V: What are the upcoming projects that you have that you’re allowed to talk about?
A: There’s an animation by the same writer who wrote The Princess and the Frog (2009)— he’s done a lot of things for Pixar. It’s a really cute project. I also have a Spanish documentary, Yo Galgo (2018) and a project that I’m particularly excited about— It’s a movie, a thriller, so a genre that I’ve never done before. My plan is to not listen to any thriller soundtracks so that I can come up with something different. I plan to ask the director to not use temp tracks. That’s another problem. When they edit, they have a temp track. Once you see a sequence with music, especially for the editor, when the music works with the picture, it’s really hard to ignore and forget it. It gets into your DNA and you’re done.
V: Yes 100%, how do you deal with temp tracks? Do you get to speak with the editor and make requests on that?
A: I can, I always ask, they never listen to me (laughs), but I ask! One of my projects now is temping with my music which makes things easier, but then I’ll repeat myself because it’s things I’ve already done and they want me to do them again. Temp tracks are a very difficult subject for every composer.
V: What are ways to get around temp tracks when the director and/or editor have already set into it? Or what do you do in the beginning before that can happen?
A: Lately, I’ve been doing one thing and it works: the editor uses a temp track because it helps the editing process and makes everything faster. I tell them to edit with a temp track, but then send me a copy without it. Then, I try what I feel in every scene. If we get stuck on a scene, and they really hate what I’m sending, and sometimes it happens… Week one and two go by and they just don’t like it, then I will ask to hear the temp track. Sometimes it works great because I end up sending something they didn’t expect, something they weren’t thinking of for the scene, and they love it. Other times, it’s just impossible and then I have to listen to the temp track and I do something close to it.
V: Since we shouldn’t expect anyone to be music-oriented, what way of communicating have you found that works to figure out what it is that they like?
A: First of all, we should stay away from music terms. No talking about instruments, no talking about key signature… Just talk about the storytelling and drama. You also have to adapt really fast and try to understand their words. For instance, I had a project where cellos kept being brought up and I was very confused because I already had cellos. One day I realized that pizzicato is what was meant. I didn’t correct him, but from that point on I only wrote with pizzicato and everyone was happy.
V: How did you figure out what was meant in that scenario?
A: When I send a cue, and they’re telling you what they like and don’t like, you try to get as specific as you can. Like “In this second, in this moment, do you like this, do you not?” And you go through it to the smallest detail. By doing that, you’ll understand what they’re talking about.
V: Going back through your career, were your classical compositions your first introduction to composing?
A: I started as a classical pianist, and then I switched to composition and my first pieces were classical. I still do a lot of classical, and I’m actually working on a classical piece right now.
V: Is that being composed to be performed at a concert?
A: Yes, this one is for the Berlin Philharmonic. They have a soloist ensemble with a solo violin and a string quintet, and they’ll be playing this piece in Japan in December.
V: Are composing for concerts not as common anymore?
A: Not for film composers, no, but I do it. I want to do both, film and classical, but if I had to choose one… I’d say classical.
V: They’re very different styles, but I understand that. When you first started composing for films, what were some obstacles that you ran into that you have advice for now if you could pass that on to your past self?
A: You don’t have to come to LA, but when you start looking for work, the main problem is finding projects and credits. When you’re in that stage of your career, you have to try to get into anything, any project. Because you never know. I’ve done projects where I thought the whole thing was a disaster and then it ended up becoming a big thing. So you have to stay very open and try to get as much work as possible. Another thing… Composers like to hang out with each other because we talk about music and we have a good time and we understand each other, but, one common mistake is to have so many composer friends, and no director or editor friends or people-on-the-other-side friends because composers aren’t going to hire you. They can, but what you really want is to be hired by a director. So focus more on directors, producers, editors…
V: Are you very hands-on with your projects in terms of being in the same place as the people you’re working with?
A: My amazing orchestrator lives in Boston, Amparo Edo Biol. She’s the Assistant Chair of Contemporary Writing and Production at Berklee. The people who help me are all over the world.
V: That’s cool, so you don’t need to be right there with them. You can get it all done just by communicating online. My last and final question: I know that you’re a pianist, do you have a favorite piano that you’ve played?
A: Yes! One of my pieces, Grace, I had a Shigeru Kawai that I used for the recording and it was amazing.
V: I can imagine, and you prefer that over the European brands?