Category Archives: Interviews

IN CONVERSATION WITH COMPOSER ANDREW SCOTT BELL.


Andrew Scott Bell
 has been writing original music for films and commercial media since 2009. His music has brought life to more than 50 productions, and has premiered in nine different countries across the world.

Was music always something that attracted you to do as a career, and do you come from a musical family background?

I’ve really always had a love for music. When I was very young, I was obsessed with Elvis Presley. So much so that people even called me Andy Elvis. I didn’t always want to work in music though, but I’ve always been attracted to storytelling. The first career I was interested in at a young age was being a comic strip artist. I wanted to have a weekly or daily comic strip in the funny pages. The problem with that ultimately is to be in the funny pages, you have to be funny. I also at one point wanted to be a director, making home video short films with my friends around the neighbourhood.

But when I was about seven or eight years old, Forrest Gump came out in theatres. Alan Silvestri’s score for that film really changed my life. My parents had the VHS tape and a two disc soundtrack album from the movie, most of which were popular songs from the 60’s and 70’s. The last track on the second disc was a suite of themes from the film’s score. I was entranced by the music. I learned to play the suite on the piano by ear. I remember I’d come home from school and head straight to the piano where I had set-up my bedroom CD player on the back of the upright. Having that kind of playful connection with music at that young age was the spark that grew overtime and led me to pursuing this career.

Witness Infection is a recent score of yours, it’s a great listen, and I can hear within it lots of nods to various composers and it contains so many styles, but at the same time there is an originality about it. How did you become involved on the movie, and did the director have specific ideas about what type of music should be written for the movie?

Thank you so much! Witness Infection was such a fun film to work on and I appreciate your kind words about the score. I believe it was after hearing my work on The Springfield Three that director Andy Palmer reached out to me to score Witness Infection. Andy called me up and after a great conversation about the film, he asked if I was interested in scoring it. Of course, I said yes! One of the things I enjoy most about this job is that each time I work with a director, it’s a completely different process. Andy took a more hands off approach to the score than I’m used to, but that felt freeing and empowering. I think a lot of what people are reacting to when they hear that score has to do with Andy’s leadership and the trust he allowed in our process. It was really fun!

We did talk a lot about the sound we were looking for before I started writing. I like to spend a lot of time talking and asking questions so the director and I can really get on the same page before I write a single note of music.

Witness Infection, is a score that sounds to me like a fusion of both symphonic and synthetic, how many live players did you have for the score, and do you conduct all your own music if possible?

I think one of the largest challenge’s composers face right now is shrinking music budgets and the amount of time we’re given to write our scores. We must find creative ways to go around those obstacles in our industry. We did not really have the budget or time to contract an orchestra for Witness Infection, so everything you hear in the score are instruments I played in my studio layered with synthesized orchestral instruments from my computer.

Sampling technology has really made leaps and bounds in recent years and the instruments these companies are selling sound more and more realistic with each new release. Still, I will always prefer the emotional intention behind a human performing on my scores. So out of budget necessity, I often end up playing my own violin, cello, and other instruments on a lot of my scores. I have conducted a few of my scores in the past, but it’s not one of my strengths (I’m out of practice, really) so I think I’m more comfortable sitting with my director listening and giving feedback to the orchestra from inside the booth.

How much time did you have to score Witness Infection, from start to finish?

Witness Infection had a fast turnaround. I had about four weeks to write and deliver the music for the film. “The composer would like to thank the gallons upon gallons of coffee he consumed while writing the score.”

Staying with Witness Infection, how many times did you watch the movie before you began to get any fixed notions about the music and where it should be placed for maximum effect?

The first time I watch a movie I’m working on, I make a small event out of it. I like to experience it first as an audience member; just sit down and enjoy the movie. So for Witness Infection, I decided to order some lunch, black out the windows in my studio, and treat it like a mini cinema.

I knew the film was about an Italian American family from New Jersey, so I ordered an Italian sub from Jersey Mike’s. What I didn’t know is that the cause of the zombie outbreak in the film is bad Italian sausages from a food truck. If you have seen the film, the movie starts out immediately with two hunters in a tent. One of them is eating an Italian sausage that’s causing quite a bit of… intestinal disruption. So, as it turns out I didn’t end up feeling very hungry for lunch, especially not for Italian food.

I typically watch a film I am scoring four times before starting the music. The first time, as I said, I just watch the movie. The second time, I take loose and general notes as I watch. The third time, I go scene by scene and make more detailed notes about where music should be and what the music should achieve. Then I watch the movie a fourth time during the spotting session with the director, which is when I take the most detailed notes.

What musical education did you have, and were there any areas of music or a particular instrument that you focused upon while studying?

I received a bachelor’s in music composition and theory with a minor in film studies from Christopher Newport University, a school in south eastern Virginia. CNU does not offer a film scoring program, so my education was more focused on classical composition than writing for film. I feel fortunate I was able to really focus on learning orchestration and to develop my compositional style free from the restrictions one has while writing for film. I took piano lessons as a child and in middle and high school I studied trumpet, but when I started under-grad I decided I wanted to learn more about choral writing so I switched my primary instrument to voice and sang in choirs throughout college. Composers in our music department also had to take what was called techniques courses, one for each instrument group – woodwinds, brass, voice, and percussion. The courses were designed for music education majors, something I was grumpy about at the time, but in the classes’ we learned how to play so many instruments at a fifth-grade level. I didn’t realize it at the time but getting my hands on those instruments and feeling how to play each of them was an invaluable part of my musical development. It’s something I still think about now when I write for those instruments.

I love the little nod to The Godfather in Witness Infection, are there any composers or artists that you would say have influenced you in the way that score a project, or indeed have inspired you to write certain themes?

Since the film is a comedy, we chose to play the music big and serious – leaning into the overly dramatic styles prevalent in horror scores from the early to mid-20th century. I think if we had tried to write “funny” music, the score might not have worked as well in the film. So Andy and I talked a lot about classic monster movie scores by composers like Frank Skinner, Max Steiner, and Franz Waxman, and how playing it big and leaning hard on that sound could really add to the comedy. We also often said “Godfather but make it horror” in reference to the mob family element in the characters. I think the real challenge was writing motifs that could work in both of those musical landscapes. I tried to write with a harmonic language that would sound natural played on a mandolin as well as an enormous low brass section. I think what we ended up with is kind of an odd combination of flavours, but it’s an Italian American mob comedy with flesh eating zombies so… buon appetito!

