Film Scoring

impossible log

I applauded composer Fernando Velázquez last year for his score for The Impossible, a film wrought with drama in which Velázquez wisely kept his music to the background rather than trying to influence the raw emotions on screen. But Velázquez’s latest project has audiences hearing a very different side of the composer – one of suspense and intrigue with his score for the Guillermo del Toro-produced Mama. Velázquez switches modes here, wasting little time bringing audiences into what del Toro described as a “fairytale gone wrong” with the first track, “The Car and the Radio” quickly putting you on the edge of your seat. Unlike his score for The Impossible, which drew audiences into the film slowly, Velázquez is at full tilt here, utilizing a full orchestra (and some ominous choral elements) which become a part of this world rather than simply keeping to the background of it.

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Aural Fixation - Large

I had the opportunity to see one of my favorite composers perform selections of his work live a few weeks back, and to say it was a magical evening would be an understatement. But before I went completely over the moon (pun!) from the experience, I was given the opportunity to speak with the man himself about the evening, what led him decide to bring his scores to the stage and his process as one of the industry’s most successful and innovative composers. Keep reading for my interview with composer Clint Mansell (Moon, Black Swan, Requiem For a Dream) and keep your eyes (and ears) peeled as it sounds like these live performances may just be the start of a whole new way of experience film scores.

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After years with The White Stripes (R.I.P.), collaborative projects like The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, an ex-wife/bandmate that everyone thinks is his sister, and now a new solo album, Jack White‘s been a busy man. While he’s no stranger to film, he’s never composed a film score until now. According to Disney, they’ve hired the slightly mad musician to score The Lone Ranger, the forthcoming movie from Gore Verbinski. The director has worked most often with Hans Zimmer, but there’s no denying that White has incredible musical talent. As for movies, White worked with Alicia Keys on the Quantum of Solace song “Another Way to Die,” he was featured in It Might Get Loud, and he also appeared on “Rome” – the album from Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi which was inspired by Spaghetti Westerns. It’ll be an interesting experiment to see how his vision and talent transpose to the screen.  

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Aural Fixation - Large

Song placement plays a very important role in a film – a song can make you feel happy, sad, nostalgic or make you laugh. Scores can certainly do the same thing, but sometimes a well-placed song works better than any composed piece could. However this tact rarely applies to horror films, especially when leading up to a climatic moment or a jump scare. You can usually sense when these moments are coming – the score becomes ominous, (or even drops out completely) causing your heart beat to quicken as you sense something terrifying is about to be revealed. These moments are almost always driven by score and rarely (if ever) feature a lyric-filled song. And this choice makes sense since lyrics would probably distract from the suspense of the moment instead of drawing it out and, in turn, drawing you into the horror. For horror films, songs with vocals are usually left for party scenes or if a character on screen happens to be listening to the radio, but they are rarely placed within the scene to underscore it. It raises a great question: can a pop or rock song fit into these pivotal moments and have the same effect? Or is this strictly a score or silence choice? I spoke with composer Kurt Oldman who is well-versed in the world of horror film scoring having lent his style to the creepy scores for Killer Holiday, Babysitter Wanted and Neighbor to get his perspective on this idea, how he approaches scoring horror films […]

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Aural Fixation - Large

After exploring the lack of ladies when it comes to the world of composing, I decided to go directly to the source and ask a composer who is currently (and actively) working in the business, and who also happens to be a woman. Miriam Cutler is best known for her work in documentaries such as Thin, Lost in La Mancha and Ethel (which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in January.) I spoke with Cutler not just about her background in music and composing (which is both impressive and extensive), but also about her perspective on the industry as a whole and as a woman working in it. While there may not be many well-known female composers at the moment, they are certainly on the rise. With veterans like Cutler paving the way, it sounds like many composers coming into the industry now are not just men, and it will be interesting to see how this change affects and influences future film scores.

