The name Anton Sanko may not be familiar to soundtrack or music fans in general. Yet, surprisingly he has been one busy composer with a well deserved Emmy nomination for the Lifetime Movie "Ring of Fire" starring real life singer Jewel as June Carter Cash and the Amazon produced series "Alpha House" starring John Goodman, which has received very good reviews.
Anton's musical talents haven't just been applied to those projects. His seminal work for the hit HBO series "Big Love" guided Bill Paxton's character and many wives through five critically acclaimed seasons. After making the short leap onto the big screen, Anton's music filled the big screen with the Oscar nominated "Rabbit Hole" starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart and providing the horror strains of Lionsgate's thriller, "The Possession". He just recently won an Emmy for his score to the epic seven-part television event “Great Migrations” for National Geographic.
With production credits include producing and writing with Suzanne Vega, Jim Carroll, Days of Open Hand, Lucy Kaplansky, Anna Domino and Skeleton Key among others, Anton continues to figure prominately in the music industry for years to come. In this interview, we discuss his latest Emmy award nomination on Ring of Fire, his work on Alpha House and many of his other projects that he's also very fond of.
Please tell the readers about what made you become interested in music and composing.
AS: I come from a very artistic family - my dad was an architect and my mom a painter. I was initially interested in the visual arts, but I had a younger brother who was a child prodigy, and I found that intimidating. There was often interesting music being played in my house - anything from Russian Balalaika music to Gilbert and Sullivan to the Bach Organ Fugues. I found myself drawn to music as an alternate way of expressing myself, and as a result of my father’s influence, came to think of composition as a form of aural architecture.
Congratulations on your work on the series “Ring Of Fire”, which recently got nominated several Emmy’s including yours. How did you get involved in the series?
AS: Chris Figler, who edited Ring Of Fire had been one of the editors of Big Love. He thought I might be a good fit for the movie and introduced me to Allison Anders. We hit it off and had a wonderful working relationship.
What approach did you take in writing the music for this Lifetime Original Movie?
AS: I wanted to use instrumentation and harmonies that would reflect the time and place of the film, as well as the music that Johnny and June Carter Cash were making. There are many on stage performances in the film, and I wanted the score to integrate seamlessly with the songs in the movie. This meant working with an organic, acoustic palate of mountain dulcimers, fiddles, acoustic guitars and mandolins and using them to create themes for both the romance between the two characters and the dissonance they experienced with Johnny's slide into addiction.
How do you feel about being nominated for your work?
AS: Ecstatic - overjoyed! It's an honor to be in such esteemed company. I've been a fan of Mychael Danna's since his score to Exotica.
You’re also involved in another television series “Alpha House” for Amazon. Please talk about that project.
AS: I'm really excited to be involved with Alpha House, as I'm a huge fan of Garry Trudeau's (the creator). The show is about four senators sharing a house together (as I guess they do) in DC. The pilot was hilarious.
How would you describe the music for that series in your own words?
AS: The idea was to create music these politicians would have listened to when they were younger. I wanted to refer to soul and Motown, and still have the music be able to function as underscore.
Do you think there’s a difference between scoring a television series and one that is only streamed on Netflix and now Amazon for example?
AS: With the advent of binge watching, I do want to be attentive to not having too many repeats of the same cue in adjacent episodes.
Is your approach similar to the way you score a film?
AS: It is similar in that I am trying to tell a story that exists alongside, or supports the one the viewer is watching onscreen. However, television often has a more intimate feeling than film - even though people are watching in increasingly more elaborate home theaters. As a result of this, I often prefer to work in smaller ensembles for TV.
Your most recent film was the thriller, The Possession. Tell us about the film and what attracted you to it?
AS: I really enjoy working in this genre because of the possibilities of experimentation that it allows. The Possession is a story about a young girl who becomes possessed by a Dibbuk (a Jewish demon), and her family's efforts to save her. The director saw this movie less as a traditional horror story, and more like a parable about what happens to young children in the wake of an ugly divorce. I liked this idea very much.
