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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Interview with Richard Marvin, composer of the music for Surrogates

By E. Corrado

When did you find out that you would be doing the score for Surrogates? I found out in July 2008, which is quite early on for movies, although I didn’t actually start work on it until around April or May 2009.

What was it like working on this project? It was one of the most straight ahead projects, in that the music came very easily. I was approached by Jonathan [Mostow] quite early on. Because of the extra time I was able to spend a lot of it on themes, so by the time it got to temping the movie, they used a lot of my themes on it rather than other music, which was good.

Have you seen the finished film? Yes, many times in fact. It’s a really good film; I was delighted the way the music plays in the final mix.

Do you think it is the kind of movie that becomes clearer on consecutive viewings? Yes, I do. I’ve spoken to people who’ve seen it several times, and they often say that on the second viewing they finally get it a little bit more. Why more people didn’t go, I don’t know, but I found the ad campaign, with all of the billboards, (at least here in LA), was a bit confusing for people as to what the film was actually going to be about.

What were the challenges that you faced while working on Surrogates, if any? The greatest challenge I would say was maintaining the human emotion and isolation in the story while creating music that would propel the action.

When did you know that you wanted to compose music? I didn’t really know right away. I’d already been in LA, where I was doing synth work for TV shows. I was working with big names such as Mike Post, helping him compose some of his many TV shows. Then I started doing composing work myself, and slowly started getting more of it. I’ve been doing it for 17 years now.

Where did you study music? I went to school in Indiana at Bloomington. I was a jazz piano major, with aspirations to do that, but recording was what I pursued once I was in LA.

Would you ever want to get back to piano? Maybe if I get some time I’ll get back into it.

When composing music, do you have a favourite instrument to write for? Well it’s not one instrument, but actually the whole orchestra. On TV, I’m by myself mostly with all of the instruments on a synth board. Sometimes they bring in 1 - 2 real musicians on TV, but that’s about it. When working with the orchestra, it’s just so different. I also love all of the strings. It’s great to hear all of the string instruments playing together.

What kind of computer programs do you use for writing/synth work? My principal writing is done with digital performer, although I also use Pro Tools. For all of the instrument sounds, I have 12 computers connected through Pro Tools when I’m writing.

So you lay out what each instrument will be playing beforehand? I’m playing the parts on the computer, and I use samples of those early on. Like when I was writing for Surrogates, I make up samples using the computer that sound pretty much accurate to what the orchestra will be playing, so I have already assigned each of the instruments. These are used for the director and everyone to hear before we actually go to recording.

I’ve noticed that most movies don’t list the individual orchestra members - do you know why that is? I assume it’s a precedent that they have. For example, on Surrogates, that would have been 120 names added on the credits. Occasionally, I’ve noticed that they do list a main guitar player, or someone who did a special type of instrumental solo.

I guess it would get long... Especially with a movie that has a lot of animators on it for effects. Exactly. And, no one seems to watch the credits...

Next question: do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on? Yeah. It’s one for TV, called Six Feet Under. I really related to it and it was one I enjoyed doing.

If you could do any project, what kind would it be? I think I’d love to do another action-thriller. I’ve been doing mostly dramas for TV recently. What I would definitely love to do is one like I Am Legend, for example.

What about a favourite movie to write for? Surrogates was a great favorite of mine. Another one would have to be U571, which was also a Jonathan Mostow movie. The movie takes place in WWII, and it was a real challenge to do. The music had to be very old style, big huge sounds, and very patriotic sounding and large scale. I am very proud of how that one turned out.

Do you have a favourite movie from the last ten years? I don’t know about choosing a favorite, but I’m trying to remember. This year, District 9 was really, really good, as was The Brothers Bloom. Further back, I’d have to say American Beauty, Fatal Attraction, and Jacob’s Ladder, to name but a few...

Can you tell me about any upcoming projects you’re working on? Well, there are none for film right now, but for TV I’m working on a new show for CBS called Three Rivers.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? I appreciate your taking the time to help promote music in film.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.

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