Brief list of credits
The Jade Pendant, A broken man, Leap, Geostorm. More at IMDB.
Hi Anne and thank you for taking time and doing this interview. Let’s start by introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about your background in music?
I was born and raised in Germany, and started out as an instrumentalist at a very young age. I was fortunate enough to get lots of private lessons and additional support from music teachers at my local high school. It was around age 12 when I first truly discovered film music. I had loved it before, having grown up with Alan Menken’s Disney animation scores in the 90’s, but after hearing John Williams’ score to Harry Potter I started to think about it as a profession for the first time. Once I had listened to more scores at the local CD store (the internet was still in its early days) and researched the job at our local library, my decision was set in stone. From that point on I started working towards becoming a film composer. After high school, I went to a private film scoring school called Musicube Academy, since there were no official film scoring programs at German conservatories at that time. After that I went to The Netherlands to study at the ArtEZ Conservatory, the same school that Junkie XL/Tom Holkenborg went to. Once I had my Bachelor’s degree in film scoring, I moved to Los Angeles to further my studies at UCLA and to start working in this industry. That was almost 6 years ago and things have progressed quite nicely ever since.
Let’s talk about The Jade Pendant. How did you get involved with the project?
I was working on the trailer for ‘The Jade Pendant’ as a ghostwriter for another LA based composer that I was frequently helping out. So I had no expectations to actually end up scoring a movie that had already been scored by someone else. The production wasn’t aware that I was in fact writing the music that was presented to them so I thought if anything, it would go to the composer I was ghostwriting for. But when the production ended up loving the theme of the trailer music and started to consider re-scoring the movie, the composer I was working for put my name forward which led to several meetings, a spotting session, and me re-writing the music of the entire film.
How do you prepare for a project of this magnitude?
Generally, the preparation process is always the same in its essence with just very slight variations from project to project. After viewing the movie by myself, I meet up with the filmmakers for a spotting session where we go through the movie scene by scene to discuss what is needed. So, after that initial meeting you end up with a large spreadsheet that has all the music cues listed, each of them having a thorough description of what the music needs to accomplish emotionally and structurally. Depending on the schedule – which was rather tight for this one – I also need to contact my team or find new people in advance for all the positions that need to be filled in order to make it to the finish line. Another thing to prepare is my composition template. I have a general orchestral template built already but for this movie in particular, I needed to add some Chinese and some American folk instruments. My general template needs to be customized for almost every project and its unique requirements.
Can we get a little bit of the insight of your creative process while you worked on The Jade Pendant?
My creative process for The Jade Pendant was very similar to my usual process. After the initial meetings, I usually take 7-10 days to write the main themes of the movie. That time is normally filled with research, study, sketching out melodic ideas, exploring harmonic languages, and reviewing scores that are doing similar things to what I have in mind. All that information gets filtered until I end up with the final ideas. I will orchestrate them and get them mixed so that the production has a pretty good idea of what the final music will sound like. Once those themes are approved I will bring on my arrangers who will help me take that initial material and adapt it to the individual scenes of the movie. I usually still do at least 75% of that work myself but given the tight schedule and the massive 90 minute score of “The Jade Pendant” I had to delegate some of that work to other people. This score in particular was also very much about knowing my soloists that would play and sing my music eventually. A lot of the lines were written specifically for the musicians I hired, which is a unique approach for me. Normally, I just hire an orchestra in London or Belgium so not knowing the individual players I don’t really tailor anything for them specifically.
What range of emotions did you have to portray in the movie and could you share a short tip or a hint of how one could achieve different emotions with music?
This particular movie is a both drama and a love story, so for the most part it was about portraying a bittersweet feeling. There are a lot of peaceful and sweet moments, followed by loss and pain. Several parts of the movie also needed a true sense of danger, especially the big riot sequence during the finale of the movie.
It’s difficult to say how music achieves different emotions since it’s such a subjective thing. I usually go with my gut instinct since my taste and my reaction to a lot of existing film music is rather common. So if it moves me, it is very likely to work for the majority of the audience as well. In the end it’s all about analyzing how you yourself feel when you hear pieces by other composers combined with picture. Once you’ve identified the feeling, you can analyze what aspects of the music make you feel this way and add that knowledge to your internal library you can draw from later.
What do you think was the most difficult part of making your score for The Jade Pendant?