Tell us about the approach you took in writing the score for the film?
AS: What made scoring that film enjoyable was that the director, Ole Bornedal, wanted a very classic approach. I was therefore allowed to write thematically and use a large orchestra. Sadly, it seems to me that there are fewer and fewer movies of this type with strong identifiable musical themes, and the orchestra is more relegated to making scary noises.
Will there be an album released of this score?
AS: The score to The Possession is available on iTunes and Amazon.
You also scored the critically acclaimed drama Rabbit Hole starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, which received Oscar nominations. Tell us about the film from your point of view and why this particular film appealed to you.
AS: I was really drawn to this story for a couple of reasons. I was impressed that a story about a tragedy that befalls a family could be told without melodrama. The cast and performances were brilliant - not only Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, but the rapidly rising Miles Teller are all completely believable in the way they handle their grief and relate to each other.
How did you get hired for the film?
AS: The music supervisor, Robin Urdang, is an old friend, and she suggested me.
Was there a specific amount of music that Director John Cameron Mitchell wanted you to write?
AS: John was very prudent in his use of music. He didn't want the score telling people how to feel, which I appreciated.
Let’s talk about the music that ended up on soundtrack album. What was the process that you went through that led you to choose the tracks or was that something that was out of your control?
AS: I was able to choose the tracks and create the album sequence, thankfully.
Soundtrack fans and collectors seem to think that putting together is an easy thing. In your own words, how would you describe the process in preparing a soundtrack album of your music.
AS: It's actually quite a bit of work! I try to make sure that all of the major themes are represented, and generally try to recreate the story arc with the music if possible. Sometimes you have to combine a few shorter cues into one track, and there's a lot of shuffling to make a sequence that is interesting.
You’ve also branched out into television with the Emmy Award Winning series, Big Love, which starred Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Ginnifer Goodwin and Chloe Sevigny and ran for five very acclaimed seasons on HBO. What attracted you to this project.
AS: Big Love was an amazing experience for me - the creators Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer are brilliant and allowed me a lot of creative flexibility in scoring the show. I was offered the opportunity to write music that I thought was quite unusual for this type of television.
Was it hard for you to come up with fresh material as the series went along?
AS: Not really, when the characters are as well drawn as they were on Big Love and the drama feels real it makes scoring a lot easier. Once I knew what Mark and Will responded to musically we really got into a groove.
Have you thought about putting together a soundtrack of your music for the show?
AS: I would love to if the opportunity presented itself.
If you were to put one together and produce it, what would it consist of?
AS: I have made a few passes at assembling one, just in case. I must say, it wasn't easy as there is so much music to choose from! Ideally, all the various themes and orchestrations I created would be strongly represented.
You’ve also worked in the documentary films department. Is it harder or easier for you to score a documentary as opposed to that of a film such “Rabbit Hole” or a television series such as Big Love for example?
AS: It depends on the documentary, but in general, documentaries present a different challenge from scripted shows and films. Oftentimes you are writing music under a talking head and this requires a certain approach to not get in the way of the of the speaker's voice while still providing the specific impact requested by the director.
The other concern I have about scoring documentaries is that almost by definition they are supposed to be impartial. Of course, that is not entirely possible and your perspective can be swayed by the simple act of changing a picture edit by a few frames. Nothing can sway your perspective more strongly than music though, and the act of putting music on picture can be a powerfully emotive one. I try to be very aware of this when working on a documentary.
Which is your favorite documentary that you’ve scored?
AS: I would have to say Great Migrations for National Geographic. As a five hour mini-series, Great Migrations was their most ambitious project to date and offered me a lot of exciting opportunities for composition.
You scored two of the most interesting films that I’m personally fond of, “Bad Apple” starring Law & Order’s Chris Noth and “Live Nude Girls” with Dana Delaney and Kim Cattrall. Please tell the readers about your experiences on these films in looking back at them.
