Category Archives: Interviews

BLOODY FURY.

In the Far West, the fur trade is raging. Bloody Fury, one of the last red wolves, decides to avenge his exterminated family. But is revenge the best solution to find the way to redemption?

COMPOSERS PAY HOMAGE TO THE WESTERN SCORES OF OLD.

Susan DiBona is a seasoned film composer and multi-instrumentalist who began studying piano and writing music at the age of seven. After many years of performing onstage and working as a session musician, songwriter, orchestrator and arranger, she later kicked off her career as a film composer in Berlin, Germany, where she wrote and produced numerous scores for a number of popular primetime German TV series and features.  Her first classical piano and theory teacher as a child was the composer and concert pianist Leopold Godowksky III, nephew of George Gershwin, who mentored her and encouraged her to develop her composing skills.  She acted as both vocal coach and lyricist for the top 3 winners of Star Search Germany under contract with BMG/Universal Music. Susan has vocal coached and written lyrics for artists under contract with Polydor, Capitol, Sony/BMG, and Echo Verlag. 

She attended the Buddy Baker/ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop at NYU and was mentored by Mark Snow (The X-Files) and Sonny Kompanek (orchestrator for Carter Burwell).  Fluent in German, English, and Italian, she has conducted such prestigious orchestras as the Berliner Symphoniker, the Rome Film Orchestra, as well as ensembles including members of the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera, Vienna Philharmonic, Babelsberger Filmorchester and the RAI National Symphony Orchestra in Turin, Italy.

Salvatore Sangiovanni, born in Italy, is an internationally acclaimed virtuoso concert and jazz pianist whose composing skills range from classic Italian opera to American big band and beyond. He holds a post-graduate degree in classical piano performance from The Royal School of London. He studied film scoring and orchestration under Carlo Crivelli and was mentored by Maestro Ennio Morricone. Sal also studied jazz with Michel Camilo (faculty member of The Juilliard School) and be-bop legend Barry Harris. 

BLOODY FURY is a recent assignment for you both how did you become involved on the movie?

We’d heard of the project in summer 2022, and contacted the director, Jordan Inconstant, and sent him some of our music right away to introduce ourselves. Once the film was edited, around October, he got in touch and asked if we’d be available to write the score.

Watching the video of some of the sessions it’s clear that the score is influenced by both the music of Italian western and the more conventional sound of the Hollywood western, was this something that the director requested or was this a sound and style that you suggested would work for the movie?

Jordan did ask specifically for some elements of Italian Western film music, but we did want to channel some other composers as well: Aaron Copland, Elmer Bernstein, Scott Joplin – for the ragtime piano pieces which are played in the saloon scenes – and Carl William Stalling for the animation sequences (with a character voiced by Bill Nighy). Composing in these styles was not always a conscious choice; these styles came naturally and automatically to us because they fit so well with the images. We also included very American rock/blues music, something Jordan requested – and we think it works well. Our goal was to bring all these classic styles together seamlessly, make the score as modern and fresh as the movie, yet still give it our own signature sound.

Was the film temp tracked with any music at all, if so was this helpful or maybe distracting?

We received the film without temp tracks, by our own request. We did ask for some audio examples from the director at times to help us communicate (among the director and us two composers, there are three different native languages), and to narrow down the musical choices we would make as a team. In any case, a blank canvas to play with and an in-depth conversation with the director before we even start writing feels best for us. Temp tracks are limiting. In fact, if we feel free to develop our ideas at the start of the composing process – i.e., if the director trusts us enough to let us throw lots of different ideas around without having to follow temp tracks right from the beginning – the more creative resources we will have to draw from, and the better the score will be because we simply feel free to work using our instincts. 

It looks like a small group of players mainly strings, how many live players did you have in the orchestra and what electronic elements did you use for the score?