The most difficult part was definitely the schedule. As mentioned before, it is a massive 90-minute score for a full orchestra that needed to be composed, recorded, and mixed in a span of 5 weeks. The dub stage was already on hold for this movie so there was very little room for making the schedule more flexible. I remember still delivering cues to the dub stage while they were already mixing the final sound.
You also did a lot of work as an orchestrator, music arranger, score programmer and technical score advisor. How did you get involved with these roles and which one besides composing do you favor the most?
These were the positions I held mainly at the beginning of my career, both as a full-time employed assistant and a freelance assistant. This entire industry is based on recommendations, so once you have a foot in the door and do good work, people will vouch for you when they hear of job openings. I started working for Cinesamples, a company that creates virtual instruments for composers. Through their location at Christopher Lennertz’ studio, I got involved in his collaborations with Alan Menken. Through Cinesamples’ sister company Hollywood Scoring I also got involved in quite a few larger video games. Later I was recommended to William Ross’ studio where I did tech work and orchestration. Being selected for the annual ASCAP workshop with Richard Bellis gave me some additional exposure as well. Then I was recommended further to Steve Jablonsky’s studio where I did some session preparation work. This led to Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions and ultimately to Klaus Badelt who helped elevate my career massively and is still actively supporting me on my journey. There were many more steps, studios, and composers in between of course but this is generally how this works – one thing leads to the next usually by word of mouth.
Particularly at the beginning of your career, this is very helpful because you get to build this huge network of people while working on productions you couldn’t get for yourself. You get to learn about the inner workings of a production without carrying the weight of the responsibility the lead composer has to carry.
I’d say my favorite role –other than composing– is music arranger, which usually goes hand in hand with being the score programmer. It usually means that you are writing additional music while using the thematic material and musical language of the main composer you are working for. It’s the ultimate learning process.
What are you working on right now, and can you tell us more about that project?
I am currently on the ‘Ocean’s 8’ music team but, unfortunately, I can’t talk about any details yet. I am also working on a short film about child abuse called ‘Broken’ which is directed by Enrico Natale. This project is dear to my heart since we are trying to raise awareness about what happens behind closed doors in some households and how powerless the police can be even when they want to help.
I am also finishing up an animated family movie called ‘Wish’ which I am co-writing with Klaus Badelt. We are currently planning the orchestral recording sessions in London. The sweet story revolves around a wish fountain in a small town and the little wish elves that live beneath it, working hard to fulfill the humans’ desires.
What tools and technology are you currently using and why?
My current setup is very simple, yet powerful. I like a clean workflow so you won’t find anything cluttered at my studio. I have an orchestral template on an old Mac Pro tower in both Logic and Cubase which connect to Vienna Ensemble Pro and all my sounds on a much newer PC I built. I find that this is the most cost effective and stable setup, especially since I also need a duplicate rig for any assistants or interns I hire in on a per project basis. Dropbox and Google Spreadsheets are a very active part of my workflow as well since they minimize the need for me to manage and communicate every detail. My whole team can simply be shared on the folders and documents, modify them, and gain access to any files they need without interrupting my work.
In terms of other software, my arsenal is pretty large, especially when it comes to sample libraries, since I have worked as a library developer for several years which gave me access to a lot of NFRs. My favorite brands are definitely Cinesamples, Output, Cinematic Studio Series, Orchestral Tools, and ProjectSAM. They make up about 90% of my template. My favorite tools for mixing are the WAVES Renaissance Bundle and iZotope Ozone. They are intuitive and perfect for quick pre-mixes of mockups that composers must do on a daily basis.
If you had any advice for composers starting off in the business what would it be?
I would have three important pieces of advice next to the obvious (develop your skills).
1. Find out what this job is really about. A lot of people just watch the shiny making-ofs or they tend to imagine this job as something it simply isn’t. It’s a very solitary profession with a huge learning curve and very little glamour in the everyday business. It requires a lot of dedication, time, and politics. There is no overnight success even if it seems that way sometimes. You have to be in it for the long game.
2. Once you’ve decided that this career is what you want, focus. Don’t dabble in too many different things at the same time but focus on specific milestones you set for yourself. If you are not specific about what you want, you don’t know the right people to approach. If you want this you really need to go for it, take risks, invest in yourself, put yourself out there, and fail a lot – because other people will if you don’t do it.
3. As mentioned before this is a recommendation based business. Always make a good impression. Always act as if people are watching, even when you think they are not – more often than not they actually are. Try to be helpful, quick, detail oriented, and motivated so that people feel comfortable putting in a word for you.