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Composer Marco Beltrami Provides His Musical Gifts For "The Giver"

Profile Of Academy Award Nominated Composer Marco Beltrami of the latest film "The Giver" Starring Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep
Courtesy of Getty Images

What can I say about composer Marco Beltrami? Academy Award nominee for his brilliant work on both "The Hurt Locker", which won Best Picture in 2010 and the terrific remake of "3:10 To Yuma" starring Oscar Winners Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. He redefined the horror genre with his classic horror music for "Scream", "The Woman In Black", "The Faculty", "Dracula 2000", "The Thing" and "Mimic". His immense talents don't stop there providing his great musical tastes to excellent films such as "In The Electric Mist", "The Sessions", "Red Eye", "Soul Surfer", "Trouble With The Curve", "The Watcher" and "The Three Burials Of Melequides Estrada." All capped off by blockbuster hits that include "World War Z", "Warm Bodies", "Live Free Or Die Hard", "The Wolverine", "Hellboy", "I, Robot" and "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" along with the revival of the classic television series, "V."

Truthfully, I don't think that there isn't a genre of film that Marco isn't capable of tackling and whose music would no doubt make that particular film that much better. What makes him so special is that his music just gets better and better with time and that is why directors such as Tommy Lee Jones, Alex Proyas, James Mangold, Len Wiseman and of course, Wes Craven will always call upon him to be their go to musical voice of both movie logic and reason. Every musical note counting for something special for each scene his baton is raised in the air conducting on the scoring stage.

For this very, very special interview with Marco, he candidly talks about his latest film "The Giver" based on the book by Lois Lowry (and his own personal favorite) starring Oscar Winners Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep, his work on the critically acclaimed action-thriller "Snowpiercer" and touching upon some of his earlier work and future project, "The Homesman" directed by Tommy Lee Jones and starring Jones with fellow Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Hilary Swank coming in November. So please sit back and enjoy our conversation.

Let’s talk about your latest film, “The Giver” Starring Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep. What interested you in the project that made you want to do it?

MB: I was a fan of the book from when both of my kids as teenagers had to read it in school. When I heard that Phillip Noyce was directing the movie, I was excited about it. I met Phillip and spoke to him about his ideas and what he was looking for musically. I wrote some musical ideas inspired by the conversation and the script. That’s what got me the job.

After viewing the film, did you have an idea of what you wanted to do musically or Director Phillip Noyce, tell you this is what would like for this scene and that scene?

MB: Actually, this film was unique in that I wrote the main theme to the movie before they had shot it. When I sent my original demos to Phillip, little did I know that he actually used that music for Jeff Bridges to learn on piano, and they filmed the movie to the music. It was a little different than normal. So by the time I actually got the footage, the tone of it and the score had already been set.

When you begin to write your scores and in particular this film, is there a process you go through personally that you feel gives you ideas to come up with themes for the score?

MB: I usually start from the most general to the more specific. I’ll get an emotional overview for the film as a whole, trying to pinpoint what the musical identity is and come up with thematic ideas - any ideas that identify as succinctly as possible what the film is. From there I break off and record individual scenes and then hope that everything relates to the core theme.

How much music did you end up writing for the film?

MB: 86 minutes.

What were the recording sessions like from your point of view?

MB: The recording sessions went very smoothly. We had top notch musicians and they always bring the score to life. Without musicians it’s just abstract notes on a page.

What was it like to work with an esteemed director such as Phillip Noyce, who has worked with Composers such as James Horner, Graeme Revell and Craig Armstrong?

MB: He was very hands-on. He had a lot of input on the scenes. He becomes obsessed with the details of his films, as a good director should, and we would have Skype meetings almost every day. He was in New York editing and I was here in LA. I’d send cues to him. We’d discuss the film. We’d adjust cues to the picture and work on new stuff as we went. So sometimes we’d have two hour skype calls a day, many days of the week. Even though we weren’t working together in the same room, we had a very close working relationship.

Let’s talk about the soundtrack which was released by Sony Classical. How did you assemble it?

