Timothy Williams is a British born Composer,Conductor and orchestrator who has been involved on many of the big box office hits of recent years. Although we are probably not aware of it we have been listening to his music for a long time. He is without a doubt a talented and versatile composer, who I know we will be hearing a lot more of.
I understand you have been busy recently working on a number of projects, I.T. and I’M NOT ASHAMED being two of these can you tell us anything about these and will the music be released?
I.T. is a psychological thriller directed by John Moore (Die Hard Another Day, Behind Enemy Lines) starring Pierce Brosnan. It is an electronic score, which will be released later this year alongside the film release. It was an amazing experience working with John. He is a huge visionary and I learned so much from his approach. He has directed some of my all time favorite films so it was a dream come true working with him!
I’M NOT ASHAMED is an inscriptional story about the first teenager killed at Columbine, directed by Brian Baugh. and is a hybrid orchestral ambient score. This will also be released later in the year. Brian was the cinematographer on Butterfly Circus. I am a huge fan of his work. I was beyond thrilled when he asked me to score his powerful film.
One of your recent scores was DIABLO, I loved the way you scored this, it had elements of both the more traditional western score and also at times broke into the spaghetti western score arena, was this something that you set out to do or did the director have specific instructions and ideas when it came to the score?
Thank you so much. It seems like this score in particular has connected with a lot of people, which is always gratifying for a composer.
It was one of the most collaborative scores I’ve ever written – with the director literally sitting in the room with me as I wrote it. It was a challenging score as I wanted to allude to the Western Film without falling into the expected.
One of the instruments I stumbled on was a “harmonium”, a pump organ like keyboard more commonly associated with India. Truth be told I was googling harmonica and came across it. The great singer Lisbeth Scott had one (which I found out from a Facebook tip from John Debney) and she kindly lent me it for a month while I was writing. It has such a creepy haunting quality to it. I don’t know why, but to me it evoked an old west feel. I also wanted to use percussion that related to Western Objects – guns, saddles spurs. Ultimately percussion is often metal on metal or wood on metal or skins, so it seemed an interesting way to add propulsion to the music.
What size orchestra did you have for DIABLO and how much music did you write for the movie?
I had a 60 piece orchestra and I wrote about 40 minutes of music. While I love doing ambient or electronic scores, there is something deeply satisfying about writing for orchestra.
You have provided additional music for a number of high profile movies, ie; 300, WATCHMEN, CONAN, SUCKER PUNCH, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY etc, can you tell us when you become involved and is it a case of the main score is in place and the director or producer feels that there should be more music or maybe a scene that is not scored needs music?
I primarily orchestrate for the larger budget films, which means, for those unfamiliar with the term, that I take the sessions from the composer and blow them out for every instrument in the orchestra. My goal is to take the composers vision and make sure it executed by the orchestra in a way that makes it sound as good if not better than the synth mock-up.
With 60-90 minutes of music to compose for a film, the hard reality is that there are sometimes sections of the film where the music could be a development of a theme.
With the speed of turn around on a film, I can help a composer finish out a film by the deadline by taking some of those scenes. It’s always an honor to be asked to write on these films.
You have acted as orchestrator/conductor on numerous scores for both TV and cinema, when you are composing a score yourself do you turn to an orchestrator or conductor or do you do this yourself as well as writing the score?
Ha! That is a good question. Being an orchestrator/conductor myself, I tend to want to orchestrate and conduct my own work. Realistically though, time does not allow for it. I have a great team I work with and they jump in on the orchestrations so I can be freed up to focus on the composition. Similarly, I love conducting, but with my own material I would much rather have someone else conduct so i can hear it in the booth. When you are conducting you are so focused on a million different things on the floor, that you can sometimes miss the bigger picture. I would always recommend composers sit in the booth and let someone else they trust conduct so you can really listen to what is going to tape.
You worked with Robert Duvall on WILD HORSES, what was he like to work with as a director and did he have any specific ideas regarding how the film should be scored and where the music should be placed?
Working with Robert Duvall was one of the highlights of my career so far. It was surreal to get a call from him asking me to score his beautiful film. He is a living legend and an American icon! I was nervous meeting him, but he is such a great guy and made me feel at ease. He nicknamed me “Music Man”. He was very clear about what he wanted for the score. I invited him to the recording session and he was just so thrilled. It was amazing that I could give something back to someone who is one of my favorite actors!
You have worked on a wide variety of movies, all genres etc, but is there one particular genre that you are drawn to or are more comfortable working on?
My favorite genre, and I would say the most challenging, is drama. I love stories that move and challenge us, that change and transform. It is always very hard when you start with the “blank page”. I always hope to enhance a film and not ruin it!!
You have worked on TV and feature films and also for video games how would you say that these differ when it comes to scoring them?
Video Games are always fun. Working on God of War: Ascension was incredible as it is a franchise with an incredible legacy. The hard thing about video games is that I am not scoring to anything specific. Working from a single image can be hard, but the great thing is once you find a good direction there are no limits on where you can go with it. The music, unlike film, is much more front and center.
What musical education did you receive?
