Brief list of credits
The secret in their eyes, Underdogs, The Man of Your Dreams
Thank you for taking time to do this interview Emilio. Let us start with the basic questions first. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to become a composer?
During my teens, Buenos Aires had become the melting pot of different cultures and creative minds; it was also the beginning of “rock en Español” – – rock groups playing electric guitars with rhythms from the Andes, or rock bands playing blues and singing lyrics in Spanish.
I played with some of those bands on organ and keyboards. I was hired in my early twenties as an arranger and producer for two record labels – – Columbia and Ariola. While I was working for Microfon, they became partners with a film production company called Aires. One of the owners, Nano Kaminsky, asked me if I would be interested in writing a score for the feature film, “La Discoteca del Amor,” directed by Adolfo Aristarain. The bug of composing to picture bit me, and I was completely hooked on film composing. I abandoned my career as a record producer and devoted myself to film music from that day on.
Following that first movie with Aristarain, I wrote an orchestral contemporary score for “Time for Revenge.” For this project, I worked with the Camerata Bariloche (Bariloche Chamber Orchestra).
That film garnered a lot of attention. My score landed me my first award by the Academy of Motion Picture in Argentina, as well as a lot of recognition across the country.
Your resume is very impressive. How did you get involved with the Oscar winning El secreto de sus ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes) movie?
The director for the film, Juan Campanella, and I had worked very well together previously. As a result of our great working relationship and mutual understanding, he chose me to be involved with the original version of The Secret in Their Eyes.
It’s so rare for a composer to work on the score for both the original film and the remake. How did Secret in Their Eyes starring Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman come about?
Billy Ray was in love with original version of The Secret, as well as the music themes. I asked Billy Ray if he would let me read the script and see what I felt about it. He wrote a very powerful version that for me, was completely different from the original, more of a thriller and more of a film noir that also would have an international appeal. Billy gave me a shot, before production even started, to listen to my new musical approach and ideas. From the very beginning, I understood that the movie had a completely different range and pace from the original.
The depth of the new story differed from the original greatly. I wanted to pursue my feelings from that first reading and took a fresh approach at writing new themes and demos – all of this before the movie began shooting. After the movie was shot and edited, Billy and I both understood that the characters delivered a different performance that didn’t exactly go with the original themes. Additionally, the love story of the movie was not as important as in the original version. We also went on to use the themes that I composed from my first reading of the U.S. script. I’m happy I stuck with my intuition and feelings that I had from that first reading.
I have to compliment you on your work on both films. Could you tell us more about how you approached writing emotional parts since they work so well on their own and in the movie? What is the difference between the two scores?
I regularly try to encourage directors to work with my music demos before they edit the movie so I don’t have to fight the temp track, which in Billy’s mind was the original score. The original is an adventure of two underdogs, two friends trying to help each other, and a love story of a guy with a huge lack of self confidence, unable to communicate his feelings to the woman that he passionately loved. The main character’s obsession is about the inspiration, admiration and inspiration of the love of the husband of the victim.
The remake is a poignant thriller, the story of terrorism (such a current matter) and revolves around an irreparably wounded mother that seeks revenge for her beloved daughter. There’s an implied love story as a secondary plot. Also the remake was shot in Los Angeles, with a large chase at Dodger Stadium. This particular scene marks a big departure from the Argentinian version. In the original version, the chases are well covered by crowd sounds, and we didn’t feel the need of adding anything to it.
The original score has a wonderful theme that portrays the unresolved angst of the main characters – – the love themes and the frustration and sadness of the unresolved crime itself – – that’s what we were going for in the original. In the remake, the score was driven primarily by the needs of the film in terms of it being way darker, motivating my creation of a lot of noir-driven music – – and also a lot more thrill-driven pieces, like the chase cues.
Your album for the score to Secret in Their Eyes is an extended version of the score. Can you talk about the album?
In the album, I had the liberty of putting in the cues as they were originally recorded. There are some loops and sound effects that we didn’t use in the film that I decided to mix back into the album.
