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IN CONVERSATION WITH COMPOSER ANDREW SCOTT BELL.


Andrew Scott Bell
 has been writing original music for films and commercial media since 2009. His music has brought life to more than 50 productions, and has premiered in nine different countries across the world.

Was music always something that attracted you to do as a career, and do you come from a musical family background?

I’ve really always had a love for music. When I was very young, I was obsessed with Elvis Presley. So much so that people even called me Andy Elvis. I didn’t always want to work in music though, but I’ve always been attracted to storytelling. The first career I was interested in at a young age was being a comic strip artist. I wanted to have a weekly or daily comic strip in the funny pages. The problem with that ultimately is to be in the funny pages, you have to be funny. I also at one point wanted to be a director, making home video short films with my friends around the neighbourhood.

But when I was about seven or eight years old, Forrest Gump came out in theatres. Alan Silvestri’s score for that film really changed my life. My parents had the VHS tape and a two disc soundtrack album from the movie, most of which were popular songs from the 60’s and 70’s. The last track on the second disc was a suite of themes from the film’s score. I was entranced by the music. I learned to play the suite on the piano by ear. I remember I’d come home from school and head straight to the piano where I had set-up my bedroom CD player on the back of the upright. Having that kind of playful connection with music at that young age was the spark that grew overtime and led me to pursuing this career.

Witness Infection is a recent score of yours, it’s a great listen, and I can hear within it lots of nods to various composers and it contains so many styles, but at the same time there is an originality about it. How did you become involved on the movie, and did the director have specific ideas about what type of music should be written for the movie?

Thank you so much! Witness Infection was such a fun film to work on and I appreciate your kind words about the score. I believe it was after hearing my work on The Springfield Three that director Andy Palmer reached out to me to score Witness Infection. Andy called me up and after a great conversation about the film, he asked if I was interested in scoring it. Of course, I said yes! One of the things I enjoy most about this job is that each time I work with a director, it’s a completely different process. Andy took a more hands off approach to the score than I’m used to, but that felt freeing and empowering. I think a lot of what people are reacting to when they hear that score has to do with Andy’s leadership and the trust he allowed in our process. It was really fun!

We did talk a lot about the sound we were looking for before I started writing. I like to spend a lot of time talking and asking questions so the director and I can really get on the same page before I write a single note of music.

Witness Infection, is a score that sounds to me like a fusion of both symphonic and synthetic, how many live players did you have for the score, and do you conduct all your own music if possible?

I think one of the largest challenge’s composers face right now is shrinking music budgets and the amount of time we’re given to write our scores. We must find creative ways to go around those obstacles in our industry. We did not really have the budget or time to contract an orchestra for Witness Infection, so everything you hear in the score are instruments I played in my studio layered with synthesized orchestral instruments from my computer.

Sampling technology has really made leaps and bounds in recent years and the instruments these companies are selling sound more and more realistic with each new release. Still, I will always prefer the emotional intention behind a human performing on my scores. So out of budget necessity, I often end up playing my own violin, cello, and other instruments on a lot of my scores. I have conducted a few of my scores in the past, but it’s not one of my strengths (I’m out of practice, really) so I think I’m more comfortable sitting with my director listening and giving feedback to the orchestra from inside the booth.

How much time did you have to score Witness Infection, from start to finish?

Witness Infection had a fast turnaround. I had about four weeks to write and deliver the music for the film. “The composer would like to thank the gallons upon gallons of coffee he consumed while writing the score.”

Staying with Witness Infection, how many times did you watch the movie before you began to get any fixed notions about the music and where it should be placed for maximum effect?

The first time I watch a movie I’m working on, I make a small event out of it. I like to experience it first as an audience member; just sit down and enjoy the movie. So for Witness Infection, I decided to order some lunch, black out the windows in my studio, and treat it like a mini cinema.

I knew the film was about an Italian American family from New Jersey, so I ordered an Italian sub from Jersey Mike’s. What I didn’t know is that the cause of the zombie outbreak in the film is bad Italian sausages from a food truck. If you have seen the film, the movie starts out immediately with two hunters in a tent. One of them is eating an Italian sausage that’s causing quite a bit of… intestinal disruption. So, as it turns out I didn’t end up feeling very hungry for lunch, especially not for Italian food.

