Sid De La Cruz, is a composer who I think we will be hearing a lot of in the come years. His score for HELL ON THE BORDER is excellent and one that everyone should own, it brings together the styles of the more traditional western score and has to it hints of the Italian western sound as well as the composers own individual musical fingerprint. My thanks to the composer for taking time to answer my questions.
What are your earliest memories of any kind of music, were any of your family musically inclined and at what age did you start to think that music would be a career for you?
Music was always around me at a young age. My parents used to play music all the time, in every situation. Family gathering or just simply being in the house relaxing. My older brother was a DJ and my uncle used to be in a band with Carlos Santana before Santana became famous. The thought of music being a career came late for me. It was during college when I decided to change my focus from becoming a doctor to becoming a composer.
Your first assignment was according to IMDB, SMILE which was a short released in 2011, how did you become involved on this?
I met the director through a mutual friend. We discussed our passion for film and told me that he was working on a film. Several months later I get a message from the director asking if I would be interested in scoring the film.
What musical education did you receive, and when did you decide that writing music for film was what you wanted to do?
I received my bachelor’s degree in music composition from San Jose State University. After graduating, I was offered a fellowship to get my master’s degree in composition at Claremont Graduate University. During my last semester at Claremont, I simultaneously attended the UCLA Extension Film Scoring program, where I was fortunate to have received the BMI Jerry Goldsmith Film Scoring Scholarship. I believe the scholarship is awarded to 1 student every year.
It was during my time at San Jose State University, when I knew I wanted to writing music for film. In fact, we had a composition teacher who was a film composer but school didn’t offer a film scoring classes. I asked the composition teacher, if he would be willing to teach a course. He said, if the school offered the class, then yes. I went out and petitioned for a film scoring class. I got enough signatures and the next semester; film scoring was offered.
PRAYER NEVER FAILS I like a lot there is a great atmosphere within the music that is pure tension, but you still maintain a rich thematic presence that purveys hope. What size orchestra or ensemble did you use for this, and how long were you given to work on the project?
I had about a month and a half to work on the score. For this film, the director wanted me to specifically use strings and piano for the score. He didn’t mind me using woodwinds, brass and percussion for support but really wanted the score to feature strings and piano. The score also has songs, which I also produced myself.
You have worked on a number of shorts, compared with a feature film are these short movies more difficult to score, as you have less time to establish a sound or style?
I think so. I think they are a bit more difficult because there is less time to develop an idea. Also, it becomes more obvious when there is a slight change in style or approach. With a feature, you can slowly change the style over the course of several scenes. With the short, not so much.
I loved HELL ON THE BORDER, how many times do you like to see a movie before getting any fixed ideas about the score as in style or where music should be placed to best serve the movie?
Thank you so much. Thank makes me happy to hear that you enjoyed the music. I liked to see the film just once in its entirety. I start to think of ideas as I am watching the film. I also make notes on my sequencer in specific spots to help remind me of my ideas
Was HELL ON THE BORDER temp tracked with anything and did you receive any specific instructions regarding the score from the director?
Hell On The Border did not have a temp track. Well, it had maybe about 3 scene that did have temp music but a good 95% of the film did not have a temp track; however, I did get very specific instructions from the director, Wes Miller. He wanted the score to have a western sound. I composed something similar to, The Magnificent Seven. He liked the music but he didn’t feel the character of the music fit well with the film. So, I made another piece of music. This time, it was more along the lines of, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. He also liked it but still did not feel that it was the right choice. He then sent me a piece of music that had western music mixed with hip-hop. It was a very cool and fresh sound to the western genre. I made something along the same lines and he loved it. Even though the score is not all western and hip-hop, Wes wanted to make sure that I was able to do something like that for specific scenes in the film. The mixture of orchestra and hip-hop reminded me a lot of the Black Panther score.
Staying with HELL ON THE BORDER, there are a handful of solo performances, which bring the score to life, do you perform on any of your film scores at all?
I try to perform when possible. I feel that a live performance brings so much more emotion to the music than just a digital version of a performance. The imperfections of the human touch elevates the music.
What is your opinion of the use of soundscape in film scores nowadays rather than composers writing themes?
Ahhh, soundscapes. I think they all have a place in film. Creating soundscapes has become a bit easier because of technology. With the press of a key, a beautiful sound is made. I prefer themes but maybe that is because I grew up learning to write music with manuscript paper and a pencil. For me, a theme is far more memorable, sing-able and more enjoyable. On the flip side, I do understand the requests from the directors and the “less is more” approach.