We orchestrated everything ourselves in record time as soon as we had final approval on the mock-ups. As for electronic elements, we created some synth tracks and electronic effects. We then recorded live percussion tracks, and Susan recorded some bamboo and wooden flutes as well as vocals (also in our own studio) before the orchestral session. For the orchestral sessions, we had 18 live players at the session in Rome, with trumpet/Flügelhorn, and piano (both a classical grand and an upright “busted-up” piano for the ragtime parts). We recorded everything we needed from the orchestra in a couple of hours. Afterwards, we overdubbed the electric guitars in Berlin, where we also completed the mix with Klaus Knapp at Trixx Studios. 

The film is a mix of live action and animation, how much music did you write for the project?

The soundtrack is about 30 minutes in length total. 

On the score you use an old piano, which re-kindles perfectly the sound of the saloon tracks as composed for Italian westerns by the likes of Morricone, Bacalov, Nicolai etc, was this a piano that was originally utilised on other western scores?

Funny you should mention it! Yes, that very saloon piano was actually used in the score for the classic Western Django.

When will the movie be released, and I hope the score will be released?

The theatrical premiere is on May 4th in Paris, and we’ll know more soon about the distribution. We hope to have the score out on CD in time for the premiere! We’ll keep you posted.

Many thanks to

Susan & Salvatore, for answering our questions and we look forward to the film being in cinemas and also the soundtrack release.

TALKING MUSIC AND FILMS WITH COMPOSER ERWANN KERMORVANT.

Born in 1972 in Lorient, Morbihan, France. Erwann Kermorvant studied clarinet at a local conservatory before studying composition in the USA at the Grove School of Music and UCLA. He was instructed in film composition by Gerald Fried, Don B. Ray and Steven Scott Smalley before moving back to France to have his first musical success with Mensana and Katoomka. Kermorvant lived and made music in Lorient for a while before moving to Paris in 1999 to establish himself as a film composer. After several short films, he finally made his debut in 2002 with the television comedy Les frangines.

ERWANN KERMORVANT.

Les vacances de Sam I think was your first scoring assignment, this was a short film from 2000, how did you become involved on this movie?

Wow, I never thought I’d get a question about my first scoring assignment! You really have done your homework. Let me try to remember how it all started. I think it was after I did my first paid composing job for a role-playing game magazine called Dragon, if I’m not mistaken, which released themed CDs “Soundtracks”. Science fiction, Heroic fantasy etc. I had to do a heroic fantasy one and I think the director of that film somehow heard it. I have no idea how it got into his hands.

Was music always a career that you wanted to undertake, and were you always wanting to write for film?

To tell the truth, I didn’t realize that composing was an option until the end of high school. Until then, I was more or less aiming for a career in genetics or biology. I studied at the conservatory in my hometown. Clarinet and harmony. But I could not see myself as a professional clarinettist. I wrote little pieces on the side, hence the harmony lessons, but I did not know what to do with them.

Your score for Bowling has just been released digitally by Plaza Mayor, the film however was released in 2012, why did it take so long for the score to be released as it is such a great soundtrack?

I’m notoriously picky with my mixes… On a more serious note, I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of projects in the meantime and little time to devote to the release of the soundtracks. On the other hand, these films were released at a time when you could only consider a physical release of the music. This, considering the costs involved, did not allow the release of a twenty-minute soundtrack. Since the arrival of platforms, things have changed and indeed, I don’t like to release soundtracks that I don’t like the sound, the edits and the order. I happened to have a window of opportunity last summer to rework and remix some soundtracks that I had left behind. So, there you have it.

What is the starting point for you when working on a score, do you like to sit and watch the movie a number of times, before you start to sketch out ideas about music, style and sound etc?

A vast subject. It depends a bit on the project and the director I’m working with. For example, Olivier MARCHAL, with whom I have worked a lot, sends me the script very early. I love reading his scripts. They feed me a lot. Then, he tells me: “You know what I like, do as usual” and then I start working with his editor with whom I work in parallel with the editing. But I already have a good idea of the colours and sometimes certain themes when I read them. In other cases, I receive films that are already advanced or even completely edited. And sometimes with sample music. My first viewing is done by cutting the music in order to be as little influenced as possible. And then from there I start to put ideas on the piano often. I like to improvise while watching the images.

