composers, I don’t think many people enjoy the luxury of working the traditional way any more. Turnaround times are much too fast so in most cases I only have limited time at the piano or with my voice before I have to go into production mode and make the music audible for the film makers (and eventually my team). Very often I will even create a sketch directly in my DAW since I have created a setup for that.

I do write down idea snippets at the piano during the research and theme writing phase but the moment we get to scoring directly to picture there would not be time to do that (aside from it being highly inconvenient and pointless as well because I’d have to repeat all the work again in the computer anyway before I can send it to the client – there’s no time to do the work twice). Once we’re scoring to picture, my team also already has fully produced mock ups in audio and MIDI form that I created so all the thematic ideas and variations are already in the computer anyway from where we can access and re-arrange it. Going back to the traditional way would be more of a hindrance at that point since the music technology developers have enabled many work flow templates for film composers that are simply faster and more convenient.


Have you encountered the temp track on any movies you have been asked to score, if so do you think that this is a distracting or helpful tool?

Yes, almost every movie has a temp score, especially when there are test screenings. On rare occasions I was even brought on early to help with the temp music if there was no music editor. Personally, I don’t find it distracting as long as the production isn’t too attached to the temp score. It’s a great way to communicate with people who cannot speak in musical terms. With temp music, they can show me what instrumentation and sound they like, or what pacing and energy we are going for, which otherwise would be hard to communicate without common vocabulary between us.


You have your own music production company, is this also film score driven or do you cater for all genres of music?

Yes, my company e-Quality Music Productions is basically my studio for film scoring. With film scores being any genre though, I’d say we cater to all genres of music. However, the main focus is certainly on orchestral music at the moment.

You are known not only as a composer but also as a, score co-ordinator,pro tools synth-master preparation, technical score advisor, score programmer etc, can you tell us a little about these roles?


These are very classical assistant tasks that I used to do during my first years in Los Angeles. I was a full-time studio assistant twice and at other times I was a freelance assistant who was contracted in by different composer studios to perform project related tasks. These tasks usually involve tech work, admin work, session preparation, mix preparation, music editing, creating mock ups or arrangements, etc. It’s a good thing to learn under more experienced composers and be part of a team for a while in order to understand the work flow and group dynamics as well as the political and creative side of things. It definitely helps me now that I am a hiring composer myself with a growing team. _

TROUBLE is an animated feature due for release in 2019, how did you become involved on the movie, and will there be a soundtrack release?
I had been working with two of the producers of the movie – Robyn Klein and Danielle Sterling – before as part of Klaus Badelt’s team. While the score was done by Mychael Danna and Jessie Weiss, I was brought in to write an orchestral song arrangement for the title song “Back To Earth” written by Chris Braide whose songs I had already orchestrated on the animated movie “Leap!” (aka “Ballerina”) a few years earlier. I’m fairly certain there will be a soundtrack release since there are some high profile artists involved in the movie’s songs.



When scoring a movie and you feel that a certain sequence calls for a solo performance do you write the piece with a particular soloist in mind, and are there any orchestras that you prefer to work with?

Sometimes I will write for a particular soloist, especially when it comes to vocals. My go to voice is my friend and soprano extraordinaire Tineke Roseboom so a lot of my female solo passages are written with her voice and range in mind. Sometimes the people I collaborate with also have specific people they would like me to write for, especially when it comes to ethnic instruments. But most of the time we simply choose the principal of each section to play a solo part during the session. So far, I very much enjoyed working with the musicians of the London Metropolitan Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Brussels Philharmonic. They are highly professional people who create a fun and respectful environment while bringing the highest level of musicianship to my compositions. In my experience, their sight reading skills and overall sound are only rivalled by the studio musicians in Los Angeles but due to some unfortunate union contract situations I don’t get to record with them very often.




