I first heard of Christopher Lennertz in 1998, when I found one of his promotional CD's in a used bin in a record store somewhere around Greenwich Village. At first, I thought he was just another aspiring composer who probably did a demo on a personal keyboard or friends who happend to be musicians helping him record to get work. It worked for Joel McNeely and his career turned out great. I did put on his CD and I was surprised at the quality of the music and it turns out that Chris wasn't quite the hack that I assumed he'd be at the time. My apologizes for that.
It's incredibly ironic that after finding his promotional CD fifteen years later, I've grown fifteen years older, gained a few pounds I didn't have back then and Chris is now one of Hollywood's most talented and exceptional composers working in film and television. Go figure! Comes to show how time is great to those with the gifts that Chris have and he's paid his dues and earned my total respect. Working a couple of hit series with both NBC's "Revolution" and WB's "Supernatural", as well as writing memorable film scores for the hit comedies "Horrible Bosses", "Identity Thief" and "Alvin And The Chipmunks", as well as other solid films such as "Adam" and video games like "Quantum of Solace" and his invaluable contributions to the "Metal Of Honor" video game series along side another Hollywood superstar composer in Michael Giacchino. Chris has had all of his musical bases covered in every genre his music graces.
For this interview, Chris and I talk about his latest film "Thanks For Sharing" starring Mark Ruffalo and Gwyneth Paltrow amongst others, his work on both "Revolution" and "Supernatural" and talk about that very special score in his life (and personal all time favorite) that replaced "Here Comes The Bride" on his special day. With that in mind, here's my conversation with the always groovy, Christopher Lennertz!
Please tell the readers about what made you become a composer.
CL: Well I grew up in the late 70’s and early 80’s, so it was sort of the heyday of John Williams, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas. I was a huge Star Wars fan and I spent almost every summer in Boston where I got to see John Williams conduct the Boston Pops many, many times. Then I sort of took a side turn in music and decided that I really loved playing guitar. I played in a lot of bands and studied guitar for a long period of time, and then started writing a lot of music, and writing a lot of different kinds of music. I came out to California to go to USC and when I got there, my sophomore year I ended up sneaking into Henry Mancini’s scoring session at Universal, where I just watched with amazement at how this legend could go back and forth between seven, eight different kinds of music in one piece of music and one style, and he was able to re-write and make changes and still make it all make sense and I really was blown away by the power of how much impact the music had for the visuals and telling a story. I really remembered how much of a fan I was of that kind of thing growing up and it just seemed like that was the moment where I really said, ‘Okay, this is just the right job for me. This is really what I need to be doing: telling stories through music in lots of different styles of music.’
Talk about your upcoming film, ‘Thanks for Sharing’ staring an all-star cast featuring Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins directed by Stuart Blumberg. What made you decide to score the film and become involved in it?
CL: Well, I actually got a call from the music supervisor, Robin Urdang. When she gave me a ring, she said they were looking for a composer and they really needed something that could do a couple of things dramatically. Number one, score the emotion and turmoil of being an addict and going through that, and also the hope of recovery and having a bigger human quality that went beyond that. So I actually at that point saw the film and loved it, and so wanted to be a part of it that I ended up writing a couple of pieces of music and started sending them to Stuart, the director, and one of those pieces was a theme that I had written for the main theme of the film which is a gospel inspired piano piece that ended up getting me the job, and also it became the main theme of the movie and made it into the film. From the moment I saw the movie I knew I wanted to do it. As far as the approach I took in writing the score for the movie, we knew it had to be small, a small ensemble, for budget reasons, and actually just for the dramatic needs of the film, a couple of instruments. Stuart was very, very serious about making sure that we kept the score simple, because that’s really what people who are in the early stages of recovery need in order to make sure their life gets back on track. And that’s what the characters were dealing with. So we really decided early on the piano was working, the guitar stuff was working, they loved the cello and then once we got into some more darker textures later in the film, we used a lot of percussion and some electronics and just some things that were really unsettling.
Did director Stuart Blumberg have a specific musical plan for you?
CL: He did in certain cases, there were definitely some moments where he really knew what the movie needed in terms of pacing, energy, and percussion, but then there was also some stuff where they weren’t able to really find the right thing yet. When I came on he wanted to make sure that I could do something that was the right kind of feel, the right kind of emotion, and I think that’s what that theme that I wrote did for them. So we took it from there and there was still a lot of trial and error in terms of getting the right kind of feel for Josh Gad’s character who is a little bit more hopeless at the beginning of the movie and also a bit more scattered. It was important that the music sort of got into his brain as well. I was definitely following Stewart’s direction when it came to telling the story in a simple hopeful and spiritual way. There is an album release of the score coming up.
Will your score be released?
