Category Archives: Interviews

TALKING TO COMPOSER, PABLO CERVANTES.

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Do you think that a main theme is an important part of a film score, as so many films in recent years seem to be lacking any real thematic material to introduce the movie, also what is your opinion of the fashion by many composer to employ the DRONE sound on many of their scores, do you think this can still be categorised as music?

It depends. Some characters, stories can be benefit with a main theme.
It´s true that sometimes it´s not clear the frontier between music and sound design. The most important thing is the film, not the music. If the viewer enjoy/ understand/ is excited with the film our work as film composer, no matter how music is, is done.

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What are your first memories of any kind of music and when did you decide that it was music that you wanted to follow as a career?

We listened many musical genres at home, from classical to Pop, Rock Music and from all times. I did’nt decide to be film composer, It started as a hobby that become a job.

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So was film music something that you always wanted to do and was in your mind or did you become involved in scoring film as your career progressed?

I started writing tv signature tunes, then in 2000’s a tv producer gave me “You´re the One” script to try a demo and send it to Jose Luis Garci, the director and producer of this film.
He liked the theme and that’s how I started scoring for films.

You have scored both feature films and TV productions, is there a great difference between the two, or is it mainly down to budget and time when it comes to working in TV?

Certainly time is the main difference between tv productions (tv movies or tv series) and feature films. However, how the music works with picture is the same in both circumstances.

 

 

You have worked with Jose Luis Garci on a few movies, does he have a hands-on approach when it comes to the score?

 

He is always searching for a clear Main Theme. A recognizable, memorisable theme. He doesn’t need you to work with the picture, he tells you the emotion he wants in the music for his film.

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What musical education did you undertake and where did you study?

I started with private music and piano lessons when I was 13. But I am mainly autodidact. I studied a couple of years in the Seville Music Conservatory also.

 

What composers both classical and those who write for the cinema would you say have either inspired you or influenced you in the way you compose or approach a project?

I love themes from composers from all decades and styles, not only classical or cinema music. But to mention some of them:
Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Mahler, Gerald Finzi and from Cinema Morricone, John Williams and Thomas Newman.

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There is an album recently released I think which has music from your film scores, from 2001 to 2005, did you have any involvement in compiling the tracks for this collection?

Sure. Antonio Piñero, from Rosetta Soundtracks records (http://www.edicionesrosetta.es/), and I worked on this and chose the themes.

 

YOUR THE ONE is a very emotive work, and sounds very John Barry-esque, how did you become involved on the project and what size orchestra did you use for the score?

Thanks, John Barry was a great composer. I love “Chaplin” main theme.
I sent to Jose Luis Garci a demo inspired by “You’re the one” script.
We didn’t use orchestra, just some violins, viola and cello with dubbing technique. The oboe was played as a midi file with sample sounds.

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Do you have a preference when selecting a studio to record a score also do you tend to utilise the same soloists and musicians for your scores?

 

Most of my work is self-produced due to budget.
Sometimes all the music is made with samplers, sometimes I use a soloist and for some film scores I record with a full real orchestra in Bratislava.

Is orchestration for you just as important as composition, and do you try and carry out the orchestration on all of your scores for TV and Film, or is this not always possible?

 

Yes, it is very important. I had always orchestrate my music but I would like to work with orchestrators in the future for sure.

 

SANGRE DE MAYO is a powerful score, at what stage of the production did you become involved, by this I mean were you sent a script initially or did you begin with the rough cut of the movie?

 

I started working with the script but due to the synchronization needs in the battle scenes, I finished the score with a rough cut of the movie.

 

Do you perform on any of your film scores, and do you conduct or do you find it better to supervise and have a conductor?

When I work with midi and sampler I played all the tracks. When I had worked with full orchestra David Hernando from the Bratislavia Symphony orchestra was the conductor.

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What is your view of the increased use of synthetic, samples and electronics in film music?

 

Due to budget, and above all, less time to do our job, synthetic, samples and Daws (Digital audio workstation platforms) are indispensable nowadays.

 

 

How many times do you like to watch a movie before you begin to think about the style of music or what type of score you are going to compose?