When discussing a potential project with the director or producer is it just the sound or style of the music that they talk about or maybe how a score can help a movie and where music may not be needed?

Again, each case is different but generally the discussion is more about the style of music than the sound. On the other hand, it is often too early to talk about music placement or its possible role. But it all depends on how far along the project is when I am contacted. If it is already shot or edited or if it is a pre-shooting meeting.

 As I already mentioned Bowling is now available on Spotify and Apple etc, when a score of yours is to be released in whatever format, do you take an active role in compiling the tracks you would like released to represent your work?

Very involved as I said before. If I’m going to do a soundtrack release I like it to be what I think it is. That’s probably why I take so long to release the soundtracks. So if I get a satisfactory result before the release of the film, so much the better, if not, I prefer to postpone the release when I really have time to devote to it and when I like the result.

In 2004 you scored 36th Precinct for director Olivier Marchal, which is a varied soundtrack, did the director have any specific ideas about where music should be used and what style of music would be best for the movie?

For my first collaboration with Olivier MARCHAL, we had to discover each other. I think we tried some things. All I had of the film at the beginning of my work was the script. So I wrote themes that I sent to the editor, who gave me feedback or asked me to go in this or that direction depending on what he was working on. Since that film I have always worked in parallel with the editing for Olivier’s films. As for the music, we just knew that we needed a strong and lyrical theme around Camille, Leo Vrinks’ wife, as the whole story revolves around her. Olivier has always been a fan of Morricone and that was the direction he gave me.

Have you encountered the temp track and is it something you like or are indifferent about?

Yes of course I have often had temp-tracks for the projects I have worked on. But I always cut them off at first viewing. To make up my own mind. But sometimes on the second viewing, or if the director asks me to listen to something in particular that he likes, I put the temp-track back in to see what choices have been made so far. Sometimes some temp-track can help to start a discussion about the artistic direction. But sometimes they are so overwhelming that they cut off any thought of what might be possible to try. This is also why I often work in parallel with the editing. So that the editor works as little as possible with a temp-track. This process is a bit longer and doesn’t guarantee to be original for each film but I find that this process at least allows you to ask the right questions about the music rather than just plastering on the soundtrack of the latest film without worrying about whether it is what the film needs.

You have worked on many genres of film and TV do you think there is one genre in particular that is maybe more difficult to work on than any other?

Comedy,  As a producer friend of mine used to say: “It is always easier to make people cry than to make them laugh”. And this is so true for music too. Comedy music is probably the trickiest thing to do. In fact, if you think about it now, if comedy works in a film, it doesn’t need music, or very little. But sometimes to accompany a situation, you need music. And it takes so much delicacy to find the right balance between what is funny and what is ridiculous. I am currently working on a series called “Bright Minds” (Astrid & Raphaelle in France). And it’s a police series where one of the protagonists is autistic. There are a lot of comical situations. And the whole point is to laugh with her and not at her. It’s very perilous. And very difficult to do musically.

Is there a great deal of difference between scoring a TV project as opposed to a feature film or a short?

Apart from the budget, I don’t think so. My involvement is pretty much the same for every project. If I’m trusted and left to my own devices, I work the same way. After that, some projects are more interesting than others…

What musical education did you have?

I entered the conservatory at the age of 7 in the clarinet class. I stayed there until I was 17. I then moved to Los Angeles to study at the Grove School of Music. Then I went to UCLA to study at the Film Music Program under Don Ray. While there, I was fortunate to be taught by Dick Grove, Jack Smalley, Steven-Scott Smalley, Don Ray, Gerald Fried, Thom Sharp, Jeff Rona and to assist Ralph Grierson on numerous recording sessions. After graduation I returned to France.