I typically watch a film I am scoring four times before starting the music. The first time, as I said, I just watch the movie. The second time, I take loose and general notes as I watch. The third time, I go scene by scene and make more detailed notes about where music should be and what the music should achieve. Then I watch the movie a fourth time during the spotting session with the director, which is when I take the most detailed notes.

What musical education did you have, and were there any areas of music or a particular instrument that you focused upon while studying?

I received a bachelor’s in music composition and theory with a minor in film studies from Christopher Newport University, a school in south eastern Virginia. CNU does not offer a film scoring program, so my education was more focused on classical composition than writing for film. I feel fortunate I was able to really focus on learning orchestration and to develop my compositional style free from the restrictions one has while writing for film. I took piano lessons as a child and in middle and high school I studied trumpet, but when I started under-grad I decided I wanted to learn more about choral writing so I switched my primary instrument to voice and sang in choirs throughout college. Composers in our music department also had to take what was called techniques courses, one for each instrument group – woodwinds, brass, voice, and percussion. The courses were designed for music education majors, something I was grumpy about at the time, but in the classes’ we learned how to play so many instruments at a fifth-grade level. I didn’t realize it at the time but getting my hands on those instruments and feeling how to play each of them was an invaluable part of my musical development. It’s something I still think about now when I write for those instruments.

I love the little nod to The Godfather in Witness Infection, are there any composers or artists that you would say have influenced you in the way that score a project, or indeed have inspired you to write certain themes?

Since the film is a comedy, we chose to play the music big and serious – leaning into the overly dramatic styles prevalent in horror scores from the early to mid-20th century. I think if we had tried to write “funny” music, the score might not have worked as well in the film. So Andy and I talked a lot about classic monster movie scores by composers like Frank Skinner, Max Steiner, and Franz Waxman, and how playing it big and leaning hard on that sound could really add to the comedy. We also often said “Godfather but make it horror” in reference to the mob family element in the characters. I think the real challenge was writing motifs that could work in both of those musical landscapes. I tried to write with a harmonic language that would sound natural played on a mandolin as well as an enormous low brass section. I think what we ended up with is kind of an odd combination of flavours, but it’s an Italian American mob comedy with flesh eating zombies so… buon appetito!

In 2016, you scored a short, entitled Rocket about dirt track racing, the movie was just 29 mins in duration, but your score was in my opinion so supportive and became the movies heart, when you are scoring a short, is it more difficult to establish themes and a musical identity, because of the briefness of the project. And does the scoring process alter a great deal between working on a short, a TV project and a feature film?

Well thank you so much for saying so. I loved working with director Brenna Malloy on Rocket. That was really a wonderful experience from scoring the film all the way up to it winning a Student Academy Award in 2016. I have such a fondness for the film and my experience working on it. I’m very proud of that music, so thank you for your kind words.

I often think composition is similar to painting in that there is so much work that goes into the preparation so that the creativity can be as fluid and natural as possible. Before I start writing music, I’m choosing a sound palette for the score, thinking about textures I’d like to use in my orchestration, and planning the harmonic language for the piece. It feels very much like a painter gathering paint and brushes or choosing between types of canvas.

That part of the process is the same regardless of whether it’s a short or a feature film, so in that regard the work is very similar. The obvious difference is in the amount of music written and the extent to which we get to develop those themes throughout the film. Structurally, a feature really allows the music we write to grow and bloom with the story. There is so much more room for the work to breathe and expand. I find that really rewarding.

Have you encountered a temp track on any of your projects, and do you think that this process is helpful or maybe distracting?

Films I score almost always have a temp music track in them before I come onboard. I think temp scores can be both helpful and distracting. It really depends on how attached a director is to the sound and feel of their temp. It can be quite a challenge if they have what I call “temp fever.” 

I personally will only watch a movie once with its temp score. Each time I watch it after, I prefer to do so with no music so I can formulate my own ideas. It’s not all bad, though. I do think temp scores can be helpful as a jumping off point in a conversation. I see temp music more as a challenge than a problem and I tackle that challenge by just asking a lot of questions. What is it about the temp that you think is working here? How does the temp make you feel? What other pieces of music that you’ve heard make you feel a similar way? Etc.

The more questions I ask, the more I can dig down to the centre of what it is about the temp the director really loves. Once I find that, it can be quite freeing and often opens new possibilities for me to surprise them with something new they love but weren’t expecting!

