Learning from the big guys

It’s been a while since last blog, but I’m happy that it is because I’ve been super busy. I have decided that 2010 is gonna be a very productive year, and so far I’m off to a good start. For the last 4 weeks I’ve written 12 commercials, demoed for a feature film and landed a short film. Additionally I’ve been working on songs for my band Postulat’s new EP. I’ll write more about these projects later.

In light of the upcoming Oscars I wanted to share a couple of anecdotes about some of the composers who are nominated for best original score. Among this year’s nominees I happen to have met several of them. In fact one of them helped me get my first feature film. The second year I lived in LA I attended the USC Film Scoring program. Every week we had a composer come in and talk about their work experience. In one of those classes Marco Beltrami came in. I knew he had scored the Norwegian film “I Am Dina” and I really liked the music for the trailer. Oftentimes they use licensed music for the trailers, but for this one it seemed very tailored, which was one of the reasons why I liked it so much. During our break I went up to him and asked him if he was the one who wrote the trailer music, which he was. He seemed very surprised to find out that someone in LA knew about this film which was not very well known in the States, and was excited when I told him I was from Norway. He asked for my info and we decided to meet up for a chat. He also got a chance to listen to some of my work. Later when a music supervisor friend of his asked him for suggestions for a someone who would wanna score this film on an ultra low budget, he recommended me. Even though it was very little money it was a really cool opportunity for someone like me who was still in school and who needed to start making connections.
I have yet to see “The Hurt Locker” which Marco Beltrami and his long time assistant Buck Sanders are nominated for, but I’m happy to see that he continues to do really well. This is his second Academy Award nomination after he was nominated in 2008 for “3:10 to Yuma”, which I thought was a very inventive score.

I’m a member of the Society of Composers and Lyricists, which is a great forum for meeting other composers in the industry. During the year they arrange screenings of films followed by interviews with the composers. I love hearing the composers’ thoughts about their approach and process. One time they showed “Syriana” and had an interview with composer Alexandre Desplat. He is one of my all time favorites in film scoring because of his strong sense of beauty and elegance. His melodies flow beautifully and his orchestrations are transparent and simply gorgeous. His scores for “Birth” and “Girl With A Pearl Earring” are great examples of this. Alexandre Desplat was very much like his music – light, pleasant and well dressed. In other words very French (just like he said himself). So I have to say I was quite star struck when I met him. My friend and I went up to him to tell him how much we appreciated his work (my friend was the tough one, I sort of tagged along slightly nervously). But I was thrilled when he said that he had a scoring session for “Firewall” the following week and asked whether we’d be interested to come. That is one of my favorite things about living in LA: Getting the treat of going to scoring sessions with the big guys. I love the atmosphere at these recording sessions, how everybody is there with the mindset of creating the best result possible. How the musicians always blow me away – every time I hear an orchestra I feel this deep affection for all of them because of the beauty they bring into the world just by doing their job. I also love to watch and learn from how the composers think on their feet and take instructions from the director and translate it into music. “You want it less noble? OK, take out the trumpets for bars 35-40.” It’s such a specific way to learn. You can read a lot of textbooks on film scoring, but there’s no better way to learn than to be at a recording session.
I really enjoyed “Fantastic Mr Fox” for which Alexandre Desplat is nominated. To tell you the truth I was kind of surprised when I saw his name in the credits. He has a very specific signature and sound, and I wouldn’t have guessed it was him. Now that I listen to the music again, it makes sense. The transparency, the beautiful melodies and the clean orchestrations are all there. I guess the difference is it’s more playful and humorous than his other work. Some of the tracks are also for smaller ensembles which make them more intimate. And he uses a slightly different instrumentation than he normally does. But it’s cool to hear that he can do something new and still do it really well.

I’ve never met Hans Zimmer who is another nominee this year, but my friend Diego Stocco worked with Hans Zimmer on the score for “Sherlock Holmes”. Diego created an instrument called the experibass, which is basically the strings from a viola and cello attached to the body of a contrabass. (You can read more about Diego in Johannes Ringen’s blog as well). I thought it was one of the best scores I’ve heard in a long time. I loved the creative instrumentation and all the ear candy it provided. It fit perfectly with the time period and style of the whole film. It’s really interesting to look at the videos of the musicians who are contributing in various ways (although I always feel physical pain when I watch people destroy instruments!!). You can check it out here: http://www.watertower-music.com/sherlockholmes/musicians/

And with that I wish you all a great weekend!