I was studying initially to be a concert pianist but found writing music took over. I worked at the BBC for a while, which gave me a great foundation in orchestration. I then did further studies at the National Film School. Finally I moved to LA where I did some UCLA Extension courses and the ASCAP Film and Scoring Workshop with James Newton Howard. To be honest, the most I ever learned though was by actually doing the craft. It is so much harder than it seems and when you are staring at the “blank page” with the film playing – it is a tough job to get that first motif or idea!
Was music for film always something that you wanted to do?
Yes. Paul Almond (director of Seven Up) shot a film at the school I attended. He heard me playing piano and asked if I would write a cue or two for the film. I was hooked! I’ve always been huge fan of film music, and I think some of the best music writing has been done in this field.
When you are writing a score for a movie, how do you bring your musical ideas to fruition, do you sit at the piano and work them out or do you use a more technical and modern approach?
I use a combination. I will often sketch ideas at the piano and then start to program it in where the ideas can evolve.
I remember the advise James Newton Howard gave me – he said watch the section of film then go away and write away from the film. I use this so I am not always writing to picture. Then once I feel I am musically close, I put the film up and play the music against it. At that point I can adjust it so it becomes tighter to the film. What is great about this approach is that it helps you find the tone and emotion without being locked so specifically to the scene.
To this point, I heard a great story about Bernard Hermann. He was scoring a film and he recorded several takes of the last cue in the movie. The director got more and more worried as the music kept going way past the end of the film. Finally Bernard Hermann said “That’s it! That’s the take”. The director rushed out and said “I’m sorry but you are going about 15 seconds long over the end of the film. You’ll have to redo it” to which Bernard replied “I’m not worried about that… we can always edit the music to fit – it’s the tone – the tone was perfect!” I think there is a lot of wisdom in that! We call it “vibe” today, but it’s that feel that transports us into the film.
What in your opinion is the purpose of music in film?
Without question, film music needs to support the story of the film. It must serve the director’s vision of what the film is saying. For me, getting not he same page as the director is hugely important. My job is to bring their vision to life. There are times where I might suggest things the director had not thought of, but great directors always have a fairly precise idea of what the music in their film should be.
What composers would you say have influenced you in the way you approach a film score and your style and sound?
Working with Tyler Bates has had the most impact. He has been a huge mentor and taught me so much about film scoring and the craft. Other composers I greatly admire are John Powell and John Barry. I am a big fan of understated scores and scores that are not wall to wall music. Perhaps that is my British side coming out, but we prefer to be restrained. I love textured music as well, where perhaps it’s more about the colors than melody.
BUTTERFLY CIRCUS started life as a short and then was turned into a feature film, how did you become involved on the original short?
My name was forwarded to the director and he contacted me. I watched the film with him and thought it was a powerful short. I wrote the score over a weekend – that was all the time we had, and he sat in the room the whole time I wrote. Some scores just work and are not a struggle. This was one score that just seemed to write itself.
BEYOND ALL BOUNDARIES was produced by Tom Hanks did he have any input when it came to the musical score, where it should be placed etc?
Beyond All Boundaries was an amazing film. It was a passion project of Tom Hanks. He has a passion for making sure people don’t forget the incredible sacrifice people made in WWII. What I learned from this film, which I had no idea about, was the whole American Japanese side of the war. As a European I tend to see WWII from the European history and I had no idea that the Pacific Ocean was equally as engaged. While Tom Hanks was the producer, I worked more closely with the films director on the score, but I did get to talk with Tom at the premiere. It was interesting, as they had Bruce Broughton write some of the key themes for the film and then hand it off to me. It was such a great honor to work with Bruce. He is a true master!!
You have also worked on a number of horror movies, do you think that horror films need more music than other genres?
I personally think the creepiest sound is silence. It is uncomfortable and so suspenseful at times. I have this discussion often with directors. Music can make you feel safe. So I might be included to say it needs less. If it’s done right a small amount can go a long way!
Do you have a preference when it comes to where you record a score or even a preferred orchestra?
I love recording in LA and London. Both orchestras are amazing and the rooms, which make such a difference to the sound, are world class. I write differently, depending on where the film is going to be recorded.
There are things LA can do (especially more jazz or rock rhythms) which people cannot do elsewhere. Brass in particular is very specific to the location. We have players like Wayne Bergeron or John Lewis in LA than can make high trumpet notes seem effortless.
In London they have such a beautiful cohesive sound through out the Brass section, that it’s impossible to beat. The Eastern European orchestras are good, but you have to be careful about how rhythmically complex you get.
When scoring a movie do you prefer to compose a core theme initially and then build the remainder of the score around this or do you work on the sub themes or smaller cues and then develop any main theme from these?
I tend to hit key scenes first. I find if I can start to get some of the major sequences going it can provide a window into the film. That said I like to do a couple passes on a score – I start to free up and find things later in the process that then makes me want to go back a rewrite earlier cues. I tend to leave the smaller less important cues to the end. My process is definitely one of an evolving score. I learn about a film as I write for it and find things that work and don’t work.
Have you ever conducted a concert of film music, if not would this be something that you would like to do ?
We got close on doing a Guardians of The Galaxy Live in concert, but it never happened. I would absolutely love to do that, but have never had the opportunity. It would be an amazing experience. I know will happen at some point!
Many Thanks to the composer for answering my many questions.