One of your latest scores is for the Horror Thriller, BIG BAD WOLVES, how did you become involved on this movie and what size orchestra did you use for the assignment, and what electronic support did you utilize?
I got introduced to directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado by sound design supervisor Ronen Nagel when he was working with the directors on their first movie RABIES, as things turned out, it didn’t work out with the original composer on that movie, so I was brought in to do a rescue job, and we got along great. For Big Bad Wolves, the approach for the score was very old school in many ways, yet still fresh and modern. We wanted a dark fairy tale feel, a bigger then life score, we used the London Metropolitan Orchestra to perform the music, conducted by Matthew Slater who also orchestrated the score, we recorded at Air Lyndhurst with Paul Golding (Lord of The Rings) recording and Casey Stone (X-Man, Superman Returns) mixing the score.
We recorded a large chamber ensemble of violins, cellos and basses, where we would have the bass section in the middle, violins to the left, cellos to the right. We divided the cellos into two sections A and B, so section B would actually play the violas parts when needed and by doing this we would get a more solid rounded sound to the work. The winds and brass were then re-played trough our ‘3 speaker system’ via the hall we arranged and was then recorded again for the surround and effects with different positioning. All the percussion we used on the more bombastic cues, again we used the same approach, by re-sampling them again via the hall and our ‘3 speakers system’, so we had a very natural sound of the space, yet more controlled to when we wanted to use the close mics for some cues while keeping some of the space with different areas to align any instrument with full controller. For the electronics my team and I created all these metallic rusty sounds from an old saw or a violins bow played on an old bike wheels and then sampled and manipulated them, so it can be played at any register. There were also some old analog Moog basses to play undertones with the orchestra.
How much music did you compose for the movie?
I composed about 125 minutes of score, over a period of 3 months.We then recorded and mixed 90 min with 85 min ending up on the movie. I originally started working on Wolves from late August 2012 till mid January 2013, as the film was re-cut again and had new changes that eventually effected the use of the score, so we had to do rewrites till the very last night before our sessions.
You began to take an interest in music at an early age; did you always have your sights set on being involved with music for film?
As a kid I always had music surrounding me while growing up, mostly from my parents who loved and listened to albums non stop from classical to rock & roll , beach boys, disco, you name it, they played it!. At a later stage when I was 7 or 8, I got the first edition LP of The Good The Bad and The Ugly from my dad after taking me to the cinema and seeing it, so actually it was Ennio Morricone who introduced me into the use of film and music you can say.
When I was 14, I was invited by composer Klaus Doldinger (Das Boot, Never ending Story) to sit in on a film scoring session in Germany that he was doing and I just knew that this is what I wanted to do. I mean, as a child I was always sneaking into the theatres to watch some movies or with my dad as he loved Cinema, so I grew up in both these worlds even if at the time they were separated.
Your musical education I understand started at the Jaffa Conservatorium in Tel Aviv, where you studied Trombone and piano, but you left after a while, where did you continue to undertake your musical studies?
After my departure from the conservatorium, I studied piano with an old school Russian private teacher once a week at his house, as we could not afford a real or electric piano, so my parents got me an organ that’s had two sounds so I could practice at least, when that broke, with the money they saved for my 13th birthday they got me a Synthesizer and I started to get into electronic music and sounds, the teacher then told my parents that I better off doing what I was doing in writing my own music.
I had some more lessons and decided to do it my way, so I learned by listening to any music I got get my hands on, read orchestration books, talked to film composers who I met about the process, attended scoring sessions and just learned by working.
One of your earliest involvements with scoring film was when you worked on CHANCER for TV, I think with Jan Hammer, how much music did you contribute to the series and was this something of a baptism of fire for you as I understand you were just 17 years of age?
Yes, it was in a way.
I got asked by a programmer friend who was about to do it, but had another gig to do, so he asked if I would be able to help, as he knew I wanted to do film scoring. I think Jan Hammer was based in LA and was sending stuff over to the cutting room, so we had the same setup of synth, the R8 Roland drum machine and other sounds he was using and just re scored places the producers wanted. Jan wrote fantastic main title for that series, till today it’s one of my favorite scores.
Your score for BIG BAD WOLVES has been announced as being released early in 2014, when a score of yours is released do you take an active role in selecting what music will go onto any release?