In 2016, you scored a short, entitled Rocket about dirt track racing, the movie was just 29 mins in duration, but your score was in my opinion so supportive and became the movies heart, when you are scoring a short, is it more difficult to establish themes and a musical identity, because of the briefness of the project. And does the scoring process alter a great deal between working on a short, a TV project and a feature film?

Well thank you so much for saying so. I loved working with director Brenna Malloy on Rocket. That was really a wonderful experience from scoring the film all the way up to it winning a Student Academy Award in 2016. I have such a fondness for the film and my experience working on it. I’m very proud of that music, so thank you for your kind words.

I often think composition is similar to painting in that there is so much work that goes into the preparation so that the creativity can be as fluid and natural as possible. Before I start writing music, I’m choosing a sound palette for the score, thinking about textures I’d like to use in my orchestration, and planning the harmonic language for the piece. It feels very much like a painter gathering paint and brushes or choosing between types of canvas.

That part of the process is the same regardless of whether it’s a short or a feature film, so in that regard the work is very similar. The obvious difference is in the amount of music written and the extent to which we get to develop those themes throughout the film. Structurally, a feature really allows the music we write to grow and bloom with the story. There is so much more room for the work to breathe and expand. I find that really rewarding.

Have you encountered a temp track on any of your projects, and do you think that this process is helpful or maybe distracting?

Films I score almost always have a temp music track in them before I come onboard. I think temp scores can be both helpful and distracting. It really depends on how attached a director is to the sound and feel of their temp. It can be quite a challenge if they have what I call “temp fever.” 

I personally will only watch a movie once with its temp score. Each time I watch it after, I prefer to do so with no music so I can formulate my own ideas. It’s not all bad, though. I do think temp scores can be helpful as a jumping off point in a conversation. I see temp music more as a challenge than a problem and I tackle that challenge by just asking a lot of questions. What is it about the temp that you think is working here? How does the temp make you feel? What other pieces of music that you’ve heard make you feel a similar way? Etc.

The more questions I ask, the more I can dig down to the centre of what it is about the temp the director really loves. Once I find that, it can be quite freeing and often opens new possibilities for me to surprise them with something new they love but weren’t expecting!

When recording a score for a movie or other projects, do you have a preference as to where you record, or is this not up to you?

Well, I haven’t really made it to the point in my career where I’m regularly recording full orchestras. I’ve only recorded scores with full, live orchestras a few times, and each time the choice as to where we record was narrowed down by budget and timeframe restrictions. Apart from those few times, most of my scores are recorded here in my studio.

I have worked on the Newman Scoring Stage at Fox, though not for my own project. I’m looking forward to the day I have the chance to record one of my scores in that iconic space. I’d also love to record at Abbey Roads, but I think every musician dreams of that opportunity. 

The Springfield Three is based upon a true story, your score is sensitive as well as dramatic, the film runs for approx. 30 mins, and your score is 22 mins in duration, and I think it is mostly due to the music that the audience become affected by the story that is unfolding. I was thankful it was issued on to digital platforms, do you have any input regarding what scores of yours are released and indeed what cues are selected for the release?

Thank you for saying so. It means a lot. Working on that film was emotionally taxing for me. Since The Springfield Three is based on a true story, I felt an enormous weight on my shoulders to give justice to those three missing women. Their case is still unsolved, so my hope is the film inspires someone to come forward with new information about the case. In regards to the release of my music, so far I’ve self-published all my music. I have my own publishing company and pay for my music to be distributed on digital platforms. I’m certain eventually that will change as I move to larger productions, and I look forward to that day, but for now I do it myself so I can get my music out for people to listen to and hopefully enjoy.

Do you regard orchestration as an important part of the composing process, and do you work on all your own orchestrations when possible?

I personally do, yes. It’s an important part of my process and I often do my own orchestrations. I did recently work with orchestrator Òscar Senén (No Time to Die, Hacksaw Ridge, Geostorm) on my score to Deathcember. I had such a wonderful time working with him. His incredible talents only made my music stronger, and I look forward to us working together again soon!

I noticed that your scores are very thematic, do you think that the current trend of utilizing soundscapes and drone like passages in movie scores is here to stay, or do you believe that the theme laden score will return?

I not only believe that theme driven scores will return, I think they’re already coming back now! I personally think that has mostly to do with changing personal tastes of directors. As younger directors who grew up on films from the 80’s and 90’s come into their own careers, they’re seeking out those types of scores. I also think audience preference seems to be leaning back toward melodic and thematic music for a similar reason. There are so many wonderful, thematically vibrant scores coming out right now. I think it’s an exciting time to be scoring film!

Do you perform on any of your scores?

Yes, I do. On my horror scores I play a lot of my own string effects and textures. I have a violin and a cello and I layer multiple takes together to create the sound of a larger ensemble. On Witness Infection, I also played the trumpet parts. There’s one instrument I really enjoy playing on my scores when it’s called for. I have the insides of an old upright piano (just the sound board and harp) I found on the sidewalk in Glendale. I’ve placed it on its side and added casters so I can wheel it in and out of my studio when needed. It’s incredibly eerie and creates a depth of textures. 

I also play a lot of less traditional sounds on my scores from time to time. I was working on a film a few weeks ago and I literally played pots and pans in the score. I felt like a kid again, and I think that joy comes through in the music.

What is next for you?

I just finished a featurette by director Samuel Gonzalez Jr. titled, That Night. The film is based on an emotionally powerful anonymous craigslist “missed connection” post that went viral about five years ago. It’s a really wonderful piece and I’m certain people will be moved by the story.

I’m set to score Shudder’s upcoming and still untitled queer horror documentary directed by Sam Wineman and I’m currently scoring a super fun feature film titled Psycho Storm Chaser by Buz Wallick which is an edge of your seat adventure slasher set during a hurricane. I can’t wait for people to see it.