The album is a bigger, and arguably brighter, version of what appears in the film because it didn’t have to accommodate the requirements of any scenes.
You worked with the director Juan José Campanella on seven projects. That is quite impressive. Could you share some back story about how you two started working together and what kept the working relationship through seven films?
I met Juan Campanella in 1998 in Los Angeles, of all places. We’re both from Buenos Aires. I had composed some tango work that his producer, Ricardo Freixa had heard and wanted me to share with Juan. Juan loves melody and I think those tangos were the trigger of his giving me a shot to score his next movie, Same Love, Same Rain (1999). After that, I did the score for his epic TV series, “Vientos de Agua,” and that collaboration pretty much solidified our relationship. We’ve worked together pretty steadily ever since. I think we share a lot of fundamental stuff – – we both come from Argentina and are both somewhat bi-cultural. He went to NYU for a while and lived in NY; I’ve been living in L.A. for decades. We both appreciate our Argentinean culture and we’ve both appreciated so much the wonderful opportunities that exist in the U.S. I believe our relationship is based on mutual respect and the synergy that we both create when we work together.
You also wrote music for theater. What would be the biggest difference between writing music for theater and film?
I think the biggest difference is that the theater scores I’ve done have been smaller and require a greater degree of intimacy. Also a theater score may not have a huge orchestra, so that will inform the element of orchestration – – but aside from that, I approach theater music with the same concept I use for film scoring. Both are about moods, emotional content, and the story/message the director wants to convey. My job is to do that with my music. I read the script on my piano, and as I read it, I make markers on the script. I sketch at the piano whatever moods and feelings I get. I try to translate the feelings into music. I always try not to miss the spark I get from a first reading.
This one is for the gear heads. What tools and technology are you currently using and why?
I write the old fashion way – by my piano. I don’t orchestrate right away. I try to establish the mood, the notes, the pace – – and then I go to my studio.
I’m a Digital Performer fan. There’s something very musical about it. Digitial Performer has probably been around almost as long as I have done film scoring and I still love it!
I use lots of Kontakt samplers and try to make my mock ups as good as I can, as well as Pro Tools to mix and deliver the final work.
My studio is very simple and I run one computer with Vienna Ensamble Pro and a second computer as video slave. I also use different keyboards with sliders and surfaces to do volume and modulation as accurate as I can.
Are there any tools you simply can’t work without? If so what are they and why?
I couldn’t get by without my piano — or Digital Performer. I regularly travel with a laptop with a small keyboard. If I don’t have a piano around, I would still try to sequence my ideas as fast as I get them. When in the middle of projects, my home studio is running 24/7. I never know if a new idea would come up 4 in the morning, and I don’t like losing that spark.
I work all my themes on the piano. Some composers would probably feel the same about their guitar or some other instrument, but I’m classically trained and the piano has become my skin. I’ve done scores to a lot of movies, and I’ve worked with other programs, but my first choice is always Digital Performer, and Pro Tools help me to deliver quickly and professionally.
Working on so many films, we are wondering if there are any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share with us?
The most important “tool” for a film composer is finding out who has the final decision, the final word as to what music goes where, what style clicks and what stays or goes. For me that is the critical person that I like working with.
That said, film scoring is about teamwork. I’ve learned to respect and appreciate the director’s vision. Directors always have an idea of the music they want for their film. It’s my job to translate that vision into music, so there are a lot of conversations about emotions, the temperature of the scene and what the director wants to convey to the audience.
Any hints, tips or motivational speeches for the readers?
It was a great opportunity for me to work on a movie that stars Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Chiwetel Ejiofor, all of whom are brilliant. Such intense performances from the three main characters made me feel a huge sense of responsibility. How do you really write music that won’t get in the way, yet accompanies and frames such great performances?
After chills of anxiety passed, I managed to connect with my own feelings. I felt the temperature I thought was right, and the color of the scenes started to pour out from my keyboard. I think inspiration comes with work. You just try to do your best.
I always write music of my own. I highly encourage other composers not to stop creating in between projects.
Having a little bit of a discipline in your everyday work makes you find your inner voice and that is the most important asset in your career.