Category Archives: Interviews

BLOOD, HONEY, A BEAR, A PIG AND A BEEHIVEOLIN.

Talking to composer Andrew Scott Bell about scoring Winnie the Pooh-Blood and Honey. And creating a unique sound for this very different adventure in 10 Acre Wood.

Your most recent assignment is for the horror movie Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey, which is causing a bit of a stir already and it’s not even released yet. How did you get onboard with the project?

Andrew Scott Bell.

Yes! The response to this movie has been massive; at times even overwhelming!

I came onboard this movie in an interesting way. I had heard about the movie from a friend and saw some people talking about it on Twitter. I found Rhys Frake-Waterfield, the director, on Instagram where he had posted a screen-shot of a comment from someone saying something to the effect of “you’re ruining my childhood.” Rhys’ reply was something along the lines of “that’s what I’m trying to do, ruin childhood memories.”

I replied to that post with “I’d love to help you ruin some of those memories 🎼🎻

It turned out I had a friend on the project, Vince Knight the Director of Photography. From there, Rhys and I started talking about some musical ideas almost immediately and had a really wonderful conversation about the movie. 

It wasn’t completely clear that I had gotten the gig though until a few weeks later. My wife and I were literally walking out the door for a vacation when I received an invitation to a WhatsApp group thread titled “Pooh Post Production.” I said to her as we were walking to the car, “I think I got that Winnie-the-Pooh movie.”

Your scores for Psycho Storm Chaser and Witness Infection sound really grand, have you used the same type of orchestration on Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey and how many players were involved on the recording?

Thank you! Yes I’m using a similar orchestration I’ve used in the past for those scores. I’m such a fan of that big, lush sound I grew up listening to in scores by James Horner, Alan Silvestri, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and so many more. All those composers from the 80’s and 90’s have been instrumental (pun intended) influences in my music and my taste in general. I think that carries through us as artists in what we create.

As was the case with both Witness Infection and Psycho Storm Chaser, the music budget was too low to hire a full orchestra. So I lean on all the instruments I play to add life and texture to the MIDI orchestral samples I write with on the computer.

For example, I have a trumpet, a clarinet, a trombone, multiple violins, a cello, a slew of random instruments including the inside frame of an upright piano that I use to play some glissando and plucked prepared piano parts, as well as a few custom instruments made for me by experimental luthier Tyler Thackray (known on Instagram as @violintorture) including a violin that has a beehive inside of it; more on that later!

I play all those instruments in the score and layer them into my computer sounds to create real, tangible textures in the music for the listener to grab onto. I’ve found that adding even just a few live instruments helps trick the ears into accepting the rest of the computer generated sounds as real.

@andrewscottbell

#stitch with @andrewscottbell little peak inside my composing process and how I layer violins into my scores for a real sound in my orchestra. A similar technique was used in the male choir sounds you hear on this track. That’s a dozen layers of me singing. #filmmaker #filmscore #composer #music #filmcomposer #winniethepooh #horror #winniethepoohbloodandhoney #orchestral #filmmusic

♬ Andrew Scott Bell Orchestra – Andrew Scott Bell

As an example: the moment the audience first sees Pooh, who is a massive and brooding figure in the movie, I recorded myself playing cello 24 times; which is roughly three times the normal size of a cello section in a traditional symphony orchestra. It’s a massive wall of sound and you really feel that full, organic scope.

When you first went to see the movie, did the producers or director have any specific instructions or preferences regarding the sound or style of the music?

Not really in this case, though sometimes they do. Rhys and I mostly just talked about wanting to play the movie as seriously as possible and how we could pull humor out of that seriousness. Winnie-the-Pooh as a slasher is already ridiculous. The best way to make the movie fun and humorous is to treat it as if it were Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers on the screen.

There’s a bit of a folk horror element to the movie as well as most of it takes place in the woods. So steering away from any synthesizers and going for as much of an organic sound as possible was something we discussed.

I really love some of James Horner’s early scores for Roger Corman pictures; Battle Beyond the Stars, for example. There’s a richness but also a crisp bite in Horner’s early scores that I think I’m really leaning into for Blood and Honey. Look forward to big, bold brass lines and sharp, stinging string ostinatos.

There seems to be lots of differing reactions about the film. Some think it’s a cool concept but other people are saying it’s a film that should not have been made because it will ruin the memories they have of Pooh all’a Disney. It even made the national news here in the UK. Are you concerned at all about this, or is it a case of there’s no such thing as bad publicity?

It’s been wild! The responses to the trailer range from “I can’t wait to see this” all the way to “I hope whoever worked on this movie goes straight to hell” (that last one is from an actual tweet).

The director, Rhys Frake-Waterfield, has even received death threats, which is just insane to me. It’s just a movie. I think if it bothers you that much, you can just not watch it.

Ultimately though, it doesn’t really concern me. I’m just glad people are talking about the movie and it’s fun to engage with the people who are genuinely excited to see it. It reminds me of what I’ve read about the backlash to Silent Night, Deadly Night.

At the time that movie was announced and the poster was released, the famous image of a man dressed as Santa coming out of a chimney with a bloody axe, people were outraged and tried to shut down the movie’s theatrical release. They were mostly successful in the US but that only fueled the fire of people wanting to see it and drove the movie to become an instant cult classic. Silent Night, Deadly Night now has yearly sold out screenings at Hollywood’s New Beverly theatre and is adored by horror fans worldwide.

