Michael Yezerski is easily one of the busiest Australian composers around today. This summer alone he wrapped the Aussie drama “A Place to Call Home”, contributed additional music to the blockbuster hit “Transformers: Age of Extinction” under Steve Jablonsky and currently has the comedy “The Little Death” written and directed by Josh Lawson making its international premiere at the Toronto Film festival September 5.
Michael’s previous work includes films such as PJ Hogan’s "Mental" starring Toni Collette, "Drift" starring Sam Worthington and the documentary “Storm Surfers 3D”. Other highlights include the Oscar® winning Best Animated Short Film "The Lost Thing", directed by Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann and “The Black Balloon” AFI winner for Best Film.
For this very special interview with Michael, he candidly shares with me his thoughts on everything from "The Little Death" to his work on the Academy Award winning short "The Lost Thing". So please sit back as introduce you to Michael.
Hi Michael, how are you and thank you very much for granting me the time to conduct this interview with you today and a real honor to meet you.
MY: Great to meet you Danny, thanks so much.
Please tell the readers about what made you become interested in music.
MY: Like many of my colleagues, the short answer is “Star Wars”. I remember walking out of a movie theatre with my Dad, I had just taken up the clarinet in the school band, and he said to me “Did you hear that music in the film? You could do that.” It’s amazing because I never had really considered music before that. I took to playing the clarinet. I loved it. I loved performing. I loved the spotlight. Playing then turned to writing my own music. After a college degree in classical composition I found myself at film school – my Dad’s idea had stuck.
Let’s talk about your recent work on your latest film “The Little Death” that will be making its International premiere at the Toronto Film Festival next month. What got you interested in this project?
MY: Every so often, if you’re lucky in this business, a script comes along that completely floors you. Josh Lawson’s The Little Death was brilliant, daring, controversial but most of all it was engaging and laugh out loud funny. I met Josh and his love and knowledge of music was clear from the start. I remember he sat down in my studio and within minutes was singing me some of his favorite film scores. I thought, “I have to work with this guy.”
After viewing the film, did you immediately come up with ideas on what you felt the score should sound like?
MY: It wasn’t immediate. It was actually quite tricky. TLD is a dialogue driven film and all the performances are spot on. The music had to be delicate, but not too delicate; quirky but not too quirky; energetic but not too energetic; emotional without being manipulative. Who says that scoring comedies is easy? It’s way more difficult than drama.
How did you collaborate with the director of the film?
MY: Josh is very musical and has very clear ideas about what he wants the score to achieve. He isn’t prescriptive about instruments / styles etc but he knows where he wants music to be and what he wants it to say. Initially we talked about referencing the “music of love” as we all know it. What is the music of love? Is it a waltz? A tango? Is it something rhythmic? Jazzy? Are there sounds made by the human body? Is there a saxophone solo? Or is it an epic, tumescent string crescendo? You can actually hear all of these sounds in the score at different times.
What was the hardest scene in the film for you to score and why?
MY: Probably the very opening of the film. It’s a big cue that sets the tone for everything to follow. Josh wanted a touch of nostalgia and so the cue tips its hat to Old Hollywood: the big orchestral swell, the soaring melody, the aching heart of the romantic. Once we nailed that cue the rest of the film flowed nicely.
As you were writing the score, do you feel that it grew musically to the way you wanted it to sound stylistically?
MY: As my discussions with Josh continued through the picture edit, ideas definitely began to form. Often the actual process of writing, of pushing music up against picture, changes your best-laid plans. This film was no different. I don’t like getting attached to any one particular idea at the beginning. It’s better to be Zen about these things and see what happens. Your first idea may not be your best idea!
How much music did you end up writing for the film? Will there be a soundtrack released?
MY: I think we ended up with around 40 minutes of score. Not sure about a soundtrack but you can preview the score on my website at http://michaelyezerski.com.
Let’s talk about your work in the recent blockbuster hit, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” in which you wrote some additional music for in which composer Steve Jablonsky wrote the film’s score for. How did you get involved with such a major project such as this one?
MY: I got a call from my friend Bryan Lawson, who is one of the best music editors in the business, asking whether or not I’d be interested in submitting something for Steve to listen to.
Did you and Steve communicate on what you were supposed to be doing on the film?
MY: Yes of course. I was so honored to be asked by Steve to help out on AoE. I’d been a big fan of Steve’s work for years and I love the themes that he wrote for the first three films. He has this fantastic dark energy about his music but they always have strong, memorable melodies. His themes for T4 are no different - Lockdown and Decision are awesome pieces. It was quite the dream come true for me actually - I had all the toys when I was a kid! It was just such an exciting time. I couldn’t wait to get back into the studio each day.
