Composer Joseph Renzetti, has worked on a variety of motion pictures, but started his career in music working on different genres of music that were related to the world of popular music, he worked with numerous artists including Barry Manilow, and was responsible for a number of songs that we refer to as classics nowadays.
You worked with director, Gary Sherman a number of times, did he have specific ideas about wat role the music should have within his movies and did he suggest the style or sound of scores that he thought his movies required?
Gary had many excellent ideas of what he wanted the music to do dramatically, to have input into the style of the music of course – Rock, instrumental, electronica, Orchestral, etc. Gary would leave it up to me how I fashioned the music emotionally to the film.
You were born in Philadelphia, but re located to Hollywood, where you worked on THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, I understand you not only worked on the score but trained the actors in how to play instruments, but did you move to Hollywood specifically to start to write music for movies?
Yes I did. I had a very successful recording career as a guitar player and as a record arranger. After I arranged “Mandy,”(Barry Manilow) and it was a big hit, I decided it was a good time to move into LA and cash in on my success, it worked.
What musical education or training did you have?
I was for the most part self-taught and I studied hard. I studied composing, music theory, film scoring from the Henry Mancini book. Fortunately I got to write for all the instruments in the orchestra and the Rhythm section by arranging records for people. It was a time when because of technical advances in recording, you didn’t have to be a big record company to get into the record business. An arranger was the “software” of the day. He was the person who could actually write the music for the musicians to play, and make it sound like a hit record. No synthesizers, no Pro-Tools needed-just a pencil, score-paper and a good copyist.
Were there any or indeed are there any composers or artists that you think have played an important role in influencing or inspiring you?
The first time I heard a group of professional musicians recording in one of the great studios in Philadelphia, playing arrangements by Dave Apple, I was hooked. The sound was like nothing I ever heard, and I wanted to do that. Dave Apple was my first mentor. He was the type of guy that would allow me to hang around the studio and see how things were done. Also, there were two brothers in Philly at the time, both excellent musicians, Tony Louis and his brother Don Louis. Both were musical geniuses and they shared their knowledge with me.
CHILDS PLAY contains a great score, how did you become involved on the movie and were you aware that Bear McCreary utilises elements of your central theme into his score for the re boot of the film?
I had scored a lot of cult films; Basket Case 1 and 2, Vice Squad,
Frankenhooker, dead and buried, the exterminator, wanted dead or alive, and the Studio Film – Poltergeist 3. So when my friend, the Musical supervisor on the Film David Chackler, recommended me I was Brought right in.
By the way I don’t think McCreary used any of my music in the film score. I believe it was just in the album cut, unless you know differently. I haven’t seen the film.
Do you think that it is possible for a good score to improve a movie that is probably not that good?
If it’s the type of film that’s just on the borderline, yes music can turn it into a good film. I have done it. However if the film is truly not interesting, not dramatic, of no relative interests to moviegoers, music can’t help. I’ve also done one or two of those.
On the other hand, and this is more common, bad music can actually ruin a good film. I see those efforts all the time. This is usually caused by directors who think that music is basically sound effects. They don’t have the experience to work with a film composer. A FILM composer understands drama as well as Music.
At what stage of production do you like to become involved on a project?
I like to read the script before they start shooting if it’s possible. In this way I could start to gather some sounds and do some demos. Often because of the subject matter in the type of film , it’s important to do some research. You must know the subject matter that you will be dealing with.
I like to create some synthesized Mock-ups In my Project Studio Using midi sequencers, synths, outboard gear etc. In this way you get a jump on what the director and producers might want to hear when they finish shooting, when post production starts. This temp-Music might serve them to play on the set to inspire the actors. It might serve as temp-music in the score as the editors are cutting it. And this way you’re not waiting for the last possible moment to get the score done. Everybody wants the score yesterday.
If it’s a musical type film like the Buddy Holly Story , then of you have to get involved in pre-recording the music, supervising the play back on set. It’s a different kind of involvement. It’s total immersion.
In recent years film scores in general have become more soundscape than actual musical soundtrack, what is your opinion of the increased use of the DRONE effect in film scores?
The drone is ancient, a basic part of music of all countries, times and cultures.
Where would Bag pipes be without them? Basically it’s a long tone. There are short notes and long notes, and some in between.
It’s not that drones are bad, it’s the people who use them. There have been many great films, scores written using drones. It’s all in the execution.
I like to play them in real time following the drama of the film. I watch the film and manipulate the volume and expression of the drone to match the Emotions in the scene. I did a lot of that in Childs Play, the original.
Also keep in mind that a drone is not necessarily one note, or one instrument droning on, it could be a combination of textures and tones. These can vary within the drone for a very dynamic dramatic effect.
Staying with contemporary scores for movies, the main theme or central theme as we know it is also becoming something of a rarity, do you think that this is just a phase that the industry is going through, or maybe the theme as in main title is gone for good?
I see themes from the perspective that there are no limits to what devices the composer today can use. In the early days of cinema, it was almost a given that a theme had to be incorporated. Yes, this is less so today, but still often used.
A theme doesn’t have to be a phrase of notes. It could be a musical sound cluster, an instrument playing, playing anything. The instrument then becomes associated with a character, storyline, it becomes a theme.
How long do you get to work on a score for a feature film, or does this vary on each assignment?
It’s all about time and budget. There is no one standard answer to that question. I literally have done the score over a weekend, ( Vice Squad) a very basic score only using four Instruments. I’ve done films using a full orchestra. They took two months to write and record. (Under The Rainbow & Child’s Play)
With any film the composer never gets enough time. That’s why I prepare in advance; have ideas sketched out; start doing some cues and playing them for the director to see if I’ m in the right direction. Rather than waiting to the last minute.
Do TV and Feature films differ a great deal in the way you work on them, or is it a case of scoring them in pretty much the same way?
I think I take the same approach in both. I always try to create the best that I can and I like challenging myself that way. I think the budgets, the time constraints, The quality of the show, the experience of the other creators involved, that makes the difference from one score to another. Of course there is the obvious; a film is usually over an hour and 40 minutes long, whereas TV shows are a half hour or one hour in length.
Do you have a set routine in the way you work on a project, for instance is it important to have a central theme to use as a foundation for the score, or do you prefer to tackle the less thematic cues first?
I like to try and do one of each type of cues. For example if there’s three or four chase scenes, I like to do one and use it as an example of how I intend to handle all the chase cues in the film. In this way you’ll know that the director likes the way you’re going to handle a chase or not. And if there’s corrections to be made all you have to do is correct that one Chase as compared to doing all four.
Then carry that out; do one of the romantic cues, one of the comedy cues, one of the horror cues, etc. etc.
What were your earliest memories of any kind of music or maybe an instrument that you were attracted too and were you from a family that was musical?
The guitar. Later I fell in love with all the instruments in an orchestra. As for a musical family, No, but a lot of artists were in my family. They could sing harmony, play a little bit of mandolin or a ukulele, so music was always around me as a child.
How many times do you like to see a movie before you begin to formulate ideas about the style or the placing of the music?
When I first see a movie I try to watch it as a regular audience member. Because you only get first impressions once. I write these impressions down so that as I score the film I can refer to them as a guide; what type of cue is needed where. As you’re scoring, you can’t help but to watch the film Many times. So you get to know the film quite well.