During the pandemic, I was also commissioned to write an opera based on a play The Trial of God by Nobel Peace Prize winning author Elie Wiesel. That has been a colossal undertaking but is such a rich and rewarding experience and I’m honoured to adapt his incredible and profoundly enriching play into music. That work will premiere in November 2021.

My thanks to the compose for taking time to answer my questions.

TALKING TO COMPOSER SERGEI STERN.

Sergei Stern is a classically trained composer with a rock band background, the composer conductor has an intense interest in the use of electronic music, but also writes rich and affecting symphonic scores for both TV and Cinema. He has scored more than a dozen motion pictures and worked on nearly 100 short films, his music can also be heard in various TV shows and he has also scored video games. His credits include The Envelope (2017) and Queen of Spades 2: Through the Looking Glass (2019) and AK-47 Kalashnikov. He is a composer who I am sure we will be hearing a lot more of.

My thanks to the composer for his time and patience and for answering my many questions so fully. JM.

Can I begin with asking was film music always something that you looked at to becoming a career?

I got into actual film scoring pretty late. First, back in my childhood, I’ve been a pretty good classical pianist. Then I got a bit tired of all that and decided that I want to become a rock star, so I wrote songs, started a rock band, and performed. My first paid musical job was a ringtone arranger and producer and my second one was a songwriter – I wrote songs for artists who just started their careers. Then I felt I was missing classical music, so I did my four years bachelor’s degree in music composition. During that time, I had a pleasure of scoring mobile video games – that was the first job where I wrote music to visuals. After finishing my bachelor’s degree, I applied to Columbia College Chicago, since I realized that combining movies and orchestral music could be a dream job, but I still didn’t know how to actually score films. I got accepted to Columbia and that is where my film scoring experience started, back in 2011.

What musical education did you have and were there any instruments that you focused upon more whilst you were studying?

 I have seven years of a Russian piano school, four years of Bachelor’s degree in Music Composition, two years of Master’s degree in Music Composition for Screen and two years of a musical theatre education. 

 As a child were you aware of music at home and are any of your family musical in any way?

My mother is a violin and piano teacher and my father had a rock band back in his college years. Music always has been part of our home culture.

 What would you say is the purpose of music in film?

I think the main purpose of music in film is to trigger something in us, humans, that could not be triggered in any other way than music.  

 Your latest score is for Dark Web cicada 3301. This has some brilliant orchestration within it, and is filled with a tense and edgy atmosphere, but also has to it a more calming style and sound, and even some easy listening type cues. Did you have any specific instructions from the filmmakers about the score and what percentage of the score was performed by live instruments, and did you perform on the score at all?

Thanks! My main direction was to create a score that has a big, orchestral sound with lots of action for most of the scenes. Alan, the director, is a musician himself and has a great music taste. He had a great reference material already set up for the light, non-orchestral cues and these references were my main guide for those scenes. I tried to come up with something new, of course, and tie up the entire soundtrack into something cohesive, homogeneous although we had at least four different musical styles in our soundtrack. I would say around 30% of it was played by live instruments. I recorded a great violin and cello players for most of the orchestral cues and I played guitar, bass, my hardware synthesizer, some pipes and small percussion for non-orchestral cues myself. I find it much more difficult to do music with non-live instruments since I still have to perform each part with my keyboard and the emotion of the performance of each instrument, I use in my score is dependent on me and me only. I love that challenge!

How many times do you like to see a potential project before you begin to formulate any ideas about style, sound and where music should be placed?

I always ask to read the script first, if I’m fortunate to be hired in the developing stage of the film, as I enjoy getting into the project entirely so I am consumed by it mentally and emotionally, and I’m also curious to see how the script would be portrayed by the director later. I also love to be on set to meet the crew and cast, see the director working, get into the mood of the film creation. I am fascinated by all aspects of filmmaking and I always try to find an excuse to escape my studio to meet people and to breath some air. Nevertheless, all the above usually has a little contribution into the final tone I would use for the soundtrack or almost any music decision I would make later. I find that the final decision for the music tone, music placement etc. is best done after I get the final cut, honestly.  

I loved the score for Kalashnikov or AK 47, how did you become involved on the movie, and what size orchestra did you have for the score?

I had worked with Konstantin Buslov, the director and producer of Kalashnikov, before – I had scored Envelope and Queen of Spades 2: Through the Looking Glass movies that he had produced, and he was generous enough to invite me to score this film as well. We used a 40 piece strings orchestra for Kalashnikov, recorded in Moscow. 

Queen of spades 2.

Do you conduct at all, and if so, do you like to conduct all your film scores, or is this sometimes not possible?

I do conduct. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to travel to Moscow to conduct the Kalashnikov score. We had a brilliant conductor, Alexey Sobolev, who knew the musicians well and had a direct communication with me during the recording. I’d love to conduct some of my work in the future but having a professional conductor is always great when the opportunity and availability are there. 

Kalashnikov or AK 47 has some sweeping and dramatically lush sounding cues, plus there are as many emotive interludes, do you orchestrate all your own music, and do you feel that orchestration is an extension of the composing process?

 Yes, I always orchestrate my pieces. I feel the orchestration is an essential part of building my sound and I just love to do it. 

What composers or artists would you say have influenced you in the way that you create music and add it to film?

As far as classical music, I loved playing Bach while I was a piano school student back in my childhood – he was my favorite composer back then and stays one my favorites still. Later I got into Romantic composers, especially French and Russian ones, and during my college years I got into 20th century composers. Now I listen mostly to Baroque – these guys can really move me. Besides academic music, I enjoy probably all the music styles there are in existence. I find it fascinating to get deep into a particular style of music – getting to know it and come up with something of my own in that style. 

Where are you based? And do you have a preference for any particular studio or recording stage when recording a score for a movie or TV project?

 I am based in Los Angeles. So far, I’ve been fortunate to record in Capitol Records, Skywalkers Sound studio, The Village, a few studios in Chicago and Mosfilm Music Studios in Moscow. I enjoyed all of them since each has it’s own, unique flavor. I would love to experience as much studios in the world as possible. 

You have scored movies and television shows plus worked on several shorts, and Documentaries, is the composing and scoring process the same for all, or does it varying depending on the size of project and of course the budget?

