1) CHRIS, FIRST OFF CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR EMMY NOMINATION! YOU HAVE BEEN SCORING ‘BATES MOTEL’ SINCE 2013. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF BEING INVOLVED IN THAT SHOW FOR SO LONG?
Thank you! It’s been very gratifying to be able to take themes, sounds, and the vibe we started with in season 1 and have them evolve along with the show, its tone, and the characters going into the 5th and final season. Spotting the episodes often takes twice as long as it should because I usually end up watching first as a fan, and then have to ask them to rewind so we can actually evaluate the musical needs of the scene. I love the people involved and am especially grateful I get to record with a group of some of L.A.’s finest string players each week. Incredible for a small-ish show like this!
2) WHILE SCORING ‘BATES MOTEL’ YOU ALSO COMPOSED ADDITIONAL MUSIC FOR SOME HIGH PROFILE MOVIES (AVENGERS:AGE OF ULTRON, PADDINGTON ETC). HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO JUGGLE ALL THESE PROJECTS?
As any working composer will tell you, juggling overlapping projects is part of the job. It would be awesome if they lined up neatly in a single file line across the calendar, but that’s just not the way Destiny crumbles her cookies. The single most important trick I know is DO NOT PROCRASTINATE. Even if there seems to be plenty of time, something will always come up (another project, focus group notes, major technical issues, a child’s broken arm) and all of a sudden there’s more work to do than time available to do it.
3) CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE CREATIVE PROCESS OF COMPOSING ADDITIONAL MUSIC FOR A MOVIE THAT ANOTHER COMPOSER IS ATTACHED?
In my experience, it’s not dissimilar to composing for my own projects, except there’s often an established theme or tone. When in doubt, USE THE THEME(S)! As much as it’s appropriate. I usually prefer to transcribe thematic material rather than import MIDI. I try to digest everything that the credited composer may have already written for the project and get inside it as if I were going to conduct its premiere with the L.A. Phil. What’s the instrumentation? Orchestration vocabulary? Level of activity? Harmonic language? What samples are they using? How much do they like to “hit” moments with score? Once all of that is understood, the process of composing, revising, and getting approvals is basically the same, but with the extra level of approval needed from the credited composer before it’s played for film makers.
4) WHAT WERE SOME VALUABLE LESSONS YOU PICKED UP WHILE CUTTING YOUR TEETH WITH JAMES NEWTON HOWARD?
James has some advantages that seem to make him especially built for the job (perfect pitch, uncommon musical memory, concert level pianist, ridiculously fast, etc). I’ll never have or be some of those. BUT, his work ethic, focus, and commitment to delivering as many versions as necessary to make clients beyond happy are things that I can and do try to emulate. He also never stops growing and trying new things, as demonstrated by his comfort moving between polar stylistic opposites like MICHAEL CLAYTON and MALEFICENT. There aren’t many who can do that. He’s also one of a tiny minority who, so far as I know, have never been fired from a project, and that’s due to some combination of all of the above. He truly believes in the *art* of film scoring and it shows both in the amount and quality of work that he does.
5) HOW IMPORTANT IS FORMAL EDUCATION FOR COMPOSERS?
If by formal education you mean a college degree in some combination of composition and film scoring (the path I took), I would say…it depends. For some it’s going to be where they develop their voice and make lasting relationships that lead to later professional collaboration. For others, they already have a distinct, instinctual musical voice and their education comes by just doing it and/or surrounding themselves with the right team. I feel that in-depth music education can potentially deepen the musical well from which to draw, because there will ALWAYS come a time when you’re asked to write something that doesn’t come naturally. This can be especially true if you end up helping on another project. However, when hiring composers, nobody asks for your degree. Have you proven you can deliver? Are you part of something the project decision makers have to worry about, or are they relieved you’re on the job because you make life better (and easier)?
Some budding composers come to town and draw a line in the sand saying they don’t want to be an assistant because they’re a composer. Perhaps that’s true and it works for some. However, I would encourage people not to make too many declarations about what you won’t do. In my time with JNH, I felt like I was on scholarship because I was learning from one of the best in the industry AND getting paid. It was as much of an education as any of my formal schooling was.