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Academy Award-nominated Composer Marco Beltrami on Scoring the Dystopias of ‘Snowpiercer’ and ‘The Giver’

Academy Award-nominated Composer Marco Beltrami on Scoring the Dystopias of 'Snowpiercer' and 'The Giver'

Is it just a coincidence that both “The Giver” and “Snowpiercer” are set in dystopian futures?

Oh, Yeah. It’s a coincidence. It’s hopefully not a reflection of my future. But, yeah I mean they are very very different films. “Snowpiercer” is a little bit more experimental, I think, and crafted for a slightly different audience. “The Giver” is more about teen angst.

Speaking of the genres of the films, do you have any particular genre that you prefer composing for?

I don’t really have a preferred genre. It’s more up to the individual project itself and if I feel compelled by it. I think the only thing that I really haven’t done much in, and I haven’t felt too attracted to, is romantic comedies. It seems like often the score becomes this version of the most beautiful sound effects, and I guess I prefer more dramatic pictures.

And at this point how do you get most of your jobs? Do you have directors you tend to work with a lot?

Phillip (Noyce, director of “The Giver”), it was his first time working with me. With Bong (Joon-Ho, director of “Snowpiercer”) it was a period of me being very interested in his movies and contacting him and him responding and sending him some of my music and starting a little bit of a collaboration before I got hired. Talking back and forth. When he came to L.A. I met with him and talked about the vision for the project and he showed me some ideas and I shared some music with him and so forth.

With Phillip, it was actually very interesting. I was asked to come meet him. He was meeting a few composers at the time that they were getting ready to shoot “The Giver.” I read a script and I met with him and after talking to him he asked if I could put some ideas together to send him. And I sent him over three ideas. The next thing I know he was off in South Africa shooting, but I heard that I got the job. And the next thing I knew the demo ideas that I had sent over he had actually filmed sequences [with] and had Jeff Bridges learn the music and he had actually filmed the music that I had sent over as a demo in the movie. And it’s in there and he hasn’t changed a note. That was the first time that has happened to me.

So at what point in the process do you usually come onboard? Is it after the film is complete, or do you ever work with a director throughout the process?

I mean, I try to avoid that scenario that I just explained, because if I just read a script I usually am completely wrong with my ideas about what the music needs. It really depends on me to see something, to see the picture, how it’s filmed, the style, how it’s presented. I am inspired just by the way a scene can be interpreted by the actors. It can make a huge difference on the type of music that you write. It’s best for me if I don’t work at all on a project until the movie is shot and I have some sort of edit in front of me.

READ MORE: “Snowpiercer” Speeds Past $5 Million on VOD

Earlier in your career you worked on a lot of horror films — such as “Mimic” and “Scream” — and subverted the conventional score of horror films. Was that something that you consciously did?

I don’t know if it was conscious. I’ve never been a fan of horror films and until I scored “Scream,” I had never seen a horror movie — just because I guess I’m afraid of them. So, I didn’t really know what the conventions were. Maybe the fact that I didn’t have a jaded approach to scary movies like so many people—it’s like going on a carnival ride or something—it wasn’t like that to me. Maybe that allowed me to approach it in a little bit of a different way. I don’t know.

So much of filmmaking has changed because of technology since the time you began, which was about 1995. Has technology changed the way you approach composing?

Yeah. It has actually. First of all, in the ability to create sounds, in all, it is a lot easier. Computer processing has made it easy to manipulate sounds and come up with things you hadn’t been able to do in the past. Or you could, but it would be a much longer process.

I see in your bio that early in your career you had a fellowship with famed composer Jerry Goldsmith. Could you speak about what he taught you?

The most important thing — or the thing that stuck with me most — was being economical in writing. I had come before that from more of a concert music background. I got a masters degree from Yale School of Music and I had been working on concert commissions, from grants, the NY Foundation of the Arts, whatever, the Academy of Arts and Sciences — they would give grants for writing pieces and having orchestras play things or chamber groups and the language that I was using back then was probably one of complexity. And then being with Jerry and seeing how he would write things in the simplest way possible to achieve what he wanted to do and make things as easy as possible for the players to achieve — that was really eye-opening.

Who are your favorite composers?

I could tell you who my inspirations have been over the years, who have made me want to pursue film scoring and who I look up to. Those are probably Ennio Morricone, Bernard Herrmann, Nino Rota — not necessarily in that order, but those are probably my favorite composers.

What were the biggest challenges on “The Giver” and “Snowpiercer?”

The only thing that was unique to these projects and some others in terms of the process — was that with both of them the director was not around while I was composing. Bong was in Korea and there was also a language barrier. And Phillip was in New York editing. So the meetings that we had, and I guess this goes back to your question on technology and how things have changed, the meetings that we had were over Skype, for both of them. And this was the first time I had Skyped meetings with directors. And I would send cues and just sort of hoped that they were being placed in the right place — which they weren’t always — and then talk to the director about the music remotely, which was — again, technology makes this possible, but to me it’s not the best way to do it.

Do you have other films coming out soon?

There’s a movie called “The Drop,” which is directed by Michael Roskam, and “The Homesman,” which Tommy Lee Jones directed and is coming out in either October or November. 

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