CL: It’s out already on Milan Records and you can get it anywhere and online.
How did you assemble the soundtrack album?
CL: We basically put together the album relatively in score order from the film, but we also mixed and matched a couple of things in the middle just to make for a better listening experience, and you know, we wanted to get everything in there, and we even put in a couple of pieces that didn’t make it into the film, but that everyone liked, in order to make sure that everyone got a good tasting of what we were experimenting with while we were composing.
Aside from your film commitments, you’ve also been very busy with the hit NBC series "Revolution", which is now starting its second season. Please tell us about the show and how you got hired for it:
CL: I got hired for "Revolution" mostly because Eric Kripke, who created the show, is an old friend of mine from film school. He also created the show "Supernatural" which I do, and we’ve done many short films together, and we’ve been friends for decades now. He’s just a wonderful, wonderful person, amazing talent and a phenomenal collaborator. He still had to get me past the powers that be, however, so I had to send demos to Jon Favreau, who directed the pilot, and also to Bryan Burk, who works with J.J. Abrams at Bad Robot. Once everyone got a listen and heard what I could do I ended up getting the job. I got to work with Favreau for the pilot, and just an amazing set of producers and writers along with Eric for the first season, and it really has been an amazing experience, especially since the people at Warner Brothers and Bad Robot have allowed me to do the show every week with a small orchestra. It is really amazing to be able to do cinematic, big feature style film music on a weekly basis and do it here in LA, on a big scoring stage, on a studio lot, and do it with the right players and make it sound great. So I really thank them for the opportunity to do that.
Talk to us about the approach you take in writing music for the series. Were there specific demands that you had to meet musically?
CL: I think there are always specific demands to be hit. The thing that Eric kept telling me at the beginning was that they wanted it to feel epic and he wanted to feel the journey but he also wanted there to be a little bit of chaos and a little bit of unsettledness because there are a lot of these back stabbing warring factions once the power went out, we needed to play that. Then the other thing is that it’s also a story of a family. There’s a dad who we lose in the first episode and a brother, and a mom who’s been separated from them and there is a lot of family moments that we had to score and so there is actually quite a bit of emotional music in the show as well, and we tried to do that not with a heavy hand, but with the hand that lets people know that it’s good to feel with these characters and for these characters. So we really try to do that. And then the other key is because it’s a world after power, it’s become a little feudal so there’s a lot of elements of ethnic folk music and things like that that sort of come into play, tribal drums and things like that that sort of make a lot of sense when you consider the fact that we are in this post apocalyptic world that’s actually more of a medieval style world. So I think what I’ve been doing with the music has definitely had to reflect that.
Was it hard find a musical tone for the show unlike all the films you’ve scored?
CL: Much like the last answer, I think finding the tone has been a process. I think we were 80 percent there in the pilot, and I think as the show develops, things change. We see what works, we see the story lines develop, we bring in new elements obviously as they get closer to bringing power back into their world. There was probably some power that came back into the music in terms of electronics and things like that, so that was definitely true, but we had to bring back a lot of that kind of thing, and we wanted to make sure that the music itself felt like it was actually the right tone for this world that they live in.
Will there be a soundtrack release for the show?
CL: Yes, there is a soundtrack release and that’s also currently out and is on WaterTower Records and can be bought online and also on CD on Demand at Amazon. That’s a lot of music from the first season of the show and I think it came out really well.
Do you prefer to work on mostly comedy or do you prefer to work in other genres?
CL: I actually prefer to work in as many different genres as possible as often as possible because I actually think the best way to be inspired and avoid any writers block or things like that is actually to be able to go from a comedy to an action to a horror to a adventure, that actually makes it easy for me to start over and get new ideas, and it keeps things interesting. I think it keeps you really excited about the process. I would say that I’m a really eclectic music lover, so I love the fact that one month I will be doing one kind of music and the next month I will be doing something very different and I think that really works for me in terms of my own personal tastes and styles. My only real requirement is that I like the projects to be good and I like the people that I work with to be really nice people and great people, and as long as that’s the case the music is fun to do always.
What was the hardest film you’ve had to score to date and why?
CL: You know what, they’re all difficult… and then they’re all not as difficult, I think. Most of the things that end up being hard have to do primarily with schedule and how quickly things need to be done. The things that are the hardest are the things that are due the quickest. The more time you have the easier it is to come up with things and navigate. I think the other things that are tough are films that are very, very subtle. Where there are little tiny nuances that make a big difference. Like in a film like "Thanks For Sharing", or "Adam" or something like that, those are definitely those kind of movies where the slightest difference in tone can change a scene from being hopeful to saccharine, or too schmaltzy and I think you have to avoid that. So one of the things that are difficult is that you always ride that line and I don’t know which one is the hardest, but it’s always hard when I have to do that.