 

Most of time I am thinking about the music that at the same time I am watching the film but obviously I analyse the films as many times as I need to. Anyway, I usually get involved by and go by first impressions. It´s a very intuitive process.

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At the moment Spain seems to be the driving force behind symphonic film scores, or at least Spanish composers, also in Spain there are many film music concerts, have you ever had any of your film music performed live?

 

Yes, I have. In october 2012, The ORTVE (Spanish public tv orchestra) programmed a film music concert with some film composers as Federico Jusid, Pascal Gaigne, Bingen Medizabal, Arnau bataller, Zacarías M. De la Riva, Emilio Aragón, Alejandro Amenabar and myself.

 

:http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/videos/los-conciertos-de-la-2/conciertos-2-ortve-academia-cine/1550992/

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In 2014, the Malaga Spanish Film Festival programmed a concert with my music.
What should music do for a film?

Tells us the accurate message in terms of emotions (what to feel), narrative (what to understand) and structure (organization and tempo).

 

Have you encountered a Temp track on any of the films that you have scored, and do you think it is a useful guide for a composer, or maybe at times if the director has lived with it so long that it can maybe be distracting as the director may say just do something like this?

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I always had temp tracks in tv series, and less times in feature films.
If we do not have time, temp tracks can be useful to know where and how the music should sound or be placed. It’s true that sometimes directors or producers are not capable of seeing their movie without the temp track. But this is a risk we composers have to take.

 

How much of an impact does a budget or lack of it have upon a score for a film or TV series?

 

It depends. If the film just needs a piano or electronic music, budget doesn’t have too much impact. If the film needs a huge orchestra and you don’t have budget enough maybe then you have a problem.

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This year so far you have worked on four projects, one of them COMA is a short, is it more difficult creating and establishing a musical identity for a short film as opposed to a full-length feature?

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It’s equally difficult to write one minute of music for a short or a feature film but as a rule a feature film needs more minutes of music.

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AN INTERVIEW WITH MAESTRO, ALFI KABILJO.

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Can I begin by asking you about the TV series, ANNO DOMINI 1573, How did you become involved on the series, and how much music did you compose for the series?

Firstly, it was a movie called THE PEASANT UPRISING directed by Vatroslav Mimica that introduced me to the director and I got the Golden Arena for the music at Pula film festival 1979. Then Mimica made from this material and some additional material TV series ANNO DOMINI 1573. I recorded some music specially for series with choir and Symphony orchestra of Croatian radio television. I was involved in the movie by my friend Branko Lustig who was a producer, and later in LA he got 2 Oscars.
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Is it very different writing for a series on TV than it is composing a score for a motion picture?

It is just little different because for series you must write very quick and in motion picture you have more time, but there are directors who change timing in last minute, so you must be prepared to change the score at the recording. As I conduct my scores I can solve easily the new timing.

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What was your first scoring assignment and how did you become involved on it?
As a child I was in love with pictures and I was always listening to the background music. In a period from 1960 to 1970, and of course later I was known as a hit composer and the most famous Yugoslav singers have recorded my songs. Also, I got many prizes at International and Yugoslav song competitions. At year 1971 a small movie company in Zagreb proposed me to write some short movies for a talented young director Lordan Zafranović. For this recording I wrote music mostly in classical style for Zagreb Philharmonic, so it was a surprise because they did not expect from a hit composer. A lot of musician came to me asking to write some chamber music for them, which I am writing even today.

You have worked on European and American movies, does the process of scoring a movie differ greatly from country to country?
It is not a big difference from country to country. The director is important – how is his knowledge and interest in music, and of course the budget for music is important. The communication between director and composer is the most important thing in realisation of music

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SKY BANDITS was a film I felt should have done better at the box office, your score was filled with so many themes, where did you record the soundtrack, and what size orchestra did you utilise?

 
I am sorry that the movie was not a great success. I had a great symphony orchestra called National Philharmonic orchestra from London where the best London musicians play. It was recorded by famous engineer Keith Grant who also recorded The Beatles. I also used in an orchestra contrabass clarinet and euphonium.

