What can I say about Marcelo Zarvos. I first remember hearing his work in the 2001 romantic comedy, "Kissing Jessica Stein", a film which I personally adore for the two actresses and also because it was filmed here in New York. Then soon after he started to appear more and more over the new few years scoring films such as "Door In The Floor", the noir drama "Hollywoodland" and replacing Oscar Winner James Horner on "The Good Shepard" years later.
A consumate and professional musician, Marcelo applies his craft very well and his musical efforts have been well represented on CD and digitally since with scores for "Too Big To Fail", "Beastly", "The Bay", "Taking Chance", "The Beaver", "Brooklyn's Finest" and "The Words" to name a few. His music has continued to grow into bigger and better projects that have made him a go to composer in Hollywood.
For this interview, Marcelo graciously shares with me his working relationship with filmmaker and playwright David Mamet, his work on the Showtime hit series, Ray Donovan along with The Big C and the process which he goes to prepare each project he's hired to score. So sit back and relax, you're in the hands of a musical genius.
Hi Marcelo, how are you and thank you very much for granting me the time to conduct this interview with you today. It really is an honor to do so.
MZ: It's my pleasure.
Please tell the readers about what made you became passionate in music and composing.
MZ: My love affair with music began with soundtracks actually. A number of films I watched as a kid really capture my imagination. The Sting was one of them. I really remember being completely mesmerized my Marvin Hamlisch and Scott Joplin's music, and in many ways the piano centered score was an inspiration for me to begin taking piano lessons. My very first recital when I was ten years old was performing some of those pieces. I also spent a lot of time listening to The Beatles. I'd say those were my first big passions in music.
You’ve applied your many creative talents to the current hit Showtime television series. Please tell the readers how you got to be a part of this great series.
MZ: I was first approached by director Allen Coulter (with whom I collaborated on both "Hollywoodland" and "Remember Me") to work on the show. I was finishing the last season of another Showtime series ("The Big C") and frankly not really looking to start on a new series so soon. But after watching the pilot and meeting the show's creator Ann Biderman, I was in. Ann created such an amazing world right from the get go and hearing her talk about where the show was heading and what she saw as the dramatic and music possibilities was truly inspiring.
Tell us about the approach you took in writing the music for the show?
MZ: Much like the show itself, Ann wanted the music to work on two levels, procedural and dramatic. For the procedural stuff that scores "Ray the fixer" the music is predominantly electronic, with a lot of pulsating synth sounds and percussion. For the the dramatic stuff that deals more with the family and the season long cat and mouse game between Ray and his father we used a wide range of acoustic instruments ranging from string orchestra to piano, trumpet, guitar and dulcimer among others.
Did you get to work with an orchestra?
MZ: We used on orchestra for the first and last episodes. Everything in between was a smaller string group plus the instruments I mentioned above.
Do you reuse or rework themes that you know have worked in a previous episode onto the next one? Or do you prefer to keep a new, fresh approach to give the viewers something different to experience musically?
MZ: A little of both. Some themes were recurring but certainly every episode has plenty of original material. One of the great things about working on a long form show such as "Ray Donovan" is the ability to paint a larger picture. Many composers will agree with me that often when you finish scoring a movie and you really "get" the characters and the tone it's a bit frustrating to let it all go and move on. That is the basic difference with TV when after getting the sound of the show you get to keep developing it for quite some time and really get inside of the characters and their themes.
Will we see a soundtrack of the music for the series in the future?
MZ: We are working on it, hopefully to coincide with the release of the DVD for the first season.
If you were to put together a soundtrack of your music for the series, what would you personally love to put on it and why?
MZ: That's going to be tough... There is so much material to pull from. I'd say the big orchestral pieces from both the "pilot" and the "last season". Very often the show ended on a big music number where I really got to stretch. There is some lovely music for some of the family scenes, specially between Ray and his daughter. And of course a "fixer" suite of electronic themes sould be a part of it.
You’ve also scored another Showtime series, “The Big C” starring Laura Linney. When it came to scoring “Ray Donovan”, was it an easy transition from shifting to scoring one series to another?