I don’t expect Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey will receive that level of instant cult classic fame, but I truly do think it will find its following and be adored for years to come. It’s a fun movie! In spite of not having a big, Hollywood sized budget, every single member of the cast and crew are pouring our passion, hard work, and dedication into this movie and having a complete blast working on it. I think that kind of joy and exuberance can’t help but flow out from the screen when you watch it. I hope audiences enjoy it as much as we’ve enjoyed working on it.

You use a really inventive sound in the score which is a violin but with a difference. Can you tell us about this? I know it was developed by someone else but you must have come up with the sound in the first place?

Yes! You’re talking about what we call the “beehiveolin.” So a few years ago, I met Tyler Thackray online. Tyler is an experimental luthier – a luthier is someone who designs and builds string instruments like guitars and violins etc. I connected with him on Instagram and commissioned him to design a new, custom-made instrument for a different horror feature I was slated to score. I ultimately didn’t end up scoring that picture, but Tyler and I stayed in touch.

When I signed on to score Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey, I remembered a video Tyler posted in which he’d put an old violin inside a beehive as an experiment. I reached out to Tyler to see if it was still there in the hive and if I could possibly play it on the film score. To my delight, he said yes! So I drove up to San Francisco with my manager, Mike Rosen, to film a short documentary of us removing the violin and putting it back together. When we pulled it out of the hive, it had been there for nearly 2 years. The bees had not only built comb around the edges of the instrument, but inside the resonating chamber as well.

I highly recommend watching the full video. It’s 24 minutes but it really turned out to be educational and insightful. Winnie the Pooh: Blood, Honey, and Violins

It’s a crazy instrument! It doesn’t even sound like a violin anymore. It has a grainy, almost buzzy sound that is really unsettling. I’m thrilled to not only know Tyler but to get to collaborate with him on creating new and interesting instruments is a complete dream.

I also now have that instrument he had designed and built for me for the other movie and I’m using it on the score as well. We’re tentatively calling it “The Bear Head.” It’s a cigar box body with a bass ukulele neck and built in spring reverb inside the resonating body. It’s a wild and feral sounding instrument; the musical equivalent of a growling bear!

Will there be a soundtrack release on CD or on digital platforms?

There should be a soundtrack release. The details of that are still being ironed out but of course it’s something I’m planning for. I hope the soundtrack has a physical release in addition to digital online streaming. 

I think mp3’s and now music streaming apps almost encourage a passive listening experience. Because of the nature of how portable it is, we often throw on some music in our pockets while we do other things. Physical media, on the other hand, kind of facilitates a more active engagement with the music. It becomes more of an event.

I fondly remember putting in a soundtrack CD and sitting beside my stereo. I’d pour over the booklet of liner notes for interesting information about the music or any nugget of wisdom from the composers. I treasure those memories in my childhood bedroom glued to my stereo, completely captivated by every single note.

How much music did you compose for the movie, and how long did you have to write and record the score?

I’m still writing the original score. I’m about halfway finished with the movie. There’s just over an hour of original music in the film. I think it’s musically some of my best work to date. I’m thankful that Rhys is allowing me to go big and bold with the musical choices and I’m very excited to share our vision with audiences.

Were you tempted to include something a little Disney-fied in the music at any point like a parody or just something that maybe the audience could latch onto in a slightly sinister way that was connected to Pooh as in the animated bear?

I was never even a little bit tempted to include anything from Disney. It never crossed my mind. This movie is nowhere at all even remotely connected to Disney’s version of the characters. Every part of this production and every member of this team is laser focused on creating something wholly original with the character. 

Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey is based solely on the first book by A. A. Milne, and even goes so far as to change the characters’ origin story in new and exciting ways – which I won’t dare spoil here!

Audiences can expect to meet a Winnie-the-Pooh the likes of which they’ve never seen on screen before. It’s been a joy working with Rhys Frake-Waterfield to bring that new character to life through some truly horrific music.

Many thanks to Andrew Scott Bell for his time and patience.

Here are some examples of the composer’s wonderful film scores.

https://www.andrewscottbellmusic.com/music

A CONVERSATION ON THE CONVERSATION SCORE. TALKING TO COMPOSER DALIBOR GRUBACEVIC.

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.

INTERVIEW WITH COMPOSER ALAN WILLIAMS.

Alan Williams.

Alan Williams is an award-winning composer and conductor with more than 100 motion picture and television credits. Alan’s scores include the Academy Award nominated IMAX film, Amazon, Sony Pictures Classics’ Mark Twain’s America and some of the highest rated movies made for television.

Some of his recent credits include the Chinese theatrical feature film Legend of the Forest and the IMAX films Secrets of the Sea and Serengeti. Alan composed the award-winning score to the animated feature film, The Princess and the Pea and co-wrote the original songs with award-winning Lyricist David Pomeranz as well as the Student Academy Award winning short Pajama Gladiator.

With more than 100 awards and nominations some of his accolades include his score to Estefan being nominated for an Annie Award for Best Original Score, the Insight Award for Excellence for his score to Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa, 23 Accolade Awards for Best Original Score, 10 Park City Film Music Festival Gold Medal for Excellence Awards as well as his score to Crab Orchard being named as one of the Top 20 Film Scores of 2005.

The composer has received 21 Global Music Awards. His score to 20th Century Fox’s Cowgirls n’ Angels won a Prestige Film Gold Award and Alan was awarded the Jerry Goldsmith Award for Best Documentary score for the Netflix series Moving Art: Underwater along with 3 other JGA nominations.