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When you begin to work on a movie, at what stage do you like to become involved, do you like to read a script initially or do you prefer to start by looking at the film in its rough-cut stage?

I prefer to read the script and speak with director and producer. With rough-cut is a little faster, but today there are some directors who want to hear some cuts on synthesizer. It is important to trust the composer.
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Do you feel that Orchestration is an important part of the composing process, and do you carry out all the orchestrations for your film scores or does this at times become almost impossible because of the scheduling?
Orchestration is very, very important. I love to orchestrate and when I compose I hear the whole orchestra. It is convenient when you have some more time for orchestration. Just in one movie I had to give my music to orchestrator ‘ because I was writing my opera  CASANOVA IN ISTRIA, at the same time, and opera was a great success.

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What are your earliest memories of music of any kind?

My first memories are when I was listening my mother playing classical music and some contemporary hits on piano. I started to learn music with 6 years and I had wonderful professors, a famous Croatian composer Rudolf Matz and his wife Margite Matz as a piano teacher. My parents had a wonderful big collection of records, mostly classical music, but after the war I bought a lot of Soviet music and records for peanuts, and we had an American library with many movie and musicals records. This was my “university” of good music.

When did you decide that you wanted to compose music as a career?

Even with 10 years I started to compose imitating my professor, but during my study of Architecture, which I finished I realised that the music will be my profession. I was very successful with my song writing, arranging and producing for record companies and radio and television. In 1969 I wrote my first musical THE BIG RACE and in 1971 the most famous YALTA YALTA which is still on repertoire.

 

What musical education did you receive, and did you concentrate upon one particular area or instrument during your studies?

I finished the music school Vatroslav Lisinski in Zagreb. I played piano and flute and I was excellent in theory. But my best school was when I started to conduct my music for records, film music and in theatres conducting my musicals.


I understand that there is A collection of compact discs available which are all your film music, did you have an active role in the selection of what cues would be used and what scores would be included in the collection?

I have very active role in the selection of my cues, but unfortunately still there are a lot of my film music which are not on the records.

Would you say that you have been influenced by any particular composer or composers, either in film music or classical music?

Stravinsky, Ravel, Shostakovich had a big influence on me and in film music Jerry Goldsmith and Nino Rota.

What is your opinion of the lack of themes in contemporary film scores?

Even today in songs there are not many good melodies, but good themes in contemporary film music are rare. It is a question of talent and education.

 

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When you begin to write a score do you have a set way in which you approach a project, by this I mean do you begin with the opening theme and work through to the end titles, or is every movie different?

Mostly I try to begin with an opening theme. This theme if I like I am trying to use it in different arrangements.

How much time are you normally given to work on a motion picture score, or doe the time scale differ from project to project?

It differs from project to project, but it is very seldom that I have a lot of time.

 

How many times do you like to view a movie before you begin work on writing the score?

2-3 times is enough for me, because I am writing every situation in my notebook.

 

Do you perform on any of your film scores, and do you conduct all of your soundtracks?

I conduct all my music and sometimes I play piano. If there is a song I also sing backing vocals.

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Do you have a preference to what studio you record your film scores at. If so is there any reason for this?

I like a good studio with big space and with excellent technical equipment.

Is the TEMP TRACK something that you have encountered often, and do you find it helpful or distracting and have you encountered a director who has wanted you to copy the temp?

It is most of the time distracting.

What is your opinion of the increased use of samples and electronics in film music and of the DRONE sound that is now a part of the scoring process in many recent scores?

I am not happy with this. It is bad for all composers, especially young one.

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What is the largest orchestra that you have used on a film score?

 

The largest orchestra was National Philharmonic Orchestra in London, 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, euphonium, harp, piano, a lot of percussion, 16 I. violins, 14. II. violins, 12. violas, 10 cellos, 8 contrabasses.

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When you are writing a piece of non-film music, for the concert hall, do you find it easier to write without images and sound effects etc that are present within films?

It is easier to write when you have nice images in movies, but if not, a lot of time I find some imaginations in my mind.

 

 

My thanks to the Maestro for his time and patience.

