Scott Glasgow is a composer who in my very humble opinion is one of the most talented and versatile that works in the film scoring business today. He has scored numerous films and television projects and worked on varying genres of film. His music however is always highly polished and more than supportive of the images it is written to enhance. Born in Fairport, New York in The United States of America, He earned his Bachelor of Music from California State University and also a Master of Music from San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 2001 and went on to study under John Corigliano in 2002 and also under Bruce Broughton in 2003. He began to score short films in 2003 and soon graduated to feature length movies in 2005 when he scored CHASING GHOSTS, he is undoubtedly a talent within the film music arena and has now worked on over 40 projects as composer or orchestrator, assistant composer etc, at times providing additional music cues as part of a composers team on big box office titles such as, CAPTAIN AMERICA – CIVIL WAR, SPIDER MAN 2, RUNAWAY JURY, WRONG TURN and many more. I would like to thank the composer for agreeing to answer my questions and also many thanks to the press team at Movie Score Media who as always were very obliging and helpful.
Was music something that you were always drawn to ?
From a young age but not how you might think, it was albums! No one in my family played instruments however, my grandfather worked at RCA Records as an engineer (not mix engineer but helped develop what materials albums are made of). My family had hundreds of albums in our home as I grew up. I was exposed to all kinds of music at a very early age.
What are your earliest memories of any music or in particular any music in film or on TV?
As a boy in upstate NY, I was a fan of SciFi, comics and monster movies. At that very young age (somehow) I saw the movie ALIEN and was hooked even more then STAR WARS in a way. Somehow I purchased (or talked my parents into purchasing) the album to Goldsmith’s ALIEN and listened to it while reading my comics looking out the snowy window of my family’s upstate home. Listening to that album over and over again really subconsciously is the origin of my thoughts of being a composer and has shaped me in ways I can’t even understand.
You have collaborated with filmmaker Pearry Reginald Teo a number of times, in fact two of your recent assignments THE CURSE OF SLEEPING BEAUTY and GHOSTHUNTERS were directed by him. Does he have a particularly hands on approach when it comes to the style of music in his movies or where it is placed?
I wouldn’t call it hands on, Pearry really let’s me do my music but suggests his ideas, it is about trust and respect between him and me. Pearry works with composers as he works with an editor so he likes to sit with me at my computer then move elements around (in a way re-composing some sections). Not always the easiest thing for a composer to deal with considering how much time, energy and emotion we attach to each and every note choice— then we get to the midi editing which is a lot of work compared to cutting audio. Film music is a collaboration so with that comes changes. The more comfortable a composer can be with many and constant changes, the better you will be as a collaborator.
Pearry and I have been working on and off for almost 10 years now. I am very fortunate to continue to work with him. THE CURSE OF SLEEPING BEAUTY is a very big canvas in many ways like our first film together called THE GENE GENERATION. The music for both films had to be “timeless” in a way so I brought in lot’s of ethnic, exotic, ancient and otherworldly sounds to compliment the orchestra. GHOSTHUNTERS was very fast schedule-wise so there was little time for changes but it was also fun for me. The film is sort of a Poltergeist meets The Grudge style which I fully embraced musically in the same way.
THE CURSE OF SLEEPING BEAUTY has just been released by Movie Score Media, do you have any involvement in what music cues will be included on any soundtrack release?
I am the producer and Mikael is the executive producer of the album. It is another form of collaboration. We work together on track order, names, edits and which cues to leave off or combine into another track. Mikael also makes many suggestions to all elements of the soundtrack which is refreshing since he is not as close to the project as I am so he has a fresh perspective. Also his focus is to make a great album to listen to where as I come from the film and what the music did in that film.
What size orchestra did you utilize for THE CURSE OF SLEEPING BEAUTY and what percentage of the score was performed on synths etc?
The only live elements are the choir, the counter-tenor, the cello with a few small things I did in my studio like the Aztec Death flute. The rest is me “faking it” but really I have so much custom samples now that it really gets so close to live orchestra that hardly anyone can hear the difference. There is not a lot of synth work but there is this one synth sound that is for the “mannequins” that returns often, sort of a hit sound (which can be heard in the track “Mannequins” before the choir comes in).