 I find the emotional process is very similar among all of them. The differences for me are more technical and organizational if live players or singers are involved. 

You have scored various genres of film, comedy, war, horror etc, would you say that there is a particular genre that is harder to work on than others?

 Comedy is probably the trickiest as humour is such a fluent thing which changes so fast with time, geography, culture, age. 

The Chosen Path is one of your most recent scores, will there be a soundtrack CD release or maybe a digital release, and when a score of yours is to be issued onto a recording do you have any input into what cues will make it onto the release?

Yes, we definitely will release this soundtrack. We are in negotiations with a certain label right now for the digital release as well as a CD release. We will talk with the director about the cues that would make it onto the release. 

Are you working on anything at this time?

 I’m working on three projects right now. A dramedy TV show called Instalife, a martial arts TV show called Dan Show and a film for Andrey Konchalovsky productions. 

TALKING TO COMPOSER CARLOS MARTIN JARA.

Composer Carlos M. Jara is in my opinion one of the rising stars within the film music arena, his music is lyrical, emotional, poignant and striking, His score for the movie SORDO THE SILENT WAR is a must have soundtrack for any film music collector. And I am of the opinion that we will be hearing more of his music for both film and television in the not too distant future. My thanks to the composer for taking the time to answer my questions, in what I know is a very busy time for him.

What do you think is the purpose of music in film?

Well, thats a very good question. I think the purpose of the music should be the same than any other department: To tell a story. 

Are you from a family background that is musical at all?

Not at all, though my Father played the piano a Little bit. 

When scoring a project do you work on the orchestrations as well as the composition of the music, and do you feel that orchestration is just as much a part of composition?

I do care a lot about the orchestration. Usually, I have an orchestrator by my side in the project. Due to the matter of time. I couldn´t afford the writing and orchestrating together. Because I use a DAW for composing and give my clients the best mock-ups I can. And the program I use for writing a score is “Sibelius” Sibelius is not as good as Cubase with libraries for creating mock-ups. So, I had to choose, and I did: Just focus on creating the best mock-ups. But when I do this, I create them like if I were writing a score so when I deliver the material to my orchestrator it is clear what I wanted to do. Actually, when he creates the score based on my midi-file I review it with him. Of course, it’s not because I dont trust him but because I want to check everything out and be sure that it is what I wrote. 

You also conduct your film scores, have you ever had a conductor so that you may concentrate more on the way the music session is progressing?

I do like to conduct. It is always a blessing to have your music played by others and I like to enjoy it with the orchestra so I always want to be there. But yes, sometimes I stay in the booth because the experience is totally different. Depending on many factors I decide one thing or another. 

What musical education did you undertake, and was music always your first choice regarding a career?

I started playing piano when I was 8 years old. After that I also played the tuba for 7-8 years. I played on bands and different ensembles and I had very clear that music was a career for me. Not film music, Film music was always in my mind when I was a child like a very far-off dream. But it just disappeared I dont know why. So, I focused on piano and later and finished a degree on music theory. I was more interested in teaching than composing. And spent years teaching to kids. But in some point film music started to re-sound in my head and after a lot of years… well… the dream came true.

SORDO THE SILENT WAR is an amazing score, ROSA’S THEME is such a lyrical and romantic piece, what size orchestra did you have for the score and where was the score recorded?

Thank you very much. We had a sixty five piece orchestra and we recorded in 2018. 

Do you perform any instruments on your soundtracks?

Yes, I do: Piano and synthesizers. 

How much time did you have to write and record SORDO, and were you given any specific instructions regarding the style or the sound of the music by the director?

Well, I remember that I went to Rome with the filmmaker (Alfonso Cortés) in 2016 and we went to a concert by master Ennio Morricone. After that we really decided that “Sordo” should pay homage to him and to the western vocabulary. So Sordo took that direction from the very beginning. Also, I wrote some tracks even before the film was shot, based on the script and the story. Rosa´s theme was one of those. We actually recorded that theme at least one year before the film was shot, and Alfonso (the filmmaker) was sure that it would really fit a particular scene. The one he ended up shooting. 

Rosa’s Theme (From “Sordo: The Silent War”) – YouTube

Who as in composers or artists would you say has had an influence upon you or maybe has inspired you?

I have three names in mind since I was a child: John Williams, Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer.

Do you think that having a central or core theme for a score in a movie is important?

It really depends on the film. I usually discuss that with the filmmakers. Having a core theme is very powerful and useful but sometimes the film does not need that. So as always… whatever the story needs…

Where do you start when working on a movie, is it a case of beginning at the opening titles and work through until the end of the movie, or do you score smaller cues first, or maybe establish a foundation theme and build the remainder of the score around this?

I like to create a pallete of sounds. To define what the music is going to be like. That´s the hardest thing for me, where everything starts. So, I spent a lot of time trying to create something, it can be just harmony, melodies, textures, sounds… sometimes I´ve picked up a particular cue or scene just to start, but the more I worked on the film the more I realised that I had to rewrite that. Because the music was evolving to something else… 

Was SORDO temp tracked with anything at all, and what do you think of the practise of filmmakers utilising the temp on their movies, is it helpful or maybe a hindrance?

Not very much actually, SORDO had some temp tracks, but very few. Temp tracks are not a bad thing themselves; the problem is with the filmmakers (sorry) Here are my thoughts: Usually, filmmakers dont know how to express themselves in musical terms and feel uncomfortable because they can´t talk to composers. And actually, what composers don´t need is a filmmaker that knows little about musical terms. But they know what they are looking for, so if they find that in a temp track good for them. A composer should read why the filmmaker chose that temp track, and why its useful… And the filmmaker should be ready for that to be changed. I mean, they dont use temp actors and if they do, they know they will be changed. When shooting you cannot ask to Bruce Willis if he could be more Robert de Niro or whatever… The problem is that they don´t realise that is what they are asking composers sometimes. So, my thought is: If the filmmaker needs it, I will listen to it to understand the needs he/she has, and after that we will talk about it: Is it because of the pace? The building? The intensity? A lot of questions to be asked… But I never had big problems with temp tracks and filmmakers.

