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Inside Film Music – Composers Speak

Interviews by Christian DesJardins; Silman-James Press

Paperback; 358 pages; ISBN 1-879505-88-6 $20:95




Interviews with: Composers: Klaus Badelt; John Barry; Marco Beltrami; Bruce Broughton; Teddy Castellucci; Jeff Danna; Mychael Danna; Don Davis; John Debney; Cliff Eidelman; Robert Fok; John Frizzell; Philip Glass, Lee Holdridge; Mark Isham; John Kaczmarek; Rolfe Kent; Cliff Martinez; John Ottman; Basil Poledouris; Jocelyn Pook; Rachel Portman; John Powell; David Raksin; Graeme Revell; Jeff Rona; Marc Shaiman; Ryan Shore; Alan Silvestri; Brian Tyler; Stephen Warbeck; Gabriel Yared and Christopher Young. Orchestrators: Pete Anthony; Jeff Atmajian; Brad Dechter; Robert Elhai; Directors & Producers on Film Music: Jon Amiel; Atom Egoyan; Norman Jewison and Sandy DeCrescent discusses her role as a music contractor.

Christian DesJardins is a 29 year old film music enthusiast. His passion has led him to amass this collection of interviews.

Immediately one is impressed by his opening discussion with film composer Ryan Shore on the basic terms and techniques of film music starting with that old chestnut, "Why is there a need for film music?". Form there it proceeds through the process of creating music for film from the selection of a composer through determining which scenes should have music, the composition process, the orchestrating, the recording and the final mix, to the release of film and soundtrack CD. On the way, the roles of music editors, music engineers and composers’ publicists are discussed. In fact this is the best, most complete description of the process I can ever remember.

DesJardins has clearly given much thought to the questions posed to each interviewee. It is interesting that the music of Bernard Herrmann - as well as Max Steiner, Korngold, John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith and other leading lights of Hollywood’s Golden Age - is mentioned by so many composers as a major inspiration. Some composers were classically trained, others came to film music through jazz and more popular forms. Others have a background of both pop and classical. Jocelyn Pook (Eyes Wide Shut), for instance, studied at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, was influenced by the minimalism of Philip Glass and Michael Nyman and by medieval and early church music.

Some film composers rely a lot on orchestrators and other assistance especially when under time pressure; on the other hand John Debney, for example, prefers to do as much as he can himself including conducting. Many appreciate the rich colours available now including synths and ethnic forms.

There are conflicting opinions on temp tracks - music from another source used in the initial stages of film production before the chosen composer gets to work. Basil Poledouris thought it was a crutch, an unnecessary tool – "It doesn’t allow the film to develop its own life … sometimes directors fall in love with a particular melodic notion … so, although you’re not quite sure what it is they like about a piece of temp music … particularly if it’s completely inappropriate, you kind of end up parodying it."

One of the most illuminating interviews is that with Gabriel Yared who says "I don’t specifically see myself as a film composer. I’m just a composer, and I approach all my work – whether a film or a ballet score – with an equal sense of conscience … For me, the music fits the spirit of the film first and the details are second." Yared bemoans the fact that "a lot of directors have no background in music … I wish directors would become more educated in music in order to be more demanding of composers." He quotes Anthony Minghella with whom he worked on The English Patient and The Talented Mr Ripley, ‘an educated, refined person who is a musician, plays piano and reads and loves music.’

David Raksin (Laura, The Bad and the Beautiful and Forever Amber), one of Hollywood’s pioneering film composers, is represented in an all too brief interview in which says "With some exceptions, I think that films today don’t really try to delve deeply into things". Of contemporary film music he says "I think there is less probing sensitivity in the scores today."

There are notable omissions. No interviews with composers of the stature of John Williams or Jerry Goldsmith and, with the exception of Norman Jewison, no interviews with famous directors such as Spielberg or Tim Burton. But see my interview with Christian DesJardins.

There are no illustrations, no portraits of any of the interviewees. It would have been helpful to have printed the name of the interviewee on the top of each spread too. But these are minor quibbles.

A fascinating insight into the whole process of creating music for film.

Ian Lace

see also interview with Christian DesJardins




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