Creating and composing music is about one of the hardest thing any composer can do to try and make a film better than it is or in some cases alot better than they really deserve to be. This goes for almost every genre out there from horror to comedy to animation to action-thrillers. Composers always have the toughest and last task to add their proverbial stamp on the film before it is released. Sometimes it's a great success and other times, a total failure and the poor composer is blamed for the debacle. In the case of rising star, Scott Glasgow, he has survived with gusto and grace.
I had the honor to meet and interview this classy and fun guy who's music has graced films that would normally go under the radar, but what has made his music standout is the perseverance and heart that Scott has put into each project to make the films better even with a limited budget or none at all. As you'll soon learn from very special and exclusive interview with him, you can see his passion and enthusiasm for films and music in general. Not to mention he has a great sense of humor outside of it.
It is with great pleasure that I present to my readers as well as Examiner.com readers into the mind of Scott Glasgow, a tremendous talent. Enjoy!
Hello Scott, 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.
SG: Thank you. I am very glad to speak with you.
Please tell the readers about what made you become interested in music and composing.
SG: As a young boy of the 80s, I was really inspired by movies. Early on it was films like ALIEN and STAR WARS that stirred my imagination and sparked my interest in music but I do recall two specific moments when I decided that music really may be something I would like to do “when I grow up”. First was after seeing THE ROCKETEER (with Horner’s exhilarating score) and second was, BACK TO THE FUTURE (with it’s exciting and fun score by Alan Silvestri). Both of those events stand out for me. However there is another element to my early exposure to music; my grandfather worked for RCA as an engineer all of his life. He gave us hundreds of records-- everything from D-Day radio recordings, to Elvis to symphonies. I had exposure to music from a very early age and of all kinds. I do remember somehow getting the album to ALIEN when I was REALLY young and listening to it while reading comics and staring out the window of my family home (I grew up in Rochester NY, same neighborhood as Philip Seymour Hoffmann. They lived a few doors down). I guess that may be a weird 1st album but honestly it was so strange, unique and exciting it just spurred my imagination.
Your most recent film was the film was the thriller, Riddle? With Val Kilmer, Diora Baird and Elisabeth Harnois. Tell us about the film and what attracted you to this film?
SG: The people making it! I have worked with John and Brian Hartmann for years and this was all theirs this time (less politics then past projects). They called me one day describing what they were planning with RIDDLE, I was on board right away. We like working together so it was really about what was next for us to work on.
Your score is a wonderful throw back thriller score in the mold of Bernard Herrmann. Tell us about the approach you took in writing the score for the film?
SG: That is exactly it! That was what I proposed to them. I said, “lets do an all strings thriller score like Herrmann did with Psycho”. John Hartman (the director) seemed to like the idea so he let me run with it. I also knew we needed to record live Orchestra on this one for the most part. Too many independent film scores are faking orchestra now (which I hate but have to do myself sometimes) usually this is due to lack of music budget. I was able to talk with the producer of RIDDLE (Brian Hartman) early on and convince him that we had to find a budget to record live (which we did on another film called HACK! to great success musically). I don’t think it took much convincing really. Recording live orchestra really makes a huge difference and gives the film that “feature” feel versus that made-for-TV movie feel.
Did Director John O. Hartman and Nicholas Morss have a specific musical plan for you in mind in regards to the score?
SG: No, I just offered “hey what do you think of this direction musically”. There were a couple scenes that needed some messaging by both directors but generally they just let me run with it.
What was it like working with two directors? Was it harder or easier?
SG: It was fine. Obviously these guys had gone through a whole process of shooting together so by the time they got to me their communication was all worked out. Also they were in Pittsburgh for the whole scoring process. We had a few phone call meetings that did last hours and we did the final mix in LA (where I met Nick for the first time). As for how we worked, I like directors to talk about emotion when trying to express music ideas instead of specifics on instruments, rhythms etc. Something to note here- I have worked with John Hartman on many films (Chasing Ghosts, HACK!, Bridge To Nowhere, & Hollywood & Wine) so our way of communicating has been developed by the time RIDDLE came around. For Riddle, I mostly worked with John but I do remember a few comments with Nick during those phone conversations. John has not been credited for directing those other films mentioned but he was always right there behind the camera. When I first met John, I was visiting the set of HACK! and he was shooting a scene with Kane Hodder (stuntman and actor). I have always thought of John as a director.
All told, how much music did you record for the film?
SG: The score was 81 minutes total excluding the end credits. We only had one day with the orchestra so only 45-minutes were recorded with live orchestra. The rest is all me in my studio. Tracks like “Nightmare Memories” really didn’t need any live orchestra so it worked out really well.
Will there be an album released of this score?
SG: YES! Indeed the score was released this week by Varese Sarabande. There is a little over an hour of music on the album. Such an honor to work with Robert Townson (Executive Producer of Varese Sarabande) again. He always maintains the highest quality with his releases from the artwork to the mastering, it’s the best.
How did you put the album together?
SG: I was working with Robert Townson. We just went through the tracks from the film, finding the best order for a great listening experience. That’s always tricky for me because I am so used to hearing them in the order of the film, but Bob brings new ears to the project suggesting ways to make it better with reordering or editing. Also, since we had too much music, we had to lose tracks and edit or trim a few others. One of the most important people in this process is the mastering engineer, Erick Labson (Universal Music). He is amazing and fixed some problems that just escaped me when I was listening in my studio. We even added another beat of silence before a final chord in the track “Aftermath”, that in the film needed to come early due to something on the screen, but that also made it feel rushed. I am so thankful to work with Erick! He is just great and has worked on just about every Varese Sarabande release for years.