Also Many thanks to my good friend Sergei Karov, without whom this interview would not have happened,

Thank you Sergei.

TALKING TO COMPOSER, CARLOS FRANZETTI.

 

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You started to become involved with music at an early age, I understand?

 

C.F. I began piano studies at age six at the National conservatory in Buenos Aires and later I studied piano privately with Lucia Maranca and Guillermo Iscla, except for a few seminars in composition I was largely self-taught until I moved to Mexico in 1971.

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After your initial studies and after re-locating to Mexico, and then going to the United States in 1974, did you continue to study?

CF. Yes, indeed I went to Mexico and worked as the music director for Fermata publishing. I was twenty-one years old and there was this composer, Humberto Hernandez Medrano, recently graduated from the Moscow conservatory who studied with Shostakovich. I think I was one of his first students. Later, he taught most of Mexico’s new composers.

 
Were you from a family background that was musical in any way?
CF. Not at all. My Father was an MD in the army, who retired with the full rank of Colonel and my Mother, although she liked music, was more interested in painting more than anything else.

At what age did you begin to compose music?

 

CF. I think I was like eight or nine, when I started writing very simple melodies. I would try them on guitar and not on my real instrument, the piano.

One of the first recordings that I added to my collection by yourself Was the soundtrack to LA PELICULA DEL RAY, which is a stunning score, I was lucky enough to get the Milan LP back in 1986, how did you become involved on the movie and what size orchestra did you have for the assignment?

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CF. This was during a brief returned to Argentina in the mid-eighties. (I lived in Buenos Aires for three years, commuting to the States every couple of months) Film director Carlos Sorin, came to a jazz concert where I was playing my compositions, and asked me to write the soundtrack for his new film. He had a nice budget and gave me Card Blanche for the music that I was going to compose.
We had a very nice orchestra, basically the Buenos Aires Philharmonic woodwinds by two, meaning 2 flutes, 2 oboes, two clarinets and 2 bassoons. Four horns, three trumpets, true trombones, tuba, percussion and a large string ensemble 14/12/ 10/8/6 plus a 16 strong female choir ( 8 sopranos and 8 altos ).

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You are a multi-talented composer arranger and musician, and have written many different types of music, classical, jazz, movie scores etc, is there any genre of music that you are more at home in than others?

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CF. I love films especially European films. In the sixties and seventies, I was very much intrigued by some movie scores by Hermann, Rota, Alwyn, Goldsmith, Schifrin, John Williams. Walter Schumann (Schumann wrote his only and one of my all-time favourite scores for (The Night of the Hunter). Manuel De Sica : The Garden of the Finzi- Conti, William Alwyn ; Odd Man Out, John Dankworth, amazing score for The Servant .
In those days Film music was an outstanding contribution to the genre so I was very attracted to the idea of becoming a film composer and did several films in Argentina before moving to Mexico, where I also composed for movies. Eventually my interest moved to concert music rather than films.

Is writing the score for a movie, more difficult or restricting than writing for the concert hall, I ask this because the movies have sound effects, dialogue that you have to be aware of, and also timings that have to be precise?

CF. A film composer becomes another actor on the film he or she is working on. One day the composer has to become a whimsical, magical commentary, another day a Mexican or Cubano full of energetic mambo rhythms, a great seductive melodious soul, or a military commander. You have to be prepared to do it all. As far as timings, music under dialog, etc everything is paramount in the artistry of film scoring. Nowadays we live in an age of minimal music scoring, when in some cases, it is non-existent.

 

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You have recorded two albums I think, where you cover various themes and pieces from motion picture scores, are there any film music composers that you find particularly interesting and what composers either jazz, classical or film music, would you say have influenced you in your approach to musical composition?

 

CF. Well I have more than two albums under my name, I think I have about forty, between classical and jazz (of course I’m only talking about CDs where I’m the artist and not collaborations) I’ve mentioned before some of the film composers that I admired and whose music influenced some of my film work. In classical or academic music, I feel that my interest fall more on twentieth century composers, such as Stravinsky, Ravel, Shostakovich, Hindemith, Dutilleux and Berio.