Going back to Bowling, I just love the sound of this score, you incorporate bagpipes into the score because it is set in Brittany, did you research the music of the region and who are the pipe performers on the score?

One of the biggest Celtic music festivals takes place in Lorient (my hometown) every year. I was surrounded by the sound of bagpipes all my childhood. So, I didn’t have to look very far inside myself for influences for this score. I don’t remember who played the Irish flute and biniou parts but I do remember that the Breton musician I wanted and had worked with was not available. So I worked remotely with a musician from…Los Angeles… Chris Bleth! He did a remarkable job.

Do you like to conduct all your film and TV scores or is this not always possible?

I hardly ever conduct. First of all because I think it’s a real job and I’m very bad at it. And also because I am much more focused on the music when I am in the booth. When scoring a short movie which is something that can be less than ten minutes in duration, is it difficult to establish a musical identity for the project? No more than for a feature film. I would even say that short films force efficiency. And to define an identity very quickly. But once again, it all depends on the film.  

Your score for Ma Premiere Fois is an emotive and haunting one, I felt it was quite Barry-esque in places and made gentle nods to the music of Georges Delerue. What composers would you say have influenced and inspired you?

Thank you for the compliments, they are composers I greatly admire. I was lucky enough to see a lot of film music recordings during my stay in Los Angeles and they all had a great influence on me. Some of the ones that have had the biggest impact on me are obviously Danny Elfman, Alf Clausen, Georges Delerue, David Newman. And then there are those who influenced my writing like Ennio Morriconne, Thomas Newman, John Powell, Terence Blanchard… I voluntarily don’t mention John Williams and Bernard Herrmann because their influence is so important for all film music composers that it is obvious. But I have also listened a lot to classical composers who have influenced me a lot. Take the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century in France and Russia and you will have the list. And also a lot of rock bands. A lot of jazz.

Do you perform on any of your film or TV scores?

Yes. All the Synthesizer to start with. But also sometimes some percussions, guitars, or woodwinds. And also some instruments that I own and that I would have difficulty in recording outside my home.

How much time do you normally have to score a movie, maybe use Overdose as an example, which is an Amazon production with a dark and atmospheric score that is mainly electronic if I am correct?

Overdose is a special case because Olivier’s traditional editor was not available, so he chose to work with an editor who prefers to work on his own while he gets a first version. So I only started working once the editing was in V1. Given the back and forth process with Amazon, and the fact that everyone had validated the temp-track, I preferred to wait until I had a locked Image before really incorporating my ideas into the film. This meant that I had very little time between the lock and the recording. About fifteen days I think I remember. There wasn’t a lot of orchestra but the score is still very hybrid. Even the very synthetic cues are tinged with real strings to break the cold textures with the warmth of the real musicians.

What is your opinion of the non-thematic or drone fashion of scoring movies which seems to be the current trend?

It’s a fad, hopefully we’ll get back to more thematic scores. But, after all, some films work very well with this type of music and would probably be too heavy with orchestral scores. I think films get the music they deserve. To have a thematic film score, you need a film that is suitable for it.

What is next for you?

I am currently working on season 4 of Bright Minds (Astrid & Raphaelle). A soundtrack should be released soon. In parallel I’m also working on a series by Olivier Marchal for Netflix. I have several other series projects coming up and also normally a film later this Year.

TALKING TO COMPOSER JOHANNES RINGEN.

Film composer Johannes Ringen is known for his eclectic approach to music. His recent work includes an action-packed score for Netflix’s No 1 original film Troll, dark ominous music for the disaster movie The Quake, and a symphonic score for the quirky Viking comedy show Norsemen on Netflix.

After moving to Los Angeles, Ringen has contributed music and/or arrangements to major Hollywood productions such as Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, Furious 7, directed by James Wan, and The Fate of the Furious, as well as TV shows such as MacGyver and Hawaii 5-0.

