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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Interview With Composer John Debney - Hannah Montana The Movie

By E. Corrado

How did you find out you were going to be scoring the new ‘Hannah Montana’ movie? Well, it was a surprise. There was another composer originally on the project, but they had to go work another film. So I got a call from my friends at Disney to see if I would be available. I have a niece who loves Hannah Montana, so it was nice to do this project.

What was it like writing the score for a movie that is very much song/music driven? It was fantastic - they are already really well written songs. There is a song called Butterfly Fly Away written by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri that I wrote the orchestral arrangement for. Essentially, they wanted me to write the score and arrange the songs.

You have a very diverse list of projects that you’ve worked on. How does working on something like this compare? Well it was not as difficult as some really long projects. I didn't really have a lot of underscore to write. There was actually only about 20 min. of score and then 15-18 minutes of arranging the songs for the movie. It was really not as bad as some of the bigger more comedic scores I have done.

I know that you have done very different movies like The Passion of The Christ for example. How does doing a movie so completely different like this compare? Well they are completely different. Here we’re dealing with Hannah Montana which is kind of the other end of the spectrum. I really had to make her come through in her own way. The character that Miley plays has a really strong fan base. Everyone seems to be pleased though, and I couldn't be more pleased. A lot of family and friends who see this film say it is even a lot better than it needs to be.

What drew you to music, and when did you know that you wanted to be a film composer? Really, I didn’t have any concrete plans until college. I was a music major and I wanted to do something probably in composing, but really gearing towards film and music.

Is it still just as fun a career now? It’s fun and challenging. I think having a career 20 years later is lucky. I am glad that I am still able to work on it consistently and it’s something that I enjoy doing.

Where did you study music? I got my degree at CalArts, which is the California Institute of the Arts. They have a really nice music program there.

What instruments do you play? Well, I have played instruments since like 4 years old. I’ve been in a lot of bands and stuff, and it’s mostly guitar and piano, but I also play cello and sax.

Do you work with a computer a lot while composing? Definitely - all the time. I write at the computer, since I have all of the sounds at my disposal. I create ‘mock-ups’ which are a synthesized version of the orchestra. On the computer, I use a great program called Digital Performer. I also use Pro Tools, and then I have this myriad of synthesizers and keyboards that I use.

Was this particular score recorded Analog, or Digitally? Is this the same as other scores you’ve worked on? Digital. [While some still use it], Analog has kind of fell by the wayside. We usually record at 96 k which is very high quality. Some Record people still record Analog because they love a lot of the sounds of it.

Digital must be easier to edit though... Definitely.

Looking back at this project and other ones you’ve worked on, do you ever feel like you could have done parts of them differently? Absolutely. There's probably something in every project. You’re always trying to give your best, but with a little hindsight there, sometimes you see things differently. Artists in general should always be striving to do it better.

What was your favorite movie to write music for, and why? That’s a hard one... There are a few. Definitely The Passion of The Christ is one of them, and then there are ones like Elf - that movie always makes me smile, - a movie called Hocus Pocus which was kind of the first film that I did a score for, and one called Cutthroat Island which wasn’t very successful, but everyone seems to remember it for it’s music.

What kinds of projects would you want to work on in the future? I would love to do a bit more dramatic films then I’ve been doing. Right now, there seem to be a lot of kid friendly movies, and they are a lot of fun. There was Hotel for Dogs about a few months ago, which started out as a little teeny movie that has now done very well, and now Hannah Montana.

What was your favorite part of doing the music for ‘Hannah Montana’? I think adding elements to the songs was really fun - I don't get to do that as much as I would like. I really love adding to them and doing different arrangements.

Can you tell us about any other upcoming projects that you are working on? There’s a film called A Thousand Words, which is a sort of comedy/drama with Eddie Murphy, a Disney one called Old Dogs with John Travolta and Robin Williams, and a Fox one called They Came From Upstairs which is kind of a Gremlins-type movie with kids and aliens and stuff like that.

Is there anything else you would like to add today? No, you’ve asked some great questions that cover just about everything.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with One Movie, Five Views. Thank you.

One Movie, Five Views thanks John Debney for this interview. For more information, you can visit his website at: www.johndebney.com

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