Alan received a Hollywood Music in Media award (HMMA) for his song “Music of the Earth” co-written with David Pomeranz along with 3 additional HMMA nominations. In 2017 Alan was awarded the Global Music Awards Odyssey Lifetime Achievement in Music.

What musical education did you have, and did you focus upon any specific area of music whist studying?

I have a Bachelor of Music in Composition from Brigham Young University and graduate work at the University of Southern California in film and television composition. 

Was film and TV music something that you were always drawn to as a career?

Yes.  From my early days studying piano I was drawn to film music.  By the time I was a sophomore in high school I knew I wanted to compose for film and television.

Many of your scores are for documentaries, but of course you have scored movies, animation, and television projects, what would you say are the biggest differences when scoring say a documentary of around forty minutes to working on a motion picture with a running time of nearly double this, do you approach each medium in a different way, and would you say that scoring a documentary with music being almost continuous is easier or maybe more difficult?

Most all my projects are similar in process.  It doesn’t matter the genre or duration of the project.  I begin developing thematic material and then compose to picture.  It is true that many documentaries require more music, but the score still has the same purpose: to support, enhance and delve deeper into the emotional and dramatic story being told.

Do you have a preferred orchestra or recording studio when working on film?

My first preference is always to record in Los Angeles.  I have recorded all over the world.  There are many great musicians, and I am always grateful to have them play and record my scores. 

When working on a documentary, is there sometimes a temp track on the film when you go to see it for the first time, and what is your opinion of the practice of directors and producers using temps in any type of film?

Temp tracks vary by project.  Most tend to be very temp-heavy but some of my recent projects have either had some of my music in them or no music at all.  It is wonderful to have a blank canvas to begin creating without predetermined musical ideas from a filmmaker before we have had a chance to talk creatively about the score.

Legend of the Forest is one of your recent scoring assignments and has an epic score, how did you become involved on the film and did the director have specific ideas about what style of music was required for the movie?

The post supervisor connected me to the project.  The Chinese production company wanted all the post work done in Los Angeles although the entire film was a Chinese production.  They wanted a “Hollywood” score, edit and sound mix.  The director did not have any specific ideas other than the score should have the ethnic elements of the China/Mongolia period and especially the Ewenki people.  He also wanted an epic symphonic score to blend with these ethnic elements.  Other than that, he was very open to my input.  This was a film that had no temp music at all.  It was wonderful to have such creative freedom for the film.

What composers or artists would you say have had an influence upon you maybe in the sound that you achieve or in the way that you approach and score movies?

I have always been a huge fan of Jerry Goldsmith.  Not just of his musical brilliance, but his ability to get deep inside the drama of a film and its characters and to write music that deepens the drama.  Jerry mastered the skill of thematic development in a film.  He said that if he could write a main theme that encapsulated the essence of the film or a character, along with some type of short motive (rhythmic, chordal or a few notes) he would have all he needed to write a score.  This has been wonderful advice that I strive for in my scores.

When you begin working on a movie whether it be a feature, documentary, or TV project, is there a set way in which you like to score it, by this I mean do you like to create a core theme and build the remainder of the score around this, or does every project differ?

Yes, I begin composing a core theme, maybe even more than one depending on the project.  Lately, I have created a suite of themes and other ideas which have been very useful at the beginning of a project.  It gives me freedom to write away from the picture and maybe even material for an editor to use as temp music.  Plus, it’s a great way to begin talking with a director about the musical approach.

You give talks, on creativity, what is your advice to young composers that are just starting out writing for film?

I am quite passionate about all things creative.  I love the creative process and talking about it with young composers, filmmakers, and anyone in any field.  I think the creative process is very similar for any discipline. 

Orchestration is an important part of the composing process; do you like to orchestrate all your scores or is this at times not possible due to scheduling etc?

My demos are fully orchestrated, so I am always thinking orchestration every step of my composing process.  Due to recording schedules I almost always use an orchestrator to prep the scores and parts for the session.  My orchestrator Larry Rench is vital to the process, and I value my collaboration with him. 

The same question regarding conducting, do you prefer to conduct yourself or maybe at certain times have a conductor?

I always conduct.  For me it is the immediate connection to the musicians, and I can communicate quickly and directly with them.  Plus, I know the musical interpretation I want and don’t have to communicate it to a conductor who then in turn, communicates it to the orchestra.

A lot of your scores have been issued on to promo recordings, with many now being available on digital platforms, when a score is to be released commercially by a recording label do you have input into what tracks or cues will represent the score on the recording?

Yes, I have input on commercial releases and almost always have a producer credit on the album. 

Your scores are so rich and thematic, is it important do you think to write thematically for film, I ask because of the trend lately to score pictures with a soundscape rather than music that has melody and substance?

I feel very strong about thematic, melodic scores.  I think themes help connect the audience in an emotional way to the story unlike any other scoring convention.  Themes provide the building blocks of theme and variation the foundation for crafting a score. 

Themes provide an emotional payoff for characters and story arc.  Strong thematic films also stand the test of time.  They can become timeless.  Theme and melody connect directly with an audience and reaches deep into our souls as humans and really provides the connective tissue to a film’s story and drama unlike anything else. 

What would identify as your earliest memories of any kind of music and were you from a family background that was musical, as in any performers in the family or just music lovers?