Ringen is a graduate from the prestigious Film Scoring Program at the University of Southern California. When not composing, he can be found at flea markets with his family, secretly hoping to find unique instruments previously unknown to mankind.

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

To elevate the film. All departments of a film productions have certain superpowers, and I’m there to serve the movie through writing the music. The score can do a myriad of things when you break down a film scene by scene. I think people would be surprised if they attended a director/composer meeting, because we barely discuss the music itself. The conversation is almost entirely about the film, and how we can utilise music to tell the story in the best possible way. We discuss moods, emotions, characters, atmospheres, pacing etc. It’s all about storytelling, really.

One of your recent scores is for the movie Troll which is streaming now on Netflix, how did you become involved on the project?

I had been working with the director, Roar Uthaug, on a few of his previous movies (in the background as a composer’s assistant). Since then I had moved on from the assistant position, and worked on pretty successful movies on my own. Roar is a brilliant director and a breeze to work with, so when I heard he was making a movie about trolls, I simply let him know that I would love to score his movie. Fortunately, he was onboard with that idea.

In your score for Troll you weave in elements of Greig’s The Hall of the Mountain king, was this something that you thought of doing, and did the producers have any specific ideas or instructions regarding how the music should sound or where it should be placed?

When we started to conceptualise the score, the director and I tried to figure out if there was anything musical related to trolls that we could tap into. Both of us being Norwegians, we knew a lullaby about trolls that most Norwegians know, and of course Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King. The latter is known way outside of Norway, so we went with that. We thought it would be fun to sprinkle bits and pieces from it throughout the movie – without being too “on the nose”. The theme reveals itself at the end, but I think 9 out 10 who watches Troll won’t recognise any similarities before you simply can’t miss it.

You were born in Norway, did you study music there, and what musical education did you receive?

I actually didn’t study music formally before I moved to LA, and started studying film scoring at USC.

Were any of your family members musical as in performers or composers, and what are your earliest memories of any kind of music?

No one in my family were professional musicians, but we had a piano at home. I had to take piano lessons, and I remember very well playing piano with my granddad. I can still play those pieces.

Was music for film and TV something that you had always wanted to pursue as a career, or were you attracted to music and then moved into film scoring as your career unfolded?

I grew up in Lillehammer, a small city most known for hosting the Winter Olympics in 1994, and later on the Netflix show “Lilyhammer”. We had only one TV channel when I was a kid, so I don’t think I even knew writing music for film and TV was a profession. I played in bands, and even toured, but I didn’t particularly like being on stage, and I didn’t like playing the same songs over and over. A friend of mine studied to be a director, and he needed some music for his short film, and he called me. I loved every minute of it, and hasn’t looked back since. Everything just clicked right there and then!

Troll is a fusion of both symphonic instrumentation and electronic elements, but I think it remains melodic and thematic, do you feel that themes for characters or locations are important within film music?

If clarifying characters and locations is important, I think character themes and themes for different locations should be considered, yes. It’s important to analyse and try to figure out what is really needed of the score, and how it can contribute to the overall experience. It’s easy to default into writing character themes, and use world instruments whenever the action takes place on some exotic location. Not to say that it’s wrong, but it could be that a different approach would serve the movie just as well, or even better. For Troll, the director wanted to highlight the adventure aspect of the story, and I think that translates well into a melodic and colourful score. On the other hand, it’s a monster movie, so it has to be somewhat hard hitting. Balancing all these considerations can be a fun challenge for the composer.

How many live players did you have for Troll?

A 60-70-piece orchestra with a reinforced brass section. But I also recorded a lot of the featured instruments (Hardanger fiddle, nyckelharpa etc.) as overdubs in a smaller studio setting.

You worked on Avengers the Age of Ultron, and other big movies such as the Fast and Furious franchise, what was your role on these?

I did additional music/arrangements on those movies. I just got out of USC, and before I knew it I was working on those giant blockbusters. Quite an experience for someone who just got out of school.