MZ: It was good to have done a series before. "The Big C" was quite challenging because it was my first time doing TV and even though the show was a half hour (as opposed to Ray Donovan's one hour) we did two episodes at a time. So the load was similar. Listen, there is no way around it, scoring TV can be quite grueling for a composer. On Donovan, I got about a week per episode to write and record so you can imagine how many sleepless nights that took...
Let’s go back to “The Big C” for a moment. How did you get involved with the series and when you were hired, did the producers know what they had in mind musically?
MZ: The producers of the show had heard my music to a Nicole Holofcener directed the movie, "Please Give" and really loved it. I had to convince them that I could handle the crazy load of work but it felt like everyone was in the same boat from the start. I mostly dealt with Jenny Bicks and Michael Engler for the creative stuff, but I know Darlene Hunt (the show's creator) was often listening to the music and giving notes too. It was a real crash course in series composing...!
How much time do you have to score each episode for “Ray Donovan” and “The Big C” respectively?
MZ: About a week per episode on average. A little more than that for the first few episodes, but also less than a week as we get closer to the end of the season.
Do you enjoy working in television?
MZ: Yes, very much so. I believe TV is going through one of its richest creative periods. Many people refer to this as the golden age of television and the caliber of the talent in fron and behind the camera is astounding. I think for composers working today this a very fertile ground for creativity, but one needs to work really fast and not second guess too much.
Do you feel that you have more of a free hand when you’re writing for television?
MZ: Not really. Instead of the director, I deal with a show runner; but it still is a highly collaborative medium with the goal always being to capture in music the filmmaker's vision. I have heard horror stories in some shows where there are ten people giving input (many times contradictory with each other), but my experience in both shows has been the opposite of that. On both shows, I really dealt with only one creative producer.
You’ve also scored many films with your most recent being the “Phil Spector” bio-pic starring Oscar winners Al Pacino and Helen Mirren and directed by acclaimed playwright, screenwriter and director David Mamet. Please tell us how you got involved with the film?
MZ: The project was produced by HBO films and I had done three films with them before. "Taking Chance", "You Don't Know Jack" and "Too Big to Fail". When it came to this one Mamet originally wanted to work with a pop producer to blend in the score with Spector's music, but after a while they realized the score needed to be more traditional and work as a counterpoint to the songs and not try to mimic them. David's picture editor, Barbara Tulliver is a frequent collaborator and when they decided they needed a composer it was a pretty obvious choice to have me do it. I adore Mamet's work and was (and remain) a huge fan of his. It was one of the smoothest experiences I've ever had scoring a film. During the process I was in NY and they were doing post production in LA, and after my initial meeting with David we spoke on the phone twice. And both times he just told how much he loved what I was doing.
Did Mamet give you a specific idea of he wanted from your score musically? In terms of tone, themes, etc.?
MZ: He really saw it as an operatic story. Spector was the Minotaur who lives by himself on a cave and people are afraid of. Helen Mirren's character was the one person to see through the appearances and the film is really from her point of view. The tone is quite dark, with a lot of the scenes taking place either indoors or at night. Linda (Mirren) is very sick in the film and the music somehow reflects her state of mind.
How did you view the film from a musical standpoint?
MZ: I wanted it to be kind of gothic, like Spector, but not in obvious "wall of sound" kind of way. I actually in addition to an orchestra used a lot of old keyboards such as harpsichord and clavichord. The music is quite sparse at times, and as with all of Mamet's work dialog is king. It was a fun challenge to write around his superb dialogue. I approached the words like a melody which the score accompanies.
How much music did you write for the film?
MZ: I think around 35 or 40 minutes of music.
What was it like to work with a great writer/director such as David Mamet?
MZ: So great. He is truly one of the most gifted story tellers alive. And also very musical. He plays piano quite well and can be very specific about what he wants. But also respectful of the composer's craft, always allowing for ideas to be presented fairly whether they come from him or not.
You also scored “Beastly” which was a modern day version of “Beauty And The Beast” which was quite intriguing and I loved your score for it. Please tell us about your experiences on that film.