You worked on a few TV series, mini-series and documentaries, is there a great deal of difference between scoring these as opposed to working on a full-length feature?

No is not. For me it depends always on the story and the scale of project, I mean, it is very different when you are working on a ten-thousand-dollar documentary than when you´re working on a forty million dollar feature. The core is the same. You have a story to write music for. But the scale of the project makes the way of working on it a little bit different. 

I think your first assignment was in 2011, a short entitled LA CARTA, how did you become involved on this and when working on a short is it more difficult to establish a sound or style because of the time factor, seeing as some shorts are less than 15 minutes in duration?

Yes “La Carta” was my first assignment. Actually, I started looking for the typical google search “Looking for composer” and it took me to meet the filmmaker Álvaro Oliva. After a brief talk, I started to work on it. And it ended up winning an award, so it was a very cool collaboration, and quite of unusual because these things usually don´t work out. And talking about the process: I dont find it easier to work on a short film because as always, the problem here is to find the right sound for it, and that part is always hard. It does not matter if you´re-working either on a short or a two-hour film.

I think you worked on eight episodes of Conquistadores Adventum, when you work on a series such as this, do you ever for want of a better phrasing re-cycle any of the themes from early episodes into later instalments, or use certain sections again. And do you score the series in order of its airing, you also collaborated on the music for this with other composers, was this a collaboration in the true sense or were you each assigned certain sections to score?

Conquistadores Adventum is one of my favourite projects because I had the pleasure of working with two people that I really admire and love, Daniel Rodrigo and Neonymus. Well, in this TV series the way we worked was special. I focused on a music vocabulary based on harmony, melodies, and some orchestral textures with synth sounds. Daniel focused more on textures, sound design and he re-arranged some of my cues, while Neonymus work was mainly vocal. He has a beautiful voice and recorded some cues with layers and layers of his own voice. Sometimes we watched a scene together and composed our individual ideas for it. And after that we mixed all of them. Sometimes Daniel, who played like the main composer role in terms of organization, decided which one of us would write a particular scene. All of this was allowed by the filmmaker Israel del Santo. Who wanted the three of us to be involved in this particular way. So, it was fun!

I love OTROS MUNDOS, it’s a series for TV that ran for three years, how did you become involved on the series, and how much music did you compose over the three years?

This is a very cool project. I ended up on it because of the production company (La caña brothers) and the filmmaker of “Sordo” (Alfonso Cortés) who is one of the owners of the company. So, they told me about this project in 2016 but we started working on it on 2017. I think I wrote maybe like two hours of music for the two seasons. And I was given an award for the music of the first one at FIMUCITE. The nature of this project led to a very 80´s symphonic music so I had a lot of fun writing the music and watching the whole show!

SORDO THE SILENT WAR was performed live to film, do you think that this is something that film composers etc should do regularly and do you think that the Main theme as we know it is now being used less and less?

Well, I always think that having a main title theme, a leit motiv or not, is not the composer´s decision but the filmmaker. I know that this was done a lot years ago with lovely results. I am happy product of that period when you walked out of a cinema singing the main theme of the film you´ve just watched. So i love that way of working in a romantic way. But talking about that is like talking about fashion. You never know? For me it really depends on the project. 

About the premiere of “Sordo” with the live orchestra: It was a beautiful event. And I will never forget it. Talking about the film, I think that it doesn´t affect the film in any way if you have a live orchestra playing the music, probably in terms of sound would be worse. But better in terms of the experience itself. I like films, I like film music, I like concerts and I like orchestras. So. if you join all of this you end up liking a lot of these kind of “film concerts”. So, it really depends on the public and its demand.

The score for SORDO was released digitally, did you have any involvement in the compiling of the soundtrack album?

I was in touch with Mikael Carlson of Movie Score Media and the releasing of the score happened just as I was in the middle of the SORDO premiere. So, he was truly kind to do the editing and final fixing on the tracks.

How many times do you prefer to see a project before beginning to put together any firm ideas regarding the style of music and also the placing of the music to best serve the movie or TV series? 

If possible, I always like to watch whatever they can show me. But most of the time I get involved in the project just when the script is there. So, I start composing concepts based on the script and conversations with the filmmaker. And later I fix all those ideas to the screen for sure. 

You released AQUI Y AHORA can you tell us about this recording and also what is next for you?

Well, AQUÍ Y AHORA was more a bunch of relaxing tracks using just a piano. It was done in the middle of the 2020 pandemic so I tried to do something that could take us away from the hard reality that we are living in.  I am working on a lot of different projects right now. A videogame called “The season of the warlock” that will be released in early 2021. A couple of documentary series called: Colgar las alas which is already released about a famous Spanish football player, and another one called: “Porvenir” dealing with the climate change which is challenging. Also, I am finishing my second feature film with Alfonso Cortés called “EGO” which is a project that I am incredibly grateful for being on board. And hopefully I will start a new feature film by the beginning of 2021. So yeah! Really lucky here!

RICHARD HARTLEY: SCORING THE FABRIC OF CINEMA.

BY John Williams, (c)2020.

As someone who has listened to more film music than he cares to remember and written more words on the subject than is probably healthy, certain thoughts and opinions seem to surface very quickly.   Now I know my opinion is certainly  not any more worthy than yours, and music being the  very being it is,  a subjective  art,  one piece of music heard by say, one hundred people will have one hundred different reactions. That is the way it is.   

But conversely having listened to so such music,  and as to borrow  from  Stanley Myers memorable and masterly OTLEY score, ” The Good, The Bad and the Simply Disgusting”, certain, shall we say priorities , certainly comes to mind.    There are composers who’s, own musical personality shines through whatever they do.  That doesn’t mean they don’t do what they set out to do and are more often than not, well paid for, it is just that is the way they write and that is it.   You may say that John Barry falls into that category, and it is true, he has a distinctive musical voice, but he has been known to vary it every now and then.  I was thinking of Bernard Herrmann and Maurice Jarre,  Two more widely diverse composers you couldn’t think of,   Herrmann, a superb composer no-one could deny, yet wasn’t it Lionel Newman who once said, “Herrmann, he always sounds the same to me and he can’t write a tune!” somewhat harsh but containing a grain of truth.   Maurice Jarre, multiple Oscar Winner, most composers would love to have half his awards and honours, but you can tell his music a mile off, even before his name comes up on the credits.  They score the film well, of course they do, but to me they score it from the outside; they bring their undeniable talents to the movie, but what you hear is what you get.