You are now based in LA how do facilities and the way in which movies are scored differ between the United States and Norway?

I still work both in the US and Scandinavia, and the difference isn’t between the continents as much as it is the size of the projects. In the states, the budgets are generally higher – and with that comes more politics, and more corporate culture.

The music from Troll is available now on digital platforms, were you involved in selecting what music would go onto the release and will there be a CD release?

Netflix trusted us on putting it together ourselves. The director and the script writer love film scores, and I think they came up with every single song title on the album. I don’t think Netflix do CD releases, but I’m not sure to be honest.

What composer’s either in film music or classical music and also artists would you say have influenced you or inspired you?

I listen to as many genres as possible for the pure joy of it. I consider myself a music lover, and I have no boundaries whatsoever when it comes to what I listen to. Even if it doesn’t appeal to me, I try to find qualities in the music, and try to figure out why someone finds it enjoyable. I have a lot of fun with it! In my film work, the movie itself is the biggest influence.

In 2016 you worked on a TV series entitled Norseman, this was 18 episodes, do you approach a series such as this in a different way as opposed to scoring a feature?

It’s not that different, but there is more re-use of material to cover that many episodes in such short amount of time.

You also have worked on many short films, is it more difficult to establish a musical identity when working on movies that have a short duration?

Absolutely. When scoring a feature film there is so much more room to let things develop.

 How many times do you like to see a project before you begin to formulate any ideas about the style or sound that you think will enhance the film or TV project?

 Sometimes I’m onboard even before they start to shoot, and that is my preferable way to work. If I’m approached later when they have a rough cut for me to look at, I often ask if I can watch a version without any music, and I find that tremendously helpful. If the picture editors have put a lot of temp tracks in there, it limits my imagination. However, when I start working to picture, I can watch the scenes quite a few times.

Do you conduct your film and TV scores, and do you ever perform on any of them?

I did a fair share of conducting when I studied at USC, but conducting really is a profession on it’s own. It is generally better for the project if I’m in the control room communicating with director and the producers if any questions or feedback comes up. I do perform on most my scores; percussion, guitars.


Do you orchestrate all of your film scores, and do you consider orchestration an important part of the composing process?

 That’s a good question. I think what “orchestration” means in context of film scoring has changed a lot over the last 25+ years. Nowadays everyone has heard a surprisingly pretty decent computer version of the score many times already before the recording session, so in a way the music is already orchestrated. The director and the producers have already approved the computer version, so you’d run the risk of getting into trouble if you go too far in either direction. My process is that I work in the computer, and everything is split out between the instrument groups in my sketches. Once a piece is approved, I then hand it off to my orchestrator who cleans it up, writes out any shorthand I may have in the demo, and correct any errors etc. He and his team makes sure everything looks great on paper, before it ends up on the stands in front of the musicians.

 Do you think that a good score can help a not so good movie

 It can definitely help a mediocre movie, but no way it’s gonna save it completely in my humble opinion.

There are a few of your credits that are for additional music, how does this work, is it a case of the composer has moved onto their next project and cannot write any more and if producers want extra cues you then step in?

 I’ve done quite a lot additional music, and I usually bring one additional writer onboard per project myself – unless the schedule is very comfortable (which is rare). I normally bring the additional writer in late in the process to help tie up loose ends etc. Film scoring is a race against the clock, so typical assignments for the additional writer are tasks that are very clear and concise, but takes time to do. For instance take a theme I’ve written, and arrange it for a new scene. I still have the full creative responsibility of course, so I normally give a few notes and fixes before I greenlight the piece, or even do tweaks. It’s all about getting to the finish line in time. After working on those gigantic American movies, I realised that you need a team to survive, and I mean “survive” in the truest sense of the word. It can get pretty intense before the deadline 🙂

What is next for you, if you can tell us that is?

I’ve been working on a show called Captain Fall Guy with the directors from Norsemen. It’s been a lot of fun! I’m not 100% sure when it’s released, but I think between Q1 and Q2 this year.