I started playing piano at age 7.  I am the oldest in my family, so I didn’t really have anyone else around me that was playing music.  I did grow up listening to music, mostly symphonic music.  I do credit my parents with exposing me to music at an early age.  They both played instruments when they were young but didn’t play as I grew up. 

How much time are you given to score and record a film score, and have there been any that have been more difficult than others for any reason, and do you have a favourite score of yours or another composer?

The time frame for composing varies by project.  Sometimes there is ample time to do research and work on writing a suite of themes.  Other times it’s a crazy delivery schedule and I just must go with my first instincts and write very fast.  Each project has its own set of challenges.  Some may be more difficult for a variety of reasons, but every project requires all my attention in every detail, and I really try to write the best score I can for each project.  I’m not sure I have one favorite score. 

It’s like having a favorite child, which I don’t have!  There are some that certainly are more rewarding.  “Amazon” because it was my first IMAX film, “Princes and the Pea” because it was such a musical project, being an animated feature.  I’m proud of the work I’ve done this past year.  “Legend of the Forest”, “Secrets of the Sea” and “Serengeti” all have been wonderful, diverse projects.

After a while writing for film do you still wake up in the morning and hear the notes or start straight away to think of new and fresh ideas that you may be able to weave into your scores?

Sometimes the notes come quickly, especially after a night’s sleep allowing my subconscious a chance to keep working.  Other times it’s hard work.  I have found that the more I write, the easier it is to write.  Moving from project to project is the best way to keep the creativity flowing.  Short breaks are ok, but I really enjoy writing.  I love solving dramatic and emotional situations. 

What are you working on now if you can tell us?

I am working on a 3-part documentary series, “Ronin 3: The Battle for Sangin.”  It’s a United States Marine commissioned project about a Marine unit in Afghanistan in 2010.  I had the opportunity to compose a concert suite before working on the film itself.  The world premiere for concert suite was performed by “The President’s Own” Marine Chamber Orchestra in Washington DC on August 20, 2022.  It was fantastic to compose music about Marines and then have Marines perform the music.  It was quite a fitting tribute to the Marines of the Darkhorse Battalion. 

Many thanks…to Alan Williams who was in the middle of preparing for a concert but still answered my questions, thank you Maestro.

TALKING WITH COMPOSER DAVID BUCKLEY.

David Buckley.

Can we start with one of your recent scores which is for The Sandman -season 1, how did you become involved on the project?

I am not 100% sure how I got on their radar, but I do know they were looking for someone who had an eclectic range and could meet the varying tonal needs of The Sandman. It’s a genre-bending story, so they wanted someone who was nimble and could move between orchestral writing to ambient textures and everything in between. I think my CV shows me as someone who has worked in a range of styles so I imagine that must have helped. 

There are ten episodes in the first season of The Sandman, did you work on each episode in the order that it was to be released, or were you scoring different episodes as and when the schedule dictated?

It was all over the place, although I did start on episode 1 first which I was glad about. But then I was really at the mercy of the shooting schedule and visual fx. 

The score is available on digital platforms, will there be a physical release as in a CD or maybe an LP?

I have not heard any plans for anything other than a digital release, but I love the thought of an LP – something classy and timeless about that!

What size orchestra did you have for the project, and how much music approx.; did you compose for the series?

In its fullest version, there were 40 strings, double woodwinds, 6 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, 1 bass trombone & tuba. Plus choir, piano, harp and percussion. And then of course all the sound design elements and specialist instruments I used along the way as I was scoring. There are occasions when all forces are full utilized, but also lots of quiet moments with just one or two instruments. It was really nice to explore a fully dynamic range in the show – never was there a need for me to be in your face all the time. 



I think there are seven different directors who worked on the series, is it difficult working with more than one director as maybe each director has a different idea regarding the music?

Although the show has a very English feel with predominantly English actors (and I assume directors), the show was in post-production in LA and therefore followed the American convention of television production where the composer has virtually no interaction with the directors. The show runner and producers were my bosses, and it was to them that I was answerable.

I suppose the next question is will there be a season 2 and will you continue as composer?

After all the hard work everyone put into this it would be wonderful to hear there was a second season. I know there are a lot more stories to tell and the writer’s room is raring to go. I would love to continue as composer if asked. 

You have scored feature films television series and video games, what would you say is the most striking difference between scoring a series and writing music for a video game?

I’ve only done a few game scores and although I enjoyed the experiences enormously, I don’t find the non-linear storytelling of games particularly satisfying. By that I mean the player gets to dictate how the story unfolds – to some extent – due to their skill and decision making.

So it’s harder to make longer-term musical structures. Even though television schedules can be brutal, at least you you can get a feel for the contour of the drama by reading scripts. Ultimately scripted drama suits me better. 

When working on a long running series such as Evil and The Good Fight for Paramount+ do you ever recycle music cues from earlier episodes into more recent ones and how many episodes in advance of them being aired are you scoring them?

Yes and No. Sometimes a cue from an earlier episode works really well and if it does the job, why not? But for this season of The Good Fight (the final one), for example, I am pushing the music into a slightly new space, so no recycling there. And there’s only a week between spotting the episode and delivering the score, so it’s about is tight as it gets.

Batman Arkham Knight you scored alongside Nick Arundel, was this a collaboration or did you each contribute separately to the score. And can I ask the same question regarding Jason Bourne, you worked with John Powell on this, again was it a collaboration or what was your role on the score?