Now let’s talk about your Academy Award Winning Short, “The Lost Thing”, which you wrote the music for. How did you get involved in the project?
MY: I am a huge fan of Shaun Tan’s work. He is one of Australia’s most amazing artists and authors. We met in 2008 when I composed a piece for the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Gondwana Voices Children’s choir based on Shaun’s book The Red Tree. We had gotten along famously and Shaun asked me to look at a new short he was co-directing based on another of his books.
What was it like writing for a short film as opposed to that of a regular film that you normally would score?
MY: Haha, I’m not sure I agree with the term “regular” film because every film I have done has been completely different. I have to treat each film not in terms of duration but in terms of drama. From that perspective, The Lost Thing is that classic outsider story but one that takes place in a world that is so unique and fantastical that it demanded its own musical language.
We had to invent our own sound for this film. The Lost Thing is a strange object in a world filled with junk and leftovers. Obviously junk percussion and found objects feature heavily but they weren’t enough to give the music heart. We needed something more immediate and tangible but also “of the world”. Marimbas, a slightly detuned guitar, heavily detuned mandolins and ukes, and a string section round out The Lost Thing ensemble.
When you write your scores, do you normally like to orchestrate them as well?
MY: Yes definitely. I think orchestration, where possible given time constraints, is a vital part of composition. The way you put sounds together is your calling card after all.
Name a film and a composer that you personally feel has had a major influence on your music and career so far.
MY: There have been so many! I find that my tastes change. My work is extremely varied in style and different composers influence me in different ways. Star Wars (of course), Little Children (for its intimacy and depth), The Red Violin (for its sheer brilliance), The Social Network (for its sound world), Fantastic Mr. Fox (for its quirk), True Romance (for it’s daring simplicity), the original music of Children of Men, Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind (I just love the film and the score) – just a few that come to mind.
Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects.
MY: I’m just finishing up a true crime miniseries for network television back in Australia. I’ll be able to reveal more details soon but I’m really happy with how the score has come out. It’s a totally new direction for me. I like changing things up!
I really want to thank you once again Michael for granting me this interview and I really honored to meet you and everything.
MY: Pleasure to meet you too Danny. Thanks for the great questions!
Very special thanks go out to Michael for being so gracious with his time to do this interview which was a lot of fun. Let's do it again. Also special thanks go out to Jordan von Netzer for introducing me to Michael and the positive words. I'm very grateful.
Please feel free to visit Michael's official website @ http://michaelyezerski.com/ for information on "The Little Death" along with his work on "Transformers: Age of Extinction" and his other projects featuring sound samples.
The soundtrack to "Transformers: Age of Extinction" is now available to purchase via iTunes from Atlantic Records @ https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/transformers-age-extinction/id896006953
Here is Michael Yezerski's Biography:
"Michael Yezerski is a multi-award winning composer, music producer and songwriter. He has composed music for some of the most celebrated international and Australian film productions of the last few years. Career highlights include The Black Balloon (Best Picture, AFI Awards), The Lost Thing (Oscar® Winner, Best Animated Short) and PJ Hogan's box office hit Mental (starring Toni Collette, Liev Schreiber and Anthony LaPaglia). Under Steve Jablonsky, Michael has written additional music for Transformers 4: Age of Extinction.
Michael is known for his incredible musical range and unique sound. He is equally comfortable with large scale action drama (Drift, Storm Surfers 3D) as he is with intimate character studies such as The Turning (starring Rose Byrne and Miranda Otto) and Josh Lawson's darkly comedic The Little Death. He has also worked extensively in television with Australia's highest rating drama A Place To Call Home and the biopic Carlotta.
Michael is just at home on the concert stage. His works include The Red Tree for the Australian Chamber Orchestra (Nominee, Work of The Year, Australian Classical Music Awards) and Kaddish Avelim for the Sydney Chamber Choir.
Michael has been nominated three times for the highest accolade in Australian Film, the AACTA Award. He has won five APRA-AGSC Australian Screen Music Awards (with many further nominations), Gold Medals at the Park City Film Music Festival, the APRA Professional Development Award, Best Classical Artist at MusicOz as well as nominations from the if Awards, MusicOz Awards and two nominations from The Film Critics of Australia Awards. He has been called a "rising star" of Australian music and was included in the Sydney Morning Herald's list of "People to Watch".
Michael studied musical composition under world-renowned composers Peter Sculthorpe and Ross Edwards at the University of Sydney graduating with first class honours. Michael then graduated with distinction in audio technology from the Australian Institute of Music and completed film music studies at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School."