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Marco Beltrami is one of the most recognizable names in film scoring, and he’s earned that celebrity by scoring 4-8 high profile films every year for the past decade. For the most part, his work ranges from the darkly atmospheric to the engagingly violent, which makes him ideal for horror and for action films where Bruce Willis throws a car at a helicopter. It also makes him a fantastic candidate for World War Z, the zombie film starring Brad Pitt that should see the light of day this year. According to Film Music Reporter, Beltrami has been hired by the production amidst a busy schedule that sees him coming off work for The Woman in Black and looking ahead to A Good Day to Die Hard. It’s a significant pick up, although it’s not surprising considering his track record, although he hasn’t worked a lot with Paramount in the past. Still, Beltrami is rock steady when it comes to these types of scores. Hopefully they’ll make him write while being attacked by brain-hungry monsters (to give it a sense of realism).

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Much has been said, screamed, analyzed, obsessed over and dismissed about the Twilight series over the years that sometimes it is easy to forget it all began… with a book. That book alone created a fandom that was quickly compared with another famous book series (Harry Potter), but once the books were brought to the big screen, that fandom seemed to reach a whole new fever pitch and rocketed its leads Robert Pattinson (Edward), Kristen Stewart (Bella) and Taylor Lautner (Jacob) into superstardom (whether they were prepared for it or not). Seeing these books (or any book, for that matter) brought to life is always a matter of living up to the expectations of what people had imagined and envisioned while reading. While scene and character descriptions are usually included, the one wild card that is rarely described when reading is the music. Author Stephanie Meyer certainly noted the music that helped influence her while writing, the films themselves were essentially a blank slate for the Chop Shop’s music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas to inject life and movement into.

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This week, on a very special episode of Reject Radio, we close out the 2011 season of the show with a long-form interview with Bill Marx about his father Harpo and the rest of the Marx Brothers. The musician and film scorer shares his memories of the most famous harp player this side of King David, a legend of comedy, and one hell of a great human being. Download This Episode

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Creating the world of a disturbed, yet brilliant, plastic surgeon harboring more than one secret is no easy task, but director Pedro Almodóvar rises to the challenge with his beautiful and haunting film, The Skin I Live In. An equal challenge was that of creating the music for this world to keep up with the story’s various twists and turns. From the frenetic strings that draw us in at the beginning of the film to the final piano refrain, composer Alberto Iglesias’s score helps create a world that refuses to let you, much like the mysterious woman trapped in the doctor’s home, out until the film’s very last frame. I spoke with Iglesias about the process of working with Almodóvar on this film, the challenges of expressing the emotion in scenes with little to no dialogue and how sometimes, an ax is an equally important part of the composing process as any instrument. (English is not Iglesias’s first language so please keep that in mind as you read his responses.)

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There’s no way to write this without pointing out how tangential it is to the world of film. On the other hand, it strikes the movie world right in the heart of a classic genre. So take your pick. Either way, it’s good music. Acclaimed producer Danger Mouse has teamed up with Italian composer Daniele Luppi to create “Rome,” an album that’s inspired by the scores of Spaghetti Westerns. Normally, a theme or influence for an album wouldn’t be movie news, but in this case, Danger Mouse and Luppi brought together many of the original musicians who recorded the scores for Ennio Morricone and Alessandro Alessandroni – including the iconic Cantori Moderni (which is perhaps best remembered for The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly). Jack White and Norah Jones lend their competing vocal styles to the project, and NPR has a first listen that’s just about good enough to blow a few minds. It absolutely captures the spirit of the genre, and there’s a good chance it will act as a surge of nostalgia for times when quiet strangers shot clean through the nooses of men dangling from trees. Both Morricone and Alessandroni are still alive (and in their 80s), but it doesn’t seem like either were available to whistle for the project. None the less, it’s some great music that would have made a hell of a film score.

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There’s a musical quality when Hans Zimmer speaks. Sometimes stammering his way through sentences, the native German sounds equal parts Rudolf Klein-Rogge and Jeremy Irons in Die Hard with a Vengeance. All of that is lifted by a sunshine sense of humor that seems to get out in front of him and lead the way. Over a three decade career, Zimmer has built a reputation for quality in film scoring. It could easily be said that he’s had the privilege of working with some of the best directors in the business, but it could just as easily be said that it is they who have had the privilege of working with him. His most recent work can be heard through the booms, haunting piano keys, and ever-present synth modulations that support Leonardo Dicaprio as he steals around the dreams of Inception. Yesterday, it was I who had the privilege of speaking with the composer about the fear inherent in every new job, the connective tissue between Japanese electropop and Russian choirs, and what he’s trying to say with his music.

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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
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published: 12.18.2014
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