Yes I do, or at least I see what the label put together first and go over it, then maybe start to suggest some changes, which could be other tracks to be included and giving the cues titles, names and so on. It’s always good to have another person listening and going over things. I think creating a listening experience of your score to stand on it’s own without the movie, it’s not the easiest thing to achieve.
Is orchestration an important part of the composing process for you and do you orchestrate everything that you compose or at times do you have orchestrators because of time schedules etc.?
In todays work process, composing and orchestrating goes almost hand in hand, as directors and producers all expect to hear mockups of the music and use it while editing or during the audiences test screenings, this is the standard today. Sadly as many films have very little budget to none for live recordings, composers are bound to do a realistic as possible synth mockup. I orchestrate as I go, both when it just electronic or orchestral, but sometimes it’s just impossible with the strict deadline and amount of music to be recorded and delivered these days, so Matthew Slater who is an great composer in his own right, orchestrate and conduct all my scores, leaving me to concentrate on the scoring part of it. I was lucky enough to work with a few directors in the 90’s who I just composed and played it on a piano to and then we went to the scoring stage, with the score been mixed and recorded straight onto a 35mm film in mono or stereo.
You have worked on numerous genres of film, these include TV series, documentaries and shorts as well as many features, what would you say were the main differences between scoring a full length feature as opposed to a documentary, or are assignments basically the same but because of budget, time etc your approach may differ?
I come from the world of cinema, my first solo project was a full feature with 70 minutes of score, when I was just 20, so on films, I am very used to reading the sub text, the sense of dramatization, even to read scripts in a certain way, but when I get hired to compose for say documentaries, directors may come to me when they want a slightly different approach and a more a unique score, so I would get involved in the early stages, others heard my scores and asked me to come in and score things in a more conventional way, but they want my sound and style so that’s another direction. The difference with all documentaries I would say in a general way, is that you need to stay as balanced as possible with the music, avoiding any manipulation to effect what the audience will feel, since it’s a very different way of story telling. Shorts are similar to a film in your approached to the way you would score it, but in a more compressed way, there is not much time to develop a theme and get attached musically to your characters, it’s more about using short musical motifs and short segments.
And of course budgets will always play a role as for how you will work, using musicians for the score and so on, score mixing for films is very different to TV, so all those elements do come to play with how to approach a project.
Do you try and stick to a schedule or routine when working on a project, by this I mean do you score the movie in a set order i.e.: main title through to end title, or do you like to develop a theme firstly and build the remainder of the score around it?
On most films I will try and get a main theme and a secondary theme by just sitting at the piano and having the film running in my head, creating the main melody and harmony, until it feels right, other times it could be a set of sounds or some sampled elements, I love writing a strong theme that will make the audience connect and resonate to the movie and characters involved. I may compose a full suite for the director at the early stages, and it will have all the elements of the score and the thematic ideas.
Once I have those nailed down, I always work chronologically so my starting point is cue 1m01, I always found it to be what works best for me, but its not written in stone.
I think I am right when I say that, CUPCAKES is a musical comedy, did you have a hand in writing the songs or were you just involved on the score?
Yes Cupcakes is a musical comedy, the movie has so many famous songs both on and off screen, I stopped counting!
When I got involved, most songs were already selected by the director and the music supervisor, so when we had the spotting session, we started thinking how can we use the songs and the score, so it will not feel a mess with so much music going on, I was very happy that the director on a few cues decided to remove some of the songs and replaced them with a score, as we found them to work better in that way, so the score had a more prominent place on the movie.
What do you think is the purpose of music in film?
Basically, the purpose of music in film is not to be noticed for itself. A score in a movie, has many functions, its all about manipulation or more about manipulating the audience. How to feel in a scene, where the movie is set, what emotions we want you to feel and when, it’s the palette of colors by the painter, sometimes its done in a very broad stokes, straight to face and at times in a very sneaky way, I always enjoy it when you can sneak in your music and sneak it out, so the audience didn’t even feel they were lead in a certain way.
When working on a score, how do you bring your musical ideas and thoughts to fruition, do you use piano, or another instrument to begin with then go to a more technical tool?
How many times do you like to see a movie or a prospective project before you begin to get set ideas about what type of music you will write and where it will be placed to create maximum effect etc?