MZ: That was really a departure for me. The film's audience was a lot younger than most of my previous projects. Luckily the director, Daniel Barnz saw the score as a great opportunity to create some really expressive music. We had to be very romantic but also a little scary and funny at times. I felt like I had to really stretch in that one, but it remains one of the favorite scores I have worked on.
Do you enjoy doing films such as “The Beaver”, “The Words” or “Won’t Back Down”. Personal films that the public will miss at first, but thanks to Netflix, Digital Cable, Blu-Ray and DVD will rediscover and say to themselves, “How did I miss this one?”.
MZ: I try to do good films and not think too much about how many people will see them. No one has a crystal ball and when I sign up to do a score I always give it my all. Some films struggle more to find an audience. But as you said there are so many platforms where movies can be seen now that really nothing is ever lost. I try to always do something fresh that can stand on its own no matter what the project is. One thing is for sure, as I write the scores I have to fall in love with the film and its characters.
Is there a composer or composers that have influenced you personally in the way you write?
MZ: Ennio Morricone, Nino Rotta, Georges Delerue and Bernard Herrmann in the film arena. And outside of film, Johann Sabastian Bach, Steve Reich, Robert Schuman, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Morton Feldman.
If there was one score for a film or television show you would love to have written, what would it be and why?
MZ: Easy. "The Godfather!" Greatest film and film score ever created for my money...
What is your dream project?
MZ: Anything that Terrence Malick directs.
Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects you may have.
MZ: I have two wonderful films coming out soon. "Enough Said", Directed by Nicole Holofcener is wonderful comedy with Julia Louis Dreyfuss and the late James Gandolfini. Also, "The Face of Love", a complex psychological drama starring Annette Bening and Ed Harris.
I really want to thank you once again Marcelo for granting me this interview and I’m looking forward to your future projects.
MZ: Thank you very much.
I'd like to thank Marcelo for being so gracious for his time during his rather hectic schedule to fit me in and to answer my rather challenging questions. Also, to the always great Beth Krakower for always going to bat for me with these great and talented musicians. I'm always grateful to you!
Please check out Marcelo's official website for updates on his upcoming projects and his personal bio at http://www.zarvos.com/
The Soundtrack to "Enough Said" will be released by Lakeshore Records via iTunes, Amazon and physical CD this month.
Here's Marcelo's Bio:
"Brazilian pianist and composer Marcelo Zarvos has written for virtually every medium, from dance to the concert stage, film, television and theater. Recent commissions include the ballet "The Path" for "DanceBrazil", which received its premiere in 2001 at the Joyce Theater, NYC as well as a new score commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum for their Fall 2001 exhibit on Brazilian Art. Currently Zarvos is composing a new dance score commissioned by Denver based company "Cleo Parker Robinson Dance" as well as a NYSCA commission by the Quintet of the Americas.
Highly active also as a film composer, Zarvos' work has been praised by Hollywood Variety for his "...affecting score, which neither drowns out nor underplays the steady sentiment". Among his recent scores are the hit comedy "Kissing Jessica Stein" (Fox Searchlight), Academy Award nominated short film "A Soccer Story" as well as a collaboration with Eumir Deodato on "Bossa Nova" (Sony Classics Pictures).
As a recording artist Zarvos released three highly acclaimed albums, DUALISM, with saxophonist Peter Epstein, LABYRINTHS, which landed on the CD NOW top 10 list of Jazz Albums in 1998 and most recently MUSIC JOURNAL.
Concert appearances include Merkin Hall, Knitting Factory, Americas Society, Guggenheim Museum, NJPAC, AT&T Latino Arts Festival and New York Texaco Jazz Festival. His work has been profiled on CNN, CBC, NHK and NPR. International performances include conducting appearances with the Tokyo Symphony Chamber Orchestra in Japan.
Zarvos started his classical music studies as a teenager in São Paulo with H.J. Koelreutter, the West German composer who also taught Antonio Carlos Jobim and many other of Brazil's greatest composers. His undergraduate studies include Berklee College of Music and California Institute of the Arts, where he received his BFA, and Hunter College where received a Master's Degree in Music."