The Conversation is a powerful film based on fact, how did you become involved on scoring the production
I already worked with the director Dominik Sedlar on the movie “The Match” from 2021, starring Armand Assante, Franco Nero…etc, and somehow we “clicked”! He knew how I work and write music and he liked my style. I can say the same the other way around. The way he directs is completely different from what I have seen in a domestic film (Croatian).
The soundtrack is to be released both digitally and on a compact disc, on Plaza Major which is unusual these days. Did you have any involvement in deciding what tracks would appear on the CD and digital releases?
Of course! In fact, I personally chose the order of the musical numbers.
Considering that I wrote music for scenes of memories and imaginings where the characters don’t speak, the music is very melodic, romantic, thematic but also a bit menacing in some moments. That music has its own special place in the film and it’s an equal partner with the film. That music breathes almost as the concert music. It wasn’t difficult to determine which music numbers should go on the soundtrack.
Were there any specific instructions or requests from the producers/director on The Conversation, and was there a temp track already on the film when you first went to see it, if so was this helpful?
There were instructions in which direction I should go with the music. What we knew at the very beginning was that the music must be symphonic, and also the other thing that I noticed when watching the film for the first time was that it shouldn’t be epic. It’s not that kind of movie!
After all, it is about the meeting of two people and their conversation, and the character of a woman who appears in the film as a memory of the character archbishop Aloysius Stepinac. The film has its chamber atmosphere that required also chamber film scoring. I think we succeeded in that.
Especially demanding was the opening scene, i.e. the Prologue, which lasts almost 5 minutes and was meant to evoke what we will watch in the next 110 minutes. There is only music with the picture, without additional sounds and Fx’s! That opening scene has its sacred but also secular moment.
It’s a grand sounding score, symphonic and very lyrical in places, what size orchestra did you have for the project?
As I mentioned above, this is symphonic music, but not too epic, so the soundtrack did not require a large number of musicians. This is an orchestra of about twenty musicians, including myself playing’ a piano. We polished it a little more at the end, to sound thicker! 😊
At what stage of the production do you like to become involved, maybe with a look at the script, or is it better to come in at the rough-cut stage?
Personally, I like to be involved in the process from the beginning! It is not necessary for the director/producer to send me the script, but if they send it, I’m happy to read it.
When I’m in a project long enough and when I talk a lot with the director, it’s easier to get into his thoughts and wishes, and I’m more sure that I’ll deliver what he really wants for his film.
Of course there are projects when I get involved at the last minute. Such project can also turn out well, but I like to be involved from the beginning. To be part of the team for a long time, not just for the last 2 or 3 weeks.
On this film (The Conversation), I was also on set one evening. The scene was shot in the forest in the snow. It was great experience. Although, I was so cold that I gave up after 2 hours😊
You also write for the concert hall would you say that writing for film is more disciplined because of the deadlines and the way in which music must be placed for maximum effect?
Absolutely. Writing for film requires great concentration and discipline. In concert music, you can write whatever you want and for as long as you want. You can write absolute music and no one will hold you against it. But with film music you are limited.
You have to hit the mood of the film. One wrong note or chord and your music will no longer match what we see on the screen. Film music is first and foremost a craft.
Are you from a family background that is involved in music?
Interestingly, none of my ancestors were into music. As far as I know. They were more into sports! I’m the first one to do it professionally, and now my daughter is attending elementary music school as well!
What are your influences, as in composers (both classical and film music) or artists?
There are many influences. From classical romanticism to today’s contemporary music. Some of the composers who influenced me are definitely: Dmitri Shostakovich, Richard Wagner,Antonin Dvořák, Modest Mussorgsky, Claude Debussy, Sergei Prokofiev, Leonard Bernstein, etc.
From film music there are: Jerry Goldsmith, Ennio Morricone, John Williams, Bernard Herrmann, Miklós Rózsa, Dimitri Tiomkin, John Barry, but I should definitely mention the local Croatian film music composers who influenced my music: Arsen Dedić, Živan Cvitković, Alfi Kabiljo. From classical music there are: Jakov Gotovac, Josip Štolcer-Slavenski, Boris Papandopulo…Pop-rock music should also be mentioned, The Beatles had a big influence on me!
At what stage of your career did you begin to write for film, and what musical education did you receive?
I started writing music for films in the mid-2000s. These were mostly short films, documentaries, etc. But it certainly came in handy because I honed my craft through those short forms. The first feature film I got, was actually very soon already in 2006 when I wrote the music for the movie “The Ghost in the Swamp ” which was a success in cinemas! It was fun to score such a movie. It was a family movie with symphonic score.
As for education, I took private lessons for years with renowned professors of composition, harmony and counterpoint. Later, I also took private lessons in orchestration. It was all a bit strange in my case. I was so into rock and roll and ended up with classical music in my 20s.
When scoring a movie do you like to orchestrate and conduct yourself, or is this not always possible?
I almost always orchestrate myself. I have another colleague who is in Vienna and always jumps in to help if the deadlines are near, but I always do the orchestration almost maybe 95% on my own.
As for the conducting, I wish there was more of it. Unfortunately, I don’t have many opportunities. I recently conducted a chamber string orchestra when we recorded my music for one commercial. I had a sound engineer then with me. It’s difficult to be both a producer and a conductor. So mostly I decide to be in the mixing room and listen to the final product.
Using the Conversation as an example, how many times did you like to see a movie before deciding the style of the music and where it would be placed to best serve it?
In European production, you don’t often have the chance to choose whether you will take a job or not. When you get the chance, you take the job! So no matter what kind of film it is, you take what’s offered to you, and later you think about what kind of music you’re scoring and where it’s going to be placed within the film. We still talk here about indie films! And that’s a big different to begin with. It is quite different from a Hollywood production, where the industry is so strong that you can practically choose whether to score a film or not.
Is there a set way of working for you, I mean by this do you work from opening titles through to end credits creating main themes firstly and building the remainder of the work around and upon these?
It all depends on the project. But yes! If the film requires it, I create one main motif or theme of 4 or 8 bars that I will develop later. Sometimes I use one or two instruments on single note sometimes. So minimalistic, but interesting and building the tension by introducing other instruments later as additional colors. It’s like the musical painting of a film. It’s what we call non thematic or soundscapes these days. It’s not something I use often as a technique, but it does happen!
I certainly start from the beginning of the film in most cases, but sometimes I also know to skip some scenes. It all depends on whether I have finished movie or not. Sometimes it happens that I make 80% of the music, and then the director tells me that he or she is re-editing the film! Which is frustrating. Then you can no longer say that you work from beginning to end, but as things change. Sometimes from too much of re-editing a film loses its ground. I’ve been there…unfortunately.
What is next for you?
In the spring of next year, the shooting of a bigger film will begin. Bigger names (actors), bigger production!
At this moment, I can only say that it is a thriller set in the WWII and I hope to start composing the music in the summer or autumn of 2023. If everything goes well, we can expect the soundtrack also, either at the end of 2023 or the beginning of 2024, when the film would also see the light of day. Keep your fingers crossed!
THE CONVERSATION IS AVAILABLE NOW ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS.
One thought on “A CONVERSATION ON THE CONVERSATION SCORE. TALKING TO COMPOSER DALIBOR GRUBACEVIC.”
Thanks a lot for this great conversation.