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Interview with Christian DesJardins - author of Inside Film Music – Composers Speak

Christian DesJardins is a twenty-nine year old film music enthusiast. Silman-James Press have just published his book Film Music Composer Speak in which he describes the whole process of film music composition and production and interviews over 30 film music composers including John Barry, Basil Poledouris, Rachel Portman, David Raksin, Alan Silvestri and Gabriel Yared plus orchestrators, directors and producers.

This is an e-mailed interview between Christain DesJardin (C.D.) and Ian Lace (I.L.)

I.L. I was interested to read that you really became interested in film music after seeing Prince of Tides, score – one of his best - by James Newton Howard (and with Barbra Steisand’s achingly beautiful song added at the end of the soundtrack album not heard in the film).

I will gladly admit that I was equally thrilled by film music at an early age - I remember sitting through Prince Valiant twice - at the age of 16 or thereabouts – the second time for Franz Waxman’s thrilling Wagnerian score.

C.D. Yes, Franz Waxman was brilliant and the first ‘Hollywood Golden Age’ composer I became aware of, with his score for Rebecca. I am 29 but that doesn't mean that I don't love the masters of the past. In fact, I will watch an older film before a new one because, to me, that was Hollywood at its best. Grapes of Wrath is an all-time favourite with Alfred Newman's score - even as sparsely used as it was; but you can't beat film scores like To Kill A Mockingbird - one of the best film scores - Rear Window, Days of Wine and Roses ... This is nostalgic Hollywood!

I.L. First of all congratulations on such a big undertaking. Your initial coverage of the whole film-music composition process is most welcome – a wide, informative survey.

C.D. Thank you- it was a labour of love though.

I.L. It was also a good idea to include interviews with orchestrators and directors and a music contractor (although I would like to have seen some A-list directors’ names in that short list).

C.D. I agree but, as I mention later, there will be a follow-up to Inside Film Music which will develop the composer/director relationship in much more depth. Sandy DeCrescent is the most respected music contractor in the business and I felt a brief mention of her contributions might be in order to create a well-rounded read.

I.L. Please give some background about yourself and your experience of films and film music. What are your ambitions? Has the book helped you to further your career and if so who has taken an interest in your work?

C.D. I studied music theory, sang with an a cappella choir and played the clarinet in the school band; I am now involved in composition with piano and synthesizers. Growing up, I had no idea of film music although I got to know the themes from Star Wars and Indiana Jones. It just never dawned on me. So, in the beginning I was impressed with the music of Jean Sibelius or Hector Berlioz, for example, because they were able to tell a story with their music. As an artist, I felt inspired and connected, much like a film score works to a movie. For me there is a marriage that takes place where the image is just an object until it is paired with a sonic emotion and then it becomes alive.

Then came a new discovery. It began with The Prince of Tides - with James Newton Howard’s Academy Award-nominated score. Once you see this heartfelt film and hear the incredibly beautiful and emotional score, you might see why I am now a devoted film music listener. I bought everything I could find released from James Newton Howard, who still remains my absolute favourite talent in the business. I later ventured out to discover a whole new world after watching other films and seeing different names in the credits. I remember being mesmerized by Thomas Newman's score to Scent of A Woman and Jerry Goldsmith's score to Basic Instinct. Then, finding a soundtrack section in the music store, was, for me, like finding a lost treasure. Henceforward, every dollar I earned was spent on film scores. It was absolutely mystical. I couldn't get the wrapper off of the CD fast enough so I could be transported to a new place. With an enormous collection, fifteen years later, I decided this was it. This is what I was meant to do in life. Not just listening to these scores for my personal enjoyment but sharing this burning passion and excitement with the world. writing Inside Film Music: Composers Speak not only strengthened my bond with film music but it has assured me that I have found my place, no longer doing a job but pursuing a career and living a dream.

I.L. When did you start on Inside Film Music and how long did you work on the project?

C.D. I began this project in Spring of 2003 and I delivered a final manuscript to my publisher almost three years later.

I.L. I noticed that A-List composers are not included: John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, James Horner and James Newton Howard - although granted the latter crops up in many interviews especially with the orchestrators - for instance. I miss their authoritative views. Did you approach any of them?

C.D. First of all, although I know this is standard to consider certain composers as "A-List" composers, according to the popularity and success of the films they are associated with, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are more talented or that they will deliver a more interesting interview. Secondly, I think composers like John Barry, John Debney, Mark Isham, David Raksin, Alan Silvestri among others have earned their place in the business as "A-List" composers. However, to answer your question, I did seek Elmer Bernstein and Jerry Goldsmith but they were both ill at the time I reached them. I thank God that I was able to voice my admiration of them, personally, before they passed on but still, this devastated me because I respect them both tremendously and it would have been an honour to have had the opportunity to have their last words about something they were so gifted and passionate about. I did also approach James Howard but we never seemed to get our schedules to meet this time around. I am however, working on the follow up to Inside Film Music as we speak and I purposely omitted some composers with the next book in mind.

I.L. I was pleased to note that your contributors and yourself made fulsome tribute to the masters of the Hollywood’s Golden Age of film music. Please transport yourself in your imagination back to that era and imagine you have been given the opportunity to interview one composer working then. Who would that be? What would be the reason for your choice and please suggest three questions you would pose to him?

C.D. This is an excellent question and an easy one in terms of who to choose - Bernard Herrmann. I can easily say that this man was a film music genius. I know - how dare I make such a comment when there was the pioneering work of the great Max Steiner and Alfred Newman, for example? Well, my experience is that Bernard Herrmann was a pioneer of sounds that still influence film music today and was an artist that was perhaps ahead of his time.