Composer James Griffiths has in a relatively short period of time established himself as a film music composer of worth and a talented musician who regularly performs on his film scores. His latest assignment LANCASTER SKIES is certainly no exception, released on Movie Score Media as a digital recording with it soon be given a compact disc release on the Spanish label Quartet. Straight away I have to say that LANCASTER SKIES is a compelling listen, it is filled with rich and tuneful thematic material, in many ways the central themes evoke memories of the style and sound that was realised by Jerry Goldsmith, solo trumpet being particularly prominent giving the work a sound that I for one do associate with the likes of Goldsmith and Williams, the trumpet purveying a sense of loneliness. It is also a score that is scattered with emotive musical passages and lilting sorrowful tone poems. The composer utilising solo cello which is accompanied by delicate piano to relay an air of melancholy. This is a wonderfully affecting work, which one moment is poignant and heartrending but in the next instant can alter into rousing and patriotic sounding pieces or erupt into full on action mode. Woodwinds also feature throughout and are responsible for establishing a sound that is alluring and haunting. The composer told me that the films budget did not run to a full orchestra, so how did he achieve such a rich sound that in places is quite grandiose?


james com
“The live musicians were friends and ex-colleagues of mine. They are either currently serving, or ex-service musicians hailing from the British Armed Forces, and members, or former members of the prestigious Bands of The Household Division. My friends were amazing, very much bringing their excellence to create the authentic British Military wind band sound with orchestra. We recorded woodwinds, brass, and soloists. I also twisted the arm of Peter Gregson (Bach – Recomposed, Forgotten Man) to perform solo cello on the score. I performed as much as I could, playing all of the saxophones, piano, guitar and traditional military percussion. I did everything in my power to use technology to create the most realistic experience of an expressive symphony orchestra. I mixed the score and my amazing assistant, Christoph Allerstorfer, did the mastering”.


The score for LANCASTER SKIES is in a word superb, it is certainly well written, with the composer infusing his work with so many emotions and tantalising textures and colours. It has to it a sound that we would normally associate with War movies of years ago, timpani, low string passages, and ominous sounding interludes, and thundering percussion, but it also has to it a heart and soul that is written in a more contemporary fashion, there is a real lushness to the work and even though the composer was not able to utilise a large orchestra he has achieved the sounds of a symphony orchestra via clever writing and also by integrating solo performances alongside and amongst synthetic instrumentation.  LANCASTER SKIES is a stunningly powerful work, and one that collectors will return to many times, this is one for your collection.





What musical training did you undertake?
I started learning piano in my childhood, later on as a teenager I studied harmony, ensemble and jazz moving then to counterpoint. I started music composition when I was 11 years old. I have always studied privately and I keep studying every day.


What is your main instrument when it comes to working out your musical ideas for a project?
My internal ear and the paper when I compose music. Piano and sampler come only afterwards. The beginning of the process is when I listen to the music inside of myself envisioning the sounds and the structure.



Was it always writing music for film that you wanted to do, or was this something that developed as your career moved forward?
I have a long lasting relationship with narrative and moving images. I set on music my first silent film when I was 26 at the Cineteca of Bologna in 2002. Before that I created music for several commercials, the very first one when I was 18. At that time, I was also working on music composition for theatres.
From 2006 on, I started developing a proper recording career and I believe composing film soundtracks came as a natural consequence of the experiences gained through the time that have shaped my style.




Do you have any memories of the first time that you engaged with music
of any kind?


As mentioned earlier music has never been just a hobby. Music has been with and within me ever since I was a child. I made my first money out of music. To be honest, I have no memories of my life ever been without it!



I recently listened to three of your scores for movies that focused upon, VAN GOGH, MONET and PICASSO. How did you become involved on these and were they scored very close together?
I was involved in scoring Hitler Versus Picasso and the Others from the producer Didi Gnocchi (3d Produzioni) with whom I previously worked for some television projects. She co-produced Hitler versus Picasso with Nexo Digital as distributor. From that moment on we started an ongoing partnership collaborating particularly with the CEO Franco Di Sarro. I composed the 3 scores one after the other since all the films were released in 2018, one every two months in approximately six months.
What size orchestra did you utilise for the scores and what percentage of the ensemble was samples or electronic?
My scores always involve musicians. My team is made up of people who get along and of high expertise. For string instruments we have developed a special technique that mixes pieces played by musicians for every section of the orchestra and samples. This combination makes the sound tenser and more modern without giving up to the kind of expressiveness only musicians can add. Brass instrument, woods, percussions and string instruments are rigorously played by musicians. Piano pieces are of course played by me. I like using electronics in expressive and analogue fashion.