The other side of the coin is the composer who subjugates his style, personality, his musical traits, to serve the film first, write as much or as little music they feel it needs.  No musical wallpaper here.  To these elite band of composers, serving the film  is paramount above all, even it means, at the end, if you asked someone watching the film, what did you think of the music, they might say what music?.  That is not to say they can’t write good themes, memorable themes, but that is a secondary consideration. These, to me are the true artists in the undeniable art of film music.

I don’t know enough to comment on the current crop of composers here and the Stats. From the little I have heard; some can’t even write music.  though I have heard some good music from France, and believe it not, Russia and the Eastern Europe, but in the UK. Film and Television music has vanished.

More so then to savour the composers that serve us well, and composers who put the needs of the film first. I think with genuine admiration of the music of  Nic Bicat, who’s collaborations with Clive Donner and Philip Ridley come to mind, but, to me  there is only one who epitomises all what I have been trying to say, and that composer is Richard Hartley.

I may be totally wrong here but I think the first film I saw scored by Richard was one of Rank’s attempts in the late 70s to enter the world of film production once more, a remake of THE LADY VANISHES  but this time in wide screen and in colour.   The principal theme used over the credits was composed by the wonderful Les Reed, and the theme was used a musical device later in the film, but, I am getting ahead of myself here. The obvious question most interviewers ask Film Composers , and I am no exception, for after all, unless you are  like Jerry Goldsmith and born in LA , most composers , don’t start their career writing for the Cinema, so how did it all start?

” In the early 1960s there was a film review programme on the radio and they played clips from new films, s one would hear dialogue but they were often underscored, that was my first introduction to the art of film music.  I started piano lessons at the age of 5 and studied music theory then later orchestration and composition when I lived in Paris in 1966. My first film was a documentary about Gerard Manley Hopkins followed by one about Achille Island, they were both student films directed by a friend of mine. In the early 1970s I did orchestrations for Chappell’s the publishers and overdubbed strings on Reggae Records for Trojan then met Jim Sharman who hired me to write music for a play written by Sam Shepard that he was directing at the Royal Court. He also directed “The Rocky Horror Show” and that is how it all began.”

I would have the thought the main breakthrough came with Joe Losey, though I suspect he had very firm ideas on the use of music in his films? 

“My first film with Joe was Brecht’s “Galileo” which Joe had directed on Broadway with Charles Laughton. It was part of a series of plays that were filmed for The American Film Theatre, I ‘d recently returned from Sydney where I had been the Musical Director for a production of The Threepenny Opera in the opening season at the Sydney Opera  House. I orchestrated Han’s Eisler’s songs and wrote the incidental music.  Joe was very happy with my work and hired me for his next film “The Romantic Englishwoman”. He told me the story of “The Go-Between”!   Joe hated the way Hollywood films were scored but mostly left the spotting and discussions about the music to me and his long time editor. Reggie Beck”

I think we must be near THE LADY VANISHES now.  I personally enjoyed   it far more than Hitchcock’s somewhat over-rated movie, and this had the advantages of a all star cast, and filmed on location.  The only thing that spoilt it for me was Cybill Shepherds well over the top heroine, but it is a flaw I can well overlook.   I wondered if there was ever a soundtrack LP envisaged, as one did appear for Ed Welch’s THE 39 STEPS.?

“My music contractor worked with Philip Martell on many Hammer films and he made the introduction. The Les Reed music was already in place but I fitted it to the film and Bob Stewart and I orchestrated it. A soundtrack was mentioned but never materialized”

There was feeling around that time that you didn’t do many movies, am I right?

” Yes that is right. I was producing records for a while and also a Musical at the Royal Court (Theatre) which I am afraid wasn’t a success.  During that period I scored THE LADY VANISHES for Hammer and the next film was BAD TIMING for Nic Roeg.  I knew Jeremy Thomas (the Producer) from years ago, when he was a Editor.   Nic always paid the most unbelievable attention to detail, even for the smallest things. He had heard a particular piece of music in a cutting room somewhere and asked me if I knew what it was. Funnily enough, I knew it was a French Bass player called Francois Rabat, who has a unusual style of playing the Double Bass, anyway we found him, recorded this piece that Nic had heard, and then it had to be remixed, etc. and eventually what had started out as a two-day job went on for months!

I think Nic was the first Director I worked with who really loved music and so was Bernardo Bertolucci.  They both held the view that it was part of the fabric of Cinema”  On BAD TIMING, the brief was to re-record the Pachelbel Canon and a Beethoven Overture, but it didn’t end there  and there and three months later I was still working on the film. I think we re-recorded one short cue 3 times before Nic was happy. On STEALING BEAUTY, there was contemporary soundtrack but Bernardo also wanted a composed film score so that was a much easier to film to work on.

Then I did a film called BAD BLOOD. It was originally intended for the Cinema and partly financed by Southern TV.   SHOCK TREATMENT at the time was going to be a sequel to THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW.   but it really ended up a mess!   The script was continually being changed and we had to adapt the songs to the new script as we went along.  The original was a total Hammer horror sequel, with Frankenstein rising from the grave and that sort of thing!  I don’t think Fox fully realized what movie genre it basically was. I think they wanted something else – something different”

I am not sure if we are in sequence here, but it doesn’t really matter.  Then there was SHEENA!

“Ah yes SHEENA !  I had been in France doing a film with Joe Losey – in fact, I had done two with him- one was DON GIOVANNI and I went to help him mix the music. It really needed a lot of technical work to sort it out and in fact I spent some three months on it.   Joe then did a film that didn’t come out here called LA TRUITE and the Producer was doing this SHEENA film with John Guillermin   The main theme for SHEENA was a demo I had written in the late 1970s for a music library company but they rejected it, then it was to be the B side of Torvill and Dean’s BOLERO single. 