A musical idea for a scene, could come from any direction, it could be an atonal sound, a set of chords, some synth, anything that will be evoked from watching the movie.
Once I have watched the movie, if they have tempted it, then I will only watch it once with the temp score, then I will have a discussion with the director, music supervisor and in most cases the film editor, once we know what direction and function we want the score to go, in most cases, I would approach the writing and finding the key elements at the piano sketching out my thematic ideas, if we decided for a more experimental or an electronic score, I would start by experimenting with different sound textures and sampling to try and achieve a more unique world of sounds as my palate.
Do you buy soundtrack albums by other composers if so what would you say were your most played, or even if you could maybe choose a top five or ten?
I used to when I was younger, buying vinyl or CDs of scores, but in the past ten years or so, I haven’t really bought any soundtracks albums, I do get sent some by records labels or from the European and British film academy.
I do listen on iTunes when someone recommends an album outside a movie, but I prefer to listen to albums that have no connection to film.
What composers or artists in the music business would you say have influenced you the most or have maybe even influenced the way that you score a movie?
I love the golden area of Hollywood composers like: Korngold, Copland, Raskin, Hermann, very bold and striking music, others are Morricone, Goldsmith, Barry and from the more classical world like Mahler, Ravel, Falla, Kilar, Webern to name a few.
I think it influenced me in a way of been more experimental with my writing, you’re listening to these masters and you compose something and you hear your self go, ohh it’s a very Goldsmith or Hermann type riff, now how do I make it different, there is a Goldsmith, there is a Williams already, these legends got to were they were and are for been original and having a unique voice, so its that drive that pushes me to be original and unique.
Do you conduct at all?
No, I don’t, it is very rare that I will be on the podium conducting myself,
Conducting is an art form by it self, there are people who spent years studying it and can communicate with the orchestra to get the best result then me as a conductor, so I leave it to them.
You work in Europe and also in the States, for you when it comes to orchestras and also recording studios are there any preferences or differences between the two countries?
Both countries have amazing musicians and world class scoring stages!
Sadly I haven’t had the chance yet to record in LA yet, because of how the musician’s union system works there; I do hope it will change soon, there some legendary stages there for film scoring.
London has two amazing scoring stages for me Abbey Road and Air Lyndhurst, each with its own characters, I always work with the London Metropolitan Orchestra for any film/TV work I do, or the LSO on a movie or two if the budget permits, I love recording in London as its my home and I am very fortunate that I manage to do most of my scores with these amazing orchestras.
How long do you normally get to score a movie, maybe you could use BIG BAD WOLVES as an example?
Big Bad Wolves was exceptional, as I was working on it for a very long time. On most films, I would get about 4-6 weeks, longer if I am lucky and there was a delay in the scheduling or times are getting shorter! By the time they come to me, the film release is just around the corner.
Staying with BIG BAD WOLVES, did the directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado have a hands on approach when it came to the music or were they happy to leave you to your own devices?
Navot and Aharon, are very hands own when it comes to every aspect of film making. They will temp the movie and will suggest musical thoughts/ styles before I start, its then my job to take what they envisioned both on screen and musically and put it into a musical language, I will start sending rough idea of the direction I am taking based on the script and some early discussions we had and I will progress almost hand in hand with the shaping of the movie.
A lot of movies have a temp track installed do you find this distracting or helpful?
Yes, most do, the temp is a blessing in disguise! it could be very helpful especially if it’s a new director and nobody is sure where to go musically, but it could be very destructive to a composer, as the director gets used to the music he has used and you end up fighting to be original, but ending up copying something and not been as productive as you can be. I always ask to watch it once with the temp and that’s it, but it’s not always possible, so I will mute it until I have a clean copy.
2013 was quite a busy year for you and already 2014 is looking the same way, what are you currently working on?
We are gearing up for the album release of Big Bad Wolves both on CD and … Vinyl and I am just finishing my score for the ABC of Death with Aharon and Navot, we then start on the next feature from the guys called ‘Once Upon A Time In Palestine’, with a bigger orchestra then we had for Wolves, I have two more features coming up later in the year that I cant talk about yet, a new television series with supernatural elements and another soundtrack album release of a score I recorded in Germany a while back for a movie called Killing Girls, a very melancholic and haunting score, exciting times indeed .
Many thanks to Maestro Frank Ilfman..