MB: It’s basically in the order of the film itself, but there are a few things out of order, just being aware of the listening experience outside of the film. More of the redundant cues we cut out to try and make it more of a listening experience.

You also had another film recently released which was the critically acclaimed and long delayed thriller, “Snowpiercer” starring Chris Evans and Oscar Winner Tilda Swinton. What was the major factor that made you want to tackle this terrific film?

MB: I’m a huge fan of director Joon-ho Bong and his other movies. I contacted him and let him know that I was very interested in working with him. We met a few years ago when he came to LA and he told me about Snowpiercer and he gave me a script and some images. I made some music based off of what I had, and we began to have a dialogue about it and I was just very interested and involved from an early stage.

After seeing the film which is really well done, did you immediately get it musically that themes and musical ideas were just flowing out of you to write the score that you did?

MB: Yeah. Again, some stuff I wrote before they started shooting. There’s a scene in the classroom train cart where they needed a song and that I wrote ahead of time. Also, just to come up with the thematic ideas for this perpetual engine that drives the train which I thought could be musically represented as well as the icy outside world and the emotional journey of the characters. So I had these ideas earlier on.

What the recording sessions like for the film?

MB: They were great. Again, I had a lot of fun bringing the score to life and making sure that the things we had mocked up originally electronically would become three-dimensional in the image.

Varese Sarabande just released the soundtrack a few weeks ago here in the U.S. Please share your experiences on how the album was assembled and what made you choose the music that you did for the album?

MB: Similarly to The Giver, the choices for the album were based on it being a listener experience and give variety to the film without bogging it down with some of the pieces that you need the picture to appreciate.

Varese Sarabande has released your scores since “Mimic” in the late 1990’s and released more a dozen of your scores, how do you feel working with a label where your music is a priority and has a rich musical history such as this one?

MB: Robert Townson at Varese is a huge fan of film music and has really done a lot to educate audiences about film music and scores. To be able to work with him has been very enjoyable and rewarding. He’s consistently released my scores, and I’m happy to have the opportunity to work with him. He’s arranged to have some of the scores to be played in public at concert venues so he is a real champion for the film score community.

Let’s talk about “The November Man” which ironically is also being released in September soundtrack wise by Varese, is the latest action-thriller starring Pierce Brosnan. From looking at the trailer which is a heck of a lot of fun, what compelled you to tackle this film?

MB: Pierce Brosnan is a friend of mine. When he finished shooting the movie he asked me if I could look at it and see what I thought of it musically. I went and met the director, Roger Donaldson, and we discussed what was needed. I thought it could be a lot of fun to incorporate some Eastern European musical influences with a guitar based score and come up with a unique spy theme for the movie.

Were the themes for this score easier to come up with after doing another action film such as “Snowpiercer” and “Die Hard” for example?

MB: No. They are completely unrelated and the thematic ideas always have to materialize just out of the inspiration for the film itself. It really has nothing to do with any other film.

Is action a genre that you enjoy doing music for?

MB: Yeah. It’s fun. It’s demanding, because usually action movies have more music and notes than other genres, but it’s also a chance to flex other musical muscles.

How much did you end up writing for this film?

MB: Maybe 75 minutes. I’m not exactly sure.

You’ve had a very diverse career after starting with Wes Craven’s Scream in the late 90’s, how do you about you’ve developed as a composer almost twenty years later?

MB: One of the major aspects of film composing is that it’s not so much a musical thing as it is communicating your ideas with the director who often does not come from a musical background. So I think I am getting better at my communication skills. Musically, you figure out tricks along the way that makes the process go easier and smoother.

You’ve also had fruitful collaborations with distinguished directors such as James Mangold, Kathryn Bigelow, Wes Craven, John Moore, Tommy Lee Jones, Len Wiseman and Alex Proyas to name a few. Please tell me about your experiences with them that led to you writing great music for their respective films?

MB: They are as diverse as the films that they make and my experiences with each of them are unique. I’d say the one commonality that they all share is that they are all extremely creative and slightly obsessive people which allow them to create such great work. Part of my job is to be a bit of a sponge, to absorb their ideas and turn them into my inspiration.