We contributed separately. I am not sure how possible it is for two composers to literally co-write a single piece of music. I’ve co-wrttien numerous scores and it’s mostly ended up being a division of labour. With both Batman Arkham Knight and Jason Bourne there was a musical language firmly established in previous instalments so it was my job to be faithful to the source while putting my own spin on it (when I was allowed). 


What musical education did you receive, and was writing music for film, tv etc something that you set out to do as a career or did it just kind of happen as you began your musical career?

I was a cathedral choir boy in the UK and then I studied music at Cambridge University. As a child I performed on the score to The Last Temptation of Christ by Peter Gabriel, and I think that gave me my first taste for film scoring. So yes, I’ve probably always wanted to do it – started writing music for theme parks and toilet roll commercials and worked my way up from there.

Are you from a family background that is musical as in any performers or composers in your family, and what are your earliest memories of any type of music?

My mother wanted to be an opera singer, but her old-fashioned parents didn’t deem that a proper job so she became a teacher of music. Her father was Indian so I was introduced to non-Western music as a child, and my father was a lover of jazz, a love that we shared while he was alive. I still find myself playing a little jazz piano after a couple of beers once in a while.



What composers, artists etc would you say have either influenced you or inspired you to do what you do?

Richard Harvey is a prolific British composer and multi-instrumentalist. I sang on his eco-oratorio The Plague & Moonflower as a child, and it left a huge mark on me. I got in touch with Richard after I left university and he took me under his wing and helped me to break into Hollywood. I consider myself very fortunate to call him a friend and he frequently lends his talents by playing on my scores (including The Sandman). Harry Gregson-Williams took the baton from Richard when I moved to LA and really helped me get on the map. He oversaw my first couple of features (the little-known but excellent horror movie, Blood Creek directed by Joel Schumacher and the fun Asian fantasy flick, The Forbidden Kingdom).

I owe a huge amount to Harry, and again, I am so fortunate that he remains interested and supportive in what I do. There are others too: John Powell, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman and John Ottman, all of whom I have worked with and have learned so much from. Having said which, I’m not someone who listens to film music for pleasure. Sometimes for work it’s necessary to check out this score or that, but if and when I get the chance to listen to music it would likely be either 16th century vocal music or an obscure classical composer or band.

I’m a firm believer that we are influenced by every single thing that we have experienced in the past – it all leads us to make the the creative decisions we now choose – me singing in a choir, the Dixieland jazz my father played, the tabla player who performed at my grandfather’s garden party – they are all influences whether conscious or subconscious. 

A few of your scores are available on digital platforms, do you like to be involved with these releases ie; selecting what tracks will represent your scores etc on the release?

Yes. For me this is a hugely important part of the process. If there is time, I try and put a gap between finishing a score and putting an album together as I like to re-experience the music away from the product for which it was created. By doing so, it’s easier to let things go and make edits, etc, as one forgets (some) of the tortuous process that bought the music to life in the first place. Ie, it’s important for me to look at and appraise the music as its own entity as that is exactly what listeners will be doing. 



Walking With Walken was a short film you scored back in 2001, how did you get involved on this and is it more difficult to establish a musical persona on a short as opposed to a series or a motion picture, because of the running time of the film?

Blimey – that’s a LONG time ago. I was just starting out and I’d do anything back then to get a credit. I think I put my name up on a website and said I would score your film for 4 cans of beer, and I got the gig. I remember the short being quite good and funny, but I don’t recall anything else about it. I’ve done a few shorts since then, and broadly speaking I approach it just as I would anything else. Yes, there’s a quicker and more concise journey with a short, but I don’t really do anything differently. 



Your scores I think are very varied but there is still something within that say this is David Buckley, Do, you think it is important to try and infuse a certain style into your works, and what is your opinion of the increased use of the so-called soundscape approach to scoring movies, with thematic music becoming less frequent on scores?

It’s nice to know you hear something that says David Buckley in my various scores – I can’t think of a higher compliment. However, I think the quest to find your voice is an eternal one and I will always keep looking. Sometimes you get to express yourself more eloquently and sometimes you have to play the politics game. I was fortunate in The Sandman to be able to write as I felt and I wasn’t pushed around too much. 

I have no problem with soundscape scores. One of the great things about this art-form is that it is an evolving one. 60 years ago all film scores would have been orchestral – some truly outstanding music was written back then, and of course John Williams is still working in that same tradition today. But in the last few decades we have hugely expanded the sonic pallet and have cut the umbilical cord to 19th century operatic traditions which was feeding scores since their inception. And I think movie and tv shows and games are all the better for having these increased resources available to them. I can’t remember a note of the Chernobyl score, but I thought the series was outstanding and score played a huge part in that. I also think people need to get over the notion that ’soundscape’ scores are easy to do and their composers are lazy. When done well, with thought and detail, they can take just as long to create as an orchestral score. And let’s not forget, just because a composer hires an orchestra, it doesn’t automatically make the music good.

Do you conduct at all, and do you like to orchestrate your own scores if that is possible?

I have no interest in conducting. I prefer to be in the booth to hear what is being recorded; I can then give my notes to the conductor. Also, I’m a shit conductor! I orchestrate my own music. Sometimes I have an orchestrator credited on my score – his job is to translate all my midi data into a legible format, but he is not making any orchestration decisions – the detail is written by me. That’s not to say that my ‘orchestrator’ is not a skilled and valued collaborator, but the job-description is a bit misleading. 

