1) HUMMIE, YOU COLLABORATED TWICE WITH LEGENDARY DIRECTOR MEL BROOKS FOR TWO CLASSIC MOVIES. WERE YOU AWARE AT THE TIME THAT THOSE PROJECTS WOULD BE LABELED AS CLASSICS? WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING FOR MEL BROOKS?
Working with Mel has been one of the highlights of my career. Certainly, one hopes that any film you are working on will have some sort of longevity in the history of film – make its mark, so to speak – but I don’t think anyone knows ahead of time that any film will become a “classic”. I also think that is even more difficult to predict with comedies. When working on a film with an “important” message or subject matter, the chances are better than when making a comedy. For me, the honour of working with a legend like Mel, who pretty much created the genre of parody films, was an amazing experience and it certainly has been an added bonus that that these films have gone on to gain a certain amount of celebrity.
Working with Mel was certainly a bit overwhelming on our first collaboration – Robin Hood: Men in Tights. At that time, my career was still rising and he took a chance on me, literally gave me my big break. Without question, I always try to do the best job I can on any film, but the stakes certainly felt higher on that film. I am not sure if Mel put pressure on me or if I was just feeling it because I was working for Mel Brooks, but it felt a bit scary at the time. I had more than one sleepless night worrying that I was doing a job worthy of a Mel Brooks film, but obviously, was successful that he invited me to score the last film he directed – Dracula Dead and Loving It.
2) OVER THE YEARS YOUR SCORES RANGED FROM GRAND SCALE SYMPHONIC TO ACOUSTIC GUITAR UNDERSCORE. THERE IS A LOT TO BE SAID ABOUT KNOWING WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DOES NOT WORK RIGHT?
When starting on a film project, every composer goes through a process of watching the film and deciding what is the correct approach to the score – what will make it work for that film. There are decisions about instrumentation, harmonic language, style of music (if there is one specific appropriate genre) and many other aspects of how the music can enhance the storytelling of the film. I have always been involved in many styles of music and feel that great film composers really are chameleons. As opposed to a concert composer who wants to have his or her unique voice, I feel that the film composer’s job is finding the unique voice of the film. To that end, the more versatility and musical styles that a film composer is familiar with, the more different types of films he/she will be able to score. Not every film needs a jazz score or a rock score or an epic orchestral score, but a professional film composer should be versatile enough to tackle as many of these as possible
3) JERRY GOLDSMITH ONCE RECOMMENDED YOU AS “a composer with a strong sense of melody and a genuine command of the orchestra.” WHAT WERE YOUR INFLUENCES THAT LED YOU TO FILM SCORING?
The main attraction of film scoring to me was the idea that I would get to compose music in many different genres of music. I had grown up playing acoustic guitar and being a folk/rock singer-songwriter. Then I discovered jazz and played in a trio, eventually having my own 18-piece big band. In Hollywood, the ability to compose and orchestrate using a variety of orchestral ensembles – from 25 players on television to 120 players on a major motion picture score – was another area that I worked a lot in. I have composed in all those genres as well as bluegrass, blues, various ethnic styles and electronic based scores. I love the challenge of exploring new styles and genres I never have done before. When I scored “Year of the Comet” was my first foray into Celtic music, for instance.
Jerry was a mentor to me. Being asked to work for him was such an honour. On more than one occasion he called me to assist him on projects as a co-composer working with his themes. Unfortunately, situations made those projects not come to fruition for a variety of reasons. I did learn, from his son and our then mutual agent, that Jerry was impressed with my work and my first contact with him was a phone call when I was signed to a 10-picture deal for Showtime Cable. I called Jerry, on our agent’s suggestion, and he spent over an hour on the phone with me discussing the different directors I was going to be working with who Jerry had worked with in the past including Joe Dante, Jonathan Kaplan, John Milius, William Friedkin and others – it was amazing.
4) VARIETY MAGAZINE LISTED YOU AS A ‘LEADER IN LEARNING’ IN ITS 2010 EDUCATION IMPACT REPORT. CAN YOU PLEASE ELABORATE ON YOUR INVOLVEMENT IN EDUCATING FILM COMPOSERS?
I have always been involved in teaching. I gave private guitar lessons from the time I was in high school through my college years. When I lived in LA for the early part of my career, I taught at the UCLA extension film scoring program that was run by Don Ray. A number of years ago I moved my family to an island outside of Seattle for personal lifestyle choice reasons and one of the things I did was to teach a film scoring class at Bellevue Community College (now Bellevue College). That one class blossomed into a collection of classes that were run independent of any institution and became known as the Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program. It was made up of a group of instructors who taught a variety of courses: Finale, Digital Performer, Logic, Conducting and I taught a series of “core” composition classes. The thing that we did that was somewhat unique is that in the final class of the core courses, the students composed original scores for student made films using a 52-piece student/community musician orchestra. We scored close to 100 student films from schools all across the US and even some films from schools overseas. In 2009, I took the position of Assistant Professor of film composition at Columbia College Chicago in their Music for the Screen Masters program. I taught there for 2 years and then decided that I could do more within my own program, so I returned to Seattle and designed from the ground up a Masters in Film Composition program that became the music department of the Seattle Film Institute. That program, now in its 7th year, was rated by “MusicSchoolCentral.com” as the #4 school in the world for the study of film scoring. I also pursued and completed a Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) degree through the University of Salford in Manchester, England with my thesis titled: The Temporal and Rhythmic Effect on Musical Composition and Form When Scoring Dramatic Moving Picture. I am also currently finishing up a long-term project of a textbook that codifies composition techniques that are applicable to writing dramatic underscore.
What I am most proud of is that so many, in fact a very large percentage, of the graduates of the Masters program I created are working in the industry on film, television, video game projects and other areas of commercial composition. Their work is being recognized by winning awards and getting commissions for original orchestral works.
5) BESIDES BEING A COMPOSER/ ORCHESTRATOR/ARRANGER ,
YOU ARE ALSO A SONGWRITER. IS WRITING SONGS FOR FILMS DIFFERENT THAN REGULAR SONGWRITING?
I am a big proponent of the concept that the score and the songs in a film should be part of the same vocabulary – written by the same person. When I think of scores that Henry Mancini, Michel Legrand, Alan Menken and others composed tying in the themes from the songs with the score, I feel that is the best marriage of song to a score. When writing a song for a film, I always make sure that the music from the song can stand on its own as an instrumental theme and that it dramatically can tell a story even without the lyrics. So that, for me, is the biggest difference between composing a song for a score – tying it in musically with the rest of the musical elements.