When you work on a movie do you like to start with a central theme and then work from this to develop the score or do you work on smaller cues and then develop the central theme from these?
First, I always watch the movie through, sometimes a few times, to start to hear ideas in my head. Then as I go through my day I am thinking of that film where ideas can come to me at random times— usually walking the dog. Once I start getting ideas, I sit at the piano and work out these ideas on paper or sometimes hum into my iPhone recorder. Many of those ideas are where it starts but some are thrown out. The last track “Thomas’ Theme” was written that way however it should be noted it was mostly removed from the film at the last minute by the producer who didn’t like cello even though, the director and I loved the cello theme and I even recorded it live with one of the best cellist in LA. This is how things go some times.
As for the process, during the first watching of the film, if ideas come to me, I will usually stop and write those down then when I start to work with picture I may jump to those scene first to work those out. Other times, I just jump in to see what happens. The track “Thomas’ World (track 4) is an example of that. I had found this one 1920’s dulcitone instrument (sample) which I thought could really work somewhere in the film so I worked with it until I found something that worked to picture. Sometimes things are not that easy either I don’t hear something or the film makers want something else. The main theme for this film (track 2) didn’t come that easy.. actually I wrote a different version complete but the film makers didn’t like it as much. They had some temp music in the cut they liked so I ended up doing something more like that to give them what they wanted. It’s a part of this business to try to get our collaborators what they want with what we as composers want.
The main thing for this film was to figure out the “dream” sequences (Somnium tracks on the album) and how their music would be different from the reality. This really came down to the exotic instrumentation and voice coloring for those scenes. However the reality also breaks down in this film as Thomas explores the lower levels of this mansion going from reality to surreal reality of demons. The orchestra really pushes along and grids away when we get to the last act with the “veiled demon”. There is very little exotic instruments at that point except some taiko drums. The mannequins also were treated specially with the shouting choir, the synth mannequin hit and the battery of percussion including the use of the lion’s roar (a drum with a cord through it that get rubbed creating a sound of a lion).
What composers from the world of film and tv music would you say have had a profound influence upon you and also maybe have influenced the way that you either compose or approach scoring a movie?
I feel most akin to what I call the “NYC composers” in film music such as Elliot Goldenthal, Howard Shore, Carter Burwell and of course my personal teacher John Corigliano. There is something sophisticated and based on 20th orchestral music that speaks to my inner ear. Also some of the European classical composers such as Kilar, Vasks, Gorecki, Pärt and Penderecki all are huge influences for me. Then I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the 3 J’s of film music— John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner. These guys are giants in their output and influence to almost every composer in LA working in film.
As for the approach to a scene, that is all instinct inside me. I teach a little at UCLA and I can say, the one thing you really can’t teach a student is musical instincts. You either have them or not.
How many times do you like to see a movie before you begin to work out where the music will be best placed or indeed what type of music the movie requires?
Usually once is good, then I will spot the film on my own by putting in “markers” in my software to map out where I feel music should and should not be, then meet with the director to spot the film (which is where they feel music should go)… Then I may watch it again and let it all seep into my head. Once I start hearing ideas, I am off and running. Now there are definitely scenes I hear nothing and there is a lot of work that goes into getting music to a whole film. I try my best to really avoid the temp. I only want to hear it once if necessary or if the director wants to reference some temp. I don’t wanna be influenced musically by anything but what is in my head however sometimes it is just what they want vs what I am hearing. Always a collaboration. You have to respect their wishes too. If something in the temp resonates with them, it is my job to figure out what that is and try to give them that.
LO is one of my favourite scores by you, in fact it was the first score of yours that I heard, how did you become involved on the movie?
That’s a funny story! I was living in Hollywood and was working on a film I believe called HACK! (or maybe it was “TOXIC) and my building manager at the time was a producer. She came knocking on my door to give me a notice of “noise complaint” from one of the other neighbors however she said “but I like what I am hearing. I am a producer on this film. Would you be interested in scoring it?”! See now that is exactly why a composer interested in film must live in LA. Everyone around you, the neighbors you meet, the people you interact with at the coffee shop, everyone is in the business. It is a web of people and everyone knows the career is entirely based on relationships. LA is where you meet the people and make the relationships needed for this career. This is a perfect example of that!
Where and when did you study music and what instrument did you concentrate upon whilst studying?