Many thanks to composer for answering my questions, and for his time and patience.

ANDREW MORGAN SMITH-SCORING THE OLD WAY.

The Old Way is a western that has just been released, the music which is exceptional, is by composer Andrew Morgan Smith, who scored movies such as Jeepers Creepers 3, You Might be the Killer, and more recently has worked on the film Presence and has just completed scoring The Old Way and Bunker, which is coming to cinemas in February. The composer spoke to MMI about The Old Way.

When you were asked to score The Old Way, did the producers have a specific sound or style in mind for the movie, or did you pitch them the idea of having a more traditional sounding score?

Initially the team was thinking about going in a more modern guitar driven direction. That’s what the movie was temped with, but it wasn’t giving the scope and feel they wanted. It ended up making the movie feel smaller in size than they needed.  Once I was officially on the film, they had started to experiment with some other older western scores in the temp.

Following that, I pitched going for a “Classic Studio Western” sound with an updated edge to it. Then it became my challenge to figure out what that actually meant.

It’s a symphonic score very much in a style that we readily associate with westerns from the 1980’s and 1990’s. I am thinking Silverado in particular. In the score you utilise banjo, guitar and fiddle (violin), to great effect who were the soloists. And what size orchestra did you have for the score?

Yes, trying to create that “Classic Studio Western” was definitely a reference to these 80s and 90s movies. I wanted to do something that still gave us that feel, but had a modern edge. After brainstorming I came up with pulling inspiration from Rocky Mountain Folk music. Since this takes place in Montana in the late 1800s, I went back and listened to period music for inspiration and thought, ‘Why not try adding in some of these instruments and idioms into the score?’.

That’s when I brought on Stephen Rees on fiddle. He’s a tremendously talented instrumentalist and long-time friend who I’ve collaborated with on numerous occasions. Stephen suggested using Seth Taylor on banjo and guitar and he was amazing!

We recorded with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra and they did a fabulous job under Francois Rousselot. The final group was about 60 player’s total.

The soundtrack is due for release on BMG is this CD or digital or hopefully both?

As of right now, I think we’re only releasing on digital, but hey maybe if there are enough letters we’ll get a small run of something.

How much music did you write for the movie and is the complete score going to be on the soundtrack release?

In total there is about 1 hour and 8 minutes of score in The Old Way. I usually try to make soundtracks more digestible than the unabridged score. The soundtrack release is going to be about 48 minutes long. Hitting all the big themes and moments with a few other things here and there.

SCORING AVATAR, THE WAY OF WATER. TALKING TO COMPOSER SIMON FRANGLEN.

You worked with James Horner on the original Avatar movie, I think I remember you saying you did all the non-orchestral parts. When you discussed scoring  The Way of Water was James Cameron very hands on concerning the music, and was it a given that some of the themes from the original score would be utilized in the movie?

Music is extremely important  to Jim, he is hands-on with everything in a Jim Cameron film, that urge for perfection is part of what makes him who he is. We had very detailed conversations about how the score should feel, what we could improve on A1, how he wanted music to work against picture.

We always were going to bring leitmotifs from A1, this is the second in a canon of films, there has to be a canon of themes.

What size orchestra did you have for the project and where was it recorded?

We headed north of a 100 piece orchestra, Covid meant that we had to separate out the brass and percussion from the Strings and Winds, but it was good noise.  I scored this at the Newman Stage, Fox Lot. This is the same stage we recorded A1, it feels like the home for Avatar.

Did you have to source specialist instruments and performers to create the unique sound on the score?

 Oh yes!  For the musicians:  The legendary Tony Hinnigan and Pedro Eustache on woodwinds, Chuck Jonkey created unique custom percussion and tonal indigenous instruments for me. I did pressgang in my son, Luca, to play guitar and strung instruments, it seemed appropriate as Jim reused a piece of Luca singing when he was eight years old from the first score. The time machine that is Avatar!