Is there a set routine that you like to follow when working on a score, for example is it a case of working from opening titles through to end credits or do you like to tackle larger cues first or even establish a core theme on which you can build the remainder of the score?

It varies on every project. I don’t typically like to work sequentially as I normally find I get better results when I enter the project from a key scene, or somewhere were I can properly establish a theme or a vibe. It’s nice to spend as much time as possible being non-committal. Television schedules aren’t helpful with that notion as they require you to pump things out pretty rapidly. But when I work on something with a slightly luxurious schedule I enjoy having the opportunity to make wrong turns and then get back on track. 

 One of your up-and-coming projects is for Kandahar, can you tell us anything about what type of score you will be writing for this?

So far it’s a pretty ambient affair – organic textures, analogue synths, ambient guitars, upright piano and a few VERY subtle middle-eastern influences. Absolutely no orchestra or pounding taiko drums. The director, Ric, wants to avoid the score sounding too Hollywood and is in favour of a more Indi, dusty sound while still supporting the thriller qualities of the film. Got to finish it up in a month, so we’ll see where it ends up!

Many Thanks to David Buckley for his time and brilliant answers.

IN CONVERSATION WITH COMPOSER CHRISTOPHER WONG.

Working from his studio in Los Angeles, Christopher Wong has established himself as one of the top composers in Vietnam’s film industry, having twice won Vietnam’s Oscar-equivalent Golden Lotus for Best Original Score, and is a frequent collaborator of the rising generation of Asian American film directors.

Christopher Wong.

As well as your musical education studies you also studied with Jerry Goldsmith, where was this and how long did you study with him?

 I was one of 6 students at UCLA’s music department that were selected to study with Jerry in 1998; they chose 2 PHD students, 2 Masters students, and 2 undergraduates — I was one of the undergraduates.  We got to meet with him once a week for about 3 months and he had the classes at his home in Beverly Hills.  Probably the moment that made the biggest impact to me was watching him conduct the sessions for Star Trek Insurrection at Paramount stage M.  But I have many wonderful memories of him during those 3 months, sometimes just funny memories of things he would say, his stories and thoughts about other musicians and composers, funny moments like when I said “isn’t your theme to Chinatown in *dorian mode” and he played the first 3 or 4 notes on the piano and said “I don’t remember how it goes”…it was definitely one of the most memorable 3 months of my life, but it was because I got to know the actual person behind all of this great music, hear about all of his ups and downs.  

*(The Dorian mode, sometimes called the Doric mode, is the second of seven modes of the major scale. If you were to play all the notes from C major but starting on D you would have played D Dorian scale. It uses the formula of semitones and tones: T – S – T – T – T – S – T. Which in half and whole steps is: W – H – W – W – W – H – W).

I think I am right when I say you began to score movies in 2003, how did you break into film scoring?

 Well, I was doing some little things like student films, commericials, and trailers starting around 2000, but I think the first film I did that had some significance was “The Anniversary” by Ham Tran, who I met in 2002 through a mutual friend at UCLA.  It was his graduate thesis film, and it went on to win awards at over 20 film festivals and was short-listed for the Oscars that year.  Of course we know that after that he went on to make films like “Journey from the Fall”, and the recent film “Maika”.  When Ham was working on “The Anniversary”, he was renting a house with another director who I would end up working with many times, Victor Vu. 

When Victor saw the music in “The Anniversary”, he wanted me to score his first feature in 2003.  The lead actor in that film was Charlie Nguyen’s brother, which is how I ended up working on “The Rebel” a few years after.  And then it seemed that from then on, I became well liked by many Vietnamese directors — the ones that I met here in LA moved to work in Vietnam around 2008, so I became introduced to audiences over there.  

One of your recent scores Maika the Girl from another Universe is now available on digital platforms via Movie Score Media, you have released twelve of your scores with MSM do you have an active role in deciding on what music will be released as in what cues will represent the score?

I’m very lucky that Mikael Carlsson, who runs Movie Score Media, really likes my work and wants to release so many of my scores.  At this point I usually just send him a score anytime it gets finished and see if he wants to release it and he usually does.  Sometimes it comes to the ownership of rights on the music and that makes it difficult if the movie studio didn’t let me have certain things in my contract, so in those cases it might not be up to me.  Mikael, by the way, is an incredible composer himself — he does mostly choral music, and it’s fantastic.  So from that point of view, I’m incredibly flattered that another composer likes my work enough to release so much of it.  

Was writing for film something that you always had an attraction to, and what would you say are your earliest recollections of any kind of music?

 I actually didn’t get really serious about film until I met Jerry Goldsmith.  I grew up as a kid playing classical piano (I actually started on violin and wasn’t very good at that instrument), and then in high school I learned guitar and played in some rock bands.  I also learned a bit of jazz piano and played in a small jazz group with some friends.  I think probably the through-line for my musical experience is that when I started writing music as a teenager, it always seemed to be imagining some kind of story.  And when I studied with Jerry, I was in the middle of writing a musical theater piece.  So I think I realized eventually that I always tended to think of music as a story, and then film became the storytelling medium that I became most involved in as a musician.  

Maika is a grand sounding score, for me there are certain passages and phrases that evoke the work of both Williams and Goldsmith, how did you become involved on the project and how much time did you have to score and record the score?

