Born in 1972 in Lorient, Morbihan, France. Erwann Kermorvant studied clarinet at a local conservatory before studying composition in the USA at the Grove School of Music and UCLA. He was instructed in film composition by Gerald Fried, Don B. Ray and Steven Scott Smalley before moving back to France to have his first musical success with Mensana and Katoomka. Kermorvant lived and made music in Lorient for a while before moving to Paris in 1999 to establish himself as a film composer. After several short films, he finally made his debut in 2002 with the television comedy Les frangines.
Les vacances de Sam I think was your first scoring assignment, this was a short film from 2000, how did you become involved on this movie?
Wow, I never thought I’d get a question about my first scoring assignment! You really have done your homework. Let me try to remember how it all started. I think it was after I did my first paid composing job for a role-playing game magazine called Dragon, if I’m not mistaken, which released themed CDs “Soundtracks”. Science fiction, Heroic fantasy etc. I had to do a heroic fantasy one and I think the director of that film somehow heard it. I have no idea how it got into his hands.
Was music always a career that you wanted to undertake, and were you always wanting to write for film?
To tell the truth, I didn’t realize that composing was an option until the end of high school. Until then, I was more or less aiming for a career in genetics or biology. I studied at the conservatory in my hometown. Clarinet and harmony. But I could not see myself as a professional clarinettist. I wrote little pieces on the side, hence the harmony lessons, but I did not know what to do with them.
Your score for Bowling has just been released digitally by Plaza Mayor, the film however was released in 2012, why did it take so long for the score to be released as it is such a great soundtrack?
I’m notoriously picky with my mixes… On a more serious note, I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of projects in the meantime and little time to devote to the release of the soundtracks. On the other hand, these films were released at a time when you could only consider a physical release of the music. This, considering the costs involved, did not allow the release of a twenty-minute soundtrack. Since the arrival of platforms, things have changed and indeed, I don’t like to release soundtracks that I don’t like the sound, the edits and the order. I happened to have a window of opportunity last summer to rework and remix some soundtracks that I had left behind. So, there you have it.
What is the starting point for you when working on a score, do you like to sit and watch the movie a number of times, before you start to sketch out ideas about music, style and sound etc?
A vast subject. It depends a bit on the project and the director I’m working with. For example, Olivier MARCHAL, with whom I have worked a lot, sends me the script very early. I love reading his scripts. They feed me a lot. Then, he tells me: “You know what I like, do as usual” and then I start working with his editor with whom I work in parallel with the editing. But I already have a good idea of the colours and sometimes certain themes when I read them. In other cases, I receive films that are already advanced or even completely edited. And sometimes with sample music. My first viewing is done by cutting the music in order to be as little influenced as possible. And then from there I start to put ideas on the piano often. I like to improvise while watching the images.
When discussing a potential project with the director or producer is it just the sound or style of the music that they talk about or maybe how a score can help a movie and where music may not be needed?
Again, each case is different but generally the discussion is more about the style of music than the sound. On the other hand, it is often too early to talk about music placement or its possible role. But it all depends on how far along the project is when I am contacted. If it is already shot or edited or if it is a pre-shooting meeting.
As I already mentioned Bowling is now available on Spotify and Apple etc, when a score of yours is to be released in whatever format, do you take an active role in compiling the tracks you would like released to represent your work?
Very involved as I said before. If I’m going to do a soundtrack release I like it to be what I think it is. That’s probably why I take so long to release the soundtracks. So if I get a satisfactory result before the release of the film, so much the better, if not, I prefer to postpone the release when I really have time to devote to it and when I like the result.
In 2004 you scored 36th Precinct for director Olivier Marchal, which is a varied soundtrack, did the director have any specific ideas about where music should be used and what style of music would be best for the movie?
For my first collaboration with Olivier MARCHAL, we had to discover each other. I think we tried some things. All I had of the film at the beginning of my work was the script. So I wrote themes that I sent to the editor, who gave me feedback or asked me to go in this or that direction depending on what he was working on. Since that film I have always worked in parallel with the editing for Olivier’s films. As for the music, we just knew that we needed a strong and lyrical theme around Camille, Leo Vrinks’ wife, as the whole story revolves around her. Olivier has always been a fan of Morricone and that was the direction he gave me.
Have you encountered the temp track and is it something you like or are indifferent about?
Yes of course I have often had temp-tracks for the projects I have worked on. But I always cut them off at first viewing. To make up my own mind. But sometimes on the second viewing, or if the director asks me to listen to something in particular that he likes, I put the temp-track back in to see what choices have been made so far. Sometimes some temp-track can help to start a discussion about the artistic direction. But sometimes they are so overwhelming that they cut off any thought of what might be possible to try. This is also why I often work in parallel with the editing. So that the editor works as little as possible with a temp-track. This process is a bit longer and doesn’t guarantee to be original for each film but I find that this process at least allows you to ask the right questions about the music rather than just plastering on the soundtrack of the latest film without worrying about whether it is what the film needs.
