GEORGE, YOU WERE RECENTLY VOTED AS ‘BREAKTHROUGH COMPOSER OF THE YEAR’ BY THE IFMCA. YOU MUST BE DOING SOMETHING RIGHT!! I MEAN, ONE LOOK AT THE NAMES THAT WERE SURROUNDING YOURS ON THAT LIST CAN ONLY POINT TO GREAT THINGS TO COME FOR YOU. HOW DID THIS ACCOLADE COME ABOUT?
Thanks for your kind words Adonis! I was very honored that the IFMCA nominated me alongside such a talented group of composers, and I’m deeply grateful for the ‘Breakthrough Composer’ vote. The films I worked on last year gave me the opportunity to compose music for two genres that I particularly enjoy: period drama and fantasy-adventure. I was also fortunate that the directors I collaborated with envisioned a musical direction similar to what I am naturally drawn to, and therefore I was flexible to compose scores that served the drama but stood well on their own as soundtracks. Although ‘Breakthrough Composer’ sounds like I’ve only started scoring, I think it’s the result of hard work over a number of years, with 2017 being the busiest, with three scores that attracted the IFMCA’s attention. Awards and recognitions for composers are usually directly related to the popularity of the films or shows they are working on. So if a project remains unknown, in most cases the score does not have a wide reach-out either. This is where I think the IFCMA awards are different – the members review and promote soundtracks by focusing on the artistic quality of the music itself, and how it relates to the picture. So if the IFMCA pays tribute to a composer’s work it’s especially rewarding, and it’s a great mention through which to showcase the music to a wider soundtrack audience. I am deeply honored.
YOU FREQUENTLY RECORD YOUR SCORES IN EUROPE, BOTH REMOTELY AND IN PERSON. BESIDES THE COST EFFECTIVENESS, WHAT IS APPEALING ABOUT EUROPEAN ORCHESTRAS AND STUDIOS?
I have been recording in Europe since 2007 and have seen a gradual and steady improvement in performance quality by European orchestras, as well as the organizational skills and facilities of the studios there. Last year I found that sometimes the first take of a cue’s recording was often a keeper. I was impressed by the superb intonation and sight-reading of the musicians, as well as the quality of the recordings. Furthermore most of the session players nowadays speak English and a translator is not always necessary. If there is time, a composer can also spend a day exploring European cities like Prague, Budapest and Bratislava, all of them rich in musical history. A few years back, on the last evening of our recordings we went for a stroll and we happened to hear music coming from a church. A couple of minutes later we found ourselves observing a rehearsal by a wonderful chamber orchestra and choir over a hot chocolate! On the other hand I live in Los Angeles since 2013, and I find it frustrating that occasionally I have to travel so far away to record a score, particularly when some of the best musicians in the world are based in this town. Each project is different however, and I sincerely hope I will be recording here in LA with our superb musicians very soon.
BEFORE MOVING TO LOS ANGELES YOU HAD A SUCCESSFUL CAREER IN LONDON. WHAT PROMPTED THE MOVE TO LA AND WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING COMPOSERS WHO PLAN TO MOVE TO LA?
I love London. I finished my Masters at the Royal College of Music and I was given my first opportunities there as a composer’s assistant – and then came my first scoring assignments of ‘Joy Division’ and ‘Highlander The Source’. I also met my wife in London, and our first daughter Chrysilia was born there who is very proud of her British heritage! After 10 years however we found ourselves looking for sunnier weather to raise our family. Since my wife is a post-producer, LA was a natural destination for both of us. I left London in my busiest scoring period to date while my wife was pregnant with our second girl. Some of our friends and family thought we were nuts but evidently it was the right choice for us. If a composer thinks LA is the right move here is my advice: be financially independent for a period of six months to a year, or have local scoring opportunities locked in place. It is true that LA allows composers to meet more filmmakers, but there are also as many – if not more – composers who are looking for exactly the same introductions. So if your personal contacts are not in LA, it may take you longer to build up your local networking and it’s something you need to be prepared for financially. If you are looking to start your career as an intern or a composer’s assistant then LA is the right place for this path. And lastly, I’ve found that after the move a composer here needs persistence, for moving towards one’s goals, and patience to wait for the right opportunities even though they may take a little longer to arrive.
YOU ORCHESTRATE YOUR OWN SCORES AND OFTEN CONDUCT THE SESSIONS. DO YOU BELIEVE THAT BOTH PROCESSES ARE ESSENTIAL TO ATTACHING YOUR PERSONAL IMPRINT TO A SCORE? IN YOUR OPINION WHAT MAKES YOUR SCORES STAND OUT?
At my first job as a composer’s assistant I also received my first credits as an orchestrator. Therefore when I secured my scoring commissions I sought to orchestrate the music. I partly orchestrated my first scores but as the deadlines became tighter, and projects overlapped, I started assigning the orchestrations, and supervised them. I try and keep my mock-ups concise and detailed, but even so I find that having a strong orchestration team around me is extremely beneficial because their job is to explore and bring new ‘coloring’ ideas to the music. Once a cue gets approved the first stage involves cleaning up and quantizing the midi file on Sibelius. The cue then goes to the lead orchestrator for the first draft. This draft returns to me, and I either approve or give out notes. Then the Sibelius files are finalized, and parts are prepared for the copyist. In terms of conducting I prefer to be on the podium for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s faster for me to communicate to the orchestra any amendments that may come up, especially when an arrangement needs last-minute changes. Secondly, it’s one of the few times I get to feel that I get to ‘perform’ with other musicians. I recently had a friend of mine introduce me to someone as a “musician” and had to think about that twice! I forgot I am a musician as well as a composer. I spend so many hours in a room by myself, so when I am in the same area with session players it’s very refreshing and it feels like I am in a playground. In terms of my scores standing out, I am not entirely sure. Most of my influences are older generation composers such as Rózsa, Poledouris, Goldsmith and Herrmann. I am a bit of a traditionalist and particularly enjoy composing music driven by melody, orchestration, and even some complexity by mixing motives together over some dissonance. Perhaps growing up in Cyprus where I was immersed in Greek music has also embedded a subtle modal language in my compositions, which may give a distinction to the scores.
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 can be a blessing and a curse. I definitely enjoy the process more when working from a blank canvas. Having said that, in some cases it’s great to have a temp, because it enables a director to say things such as “I like this part from this cue” or “I don’t like this music choice our editor placed for this scene”, or even “I like the pace but not the guitar and music has to start a little sooner” etc. In a way you get simple and easy guidance on the timings, instrumentation, and the general idea behind the score. I never experienced a really bad choice with the temp, and frankly when that happens the composer may have an easier job of impressing the production team with a fresh take writing the original score. The common situation composers face is when the temp score has been sitting on a cut for a long time and the director or the producer falls in love with it. The music naturally ‘glues’ to the picture and it’s very hard to convince the production team otherwise. It’s challenging when composers are trying to be innovative but also when we are mocking up samples against huge live orchestral scores that have enormous production qualities. The most difficult situation I had to face was when an editor temp-ed a film with my past soundtracks. “Yeah, we want George Kallis, but please make sure you exceed your temp score with your new original score!” I took it as a challenge!
I also wanted to take this opportunity and congratulate you Adonis Aletras, the administrators of the forum, and the main contributors for their outstanding work on making the forum such an interesting hub of diverse information on film, TV and games music.