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Film composer Alexandre Desplat talks 'Rise of the Guardians' and a busy 2012

The DreamWorks animated “Rise of the Guardians” (Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher) is of Alexandre Desplat’s works of genius for 2012. This year found the four-time Academy Award nominated film composer hard at work on a long list of projects that includes the highly anticipated Kathryn Bigelow helmed “Zero Dark Thirty”, Jacques Audiard’s “Rust and Bone,” Ben Affleck’s “Argo” and Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom”. With this film he wore the hats of both composer as well as songwriter with the original song “Still Dream.” Desplat wrote the music with David Lindsay-Abaire writing the lyrics and Renee Fleming performing.

Alexandre Desplat conducts the London Symphony
Jaap Buitendijk

This song, he says, was the main theme for the hero of the film. “It was the belief and dreams of the children. The director (Peter Ramsey) and filmmakers suggested that I maybe do a song for the end of the film. I said ‘ok, I’ll try.’ I had very little time but we all agreed that this was a great idea.”

“This was the first opportunity that I had to write an original song for an American movie. I didn’t want a pop song. The film is so elegant so I suggested a classical soprano. You never hear that in film songs and Renee agreed to perform it.”

Of the incredibly busy year he’s had, Desplat says that he composes about ten or so films a year. “I don’t want to turn anything down. When Kathryn Bigelow calls you say yes!” He exclaims with laughter, “You just don’t sleep!” Explaining what an exciting time this is for him in his life, he adds, “I write and I think faster every year. I’m still young.”

“Rise of the Guardians” was a particularly special one to Desplat. “This was the first movie that I ever really got to play out so many catchy melodies. There were so many emotions that would change radically in seconds. It needed a huge sound -- very loud to very intimate and sparse within seconds. It had to be gentle, tender and quiet.” He conducted the London Symphony Orchestra with one hundred musicians for the film.

Born to a Greek mother and French father, Desplat grew up in France with a love for Hollywood and knew from an early age that he wanted to be a film composer. “I was always a movie buff and I’ve been writing and performing music since I was five years-old. I’m where I was always dreaming to be.”

Composing films in America, London and France, Desplat always conducts his scores and admits that the range of subject matter that he works with doesn’t influence or change his moods. “This one was not as intense as others, but it is a drama with epic moments. It’s very different from anything that I’ve done before in many ways including the tone and scope of the work.” The process of a DreamWorks animation takes years to make, he explains, “This is not common in the career of a composer. But, I have to change the types of movies that I work on. It’s crucial, if I didn’t I wouldn’t be as excited or as creative. I put myself in danger each time I explore something new.”

Speaking about the different approaches to film scoring in America and Europe, his main goal, he says, is to be creative. “Even working on a film with a small budget, I don’t care as long as I get to be creative. Being creative is the best way to move forward.”

Desplat has composed classic films including The Kings’ Speech, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Tree of Life, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close as well as Harry Potter & Twilight films. Averaging anywhere from a week to several months composing a film, he says, “Time flies and flows when I’m inspired.”