You have composed music for the theatre and also worked on music for silent movies, when writing music for a silent movie do you find you have more freedom because of the absence of dialogue and sound effects etc?
I have always imagined a silent film with screenplay and sounds To me, silent films are just films. Therefore it was a matter of commentating them musically rather than making didactic choices or a simple accompaniment. This requires a greater preparation on the film and a greater respect of the narrative. I cannot stand the idea of extemporizing music especially for a silent film. In fact, a greater rigor is expected. Obviously there is no chance to discuss the music with the filmmaker and thus you need to convey modern emotions and feeling from a film shot almost a century ago.



I love the music for all three of the scores I mentioned for films about great painters, did you perform on the soundtracks?
Thank you. And yes, I did play the piano (as I always do) in my soundtracks. Not only the piano but also some analogue instruments such as Roland Juno 60 and Korg MS20. Also, together with my team I supervise the planning.



Your music is so rich in melody and thematic properties, what is your opinion of the film scores of today compared with those from the 1960’s and before this?
The great revolution was made by Bernard Hermann with Hitchcock and Ennio Morricone with Sergio Leone. Before that, I believe we all agree that music was just a secondary or teaching aspect except for few instances. This is a result of the use of music in silent films: to cover the noises of the first projectors.
Nowadays I think it is important for cinema the relationship with composers who know how to deal with the orchestra and who have a solid basic preparation along with the ability to modernize sounds through technology and electronics.
The soundtracks offer interesting combinations, it allows you to be bold on new solutions and a new way. Today’s landscape is filled with great composers who are looking for new paths.




Do you conduct your film scores, or do you use a conductor so that you may monitor things from the recording booth?
I usually conduct film scores supported by my assistant the Maestro Federico Mecozzi. While one conducts the other supervises in recording booth with the sound technician Cristian Bonato.




How long is it after first seeing a project that you begin to form ideas about what style of music you will write and where the music would be best placed to serve the movie?
The ideal time range is one month for preparation, 20 days for composing and then approximately two weeks for studio recording. Let’s say that two full months is a decent time. Being involved in the project during the screenplay preparation and before the film is shot is even better. Music provides the meaning images cannot express, what goes beyond images.


When you are writing a score, do you orchestrate as you are writing or is this something that comes after the initial composition?
The orchestration strictly follow the composition. While I create the music for a specific scene I have already in mind the orchestration that will appear in the trailer I will send out. I am obviously talking about an orchestral piece.



I know that your Brother is also musical, but do you come from a family background that is musical?

Our parents do not play any instrument, however they were and are demanding listeners when it comes to music and this environment has surely had an impact on us.



Have you given concerts of any of your music?
As mentioned I was primarily focused on developing a discographic career and then soundtracks composition. This arrangement is very stimulating. Composing an instrumental music album such as “Nocturne” for Sony Classical is a valuable example of what it means to me making an album. It is my film, I am the filmmaker, the screenwriter and my music should allow every listener to envision his/her own film. This requires a different approach and a composing technique which is completely different compared to the one used for soundtrack composition. When you write for the images you need to create music that perfectly matches the scenes while keeping its own strength and uniqueness even without the images. It is a challenge since the protagonist is the always the film with its own time and requirements.



I think a musician can work for a film only if he loves the cinema deeply and knows its basic language. I feel comfortable in doing this because I work as if the music was not mine, I love cinema to the point that I personally strive for finding the most suitable solutions for the film. In my concerts I always put some themes from soundtracks that I rearrange in different forms to make it even more autonomous in the relationship with the audience.




What composers would you say have influenced you or better still inspired you?
I am personally fond of music of the Renaissance and I think of authors such as Palestrina, Marenzio, De Victoria, Gabrielli not because of aesthetic reasons but rather because of an integrity in the composition. I look for a counterpoint language in my music.

As for films I love deeply Pino Donaggio soundtracks for Brian De Palma, John Zorn film works or Brian Eno world in Ambient 1, Music for Films and the recent Music for Installations. Moving to  “wall of sound” important models are Hans Zimmer and Thomas Newman. For melodic hints I look at Nino Rota, especially in his cinematographic works.  For string instruments Riz Ortolani. And again, Ennio Morricone and Bernard Hermann.