What is your favorite film score that you haven’t written?
CL: There’s a big long list, probably the favorite film would be… I love the score for "The Mission" from Ennio Morricone. I think it’s a monster score and Gabriel’s Oboe is one of the best melodies ever written so much so that my wife ended up walking down the aisle at our wedding to that particular piece. And then on the way out we walked down out of the church to the Throne Room piece from John Williams' "Star Wars" score, so if that gives you any idea of how much film music was in our wedding, it is pretty important to me, so I’d definitely say "The Mission" is probably my favorite score of mine.
What is your favorite film that you’ve scored to date?
CL: Of course, I would have to say all of them! They are all wonderful and I treasure every experience and more than anything I treasure working with great people and I treasure working with people like Eric Kripke, Tim Story, Seth Gordon, Tim Hill, and Max Mayer. Anytime I have to work with really good friends it’s always really special.
What is your dream project?
CL: My dream project is along the epic style scope of a movie I’d say, whether it is something like "The Godfather", or like "Braveheart", or like "Star Wars" or "Lord Of The Rings." It would be something that is grand and big and very fantasy based, in some way whether it be a period piece or a sword and sorcery kind of thing, that’s where my first love of story telling was when I was a kid, so I think I would definitely jump at the chance to do something like that.
Please tell the readers about your future projects:
CL: Besides doing "Supernatural" and "Revolution", I also have a movie coming out in January called "Ride Along", which is Kevin Hart and Laurence Fishburne and Ice Cube film. It’s sort of a buddy/cop comedy in the vein of Beverly Hills Cop, which is really, really fun and great. Then we have "Think Like A Man 2" which is coming out next year as well, which will be out in late spring and Tim Story is directing that one again so I’m thrilled to be back on that.
I'd like to give very special and heartfelt thanks to Chris for being gracious for his time in doing this interview with me amidst his very busy schedule. You're the best! It's no wonder your music is so good! Keep it up! Also, a great shout out to the always uber cool Stefan Karrer of Milan Records for introducing me to Chris and arranging this for me. I don't know how you do it, but don't stop doing it!
Please head over to Christopher's official website http://www.christopherlennertz.com/ for updates on his latest projects as well as sound samples.
"Revolution" Soundtrack is available on WaterTower Music at Amazon.com
"Horrible Bosses" Soundtrack is available on WaterTower Music at Amazon.com
"Supernatural" Soundtrack is also available on WaterTower Music at Amazon.com
"Identity Thief" Soundtrack is available from La-LaLand Records
"The Metal Of Honor Collection" and "Starhawk" Soundtracks are also available from La-LaLand Records
"Hop" and "Marmaduke" Soundtracks are available On Varese Sarabande Records
"Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Pussy Galore" is also available On Varese Sarabande Records
Here is Chris' bio:
"Christopher Lennertz is a composer, producer, conductor, and arranger for film, television, video games, and records. He first made a splash with his breakout score for Alvin and the Chipmunks, which has grossed over $360 million worldwide. Since then he's proven his steadfast talent through films like the highly anticipated star-studded comedy Horrible Bosses (Warner Brothers), and the recent box office smash Hop (Universal Pictures).
Lennertz' adeptness for a multitude of genres has put him on the map time and time again. His knack for comedy is undeniable through films like The Comebacks, The Perfect Holiday and the cult classic spoofs Vampires Suck and Meet the Spartans. He's also contributed his unique brand of humor to several hit family films including Marmaduke and Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. Furthermore, he's tapped into the indie world, scoring critically acclaimed films like Alfred P. Sloan winner Adam (Fox Searchlight) and Tortilla Heaven, which garnered him the very first FilmMusic award for Best Independent Film Score.
While Chris has achieved huge success in lighter genres, his real start was in the action- adventure world with projects like Clive Barker's Saint Sinner, for which he was named Best New Composer by Cinemusic. On the television side, his long time run on the series Supernatural led to an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Underscore in a Drama Series. He's also celebrated for his video game scores with major sellers like Steven Spielberg's Medal of Honor series including Rising Sun which won Best Original Score from the prestigious Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. He followed up with work on James Bond 007: From Russia With Love, Quantum of Solace and the hugely popular Gun, among others.
Lennertz has worked with distinguished artists such as Basil Poledouris, Michael Kamen, Ozomatli, The RZA, and Alien Ant Farm. His groundbreaking collaboration with Ozomatli on their record Street Signs garnered a Grammy Award for Best Latin Rock Album. Still early in his career, he has already scored 39 feature films, 5 network television series, many of the worlds biggest interactive titles, and has spent weeks on the Billboard charts. Christopher Lennertz is drawing excitement as one of the freshest and most versatile young composers in Hollywood."