When recording a score for a movie or other projects, do you have a preference as to where you record, or is this not up to you?

Well, I haven’t really made it to the point in my career where I’m regularly recording full orchestras. I’ve only recorded scores with full, live orchestras a few times, and each time the choice as to where we record was narrowed down by budget and timeframe restrictions. Apart from those few times, most of my scores are recorded here in my studio.

I have worked on the Newman Scoring Stage at Fox, though not for my own project. I’m looking forward to the day I have the chance to record one of my scores in that iconic space. I’d also love to record at Abbey Roads, but I think every musician dreams of that opportunity. 

The Springfield Three is based upon a true story, your score is sensitive as well as dramatic, the film runs for approx. 30 mins, and your score is 22 mins in duration, and I think it is mostly due to the music that the audience become affected by the story that is unfolding. I was thankful it was issued on to digital platforms, do you have any input regarding what scores of yours are released and indeed what cues are selected for the release?

Thank you for saying so. It means a lot. Working on that film was emotionally taxing for me. Since The Springfield Three is based on a true story, I felt an enormous weight on my shoulders to give justice to those three missing women. Their case is still unsolved, so my hope is the film inspires someone to come forward with new information about the case. In regards to the release of my music, so far I’ve self-published all my music. I have my own publishing company and pay for my music to be distributed on digital platforms. I’m certain eventually that will change as I move to larger productions, and I look forward to that day, but for now I do it myself so I can get my music out for people to listen to and hopefully enjoy.

Do you regard orchestration as an important part of the composing process, and do you work on all your own orchestrations when possible?

I personally do, yes. It’s an important part of my process and I often do my own orchestrations. I did recently work with orchestrator Òscar Senén (No Time to Die, Hacksaw Ridge, Geostorm) on my score to Deathcember. I had such a wonderful time working with him. His incredible talents only made my music stronger, and I look forward to us working together again soon!

I noticed that your scores are very thematic, do you think that the current trend of utilizing soundscapes and drone like passages in movie scores is here to stay, or do you believe that the theme laden score will return?

I not only believe that theme driven scores will return, I think they’re already coming back now! I personally think that has mostly to do with changing personal tastes of directors. As younger directors who grew up on films from the 80’s and 90’s come into their own careers, they’re seeking out those types of scores. I also think audience preference seems to be leaning back toward melodic and thematic music for a similar reason. There are so many wonderful, thematically vibrant scores coming out right now. I think it’s an exciting time to be scoring film!

Do you perform on any of your scores?

Yes, I do. On my horror scores I play a lot of my own string effects and textures. I have a violin and a cello and I layer multiple takes together to create the sound of a larger ensemble. On Witness Infection, I also played the trumpet parts. There’s one instrument I really enjoy playing on my scores when it’s called for. I have the insides of an old upright piano (just the sound board and harp) I found on the sidewalk in Glendale. I’ve placed it on its side and added casters so I can wheel it in and out of my studio when needed. It’s incredibly eerie and creates a depth of textures. 

I also play a lot of less traditional sounds on my scores from time to time. I was working on a film a few weeks ago and I literally played pots and pans in the score. I felt like a kid again, and I think that joy comes through in the music.

What is next for you?

I just finished a featurette by director Samuel Gonzalez Jr. titled, That Night. The film is based on an emotionally powerful anonymous craigslist “missed connection” post that went viral about five years ago. It’s a really wonderful piece and I’m certain people will be moved by the story.

I’m set to score Shudder’s upcoming and still untitled queer horror documentary directed by Sam Wineman and I’m currently scoring a super fun feature film titled Psycho Storm Chaser by Buz Wallick which is an edge of your seat adventure slasher set during a hurricane. I can’t wait for people to see it.

During the pandemic, I was also commissioned to write an opera based on a play The Trial of God by Nobel Peace Prize winning author Elie Wiesel. That has been a colossal undertaking but is such a rich and rewarding experience and I’m honoured to adapt his incredible and profoundly enriching play into music. That work will premiere in November 2021.

My thanks to the compose for taking time to answer my questions.

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.

SERGIO PENA.