You have worked on many genres of film and TV do you think there is one genre in particular that is maybe more difficult to work on than any other?
Comedy, As a producer friend of mine used to say: “It is always easier to make people cry than to make them laugh”. And this is so true for music too. Comedy music is probably the trickiest thing to do. In fact, if you think about it now, if comedy works in a film, it doesn’t need music, or very little. But sometimes to accompany a situation, you need music. And it takes so much delicacy to find the right balance between what is funny and what is ridiculous. I am currently working on a series called “Bright Minds” (Astrid & Raphaelle in France). And it’s a police series where one of the protagonists is autistic. There are a lot of comical situations. And the whole point is to laugh with her and not at her. It’s very perilous. And very difficult to do musically.
Is there a great deal of difference between scoring a TV project as opposed to a feature film or a short?
Apart from the budget, I don’t think so. My involvement is pretty much the same for every project. If I’m trusted and left to my own devices, I work the same way. After that, some projects are more interesting than others…
What musical education did you have?
I entered the conservatory at the age of 7 in the clarinet class. I stayed there until I was 17. I then moved to Los Angeles to study at the Grove School of Music. Then I went to UCLA to study at the Film Music Program under Don Ray. While there, I was fortunate to be taught by Dick Grove, Jack Smalley, Steven-Scott Smalley, Don Ray, Gerald Fried, Thom Sharp, Jeff Rona and to assist Ralph Grierson on numerous recording sessions. After graduation I returned to France.
Going back to Bowling, I just love the sound of this score, you incorporate bagpipes into the score because it is set in Brittany, did you research the music of the region and who are the pipe performers on the score?
One of the biggest Celtic music festivals takes place in Lorient (my hometown) every year. I was surrounded by the sound of bagpipes all my childhood. So, I didn’t have to look very far inside myself for influences for this score. I don’t remember who played the Irish flute and biniou parts but I do remember that the Breton musician I wanted and had worked with was not available. So I worked remotely with a musician from…Los Angeles… Chris Bleth! He did a remarkable job.
Do you like to conduct all your film and TV scores or is this not always possible?
I hardly ever conduct. First of all because I think it’s a real job and I’m very bad at it. And also because I am much more focused on the music when I am in the booth. When scoring a short movie which is something that can be less than ten minutes in duration, is it difficult to establish a musical identity for the project? No more than for a feature film. I would even say that short films force efficiency. And to define an identity very quickly. But once again, it all depends on the film.
Your score for Ma Premiere Fois is an emotive and haunting one, I felt it was quite Barry-esque in places and made gentle nods to the music of Georges Delerue. What composers would you say have influenced and inspired you?
Thank you for the compliments, they are composers I greatly admire. I was lucky enough to see a lot of film music recordings during my stay in Los Angeles and they all had a great influence on me. Some of the ones that have had the biggest impact on me are obviously Danny Elfman, Alf Clausen, Georges Delerue, David Newman. And then there are those who influenced my writing like Ennio Morriconne, Thomas Newman, John Powell, Terence Blanchard… I voluntarily don’t mention John Williams and Bernard Herrmann because their influence is so important for all film music composers that it is obvious. But I have also listened a lot to classical composers who have influenced me a lot. Take the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century in France and Russia and you will have the list. And also a lot of rock bands. A lot of jazz.
Do you perform on any of your film or TV scores?
Yes. All the Synthesizer to start with. But also sometimes some percussions, guitars, or woodwinds. And also some instruments that I own and that I would have difficulty in recording outside my home.
How much time do you normally have to score a movie, maybe use Overdose as an example, which is an Amazon production with a dark and atmospheric score that is mainly electronic if I am correct?
Overdose is a special case because Olivier’s traditional editor was not available, so he chose to work with an editor who prefers to work on his own while he gets a first version. So I only started working once the editing was in V1. Given the back and forth process with Amazon, and the fact that everyone had validated the temp-track, I preferred to wait until I had a locked Image before really incorporating my ideas into the film. This meant that I had very little time between the lock and the recording. About fifteen days I think I remember. There wasn’t a lot of orchestra but the score is still very hybrid. Even the very synthetic cues are tinged with real strings to break the cold textures with the warmth of the real musicians.
What is your opinion of the non-thematic or drone fashion of scoring movies which seems to be the current trend?
It’s a fad, hopefully we’ll get back to more thematic scores. But, after all, some films work very well with this type of music and would probably be too heavy with orchestral scores. I think films get the music they deserve. To have a thematic film score, you need a film that is suitable for it.
What is next for you?
I am currently working on season 4 of Bright Minds (Astrid & Raphaelle). A soundtrack should be released soon. In parallel I’m also working on a series by Olivier Marchal for Netflix. I have several other series projects coming up and also normally a film later this Year.