John Guillermin  wanted to hear some of my music , so I gave him a cassette, but for some reason or other I had left on this Torvill and Dean B side.  They just loved it and got Columbia to buy it, and then John got me to do the rest.   First they flew me out to Kenya to play tunes on a piano, and then to Guinea to record Ballet African.  I very nearly ended up in jail as I had no visa – I just bluffed my way in – The film had to be finished by a certain date so they would dub two reels, I’d write the music and it went on like that. Sometimes I’d have only have 3 minutes of music and we would have a orchestra booked in all day!  There were long sequences, ten-minute cues, travelogues long shots of flamingoes – no plot!  I remember John sending me the script and saying, “You won’t understand it – this is being made for American audiences. The record sold well though! SHEENA, has endured because I think it’s referenced in the Best of the Worst Film category.  It was my first film using synthesizers. On some cues we had 23tracks of synths and 23 tracks of orchestra synched up using smpte code……. often a precarious venture”.

Richard has worked on many Films and Series for Television so it is difficult to know where to start, but how about the Mini Series KENNEDY with Martin Sheen and Blair Brown.

“I had a great time doing that. It was the first film I had worked with Jim Goddard. There were a number of gospel songs in the script and there were a lot of violent scenes in the fil , so instead of violins etc, we decided to play against it and we recorded Gospel Singers. It was too expensive to use Mahalia Jackson, but I had seen this Gospel picture called SAY AMEN, SOMEBODY and there was this woman in it with a absolutely incredible voice , not well known but we tracked her down. – she was a school teacher!  We went to this Baptist Church and in one weekend we recorded everything we required. I like doing things like that which need a lot of source music”   We also recorded the U.S. Marine Band playing Sousa Marches. KENNEDY was a joy and I worked on it for several months”

In 1985, Richard scored the Screen Two movie THE MACGUFFIN, obviously a tribute to Hitchcock, and as well as Charles Dance, there were marvellous cameos from Anna Massey and Ann Todd, both from earlier Hitchcock movies.   The principal theme I have never forgotten after all these years, and I am very curious about this one.   

“I borrowed from everybody for that one!  Jerry Goldsmith at the beginning with a bit of CHINATOWN and a bit of THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY in the middle. The Director was a Hitchcock devotee and there was a scene in a park with a dog, and there was a kind of comedy – thriller music that Herrmann was very good at writing. I am sure it wasn’t tongue in cheek but that was the way it came out, so that was the way he wanted it to come out.  Instead of borrowing the scene entirely, I took notes from it, and we had the sound of the dog as well. I think we mixed it down so it didn’t sound too obvious, we had  the two notes and the dog barking in the gap.. There was a bit of Rossini in the middle as well, and the Director also liked Pino Donaggio, a sort of over – the – top – Herrmann, so I think we had a bit of everyone in the film”   “There was one thing about THE MACGUFFIN when it was being dubbed. The Producer thought it was too loud, too long, too over the top. It was very popular, especially with younger people .It had that fast, almost American approach to film making”

Marvellous, marvellous movie which can still be viewed on You-tube.  Richard also worked for the same director again for HIGH TIDE.  this time going even further down the Hitchcock – and Herrmann route. Ian McShane comes out of Jail and travels down to the West Country to find out more about the people that got him into prison in the first place.  Here he encounters John Bird and Kika Markham. Very much a West Country noir!   If there was any downside, it was just the narration, just when all you wanted to hear was the music.

“Colin Bucksey (the Director) is a big fan of Hitchcock and I of Herrmann. We even recorded the score at Denham with Eric Tomlinson who had recorded several films with Herrmann. This was a piece of total self-indulgence but it worked with the film. I think Colin would have shot it in black and white if he had been allowed……….. and there was a lot of music”.

Back tracking somewhat, Richard worked on a major BBC series in the late 1970s that was extremely popular, so much so in fact that it is still available to watch on DVD, and that is PENMARRIC.

” I wrote the music for the first 4 episodes but had previous commitments, so I suggested Bob Stewart to the Producers, and he expanded my themes for the other episodes. The music budget was OK as it was the big Autumn costume drama for 1979. Given the time I would orchestrate myself but often that’s not possible.. I do however make very comprehensive sketches…… Bob Stewart in the early days and then John Bell, sadly both no longer with us”.  

There was also Patricia Hodge in JEMIMA SHORE INVESTIGATES somewhat later.

” I scored all the JEMINA SHORE episodes with al little re-imagining of Vivaldi for the Title music at the suggestion of producer Verity Lambert”

There was another Screen Two movie – amongst many – entitled THE IMPOSSIBLE SPY. 

 ” It was a very good film and very popular, winning the American Cable Award. It told the true story of a man who spied for Israel and at the same time was a member of the Syrian Cabinet.   Another film I did THE GOOD FATHER won the Italia Prize. There was no money on that one at all and we did it with just two guitars and a piano. That was with Mike Newell. Most of the films were low budget and on one I even subsidised the recording, but generally he lets me get on with it, play a few ideas, then finesse them in the studio…….if there was time!  .  On GREAT EXPECTATIONS, there was a reasonable budget but the Producers wanted to see/hear the score with the film so I had to supply orchestral simulations. I think he only asked me to change one cue”

TUMBLEDOWN with Colin Firth got Richard a nomination for his score,

 ” Richard Eyre is another director who loves music. He had used a piece of stirring music by William Walton over the titles to slightly ‘ape’ the war movies of the 1950s, two guys thrilled at the thought of going into battle, the film contrasts the brutalities of war with the equally callous treatment of British Solider’s who are injured serving their country and the way Robert Lawrence adjusted to his new disability. We couldn’t use the Walton music. Again, Richard wasn’t afraid of using music and we had a large orchestra by BBC standards”

If TUMBLEDOWN needed a English approach, so did CONSUMING PASSIONS and THE RECTOR’S WIFE. 

  “It was laid up with Holst. I love working with orchestras and on CONSUMING PASSIONS we had a very large orchestra. Both very English with quotations from Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Finzi. but all in the best possible taste!

It is only recently I came across a film Richard scored entitled VICTORY (1996) with William Defoe and based on a novel by Joseph Conrad.  I wasn’t too sure what to make of it, but stuck with it for obvious reasons, and was well rewarded with an excellent film that passed me by all those years ago.  The score works so well, but not in an outwardly spectacular way. 