FILM NOIR is a very entertaining album, did you decide what tracks would be on the recording and how long did it take to prepare and record?

 

CF. I always wanted to do an album of film music where the saxophone was the main ingredient. I thought about calling it “Sax Scenes” but the label decided to name it Film Noir. I came out with the repertory and had a lot of fun writing the arrangements. I especially liked the John Barry: Body Heath, one of the best Film Noir tunes ever, as well as the Hermann Taxi Driver and Raskin, The Bad and the Beautiful: what a great haunting American melody!

 

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When writing the score for a movie, at what stage do you like to become involved?

 

C.F. As soon as the movie is edited. Unless is a movie where the director is asking you to compose source music, for dancing, singing etc. In that case you work before they even shoot.

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You have worked with the City of Prague Philharmonic, who as we all know are an excellent orchestra. Do you have any preferences when it comes to recording, i.e. venues or studios and do facilities in recording studios vary in different locations?

CF I’ve done about a dozen different projects with the City of Prague Philharmonic and I always find the experience rewarding. Their musicianship is outstanding and the recording studio, engineers and producer: top notch. You just have to show up with your baton, and the music will be in the stands, the microphones placed accordingly and the coffee ready. All you have to do is your job, they do the rest marvellously.

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When you are scoring a movie do you conduct the music as well as performing piano?

 

CF. Very rarely, I would rather conduct the music against picture and make sure that the timing is correct and that the orchestra performance excellent. In most cases I will have the piano part performed by my wife, concert pianist Allison Brewster Franzetti: finest musician I’ve ever known also great ears, can catch any wrong note coming from the end of the room. In some other cases I will overdubbed the piano at the end of the session.

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Do you orchestrate all of your music or at times do you use an orchestrator if the schedule is a little tight?

 

CF. I have never used an orchestrator, I believe in orchestrating your own music, like Bernard Hermann did. I have done music scores, both composing and orchestrating 40 minutes of music for a sixty piece orchestra in a week.

 

Your first two movies were both directed by Juan Battle Planas, did he have a hands-on approach to where the music should be placed and what style of music was required, or was he happy to let you work on the score and give you freedom?

CF. I wrote my first score for Juan Battle Planas when I was twenty years old. I wasn’t sure of how good I could orchestrate so a couple of days before the recording I called the small chamber orchestra and invited them for tea and pastries at my parents’ house ( a very large house in BA,) I also invited Juan Battle and played the score, luckily everything worked out fine and a couple of days later we recorded the music.
Many years after while working with Sidney Lumet in Q&A I went through a similar experience, but in this case, it was something that Lumet would do with every score for his movies. He would record on Mondays, but Friday prior to the final session he’ll have a reduce orchestra playing the complete score against picture, if something didn’t work or he didn’t like, you’ll have to revise and rewrite over the week-end. Luckily this time it also went OK.

What are you working on at the moment?

 

CF. I just finished a composition for two pianos based on Alice in Wonderland, also some arrangements for the Canadian Brass and on the 21 st of this month I’m going to the studio to record a new solo piano album, to continue my love for film scores, this CD will include music from the French film Diva and Morricone’s Ricordare from the Tornatore film. A Pure Formality.

We look forward to hearing that, many thanks to the composer who took time out of a very busy timetable to answer my questions.

AN INTERVIEW WITH COMPOSER, NICHOLAS PIKE.

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Your musical career began when you were 7, as a chorister, was writing music for film or images something that you wanted to do from an early age as well?
No. I was in it to play and perform (flute) although I did always compose for whatever band I was in. I turned to composing full time after struggling in New York for 8 years. It was either that or get out of music!

 

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You were a member of a few bands in the early years, what type of music did you perform?
Everything from symphony orchestras to R&R bands to improvisational free jazz groups. While in Cape Town I subbed in the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra, performed with a big R&R band called HAMMAK and in the jazz arena, was mentored by and played with awesome musician Merton Barrow.

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At what age did you begin to formally study music and where did you study?
Age 7 at Canterbury Choir School. Voice was the focus, but you also had to play two instruments, one of which had to be the piano

 

 

I always remember buying SLEEPWALKERS and being blown away by the scores originality, how did you become involved on the movie, and what size orchestra did you use for the score?