You’ve had Buck Sanders work with you on almost all of your scores. Please tell the readers about how your collaboration has led you to have the success that you’ve had up to this point?

MB: I met Buck in 1997. He started working for me sort of as an assistant, but it was clear from quite early on that he didn’t only have a great aesthetic sense, but ability with the electronic, computerized side of things that I didn’t have and was completely lacking in. We developed a great symbiotic relationship working together and now we are partners. What I do often times when working on a film, he’d help me come up with the sound palate and manipulate acoustic sounds in an electronic way - even co-score some movies like we did on The Hurt Locker. Obviously, this collaboration has led to success. We work really well together.

Is there a particular score that you’ve done that you hope would or would like to see released on CD?

MB: I think it will, but for this movie called "The Homesman" that comes out in November.

Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects you may have.

MB: The Homesman is a really interesting movie that Tommy Lee Jones directed. It comes out in November. The score musically reflects what is happening in the film which takes place in the mid-19th century frontier where some women were driven to madness because of isolation. I recorded it outside so there were no walls for reverberation. I used Aeolian harps that could tune the wind, and Buck and I created an outdoor piano that had strings running up a 175-ft hill to water tanks that captured the sound. I think that the film is very interesting and the score is experimental, and I had a lot of fun working on it.

Very special thanks to Marco for being so gracious in doing this interview and I'm very grateful for it. You are a true class act! I cannot thank you enough. Special thanks also go to Jeff Sanderson for making this great interview possible. You're the best.

"THE GIVER" is now currently playing at a theater near you.

"The Giver" Soundtrack available on Sony Classical records is now available digitally on iTunes and Amazon.com. The CD will be released on September 9th. Pre-orders are now available on Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Giver-Marco-Beltrami/dp/B00M8SFWT6/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1409029529&sr=1-1&keywords=the+giver

"The November Man" Soundtrack will be released by Varese Sarabande Records on September 9th digitally and on CD. Pre-orders are now available: http://www.varesesarabande.com/servlet/the-1185/November-Man%2C-The/Detail

Also available from Varese Sarabande Records is the "Snowpiercer" Soundtrack which can be ordered at http://www.varesesarabande.com/servlet/the-1177/Snowpiercer/Detail and available digitally on iTunes.

Please visit Marco Beltrami's official website at http://www.marcobeltrami.com/ for updates on his latest film and soundtrack projects as well as samples of his great work over the years.

Here is Marco Beltrami's Bio:

"Upon completing undergraduate study at Brown University, Marco Beltrami entered the Yale School of Music on a scholarship. His pursuit of music composition then lead him to Venice for a period of studio with the Italian master, Luigi Nono and then finally to Los Angeles to undertake a fellowship with Academy Award-winning composer, Jerry Goldsmith.

Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, Marco landed Wes Craven’s “Scream,” embarking on what would become the widely successful terror franchise. In his approach to scoring the film, he threw away conventional horror music clichés and instead called upon his concert music roots to explore a new sonic landscape.

After “Scream", Marco went on to write his critically acclaimed score for Guillermo Del Toro’s “Mimic.” This was the first of several collaborations with Del Toro, including “Hellboy” and “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.” Subsequently, his resume has expanded to include films ranging from epic drama to dark comedy, working with some of the most recognizable names in the industry such as Kathryn Bigelow, James Mangold, Robert Rodriguez, Luc Besson, David Goyer, Bertrand Tavernier, Alex Proyas, Jonathan Mostow, Roland Joffe, Len Wiseman, Jodie Foster, David E. Kelly and Tommy Lee Jones.

Marco has been nominated twice for Academy Awards for Best Score. First, for “3:10 to Yuma,” starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, and shortly after for his score to 2010’s groundbreaking Best Picture, “The Hurt Locker.” Most recently, Marco’s score for “Soul Surfer,” won the 2012 Satellite Awards for Best Film Score of The Year."