” This was a Miramax co-production so the heavy hand of Harvey Weinstein and his ‘interest’ in music meant I was the third composer for the film. We recorded over 60 minutes of fairly complicated orchestral music in 4 sessions thanks to brilliant musicians and impeccable engineering by Chris Dibble at CTS in Wembley.  Every single cue had to be tempted up using synthesisers, then mixed with the film and sent to Miramax before they would sign off on the score, we received  final approval on the Saturday before we recorded on the following Monday. It was an intense 5 weeks working fourteen hour days but I was very happy with the score and consider it to be amongst the best I have written”

Towards the end of the 1990s, you would have seen Richard’s name on a number of film from the Hallmark Organisation, mainly remakes of classic stories, DON QUIXOTE, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and THE LION IN WINTER. It is a tribute to Richard’s scoring of the latter, that I never thought of the famed score for the earlier movie with the same name!  I wondered how these projects came about? 

  “They came through Dyson Lovell who approached me to score ALICE IN WONDERLAND. I’d never worked for him before but he said he’d looked at my credits and seen I had worked with many directors several times so he assumed I wouldn’t be a difficult person to work with!   Initially I had reservations about ALICE so they showed me around the Jim Henson workshop with all the different special effects they’d been working on, both Chris Thompson and Dyson were very committed to the project so I accepted”

DON QUIXOTE is just a wonderful film and score, and the middle of a very wet winter, it seems even more of a joy to watch. and whilst I have never been to Spain, just close your eyes and listen to the music and you would think you were there!   

 ” The Philharmonia Orchestra, Abbey Road Studio1 and a generous budget….. I was in heaven. Peter Yates the director pretty much left the music up to me, in fact he was on holiday when we recorded  but his son was the Editor and the only change we made was a triangle for a cymbal crash towards the end. Dyson Lovell was the producer and he trusted me, and I received an Emmy nominatio. It was a huge canvas to work with and a chance to compose a neo-romantic score”

Sadly a lot of BBC SCREEN TWO and BBC 1 equivalent remains unseen since their first showing, and many before the advent of VHS recorders. Thankfully there are many movies that Richard scored easily available on DVD and on occasion Blu Ray.  TALKING TO A STRANGER, HITLERS S.S.  ARMADILLO– the latter worth a look very strange and quirky later BBC production, the afore mentioned JEMINA SHORE, DON QUIXOTE, LION IN WINTER and superb USA Blu Ray of SHEENA which is a excellent print.   Another wonderful score can be heard in THE SECRET RAPTURE.  A very moving movie and the cast is just superb. The music is beyond belief. 

“It is a very sad story, originally a stage play. I worked very hard on this score , the music budget was minimal and the trumpet (the late great Derek Watkins)was recorded in the kitchen of my engineer friend Phil Chapman. There is a hint of the melodramatic scores of yester-year but underneath the orchestra are some very elaborate synthetic shapes. Thanks for the compliment”.

Oh yes, one more that I watched recently and shows so well how Richard merges his music into the, well, already mentioned the fabric of the film so it is almost another character. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS with a superb performance by Geoffrey Rush.   I thought it might be a difficult film to score?   

“It was although the Director had some firm ideas about what he wanted which always helps. The main difficulty was we were due to record in early January, I’d  tempted up all the cues and they had been synched up with the film but the head of HBO was on Christmas Holiday and no one wanted to sign off on the score before he did , so I had Abbey Road studio 2 and a orchestra on hold………..!  The score had one theme that is used in Seller’s relationship with his mother also quite a bit of  ‘source music’ that I composed and as his performance and personality continually changes from film to film , so does the music.”

To conclude I asked Richard about scoring here and abroad, and the current state of movie music?

“I like the European approach to a picture, and I suppose Morricone was the prime example of this. Some of the music is totally incongruous and may have nothing to do with what you are watching, but because he had a clever harmonic structure, it never quite moves when you think it is going to.  Jerry Goldsmith was one of the most consistent composers and he had a style all of his own.

Film music has evolved beyond recognition over the past 50 years. especially with the use of synthesizers and there is probably more music in films now than in the golden era of Hollywood. Some film composers are now deservedly celebrities and their scores are performed as concert pieces, there is a great interest in how they are composed and recorded and the list of musicians composing for film is ever expanding.   When you think back to Jerry Goldsmith’s ‘Planet of the Apes’ a score which to my mind was the first serious use of orchestral sound design, Goldsmith’s only electronic aid was the echoplex (which he used to great effect in ‘Patton’) but his atonal orchestral textures combined with a vast array of ethnic instruments and percussion can now be easily simulated in minutes using samples and synthesizers.

It only takes a second to get a good idea……….. It’s just getting that idea!     That good idea can take a while, I’d often sit at the piano and improvise. 

sometimes that nugget would emerge. If not, try, try again!”

I felt I must go back to my observations that Richard doesn’t like to make the music draw attention to itself, unless it needs to, perhaps over the Main Titles.  ” I’ve always tried to employ a minimalist approach to underscore even before it was fashionable and called ‘sound design’, some directors liked it, others wanted a more up front approach”

This then is Richard Hartley, a music man for all seasons.  A composer who scores what he sees, and perhaps more importantly, what you don’t see!

I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed this article, and I hope you will investigate Richard’s music by listening to some of his recordings.  I most certainly recommend the following.

THE LION IN WINTER  Varese Sarabande  VSD-6571

ALICE IN WONDERLAND Varese Sarabande VSD-6021

AN AWFULLY BIG ADVENTURE  Filmtracks TRXCD 2001

PRINCESS CARABOO   Varese Sarabande  VSD-554.

A THOUSAND ACRES   Varese Sarabande  VSD-5870

DON QUIXOTE Varese Sarabande VSD-6142

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Metropolis  8781017

SHEENA Varese Sarabande  Club  VCL 1104. (very rare)

With thanks to Richard Hartley, for his time, courtesy, friendship and most importantly, his patience.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Peter Kent who passed away a few years back, and loved Richard’s music as much as I still do now.  I hope he would have approved though I think he might have said it more eloquently  

© 2020 John Williams.

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.