How did you become a film composer?
When I was about 10 years old my childhood piano teacher, a big Irish guy named Derry O'Leary, introduced me to the scores of Jerry Goldsmith. He brought me LP's of Goldsmith's scores to Patton, A Patch of Blue, and Papillion. Those three scores literally changed my life! From that day forward my whole life centered around pursuing this career. I've been lucky enough that in the last 5 or 6 years or so it's really gone from dream to reality. Lots of little shorts and indie projects became slightly bigger projects, etc.
You began working on Grace before filming began. Tell us about that.
Grace was a very unique project, an absolute joy! The director, Paul Solet, and I had been friends for several years before filming even began. He would be send me the various iterations of the script as he wrote and re-wrote. So after the production was off and running, he proposed the idea that we take advantage of my strong knowledge of the script and write music for playback on set, to really help set the tone for the cast and crew. So I wrote a 20 minute "script score" for about a dozen different scenes in the film. Then I flew to the set, put the music on an iPod, and was able to sit and play it for Jordan Ladd, the lead actress, and really talk about the character. It was unlike anything I'd ever attempted, and ultimately paid off in spades! Funny enough, when I went on to write the actual score, not one note was used from that "script score." We completely started from scratch.
What approach did you take to make your score unique?
As is often the case, the circumstances outside of my control were the main reason the score ended up being so different, if only from my other scores. First off, I had a pretty luxurious amount of time, about three months (not including the several years spent reading the various scripts!). Also, my scoring budget ended up far less than originally expected, and so the big challenge became 'how do I make this sound great within this small box, and not some cheap version of a higher budget score?' But most importantly Paul had the philosophy that there are no rules. Any experiment was worth doing. So I was allowed to really explore, with no temp music or other obstacles.
You've written concert music and scored videogames in addition to films, how do these projects differ?
All three media (film, game and concert music) have definite overlaps, but the thought process is what differentiates each so much. For example, last year I had to write a 30-minute drama/action score in about a week. Yet, last week saw the premiere of a concert work I did which was a mere 10 minutes long, and yet took about 3 months to write. So I guess my brain works differently, even though there are inevitable musical similarities among the three. Games are especially unique because the added element of interactivity really changes the entire conception of music!
Can you describe your score to the award-winning Jordanian film Captain Abu Raed?
Captain Abu Raed is very much a real-world fairy tale, at once larger than life and yet also so believable. The score had to fit in with that. So it's orchestral, with broad sweeping strokes, but yet still fairly intimate, scored essentially only for strings. The score in total runs only about 40 minutes of the film's 105-minute runtime, so obviously the use of music in general is very sparse. The real icing on the cake in it, for me, was collaborating with Lisbeth Scott for the end titles. She sang this absolutely haunting chant-like solo over the strings, in Arabic. First hearing it over at her studio was one of those indelible moments in life. Pure magic.
What are you working on now?
I'm currently working on a beautiful drama called The River Why, starring Zach Gilford, William Hurt, Amber Heard and Kathleen Quinlann. It's a dramatic, coming-of-age story about a kid growing up fly fishing in Oregon. The score is being done in collaboration with an absolutely stunning guitarist named Dominic Miller, best known as Sting's lead guitarist. We're right in the middle of it now and I'm absolutely loving it! I've never written something so bare and simple before. In many ways it's far more difficult than writing big orchestral scores, but it's also liberating.
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