AS: Wow -you've really been digging through the archives! Working with Julianna Lavin, the director of Live Nude Girls, was a dream. We had a great time creating an ambient electronic score for the film.
Bad Apple was also a lot of fun - The director, Adam Bernstein and I are still great friends and in fact had dinner last week. He was the director of the pilot for Alpha House, and he put me up for the job. Bad Apple was a rock score with two drummers, hammond organ, slide guitar - all my closest friends were in the band and my brother played bass. What could be more fun than that?!
Do you have a favorite director that you have worked with?
AS: As much as I have enjoyed every working relationship I've had, I must say that working with Jonathan Demme remains an incredible highlight.
What was the hardest film, documentary or television show you’ve had to score?
AS: You've already mentioned it - Rabbit Hole. Finding the delicate balance that the rest of the film walked was immensely difficult. It was like painting the Sistine Chapel with a paintbrush made of a single hair.
What do you think about music today in general?
AS: I am sorry to say that much pop music leaves me cold. The combination of auto-tuning and overly quantized rhythm sections has taken the majority of the humanity out of that music for me. I long for well written songs recorded with some mistakes in the performance! There's a lot going on with modern classical writing that I love - particularly from Eastern Europe, like Arvo Part and Peteris Vasks.
What is your favorite film score that you haven’t written?
AS: I'm sorry - I can't just say one!
Juliet of the Spirits - Nino Rota
Amacord - Nino Rota
Chinatown - Jerry Goldsmith
Papillion - Jerry Goldsmith
Bugsy - Ennio Morricone
The Good the Bad and the Ugly - Ennio Morricone
What is your favorite film that you have scored?
AS: One of my very favorites was Scotland Pa.
What is your dream project?
AS: One of the reasons that I so love my job is that it offers me the opportunity to work in so many different styles of music. Music is a deep, deep well that I never tire of exploring. As long as I can continue doing that, I am happy.
Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects you may have.
AS: Aside from the aforementioned “Alpha House”, I scored another horror film earlier this year with master director Kevin Greutert called “Jessabelle”. That will be coming out in January through Lionsgate.
Special Thanks to Anton for being gracious with his time for doing this interview with me. You're a total class act. Also for Jeff Sanderson for arranging this terrific interview, you're a great judge of talent. Thanks again!
Please check out Anton's official website for more on his great works as well as updates on his latest film and television projects at http://www.antonsanko.com/antonsanko.com/Home.html
For more info on "Ring Of Fire", please head over to the films' official website for Lifetime at http://www.mylifetime.com/movies/ring-of-fire
Episodes from Season One of Amazon's series "Alpha House" are available at their site http://www.amazon.com/Pilot-HD/dp/B00CDBTQCW
Anton Sanko is a music composer and producer from New York City currently living in Los Angeles. Sanko most recently scored the highly anticipated film “The Possession” which was released in theatres August 2012 for Lionsgate / Mandate. In 2011 he scored “Rabbit Hole” starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart from director John Cameron Mitchell. Both scores are now available on iTunes.
Anton recently won an Emmy for his score to the epic seven-part television event “Great Migrations” for National Geographic. Sanko is known for his work scoring the HBO / Playtone popular series “Big Love” starring Bill Paxton. Sanko’s prominent production credits include producing and writing with Suzanne Vega on Solitude Standing (seven Grammy nominations) and Days of Open Hand (one Grammy award, and producing and writing on Jim Carroll’s last album Pools of Mercury.
He has also produced Lucy Kaplansky, Anna Domino and Skeleton Key. Sanko has since scored over 25 films. Amongst them are “Saving Face”, “Party Girl” and “Scotland, Pa.” He works regularly with director Tom DiCillo, having scored “Delirious” and providing music for “When You're Strange.” He now lives in a loft in Downtown Los Angeles.