ATONE is an interesting score, its powerful and quite full on, what percentage of the soundtrack was realised via electronic or synthetic instrumentation?
Atone had a good amount of electronic instruments. I think it 60% orchestra 40% electronic or something very close that. The director wanted to have a hybrid score.
Going back to the Temp track, is this something that you find helpful or is it a tool that filmmakers use that can be counter-productive?
I know most composer do not like temp music. I actually do like it. It helps me get into the mind of the director and see the vision they have for the film. The good thing is that, most of the films that I have worked on with temp music, the temp music was just a guide and never a, “Okay Sid, make me something exactly like this”. For the most part, I’ve had creative freedom.
What is the normal routine that you employ when working on a movie, by this I mean do you tackle the smaller cues first or do you like to develop a core or central theme first so that you can then build the remainder of the score around this?
I actually like to work linear. I know most composers, either do the climax scene or smaller scenes first. Some even compose a collection of music pieces even before getting the film. I like to compose linear. My inspiration comes from the film, the acting, the visuals, etc
What composers or artists would you say have had an influence upon you or maybe have inspired you?
There are many and not just from the concert and film world but from mainstream as well. Let’s see, where should I start. I know I won’t be able to list all of them but here are some that I can remember at the moment
Pharrell Williams & Chad Hugo (The Neptunes)
I think it is safe to say that all of these composer sound very different. They all bring something different to the table. I really enjoy their music and have been inspired and influenced
How do you bring your musical ideas to life, keyboard, pc or straight to manuscript?
Because of tight deadlines, I typically start on the computer. I use my keyboard and or guitar to come up with my ideas.
Do you think that orchestration is an important part of composing music, and do you conduct at all?
Oh yea, orchestration is very important. Orchestration can provide different colours to your music. It can help from preventing the music sounding repetitive, it can help provide a certain mood, colours, emotions. For example, if there is a piece of music composed for solo piano but orchestrated for the pipe organ, the music will have a very Gothic and perhaps even sinister feel.
Orchestration is not only for adding colour, mood, and overall feel to a piece of music, but it will also help balance the sound of the orchestra or any ensemble. For example, let’s say the string section wants to play very very quietly. Without orchestration, someone might just decide to make the string section smaller, so the overall volume is quieter. By doing that, you lose the size of the sound. What should happen is, increase the size of the string section and have them all play even quieter. This way, you get the dynamics of a very quiet string section and not lose the size of the sound. Also, overlapping, interlocking, instruments brings a very different sound than just instruments layered on top of each other.
To be honest, I don’t do a lot of conducting but I have and will, if need be.
HELL ON THE BORDER is one of the best scores this year so far, it has everything I heard a Goldsmith vibe and this was also mixed with a nod to Morricone. Did you set out to do this or did it just develop as you created the score?
Thank you so much. That really means a lot to me. It makes me happy to know that you enjoy it. Once I knew that the director wanted a western score, I set out to create that type of sound. Aaron Copland is probably the composer responsible for creating that Americana sound. The sound that when we hear his music, we think of western music. Because I champion his music, I have studied several of his scores in the past. I also looked at popular Western film music and studied that as well. When I began to compose the music, I composed 2 different western styles, one being like Elmer Bernstein, The Magnificent Seven and the other being Ennio Morricone, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. The director settled on the 3rd version I made but all 3 versions were very much a western sound. So, I had a good idea of what I wanted the music to sound like.
What is next for you, and do you see film scoring being affected by Covid in the future?
I think I might have another western film coming up, a drama, maybe a documentary, I just started to get into commercials / ads so I might be doing some of those. When will I start to work on these projects, I am not sure? Are these projects a sure thing? No not really.
I do see film scoring being affected by Covid. I do not think it will be good or bad but different. Because many musicians were not able to go into the scoring stages and record, they must figure out a way to get work done and still be safe doing it. Many of them learned how to record at home. Yes, it’ not the same and the recordings will not have the same sound because people were recording in their living rooms, instead of a giant scoring stage but the musicians did learn a new skill, home recording. With recording at home, the sound of the orchestra has / will change. A big part of the orchestra sound is the room. Yes, we can try to simulate the reverberation of a room with digital effects, but it is not the same.