Thank-you! Well my first film when I came to LA was Critters 2 which Mick Garris directed and we originally met through my then agent Jeff Kaufman. He was looking for a composer and we hit it off. He was happy with that score and so asked me to do Sleepwalkers. It was a completely different scenario than C2 because it was a big studio picture and there was money to do everything top drawer. From recording at Sony (MGM) to having Shawn Murphy engineer. I think the orchestra was about 60 pcs comprised of the best studio players.

 

You are known for creating musical sounds that are out of the ordinary, these often make a score more interesting and certainly make it stand out, as in SLEEPWALKERS, where you used a wine glass being rubbed to create the sound for the cats, do you orchestrate all of your scores for TV and Film and how much research or experimenting do you undertake before creating these sounds?
I generally do all the orchestration because I think it’s a large part of the sound. I sometimes (when time is tight) bring someone in to help out writing out the score but I always go over it and fine tune and adjust before sending it to the copyist. In terms of the custom sounds, the film usually dictates to me what I should bring to it and so I am able to go directly to that sound source and experiment. Usually at that stage it becomes more about getting the ‘performance’ just right more than searching for the sound.

 

 

Is scoring a TV series more demanding upon a composer in terms of the schedule and maybe the budget?
In this day and age, TV is where the reliable money is. Sadly, I don’t think a composer can survive on a career of indie films now! So, it’s a toss-up – a TV series tends to be more of a production line mentality where you’re paid well and can afford to bring in reinforcements to get the job finished, whereas on indie movies you can generally bring a lot more creativity to the project but then you have to do everything because the budget is miniscule.

 

 

How much time are you normally allowed to create a score for a movie, or does this vary from project to project and upon the director or producer?
It varies from project to project. I spoke to a composer the other day who had been on a film, on and off for a year! Usually it’s in the 4 to 8-week range with the other extreme being counted in days. Critters 2 was 18 days for me – but I’ve heard of others having a lot fewer days in extreme circumstances.

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At what stage of the production do you like to become involved, does it help to see a script, or is it better to start when the film is in its rough-cut state, so you can spot it?
Reading scripts doesn’t do much for me because my own imagination as to how a film materializes from the script is usually very different to the director’s so I like to see a rough cut that is very close to being finished. The first ideas that come to me are usually very precious and only come from that first emotional response and so if I have to change directions after having those first instinctual ideas, I feel somewhat demoralized and that the benefit of those first instincts are lost to the score forever.

When seeing a movie for the first time, do you begin to sketch out ideas or do you like to sit and watch it several times before beginning to get fixed ideas about what style of music the project needs and where it will be placed?
Usually I watch it once and there will be one cue that I want to write immediately, and which somehow captivates the essence of the film/score (generally a theme or thematic idea or sound) and then once I’ve got that, I’m off and running. Generally, I work in chronological order.

 

What do you think music should do for a movie?

Enhance every aspect of it, but specifically it’s job is to ramp up the emotional content – whether it’s a horror film, a comedy or a drama, music can fill in and support where emotional content is lacking.

You have scored several Horror movies; do you think that horror films need more music as opposed to say a comedy or a romance?
It depends. Some horror films require very little and some comedies need a lot of help! Often, horror films require perhaps more of a consistent discomfort but that could just be in the form of soundscapes and tones as opposed to fully realized score

 


Who as in composers and artists would you say have influenced you in the way you write or in the way that you score a project?

20 century Russian composers and French impressionists

Do you have any preferences when it comes to studios, when you record a score?

For orchestral work the two best rooms in the world are Abbey Road (London) and Sony (MGM) in LA

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You worked on GHOSTS which was a short starring Michael Jackson, did he have a very hands on approach when it came to the score as in suggesting styles and what sound he thought was needed?
He was very much into the score but in a very creative and encouraging way. He asked me what I thought it should be, I laid out my ideas and he was on the same page, so it was a very satisfying experience!