I started on guitar both classical and electric then learning about programming / recording music on computers, picking up some piano, followed by conducting. In high school, I was playing all kinds of music, in bands and even learned to play the Renaissance lute. In college I focused on classical composition. I earned my first degree at California State University, Northridge (interestingly, I now teach a class in film music composition). During my time in college, I landed a job as a classical music buyer at Tower and Virgin records. Toward the end of that I landed a job at a record label called Harmonia Mundi USA. When I went to work the record label, I was in San Francisco. For few years I ran around being record label guy but at some point I came to yearn getting back to my own career as a composer vs peddling other composers or performers so I applied for the San Francisco Conservatory, auditioned and got in! From there it was all masters studies in Composition. My primary teacher was Conrad Susa but I also had my first exposure to John Corigliano who was a guest visitor / instructor for the grad composition students for a week. Also during my days in San Francisco, I was fortunate to be studying conducting with Denis de Coteau who was the former conductor of the SF Ballet. I also spent a little time working with Michael Tilson Thomas of SF Symphony. Denis enabled me to get into many ballet rehearsals and luckily it was during the time Elliot Goldenthal came to work on his Othello with the ballet. That was my first time to meet with Goldenthal. His music was a tremendous influence on me and still is. In 2001, after a return to southern California, I was accepted into the Aspen Film Scoring Program (a defunct program). I was at the Aspen Festival for a month and one whole week of that was personal studies with John Corigliano on film music (no concert music). That was the 2nd time I got to work with Corigliano and such a great experience. That year the students ended up recording a large orchestra with cues that we worked on with Corigliano. Amazing time in my life for sure.
You have worked with John Hartman a number of times, RIDDLE and HACK come to mind straight away for me, does he have specific set ideas regarding the music or are you given a free reign as it were?
John and I go way back to our first real film CHASING GHOSTS. He is a set designer and second unit director on that film. On HACK! he stepped into the directors chair when the director was supposed to direct that film left (or something happened, I don’t know the details). As for our working style, it’s really a matter of respect. John just let’s me do my thing then makes comments on changes if any. It is always comfortable and the favorite projects for me because of the relationship. Usually the films we work on are well funded so live orchestra is in the budget. It is just great to work with John and his brother Brian Hartman (producer) on these films. They enable me to do my best work and that is not always easy to come by.
RIDDLE was a film that had two directors, was this difficult to work with or were they pretty much in tune with each other and yourself when it came to the music?
It was fine having two directors. On that film, they were in Pittsburgh and I was in LA. We spotted on the phone and it was really more of John running the show. John and Nick seem to have already agreed on the tone of the film and how music played a role in the film. It was again a very smooth situation with people who respected my work as I respected their. There was only one scene we didn’t agree on (the quarry scene) and I think I just ended up doing what they wanted however I believe I really presented what I thought was best very strongly. You know, you win some, you loose some but in the end it is a collaboration (which I’ve said a few times now). Honestly when a film maker disagrees with my music decisions, I always go back to take another look and many times they are right! So it’s a lesson to listen to your film makers even if they are not talking specific music ideas. I think of myself as a part of the film making process first, before thinking of being a composer. I like the collaboration process. If I really want to just do my music without collaboration, I think I would go write a symphony or an album or something.
Have you encountered a temp track on any of the movies you have worked on and is a temp in your opinion a helpful tool or maybe something of a distraction?
It can be both helpful and a hindrance. If it is a tool for editing pacing or a way for a film maker to communicate, GREAT! Once it becomes “temp love” and they can’t see the scene in any other way musically or a musical dictation, then it becomes a problem. This also comes back to respect of my work as a composer. If the film maker is hiring you as an artist, then it is a different thing then if you are hired as an employee. It is respect for the work and the talents of people you work with that makes the difference in how temp works in a film. The film makers that respect my work and how music works in films are the ones I seek out to collaborate with.
You have recorded your scores in Europe and also in the United States, have you any preference regarding studios or orchestras?