 As I mentioned earlier, I’ve known the director, Ham Tran, for about 20 years now.  So he told me about the Maika project before they started filming it.  The film itself was intentionly designed to have a throwback 80s feel, so Ham really wanted the sound of those classic 80s adventure scores that Williams and Goldsmith did — both of them were in the temp track I think, as well as some Silvestri.  It was great fun, especially since most film projects these days don’t want composers to write in that style anymore.  I was sketching theme ideas for Ham early on while he was editing, but the bulk of the work was done over about 2 months.  

When asked to score a movie what is the normal routine for you as in the scoring process? 

 I’ll sometimes read a draft of the script if it’s sent to me, but I can’t get a specific idea of what will work on a film until I see the picture.  I see myself more as a filmmaker than a composer when I work on a film — I’m a filmmaker who is in charge of the music aspect of the film.  So, every decision has to be based in what will improve the film so that it’s better after you worked on it.  The first few times I watch a film, I try to determine what the strengths and weaknesses of the current edit of the film are, learn the characters and the story as well as I can.  You ask yourself “What does the audience believe in this current edit of the film, and what parts are hard to believe?  What characters have emotions that are easily relatable, and what characters are having a harder time getting the audience to connect to what they are feeling?”  So, then you develop a strategy for what the music needs to do to maximize the strengths of the film, while improving any areas that the film is struggling in.  One of the best feelings is when a director tells you “This scene never worked for me before, but after seeing it with your music in it, it’s one of the strongest parts of the movie now!”  It feels like you made an important contribution and are helping the team create a movie successfully. 

Understanding the film on a fundamental storytelling level is more important than anything concrete in the musical syntax, syntax as in what kinds of harmonies or instrumentation you are using, because if you don’t understand the film on a fundamental storytelling level, you’re never going to arrive at the correct musical decisions.  Once I feel confident I understand the film on this level, I’ll do about 3 or 4 cues to scenes that would show primary musical ideas, whether they are themes or stylistic choices, and send them to the director for feedback.  Once the director is happy with some initial ideas, I know I’ve established a general direction to head in, and then from there it’s just writing enough music every day to hit the deadline.  

You have worked on numerous genres of film, is there any genre that you would like to work on that at this time you have not?

 I’d actually love to do some more children’s films like Maika, maybe some animated films.  At this point of my life I want to work on some more things that my kids can have fun watching.  And in general, I love working on films about Asian culture, films that have important issues to Asians and Asian Americans, whatever the genre is.  

You use the Bulgarian Symphony orchestra on Maika, do you conduct the score or is it preferable to have a conductor and supervise the recording from the booth?

 On Maika, we recorded remotely, meaning that my team and I were monitoring the sessions from Los Angeles, while the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra was recording in Sofia.  In situations where I can be in the same place as the recording session, conducting myself is great if we have a lot of studio time — you can get really specific with the details.  But if you are on limited studio time, it is faster to have someone else conduct and supervise from the booth.  

Maika is also a score that fuses both symphonic with electronic support> Samples and synthetic sounds have in the past decade developed greatly and are now a staple tool of the film scoring family, what is your preference as a composer to utilize live performances or use electronic elements etc: or is there room for both?

 My preference is always to use live musicians on anything that is supposed to sound like traditional symphonic instruments, and to only use the samples/synths on parts of the music that are intentionally supposed to sound synthetic, like in many parts of the score for “The Guardian”.  The thing is that you also have to work within the budget requirements of any film.  So sometimes you are keeping some of the sampled orchestral instruments and replacing others with live musicians, and hoping that the result when mixed together is that it tricks the ear into feeling that everything is as live as possible.  You learn to adjust on every film to deliver the best possible audio production based on what the resources are.  

Your music for film is always thematic, but in recent years the main theme for movies seems to have been faded out or sidestepped by composers, is the use of motifs and themes for characters and locations important to you when writing a score?

 I think when it comes to thematic music, maybe I’m a lucky composer — writing thematically is something I enjoy doing and most of my favorite music by other composers is thematic, and in most places in Asia, thematic music is still encouraged by the filmmakers and audiences.  I know in Hollywood there are some composers that would like to write more thematically but are told not to by the filmmakers or studios…in certain kinds of films it’s seen as “old fashioned”.  For me, the themes are the most interesting part of film scoring, which is what I admire about some of my favorite composers like Ennio Morricone or Joe Hisaishi, they just have an endless well of great themes they have written.  And the real magic happens when a theme is varied or adjusted into a slightly different tone to reflect a change in a character or situation.

Dreamy Eyes is a beautiful film and score from 2019, within the score you use soloists, for violin piano etc, which purvey the fragility, and the intimate and delicate elements of the movie. Do you perform on any of your scores?

 I think Dreamy Eyes is actually my favorite score I’ve written, maybe my favorite film I’ve worked on as well…it just had everything I love in a story, and leans into all the things I love to do.  I played some of the guitar and piano parts on that score, though anything that’s too hard to play I’d rather have someone else do it! 

One of my  friends who works with me, Ian, is actually a great guitar player, so on some other scores with tricky guitar parts, I’ll have him do it.  My wife Holley is a classical soprano, so she’s on some of the scores.  But a lot of the time I’ll only perform something if it’s easy to play, since so much of my mental energy is already being taken up by the composing chores.  

Is orchestration an important part of the composing process, and do you work on all your own orchestrations?