 

You have collaborated with Mick Garris a few times, what was he like to work with and did he have much input into where music should be placed etc?
I’ve worked on more projects with Mick than anybody else and so we have a great working relationship. He is always the ultimate arbiter of where music should go – although always open to ideas. Our usual way of working is: he will suggest an emotional tone with one word that would colour the entire score. For instance, on the miniseries of The Shining, the word was ‘dread’!

 

Have you encountered the TEMP track at all, if so do you think it can be a useful guide for the composer, or is it distracting when you are trying to create a score for the picture?

Temp tracks are a fact of life. Sometimes, especially if time is short, they can be very useful in conveying what the director wants emotionally. The real problem is when the director (and/or producers) has fallen in love with the temp and cannot be pried from that position. That’s when composers lose their minds because at that point, they’ve been turned into a ‘creative’ arranger and the real creative process and freshness of composing original music has gone out the window.

GRAVEYARD SHIFT was your first assignment, how did you become involved on the movie and what size orchestra did you utilise for the score?
When I was in New York and debating whether to stay in music, I was introduced to the producer who asked me if I’d like to compose the score. I said “yes”, and he pulled out an envelope stuffed with cash and said, “ok here’s half, I’ll give you the rest when you’re done”! It was a completely electronic score

 

When working on a TV series such as THE SHINING for example, do you start with the theme and then build the remainder of your score around that, or do you work on the episodes and fashion a theme from music used within the series?
The Shining for me was like one long movie and so I worked on it in the same way as I do normal length films – finding that first cue that sets the tone for the entire score. Being a pretty dark story, I was in a bad mood for the three months I worked on it!

What percentage of your scores are realised by electronic or synthetic sounds and instrumentation, and how do you work out your musical ideas, piano, keyboard, or a more technical approach?

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I generally compose on a keyboard with a piano sound to start off with. From there, depending on the type of score, I will add instrumentation to send it in whatever direction it needs to go. The norm these days, is that directors and producers want to hear exactly what the score will sound like before committing to the expensive orchestral sessions…. which means a fully fleshed out demo.

Do you think that the opening or main title theme has become a thing of the past?

Yes and no. Certainly in the interests of more commercial sales time in ‘free’ TV, the title theme has often been done away with but on most of the pay channels, they are not working under that financial model, so they are very happy to have the all-important ‘branding’ that theme music brings to the show.

 

What is next for you?
I’m currently finishing up an extraordinary documentary on Bluegrass music called Fiddling’. It features a string quintet as well as some other bits and pieces as well a song that I wrote for it and for which I am busy looking for a ‘name’ to sing it. Very satisfying!

 

 

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When a soundtrack of yours is going to be released onto a recording, do you ever get involved with what cues will go onto the release?
Sometimes – usually if it’s a score album it’s very straight ahead. They will put all the cues in order and let it play but other times they like to combine shorter cues and even limit the overall number on the album. I will generally check it out before they move forward just to make sure nothing’s amiss.

 

 

INTERVIEW WITH COMPOSER, CRAIG SAFAN.

 

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Your Mother was a concert pianist, so I am guessing that you got your interest in music from her, but what would you say are your earliest memories of music?

I loved picking out tunes on the piano when I was around 5 years old. My favourite was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”.

What musical education did you receive, and what instrument did you study?

I took private piano lessons from around 6 1/2 years. I studied “popular” piano… never played a classical piece. I was taught to improvise from my very first lesson. Besides from those lessons I never studied music. I was a Fine Arts student in college.

 

 

Was it always music for film and TV that you intended to do for a career, or were you exploring other avenues and genres of music and an opportunity arose for you to work on a movie?

 

No. I never even knew that being a film composer was an actual career! I loved writing songs, stage musicals, and arranging albums. I accidentally fell into film composition.

You wrote a score for a film entitled WOLFEN sadly it was replaced, what happened on that particular assignment?

The director was fired. The producers let me record the score, but when they hired a new director the film was re-cut and he hired a new composer.

THE LAST STARFIGHTER, is a great score with a wonderful theme, how did you become involved on this movie and what size orchestra did you use for that score?

I had worked on “TAG: The Assassination Game” with director Nick Castle. When he developed “The Last Starfighter” he hired me to write the music. It was a very large late romantic orchestra. Quadruple woodwinds, six horns, six trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba. Big string section, lots of percussionists!

