TALKING TO COMPOSER BENJAMIN SYMONS.

Composer, musician and songwriter from London, England. He has had great successes making a name for himself in the UK independent film and trailer music circuit. His reputation for quality, drive, enthusiasm and fast turn-around in seemingly impossible deadlines while always keeping to a brief and tapping into the emotional core of the scene ensures he is the go to composer for those who use him time and time again.

Composer Benjamin Symons will probably not be that familiar to collectors and film music fans, but it is probably true to say you may have heard his music in trailers etc. I would like to thank the composer for answering my questions, and I began the interview by asking about one of his recent works for feature film, HOSTS.

How did you become involved on the picture?

I’ve been very good friends with Richard Oakes and Adam Leader for a while and I actually scored Richards first short film Exit Plan. We had already been friends for years before we did Exit Plan together and we’ll be friends and hopefully work together for many years to come.

What size orchestra did you have for the movie and what was the percentage of conventional instruments in relation to synthetic elements?

This may come as a surprise (hopefully) but given the budget constraints on HOSTS – we made the whole film for under £20k there was no budget at all for recording of any kind so everything you hear on the HOSTS score has been created by using and manipulating sample libraries. 

Well that’s amazing because you fooled me totally I have to say. The movie is a Canadian production, was the film shot there and also did you record the score there?

It would seem I have indeed tricked you into believing my score is comprised of a real orchestra which pleases me greatly! But realistically I have no idea how big of an orchestra we would have required…but ideally a big one! The film was actually filmed entirely in the Oxfordshire countryside at the director Richards house that we redecorated for the film!

Was the movie temp tracked at all, or did the director have specific ideas regarding the music for the movie? 

The movie had no temp track at all but I actually worked on the set of the film all the way through production mostly as Script Supervisor and that gave me a huge deal of insight into what I wanted to achieve and watching the horrendous scene that takes place over a Christmas dinner inspired the track Skull Cracker Suite which I originally demoed during production. I actually wrote a lot of demos throughout the production which they used to roughly temp the film prior to me writing the score. Prior to shooting Richard and I would also talk a lot about the film and the music over pints at the pub.

The score is very thematic do you think that a theme is important to the development of a score?

I’m glad you feel that way. I think the use of themes works on a scale and not all films require the same level of thematic work. I put a lot of time into establishing the musical pallet of the film so the score its self in its entirely has a cohesive sound that uniquely identifies it’s self as being HOSTS and I think that is as important as writing actual musical themes. 

How does scoring a feature film for general release compare with working on independent productions and trailers? 

Scoring a film is great because for the most part I am being directly inspired by what I see and feel on screen whereas production music and trailers relies on you creating the world and emotions in your head and trying to convey them through music without any visual aid and I really enjoy both!

What are your first memories of any music and what composer’s artists etc would you say have influenced you?

My earliest memory of film music is JAWS. I broke my leg and was in hospital in a bed and it was on TV, I was terrified at 5 years old and it was back in the day so I had no remote so was forced to watch. But the moment I realised I wanted to start writing film music was Hans Zimmer’s score for Gladiator.

Do you conduct at all and do you work on your own orchestrations?

I am yet to have the opportunity to have any of my music recorded by an orchestra and so I am also yet to conduct. I think I would like to learn but I also feel like I’d probably rather be in the control room listening so I can be that annoying composer giving notes and feedback on what I’m looking for.

How many times did you watch HOSTS before deciding what style of music you would employ and where it would be placed to best serve the movie?

I actually had the sound 90% dialled in before I started scoring the film. I wrote 9-10 demo with different feelings and way of playing with the thematic ideas I had established. The last 10% came when I actually started scoring the film, I realised my demos were too big, too much going on, so I stripped them back a bit and I (and the directors) were happy.

The soundtrack is on digital platforms, will there be a CD release, and did you have any involvement in the compiling of the tracks for the release?

I honestly don’t know. If I were to do a physical CD or Vinyl release, I would have to do that off my own back as we don’t have big studio backing. I would also much prefer to release my first vinyl or CD when I have a score that has been recorded for real.

You have recently completed a score for the short film Eastern Front: Point of no Return and are involved on four more productions, is it difficult to juggle your time when working on more than one project at one time?

It can be. There was a gap in production on HOSTS where we shot 2/3rds of the film then had to wait for colder weather to shoot the outdoor scenes and in that gap, I scored POINT OF NO RETURN. It can be tough because you get into a distinct flow when you’re working on a project and to snap out of that and dive into something different only to then have to get back into the right mindset to finish HOSTS around six months later was tough but that’s the job!

How do you work out your musical ideas, do you sit at keyboard or use computer etc?

I have a midi keyboard that can play any of the instruments in my sample libraries. I have a rule where every new project I always build a brand-new template of sounds that I want to use otherwise if I use a pre-built template the temptation would be to repeat myself. The key thing that inspires me is I love to start writing with the sounds I want to use. So, if it’s going to be a piano driven score, I’ll start with piano for example.

Would you say it is more difficult to score a short than work on a feature film?

I do not think either of them are more or less difficult. Each come with their own unique set of challenges. Short films, in my experience tend to be more dialogue heavy and you have a lot less time and space to establish a musical identity for the film. The challenge with a feature is simply you need to write a lot more music than you do for a short!

What musical education dd you have, and did you focus upon any specific area of music at all?

After secondary school, I spent 1 year at The Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford and I studied guitar and achieved a National Diploma, at the time I was in a heavy metal band called Malefice and as far as I was concerned at 17 that was enough for me. Outside of that I am completely non-musically educated, I can’t read music and I don’t know my music theory, but I have good ears and I trust them to guide me.

My thanks to the composer for his time and for so many interesting answers to my questions, If you would like to hear another interview with the composer, listen out for news of one on Cinematic Sound radio, with Jason Drury, which will be hitting the airwaves soon.