You collaborated with trumpet player Roy Paci on the score for the documentary FIGHT FOR FREEDOM, TRIBUTE TO MUHAMMAD ALI. which I think sounds very retro Italian film score as in Piero Piccioni or Gianni Ferrio, was this a collaboration as in writing together or was it a performing collaboration?

The music of Tribute to Muhammad Ali is entirely mine. I asked Roy Paci to produce the soundtrack because I needed a black sound and Roy was definitely the perfect match. We wrote together the opening credits track called “Take Another Jab” and we add two pieces from Roy.  I composed the remaining part but it was great to see how Roy “dressed” my music. The funeral theme “I’m Not Leaving” is an example of what it means to create a theme and then entrust another gifted player. Such is Roy’s experience and sensibility.


What is next for you?


I just finished two scores. One is for the film “Gaugin in Tahiti. Paradise Lost” that is going to be broadcasted late March. It is a sound trip in the history of Paul Gaugin who gave up everything to move to Tahiti where he eventually found a lost paradise. The other one is for “Il Ladro di Cardellini”, an excellent Neapolitan comedy.


As for the very next future I will be committed on other soundtracks and busy travelling around for concerts. I had an amazing time last November in London where I played at the Purcell Room in the London Southbank Centre for the London Jazz Festival. It was my first concert in UK and it was a great experience. Hope to come back very soon!





Film music has in recent years become shall we say a little predictable, but this I think is something of a trend that is happening with film music from America more than anywhere else. Scores from Europe and from Asia have become the works to look too for any kind of innovative writing. This is for me predominantly from Spanish movies or scores by Spanish composers who have worked on American or British films. Many of these scores have been outstanding in the past five or six years and it is thanks to the sound, the style and the inventive writing of many composers from Spain that collectors have begun to investigate more examples of these composer’s works in film. Moving away from the big Hollywood music-smiths. It seems that sometimes the more obscure the movie or the composer the music is richer or more alluring and original. I am not saying however that better known Spanish Maestro’s are not as innovative, but it is always good to discover a score or a composer that one is not familiar with, and I think this makes the discovery even more of a rewarding experience, because as you begin to discover the music of this composer I also think that you begin to maybe get to know them via their music. Recently I was introduced to the music of a composer from Spain which literally took my breath away and also completely to me by surprise in a nice way. His music I think is superbly written, wonderfully orchestrated and magnificently performed. Arturo Cardelus, is a composer who I know will become much in demand, his melodies are wonderfully melodious and uplifting where they have to be, and can also be dark and sombre again when required to be so. There is a beauty and pureness about his music that just envelopes the listener and completely mesmerises them, the thing is his melodies and gracious tone poems are quite simple, I do not mean this in any way to be a negative, because they are to the untrained ear probably complicated, but the simplicity of his themes are so attractive, it gives the listener a chance to actually appreciate the richness and the sheer beauty of the music rather than being swamped with racing musical passages that really do not register because they are harsh or vastly complex. I first heard his music to two documentaries, ALTAMIRA THE ORIGIN OF ART and SWIMMING IN THE DESERT, both are sublime and haunting. However even these two scores pale in the presence of the composers score for BUNUEL IN THE LABYRINTH OF TURTLES. This is an animated movie, which itself looks impressive, the score is a triumph and a wonderous example of just how images and music work together. In certain places within the score I was reminded of the music of both Nicola Piovani and Nino Rota and maybe touches of Morricone and Delerue, again the simplicity of the themes shines through, the composer utilising solo piano, woodwind, Cello, solo soprano, strings and choir throughout, many of the cues possessing an almost celestial sound which is delicate and fragile but on occasion can alter to become sinister or dark.

The composer also makes effective use of pizzicato strings which add a kind of mischievous aura to the work. There are also a handful of solo guitar performances which are stunning and vibrant. To isolate one or two tracks within this score as being outstanding, would be an impossible task, as every cue has to it a gorgeously captivating persona. The central theme that the composer employs in several the cues, is one that will stay with you long after you have finished listening to the score and it is presented in various musical guises, i.e. romantic, melancholy, energetic and even in a comedic fashion.




But for me the attraction of this score is the numerous captivating fragile sounding moments, which even when listened to away from the images will I know bring emotions to the surface. I know it is very early in the year (2019) but for me this could be the score of the year, it has so much poignancy and emotion, I have to say I love it.