1) MARCELLO, YOU ARE VERY PROLIFIC AND YOU HAVE COMPOSED FOR A HUGE VARIETY OF MEDIA-FILM SCORES, TELEVISION, BALLET COMMISSIONS, JAZZ ALBUMS, etc. IS THERE A MEDIUM THAT YOU FEEL MORE AT HOME WITH? WHAT SETS YOU INSPIRATION ABLAZE?
I suppose all of the above but needless to say film and TV are where I spend the majority of my time. I do have a fondness for dance and ballet commissions as for me the marriage of music and choreography is a powerful thing. But in the end of the day it is the collaborative process that I enjoy the most. I find directors, show runners (and choreographers…!) to be with almost no exception people with an incredible wealth of ideas. Time and again, from my earliest experiences doing indie movies in NYC to now I have been blessed with the gift of listening. Trying hard to figure out what this person is trying to communicate and how I can help it get there with my music. We as composers often arrive at a very delicate time of the process when their “baby” is literally coming to life. It’s a real balance of being honest, open and most of all supportive. Filmmaking is about both story telling and also adapting to change (different cut, concept, emotion), etc.
2) YOU HAVE A VERY SOLID EDUCATION IN MUSIC AS YOU HAVE ATTENDED SOME VERY PRESTIGIOUS COLLEGES. DO YOU THINK THAT IT’S ESSENTIAL NOWADAYS TO BE WELL EDUCATED? IS IT A PREREQUISITE FOR A SUCCESSFUL CAREER?
I don’t think it’s a prerequisite but it certainly has helped me. But on that note I must tell you what my experience has been. I came to the US in 1988 to study film scoring at Berklee College of Music but when I got there at the tender age of 18 I felt that it was too soon to specialise in Film Scoring. Please keep in mind this is only my experience and countless composers infinitely more successful than myself have gone through that program and done great. But I felt that I needed and wanted a broader musical education. At that time I was really interested in modern classical, jazz and world music and so I decided to find a place where I could be exposed to all of that. I found that place at CalArts and it was probably the wisest decision I have ever made. It actually took me 10 years from when I first arrived in the US with the intention to study Film Music to score my first short film. What did I do with all that time? I listened and watched everything I could, moved to New York City and started playing my music in clubs like the Knitting Factory downtown as well as art galleries and Consulates uptown. As it turns out those 10 years of studying and “collecting” as many varied experiences as I could were indeed the perfect training for the Media composer I ultimately became. This time afforded me the luxury of really finding out who I was musically and artistically and when I got my first gig the director wanted me to score his film in the style of my own music that I was already playing and recording. I picked up “On The Track” which I believe used to be the part of the Berklee curriculum and figured out how to do it. One cue at the time.
3) YOU HAVE RECENTLY SCORED THE CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED MOVIE ‘WONDER’. IN MY OPINION YOUR SCORE WAS SUPERB BECAUSE IT WAS VERY BALANCED IN TERMS OF EMOTION. IT’S THE KIND OF MOVIE THAT CAN BE RUINED BY AN OVERWHELMINGLY EMOTIONAL SCORE RIGHT?
Absolutely. That is what I call the emotional temperature of the music and something I spend most of my time fretting over. There is no secret formula and it can very widely from project to project, even from cue to cue, but that is the one thing that for me counts the most. I would equate it with what we might call “overacting” and I always ask directors to talk and direct me as they would do with an actor. On Wonder specifically the director Stephen Chbosky told me right off the bet we are good with tears on this one and your music can do that without a sweat, so where we really need your help is with the laughs. The lead character Auggie doesn’t spend his time feeling sorry for himself and neither should we. Having said that, the process was really one of trial and error and listening to what the movie was telling us. This was my first family film and I found that even the weight of the score and orchestration had to be treated differently from past scores of mine. One step in the wrong direction and the movie would fall into melodrama mode which would have been the kiss of death for the project. We had a fair amount of time and a very safe environment to try different things but ultimately emotion, the right kind of emotion, always won.
4) WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ABOUT TEMP SCORES? HAVE YOU EVER FOUND YOURSELF IN A SITUATION WHERE THE TEMP WAS A BAD CHOICE TO BEGIN WITH?
Temp Scores are a necessary evil in today’s filmmaking process. With very few exceptions a temp of some kind is always needed and present. No too say I don’t enjoy a blank canvas. One of my favourite experiences scoring a film was Cary Fukunaga’s “ Sin Nombre” and there never was a temp score on that one. But as I said that’s pretty rare. Ironically, and I believe I am not alone in this, the trickiest kind of temp for me is invariably when they use my music. Its a real dilemma as one often gets hired because your music is temped in a film so I try not to be grouchy about it. But I always think of what the director is trying to communicate with the temp. I don’t think one should take it too literally and perhaps as important as showing you what they want it is also showing you what they don’t want. It is also an opportunity to see how they cut the music in, how are the entrances? Bold? Slow? Are there a lot of starts? Is there an arch to the music being used? Is it telling me something thematic about the score? Where do ideas get repeated? I have grown very fond of the collaborative process with music editors and picture editors as well and find that talking to them about why they chose a particular piece can be very helpful in guiding one towards a successful outcome.
5) YOU HAVE BEEN AROUND FOR A WHILE AND YOU HAVE BUILT A WELL DESERVED SUCCESSFUL CAREER (NOMINATIONS, etc). IF THERE’S ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’D PASS TO ASPIRING FILM/TV COMPOSERS, WHAT WOULD THAT BE?
I think most people’s career’s are defined by three elements. Talent, luck and persistence. There is not much one can do about the first two (talent and luck) but persistence is the one thing I have seen time and again to be a defining factor for success in people I admire both in our business and beyond. In addition to the obvious networking, etc I would also suggest that aspiring composers spend A LOT of time watching and listening to work from today’s composers as well as going back as far into the past as you can. As far as I am concerned there isn’t such a thing as having watched too many films and TV shows or listened to too much music. Knowing your references (it’s a moving thing, it changes all the time) is key specially when collaborating with other people.
Also, try to be yourself. Be honest about what you can and can not do. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to stretch into areas you are not comfortable yet, but don’t try to do and be everything and/ or just copy others. Filmmakers can smell that a mile away. And be patient ( I guess that goes with persistence). What is your will be yours if you just work hard and most importantly enjoy the journey. It has to be about the journey and not the end result. Lastly, I am an avid reader of this 5 questions column and suggest that aspiring composers do the same! Anyway, thank you Adonis for the opportunity to share my experiences and good luck to everyone.