That all comes from budget and contracts. I would prefer to record here in LA but it is 5 times the cost and then there is the complexities of the Musician’s Union deals. Mostly I have recorded in Bratislava, Slovakia as have many of my colleagues. They really do get it there even with the language barrier. I have also recorded in Prague. I think I prefer Bratislava for their intonation. Also I think many of them are trained in Vienna which is an hour drive away from Bratislava so the sound is stronger for me. Also the musician’s instruments seem to be of higher quality which effects the sound of course. The studio in Bratislava is a old communist radio building. You record in a big hall which does have seats but no people. In Prague, you can record in a studio or the big concert hall. I have done both and the Smecky studio is nice.
CHASING GHOSTS I thought was an amazing score, I think I correct when I say you provided each character with their own theme, at times when two characters are in a scene you combined the themes for each of them, what made you decide to develop and approach the score in this way?
It is a compositional technique called a “leitmotiv” that Richard Wagner developed in his operas then was taken by Korngold in his scores like Robin Hood and finally perfected by Williams in his Star Wars scores. A leitmotiv is defined as a theme that is attached to a person, object (like the spear in Wagner operas) or an idea (like the force in Star Wars). In this case, I am not sure but I think it is the first time a leitmotif score was written to a noir gritty crime drama? This film was very complex with many characters, plots and sub-plots. The film had so much going on that I felt it needed this type of treatment. I was so excited to find this film, my first in Hollywood, could hold this type of scoring technique. I have done one other leitmotiv score since, my following film ROBOTECH THE SHADOW CHRONICLES. That also was a film with many characters and concepts. I found after these first two films, doing a leitmotif score does not always work. In fact, 20 films later, I have not found a film since that really can hold type of score. It really takes many characters, themes and dense story line for a leitmotiv treatment in the music to work.
You have scored a number of Horror movies now, what attracts me to your scores for the horror genre is they are thrilling and at times pretty scary but also they remain melodic, do you set out to achieve this mix of styles or is it something that just develops as you become more immersed in the project?
I think it’s just instinct. I have always loved how Goldenthal mixes the beautiful with the ugly, the brutish with the sublime. Sort of reminds me of H.R. Giger paintings in music. That’s what I look at as a goal with scoring dark films (horror or drama or whatever). For sure the essential part is melody. Melody is the soul of the film. Without it, a score can quickly drop into generic music that can go to any film but with a theme it attaches to that film. A theme gives the film a musical signature that a motive or a instrument sound does do as much.
Do you think it is possible for a good score to save or help a film that is not that good and likewise do you feel inappropriate music in a film can damage its impact?
Definitely. Both can happen. I have seen really good films damaged by music that just did not work and I have seen films that do not have the best script or acting or many other elements saved by a great score. We all have right? Goldsmith did a few not so great films but his music almost always was tremendous!
You studied under John Corigliano and later with Bruce Broughton, can you tell us what it was like being schooled by these two much revered and respected composers?
With John Corigliano he was such a true composer, he hears things in his head from the page that works and doesn’t. Also as teacher he really helps you discover what you are trying to be as a composer. It was tremendous life changing experience for me. He helped me grow by leaps and bounds. With Broughton, that was different. I really was on the side lines as he was in Aspen the following year from Corigliano and I was running the film music lab (it was a job). I had a great time learning from him by being in the room, listening, observing, etc. Broughton’s sketches are amazingly detailed. There is nothing really to orchestrate and it is brilliant music. Every detail meticulously written down in sketch page. I would say that he is akin to Williams then almost anyone in town musically without copying him. However I do need to clear something up, I did not study privately with Bruce. Better for me, we became personal friends. I have asked him questions over the years about our business and he kindly takes time to respond. In the end, Broughton has been a bigger part of life — I just saw him a few weeks ago where as Corigliano I have not spoke to in over a decade. Sometimes these things are what they are, the teacher / student relationship is that and nothing more.
Amongst your credits we can see numerous additional music by acknowledgements, what does this actually mean or entail, do you go in after the main score has been written and provide extra cues if the filmmakers think they are required?
Additional music writing happens when a composer builds a team to help him write due to schedule, time, project pressures, or just to bring in fresh ideas. This is just how the business of composing for films is now at higher levels. As for the work, it can be anything from a few days to weeks to months. What it entails can also be as involved or not as the composer feels necessary. I am always helping my fellow composers out and honestly I have been on both sides of the coin. I brought in a friend on a few of my films. It is really no big deal.Usually the film makers either don’t know there is a team or doesn’t really care if there is and are often not interacting with the additional composers. It is the team, and like many departments in films, there are many people in each department. Film makers don’t really think much of it.