So my questions to Bernard Herrmann would have been:-

1) Before you would submerse yourself into a macabre storyline, Psycho for example, how would you decide on the colour used for the orchestra? In other words, how did you discover the effect of screeching violins to capture sheer terror - was this a premeditated idea or a discovery through experimentation?

2) You take this sound a step further in Cape Fear. You could have easily just brought in the screeching strings to open the film but would it be as effective without the bold pounding brass? Did you add the horns after discovering the strings just didn't capture the intensity?

3) Looking back a bit, you were given the opportunity to create something completely original in The Day The Earth Stood Still. What was the first thing that went through your mind? Were you immediately like a kid in a candy store, having ideas for this wide open canvass, to be as abstract as possible or did you find this daunting at first to step in this somewhat uncharted territory like an abyss?

I.L. Still staying with that era for a moment. If you were shipwrecked on a desert island and could only have three scores from films released between 1935 and 1955 which ones would they be and why?

C.D. This is a daunting task, much like asking me to choose three of my favourite children. Then again, this might imply that I need therapy if I can't answer this question so ... knowing I am alone on this island, I am not taking music with me just because I like a melody. I am taking music to keep my spirit alive:

Shane (Victor Young) - This beautiful score paints a picturesque Americana landscape with lush instrumentation. So in body I may be on an island but this score would transport my heart back home again.

Gone With The Wind (Max Steiner) - The memorable sweeping theme is enough to cherish but for me, the music brings out my sentiment for my beautiful wife and through this music, she would always be there at my side.

The Sea Hawk (Erich Wolfgang Korngold ) - a score of such victorious epic proportions. It would encourage me to fight against the odds of surviving on the desert island.

I.L. Moving forwards, again did you consider some other composers such as: Harry Gregson Williams (The Kingdom of Heaven), Alexandre Desplat (The Luzhin Defence, Birth, The Painted Veil) or any of the Newmans – Thomas (American Beauty, The Horse Whisperer), Randy (Pleasantville) and David (Anastasia)

C.D. What about Ennio Morricone, Maurice Jarre, Patrick Doyle, Hans Zimmer and .... the list of talents goes on but then you have to stop and ask yourself, what is this book about? This is a select group of composers that I chose based on the fact that they came from various backgrounds, had different experience, excelled in particular genres, composed with different styles and so on. Plus it becomes dangerous territory when you try to include every popular composer that you think should be involved because then the question will be, "why did you interview Thomas Newman and not James Horner?" To make this long answer short, I feel this book gives the reader a diverse appreciation of scoring for motion pictures or television. I could have easily tripled the size of this book but then the purpose gets lost from a multi-purpose learning tool to an overblown publicity tabloid for the fans. Not only that, but this allows me to explore different avenues for my future endeavours. I feel this book serves its purpose well and I would not change anything about it - especially knowing what is yet to come.

I.L. Obviously mention of favourite scores will be omitted from interviews through lack of space but I was surprised that Alan Silvestri’s section, for instance, made no reference to The Abyss or Contact?

C.D. I didn't make reference to my favourite scores in my interviews, for the most part because I had limited time to gather as much information as I could and I often tried to develop a quick discussion about scores that had not been spoken to death about in previous books and interviews on web sites. I wanted some fresh material although this wasn't always the case. For example, asking Jocelyn Pook about her score for the film Deluge, would leave most people scratching their heads. So instead, I used Eyes Wide Shut because many can relate to this film and would gain a sharper appreciation of her talent and experience working on this film. Now, when you get to composers like Alan Silvestri or John Barry for example, think of how daunting the task might be to conduct an hour interview and cover every score in their career that warrants a discussion of technique, style, choices made, highlighting specific scenes and so on. Would I have loved to do this? Absolutely but it is an impossible task. You are bound to leave out key moments in their career. The whole idea of this book with so many contributors was to give an insight on their various projects and experiences and yet be as informative as possible. It is not as easy as it may sound.

I.L. Of all the composers you interviewed who impressed you the most and why?

C.D. I developed a life long friendship with Christopher Young from our first meeting for the book but funnily enough it started as a complete disaster. You must read the introduction to his interview to understand why. But Chris's passion, knowledge, experience and love for teaching and sharing with others made this undoubtedly my happiest experience. Chris is a humble man with so much to offer, including a talent that he often doubts in himself. I see him as a misunderstood master of his craft. What I respect most is that he is a father figure and that is his truest gift.

I must also speak of Gabriel Yared. I will admit that the interview needed persistence but it was the most rewarding of my efforts because I don't think the book would have been the same without his inspiring insights. He is an artist in the truest sense. He lives with his heart and soul and his introspective views are intoxicating and rich with emotion, much like his music. His is a wonderful soul that I respect dearly and I believe that, even though it was a brief discussion, you too will find a connection with his creativity and perhaps even a deeper meaning of life.

The truth is that even though I may mention these two composers, I have come away from this project with a deeper appreciation of not only film music but also of life actually. I know this is a deep thought but every single interview is valuable and they have made an appreciable impact on me.

I.L. Nice to see mention of the great Christopher Palmer in the Jeff Atmajian section – I expect you have read Christopher Palmer’s The Composer in Hollywood?

C.D. Absolutely, although I am embarrassed to say that it took Jeff Atmajian to suggest this to me after our interview. Needless to say, it is an invaluable resource and I am grateful for Jeff's recommendation.

see also

Inside Film Music – Composers Speak Interviews by Christian DesJardins; Silman-James Press Paperback; 358 pages; ISBN 1-879505-88-6 $20:95

 

 


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