Born in Caracas Venezuela, Sergio Pena, is a composer, musician, performer who is able to slip into any genre of film and enhance it to perfection with his musical skills. The music-smith studied both classical and electric guitar as well as piano and composition, orchestration and jazz arranging so he has a wide range of musical knowledge and skills which he has put to use during his career. He began his life in music by playing in a band where he would perform pop, rock and funk. As his musical interest grew he moved more in the direction of classical music and also was attracted to jazz. He marks as his influences from the classical world Beethoven, Stravinsky and Bach and from the world of film music Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams and Thomas Newman. He has written the music for over 60 projects, these include motion pictures, shorts and television assignments that include a number of documentaries, he has also acted as an orchestrator at times for other composers as well as penning songs and providing additional music for a handful of projects.

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1 WHAT ARE YOUR FIRST MEMORIES OF MUSIC OR BEING ATTRACTED TO MUSIC.
When I was a child I listened to music in the church every Sunday and I also used to sing. I don’t remember much contact with music at the times. One day a friend commented that she intended to enroll for the music conservatory; I wanted too and dreamed of becoming a conductor! However, I would have to wait a long time to start studying music, and conducting even though, to be honest, a baton isn’t a priority in my career nowadays.

2 WERE YOU ALWAYS FOCUSED UPON WORKING IN FILM.
Well, at first I composed traditional pieces as school Exercises. Nowadays I focus only on film music though I’ve written some source music for scoring purpose. I find such a great inspiration from the images that I couldn’t figure out music without visual support. I should spend a some time writing for “absolute music” but my time belongs to the scoring work.

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3 WHAT SIZE ORCHESTRA DID YOU USE FOR MET IN NYC.
There are two approaches in the Met in NYC score. On the one hand, as an Indie film we were limited by a low budget production and therefore we couldn’t afford an living orchestra so virtual instruments were used instead. I wanted an organic score and so I included my own guitar performance mixed over virtual strings, which I think worked fine together. On the other hand, A second approach included the recording of live musicians performing a jazz combo and another two tracks performed by the great piano soloist Abe Rábade. I felt we needed vital energy from experienced jazz musicians to bring out the spirit of NYC, and we got it!

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4 HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED ON THE MOVIE.
One day I received an email from a director asking me to write a score for his film. I was surprised on how well he knew my career, his comments about my work were very kind and he insisted that I was the right composer for his movie, I was informed in detail about Met in NYC and I really liked it.
5 AT WHAT STAGE OF THE PROCEEDINGS DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED ON THE MOVIE.
As usual I started in post-production, I love reading screenplays but always work more accurately watching the rough cut, music must work with what you are watching, the screenplay could let you a broader field to an evocation that could might not work well

6 WHEN WORKING ON A SCORE FOR A FILM OR TV DO YOU WORK OUT YOUR MUSICAL IDEAS ON PIANO.
Yes I do, in an early stage, the piano is my choice as it is a very direct instrument to extract my ideas, I usually say put my hands on my piano while watching the screen to compose the score, yet ironically there’s a random factor in the process. In some other cases I take my pencil and write melodies sitting at the piano to check the result. Anyway, after finishing the sketch I’d write or enter orchestration on it to create a score according to the project.

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7 DO YOU PERFORM ON YOUR SCORES
Definitely I do on most of them.some productions which ask for piano, guitar, bass and keyboards can be carried out without any other musicians but me. Obviously, in a live orchestra project, I’d stay in the booth during the recording.

8 WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN WORKING ON A MOTION PICTURE AND WORKING IN TV.

Unfortunately I’ve just worked in a few TV shows so my experience can be quite personal ,Deadlines are tighter so producers prefer source music or tracks you own in your personal “library” rather than ask for a tailored track you have to write from the scratch. I think TV time is always ruling the work flow every time you have to write what a director or producer asks for. So I definitively prefer to work on a motion picture.

9 DO YOU CREATE A CENTRAL THEME FIRST WHEN COMPOSING A SCORE
I usually start writing a theme and then another one so that I can select best choices for main theme, secondary themes and also background. Once the musical sketches are written I create variations of them to fit along the scenes accordingly with to the leit motifs or scene moods.
10 WERE YOU INVOLVED IN THE SELECTION OF CUES FOR THE CD RELEASE.
Yes, I was but a good selection couldn’t have been made if my friend Godwin Borg from Kronos Records hadn’t helped me by supporting and advising me; he’s an expert editor and a true music lover, I’m very lucky to have a friend like Godwin.