I have never been brought in after a score was written to provide extra cue for the film makers. I have heard that can happen but has not to me. I like to think of doing “additional music” as a sous chef is to a main chef. I am there to take their ideas and help them get the job done (and get paid in the process).
Do you use an orchestrator when writing a film score or do you carry out your own orchestrations?
Both. I orchestrate usually because I am working on a computer with all the instruments at my fingertips which allows me to get fairly detailed. However I do have an orchestrator I’ve used for years named Tim Rodier. We met years ago after CHASING GHOSTS and seem to work well together. I have also had others come in to help out, Penka Kouneva has also orchestrated for me over the years. It is an essential part of doing this work. To have help and form teams.
When composing music what process do you use, pencil and manuscript at the piano or a more modern technique?
95% of my work is on a computer using a music program called a sequencer (Cubase and Digital Performer). The other 5% is the sketchs on paper as mentioned earlier that I use to organize ideas. I use a custom size 11×14 card stock page with staff lines on it (an idea I got from Broughton) and on that page can be melodies, themes, motives, fragments of ideas, rhythms, harmonies, anything really. I use it as a reference while working so when I am in the middle of a film I don’t have to go back to the first part of film to remember that theme… it is just right there on paper. It resembles what I hear Zimmer does with his suite. He writes his main ideas into a musical suite then uses that suite as a basis for the whole score to derive from. Mine is on paper, his is a computer file. Same idea.
I like to describe composers as not just that any more but we are “music producers”. We work in our studios to produce music— using an orchestra (live or sampled), finding new sounds, building rhythms and textures, working with synths and even mixing with unique audio plug-ins to shape the sound. That is so much more then simply sitting at a piano picking notes and writing on paper.
What would you say is the job of music in film?
To support the film! I like to think of film music as a musical script just like the screenwriter will write the script, the score is the musical equivalent. If we get down even closer, I feel film music is a tapestry to the scene where there are themes or musical ideas accompanying a scene where there might also be 20-30 things to acknowledge in the scene.. an explosion, a twist of the plot, a character’s entrance, so many little cues to work into the music. Another aspect for me with film music is that it is the subtext of the scene. It is what the character is feeling or what the audience could be feeling by watching the scene. The emotion of a on screen kiss is not the lips touching but the feeling the characters are having that I am trying to tap into (and in this example it might be after they touch).
What type of film do you feel is the most difficult to work on?
The ones where I hear nothing in my head! I think comedy for me is not the easiest. I just haven’t found my voice yet. Romantic-comedy fits the same category. I have done a few films that are considered “comedy” HOLLYWOOD & WINE, TAKING CHANCES and THE WEDDING PACT (all directed by another great collaborator / friend of mine Matt Berman). For me these films are a lot more work to get the ideas out of my head. Naturally, it seems I have a dark sound in my head because I do the dark films really easily. It just flows, where as comedies or romantic-comedies I have to really work at. Parodies like HACK! or THE LEGEND OF AWESOMEST MAXIMUS are a different type of comedy due to the fact the music for those films are serious— playing against the comedy (Elmer Berstein style as I like to say). Action can be difficult too because it is simply a lot of notes! An action scene can be days of work for a scene that last 3-min where as a drama scene can be done in 1-day. It’s really all the music challenges and puzzles us composers deal with daily. Some come easy, and some are simply a lot of work. Hard or easy— it’s still 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration.
Do you like to conduct all of your scores or are there times when this is not possible because you may feel you are better placed to listen to the score from the control box?
I think it depends if the film makers are at the session. Often times when I am recording in Slovakia, I am on my own. No film makers so in that case, I conduct myself. It is faster then trying to explain to someone else (another conductor) what you want musically beyond what is on the page. I think I do prefer to conduct because it a part of the creation of the music, a part of the performance, a part of being with the musicians however I understand it can also be good to be in the booth to hear what you are getting or deal with the politics of the business or just hang with your film maker friends while this cool thing of recording an orchestra happens.
What is next for you ?
Looks like a time-travel SciFi film is coming my way soon and possibly some music for an experimental VR project with stories from the bible. Interesting times ahead.