The film was in production for a while, when did you start working on the music  and had James Horner prepared anything for the movie?

I started working on the on-screen music in January 2018. James Horner died in 2015, he’d not written anything for the sequels.

It’s a richly thematic score, is it important to have themes for characters and for locations, I ask this because the trend seems to be to not write themes for movies these days. Your score incorporates the themes The Family, The Way of Water, Into the Water, and The Spirit tree which re-occur throughout the work which is just seamless and magical?

Jim specifically talked about wanting a more character-connected thematic score than A1; there are wonderful themes in A1 but they were used less in a manner connected to specific elements of the film.  Jim wanted themes associated with characters and places that could be reused as Leitmotifs. You left out one theme – the RDA / Quaritch. Jim asked me for– “our version of the Imperial March’ – relentless, brutal”.

The Songcord is a track that I find fascinating, I understand that this was the first piece that you wrote for the movie, the vocal is beautiful, sung in Na’vi, who is the vocalist and was it difficult writing a song in a language that is exclusive to the movies?

Zoe Saldaña sings the vocal, it was sung live on set in front of 100 technicians – not pre-recorded. Writing in Na’Vi is second only to Klingon or Vogon as the antithesis of Italian as a perfect language for voice. There are lots of K’s, X’s , T’s –, but I found a way. I wrote the lyrics in English first for Jim to approve, then roughly translated them into Na’Vi.  It has an advantage in the word order can be changed. I would adjust and refine each sentence to get it to sing correctly with approval from Paul Frommer who created the language.

The soundtrack was released on digital platforms then the expanded score version edition was released about a week later, how much music did you write for the movie and is it all now on a recording or is there more that maybe could be released later?

 There’s about three hours of score in the final movie. I have another two hours of unused finished score that the normal process of edit changes and rewrites generated, so in total about five hours. The expanded score version is over 100 minutes,  whether there are other releases is something for Disney to decide. I am staggered by the response; for a score album to get 50 million streams in the first three weeks is genuinely astonishing to me (and obviously The Weekend gets a gazillion more separately).

Do you take an active role in deciding what music will be released to represent the score?

Absolutely, but I have the restrictions that any composer has with any release in terms of how much and where things get released. That tends be a film company decision.

I was adamant that we would release the Atmos Mixes as we did them for the film and if you have a streaming company that supports it (Apple, Amazon, Tidal so far), you can listen to Simon Rhodes’ mixes as we hear them in the studio, in lossless Dolby Atmos.

The media are already saying that an Avatar 3, could be on the horizon, will you be working on this?

I’ve already started. I was recording material for A3 whilst doing A2. As long as I stay unfired, I’m signed up to do all the sequels.

What is next for you?

 A beer. I did turn down something to start immediately as I do need to recharge, my last day off before January was in August. There are a number of films I have been offered, I have some time before I start A3 and I love to write music. I have a symphonic work that got shelved due to Covid and A2; I will probably start back on that when I remember where the new notes are in my fingers.

(QUESTION FROM MMI SUBSCRIBER):

Amongst your brilliant new themes you composed, you reference throughout the film, and very appropriately, James Horner’s motifs and themes from the original film. How did you decide which of his themes to use and where to spot them?

Jim and I had favourite leitmotifs from A1 that it made complete sense to use, both creatively and emotionally (James Horner was a close friend of both of us). The ‘I See You’ theme from A1 is something I would use for Jake and Neytiri specifically – that’s their love theme and I expanded its use to be part of action scenes when Jake and Neytiri act as a double team. Jim also liked the chords structure – that felt to him like something we could use for ‘flying’ – the short section with Kiri, Tsireya, Tuk on Ilu’s for example.

Jim really liked the idea of the 45” aftermath of the death of the Tulkun including a reference to ‘The Death of Hometree’ from A1, he thought that resonated. It’s a great cue and I was proud to be able to use it.