 Orchestration is a very important part of the composing process, and I usually do the orchestrations for the cues that I’m really picky about and have the time for.  The more straightforward cues, I’ll usually have one or two orchestrators that are helping out, because there’s usually so little time to get all the work done.  A lot of people think that orchestration is only about hearing a unique instrument in a piece of music, like a Duduk in Gladiator, or a Hardanger Fiddle in Lord of the Rings — certainly these things are important, but people often forget that orchestration is also about all the subtleties about how different instruments perform, like how a viola and cello are capable of playing the same notes between middle C and the C an octave above, but the cello will sound more strident, and so you would choose one over the other based on the feel you are trying to get.  Or quirky stuff like when Ravel uses 2 snare drummers on Bolero, he knows that it’s all going to sound like flams because there’s no way those 2 drummers can be exactly in sync, or when Debussy divides the celli into 4 parts in La Mer, he knows it’s going to be out of tune — he actually wants that because it sounds like cool dolphins underwater, or whatever he was imagining at the time.  So, for me, those are actually the interesting things about orchestration, it’s not just the obvious things like finding an unusual instrument.  

How many times do you like to see a prospective project before deciding you will score it and also how long does it take before you begin to formulate ideas regarding the style, the sound etc of the music and where it would be best placed to server the movie?

 With a prospective project, the one of the first things to consider is the director.  If it’s a director I’ve worked with before and had previous good experiences with, I’ll usually just say “yes” to it without even needing to read a script or see anything, because I figure the work process will go well and it’ll likely be a movie that I like.  There’s a lot to be said about the importance of having a good experience working on a film, just as much as the quality of the end product itself — I see some creative people burn out and it’s often because they’ve been through too many bad experiences.  If it’s a director I don’t know and I’m not familiar with their work, I’ll usually ask to see the rough cut first to make sure I like the film, and I might also ask some colleagues if they know anything about how that filmmaker runs their productions. 

I can usually tell if the movie itself is something I want to work on after just 1 viewing.  Most of the rough cuts that are shown to me these days have temp music in them, so if I think the general direction of the temp in terms of style and placement feels pretty good to me, I’ll be able to hone that in with the director pretty quickly, make some suggestions about how to improve it….probably takes about a week.  If the temp is totally off for me, or if it’s in a style that I don’t do well, that takes longer, but at this point of my career that doesn’t happen to me very much…I have enough work to listen to that people can figure out what I do well and so I tend to be offered films where they need what I do.

Do you have a set routine as in what order you score a movie, for example do you prefer to develop a core theme and use it as the foundation for the remainder of the score, or is every film different?

 Yes, I usually try to start with something that I think will end up being a main theme, whether it be for a character, a relationship, or a situation, and I try to find 2 or 3 scenes where that theme would end up being very prominent and score those first.  I know if the director responds really well to the demos of those scenes, then I will have a musical answer for several of the scenes in a film and a general direction to head in. 

I never do the scenes in order, I usually choose the scenes that would demonstrate thematic material strongly first, as well as scenes that speak to me very strongly, in the sense that I very quickly have a feel for what I want to do in those scenes and I feel the scenes strongly in terms of emotion.  I have a good friend who is a film composer, who I think is brilliant, and I know their work process is to score all the scenes in order.  I could never do that, it’s just not how my brain works.  But it works for them.  I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way, it’s just how every person most efficiently organizes information for themselves.  

I love your score for Journey from the Fall, it is so melodic and filled with haunting themes, when you were working on the movie did the the film have a temp track to guide you and do you find the use of a temp useful or distracting?

 This was one of the few films I’ve worked on that had no temp in it, perhaps it shows!  I was actually drafting themes just based off of the story and conversations with the director, which doesn’t always work, but in this case it worked well — there were a few scenes in that movie where the director actually cut the footage to the demos that I was turning in to him.  Bad temp is distracting, as well as when a director is so attached to good temp that they can’t accept any other approach.  But I find that a well temp’ed film from a director that is flexible can actually be a useful starting point to have conversations about the music, because music is already so hard to talk about and is so subjective by nature — something that feels like “heartache” to one person might sound “uplifting” to another person. 

So the temp provides a place to start and say “this seems to be working well overall, but in this moment it stops working, so we need to think of a way to change directions once it gets to this point”.  It tends to make directors more comfortable interacting with you, and it’s a concrete musical example to point to and try to adjust, suggesting “less of this” or “more of this”.  

The Guardian, is a score that has many styles and components, up-beat electro-pop, a Hermman-esque dramatic and atmospheric style and various electronic sounds and blend to create an effective work, was it difficult reaching the right balance when working on the movie, and did the director have any specific ideas regarding the music?

 This was a bit of a strange score in terms of the various styles involved, mostly because the story involved an aspiring pop singer who falls into a horror-movie situation involving mysterious murders and occult magic.  The director didn’t really push for a specific idea when we started, but because of the prevalence of all of the electro-pop music, I realized that the suspense and horror underscore should be heavily electronic so that it would feel like an organic part of the soundscape of the film when heard in between the pop songs.  There is a small amount of orchestral music in the score during some of the more intensely emotional scenes, but I knew we could only use that in key moments.  

What is next for you?

 I’m about to start a new film, a thriller by the same filmmaking team that did Camellia Sisters.  Also, I’ve been developing a musical theater project in my spare time, and we’re just starting to talk about it publicly now since we’re close to finishing the first draft.  These things take a long time to develop, so I won’t go into detail yet, but I’m hoping to get the project into the workshopping stage during the coming year and if we’re fortunate we’ll get to show a fully produced version to the public sometime in the future.