 

Do you have any preferences when it comes to where you record your film scores, if so for what reasons?

It depends on what kind of music I’m recording. For large orchestra my favourite has always been the Sony (previously MGM) scoring stage. For more electronic and smaller scores I tend to do a lot of work in my own studio, then mix somewhere else.

 

 

Is orchestration an important part of the process of music composition, and do you conduct your film scores, or do you prefer to supervise from the recording booth?

Orchestration is extremely important, especially in film music… it conveys the mood, subtext, and importance. I’ve always conducted my own scores. I think the energy I can impart conducting is more important than being in the booth.

 

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You worked on the TV series CHEERS, is it demanding writing music for a popular TV series when the episodes go out so frequently, and do you ever re-cycle any themes from previous episodes in later ones?

“Cheers” was pretty simple to compose. There was very little music in each episode, so I would often record three shows in one session. Also, each season I would compose and record an entire library of music cues which the music editor would use. The show was a mixture of my library and newly recorded music. Also, since it was written for only 5 players the music was very simple and quick to write.

 

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What would you identify as the main differences between scoring motion pictures, TV series and TV movies?

The three are conceptually very similar. The big difference is that with a feature film there is usually more time and more money to get things right. Also, bigger orchestras. The downside is there is also much more anxiety and politics in a feature film than in TV. TV doesn’t rely on box-office like a feature film and has a much quicker turn-around time, so the producers and executives are not as anxious.

Does budget have an impact on what a composer can achieve because of the restrictions it can have upon the number of players, or can you get around this by writing in a different way?

 

I can usually work around budget issues. The biggest trap is trying to do too much with too little. It’s best to scale back the type of music one is writing to fit the budget.

At what stage of the production do you prefer to become involved on a movie, rough cut, or maybe you look at a script, and how many times do you like to see a movie before you start to make decisions on what style of music you will write and where it will be placed to best serve the movie?

I like being involved when there is a rough cut. Often the musical style is largely decided by the director and editor, who put existing music on the film as it is cut. It is often very difficult to change the musical style when it has already been set by the director. That’s a big challenge!

Going back to your theme for THE LAST STARFIGHTER, many fans think that the opening theme has now become a thing of the past, as it is the trend in new movies not to have one, what is your opinion of this, I think the main theme is important, as most scores can be built on and around it?

I love having a theme. Some films want a bigger, more in your face, theme (like “Starfighter”). Other films have more hidden themes or none at all. In some films the music is hard to distinguish from the sound effects.

What composers or artists have influenced you or inspired you?

Leonard Bernstein, Stravinsky, Bartok, Prokofiev. In film Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Hermann, Max Steiner and Elmer Bernstein.

What in your opinion is the purpose of music in film?

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Film music helps drive a film, also it helps clarify action. It also can express the subtext of a film, showing what a character is feeling or thinking. Music enters one’s body involuntarily, so the film score can by-pass the brain and really affect the audience.

 

The TEMP track is something that many film makers use, is this something you find helpful when working on a movie, or can the director sometimes become so accustomed to the TEMP that they want the composer to basically copy it?

The temp track used to be used only during montage scenes. Now, with the ease of laying existing music on film, the temp track is pervasive and usually very constrictive to the film composer.

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Do you have a set routine when scoring a movie, by this I mean do start at the opening theme and work through to end titles, or do you tackle smaller cues first and develop the central theme from elements in these?

 

 

I usually work on a few themes and then start by writing some of the less important cues. That way I can safely get a feeling for how to handle the theme and orchestral point of view. I won’t write the opening music or the big cues until later.

You have used electronics and synthesisers in your scores, what is your opinion of what is becoming known as the DRONE sound in recent scores, is this music, soundscape or just a background filler?

I think there’s a place for music-as-sound in films. However, sometimes it becomes overwhelming and I miss actual melody.

What have you been working on recently?
My new album “Sirens” is going to be released this May on Varese Sarabande Records. It is music inspired by Homer’s “Odyssey”.

CraigSafan