Do you think Riddle ties into your previous works?
SG: RIDDLE was a really wonderful experience for a lot of reason that have nothing to do with the music or the film, it was working with the people and how there were very little politics. Musically, there are certainly similarities to my previous films, BONE DRY and CHASING GHOSTS. Both of those films being in the “thriller” genre and both having a personal musical technique I like to called “building mountains”. Without getting too much into the technicalities of it, basically it is the orchestra starts very low and over a long period, fills to the huge dense complex sound usually over many scenes. This can be heard in RIDDLE at the end of the movie or with the track titled “Aftermath” on the album. If you compare that track to “Interrogation” from Chasing Ghosts or “Epiphany” from Bone Dry you will hear what I mean.
You’ve also branched out into the horror film genre a few times with the horror trilogy Hatchet, Hack!, Lo and Toxic for example. Did you find it a little difficult to transition from say a movie like Chasing Ghosts for example?
SG: No, not really a difficult transition. Chasing Ghosts is a VERY dark film, almost horror in some ways, but I guess a big difference is, in horror films, things jump out at you! So as composers we end up doing “stingers” in music. However, for me, composing is the same difficulty from horror to comedy to SciFi. They all have musical challenges. In fact, I’d say writing music for a romantic comedy is the hardest for me because there is a sound people expect and generally the original voice of a composer gets homogenized. It’s very hard to be original with romantic comedy. John Williams and Rolfe Kent are the best at being themselves musically in that style. i will say I just love this career where I can go from dark horror heavy orchestral sounds to a light lovely tunefully beauty from one month to the next. I hope to never be typecast into any one genre.
Speaking of Chasing Ghosts, let’s talk about that film for a moment. The film was essentially a knock off of The Usual Suspects from the other side of law sorta to speak albeit with a similar twist to that classic film. How did you approach the material on that film made the score work so well?
SG: That is an interesting question. I knew what they were going for, but once I saw it and the complexity of the characters, I came up with a cool musical composition technique rarely heard in scores now call a “leitmotiv”. Originally developed by Richard Wagner in his operas and used to great effect by Korngold in Robin Hood, and Williams in Star Wars. However, I had never heard of it being used in a noir crime drama before. Basically, every character has his theme and if character A is in the room with character B you would hear their themes together. It’s also a great way to allude to a character who is not in he scene but maybe they are talking about them, I can then use that theme. It also can allude to an item or emotion. In Chasing Ghosts it was primarily characters. Very fun. I also did a ton of other compositional architecture in that score. I used a baroque technique called a “passacaglia” for all the murder scene that got bigger and more complex every subsequent time. I really love working out musical puzzles like that.
You also did a thriller called Bone Dry starring Lance Henriksen and Luke Goss. Please tell the readers about the score and its subsequent soundtrack release.
SG: Bone Dry was a very cool thriller by first-time director Brett Hart. I really wish more people had the chance to see the film (it is all about your distribution with these things). Even a very solid film like Bone Dry, without good distribution, will get lost. As for the film itself, Lance and Luke are great as two men hunting each other down in the desert. It is a little bit of Spielberg’s Duel meets The Hitcher. As for the score, Brett had heard my work on Chasing Ghosts and I think that was the general direction he wanted to go, except to make it bigger & longer. That was a challenge. Also, I knew I was not going to write a leitmotiv score because there were only two characters, so I think what he really responded to was my “brooding” dark textures from Chasing Ghosts. For that film, I wrote 100-minutes of music (the most I’ve ever done for a film) and it was a great challenge. We also recorded a remote orchestral recording session to Prague for key sequences in the film. The big moment is the 15-minute symphony at the end of the film / album. Very intense and very powerful emotionally. As for the album, Intrada released that for me. I really liked working with Doug and all the guys there. Here is quick story of how that happened: I was in Bratislava recording the score to the film HACK! and Doug showed up that day to prepare for his recording of Spellbound the next day. We met and I think just started the idea of maybe having Intrada release one of my scores one day. The director of Bone Dry, Brett, is a HUGE soundtrack fan, so between that meeting and Brett contacting them, Intrada released the album but it is rare. Intrada is not normally releasing new composer film scores. They are known for reissuing older scores but I am glad they took the chance with me on that one.
Do you prefer to work mostly action or horror films or do you prefer to work in other genres personally?
SG: I work in the genre of the film of the person who calls me to score their film! No, I really like to keep a steady flow of diverse projects to keep me musically challenged; however, I do think I resonate more in darker horror, thriller, drama, action films more naturally then say, romantic-comedy or lighter type films. I think if my entire career was all thriller, drama or Sci-Fi I would be ok with that. It is fun having a healthy diversification in a music career. I would go nuts doing only one style of music for my entire life.
Do you find it difficult for your work to compete with pre-recorded music when it’s used in a particular film?
SG: ”Pre-Recorded”? I think you mean the habit of film makers to use “temp music” when editing their films or using it as a way to tell a composer what they want. Temp music is tricky. It can be a great tool to communicate but, it also can be a hindrance to creative ideas or different ways to approach a scene. I try to avoid it mostly especially if it is my own music (nothing like trying to top yourself). However, I have found myself in the job of “temp recreator” recently which is unfortunate, but a part the job of being a composer working in films. There is certainly a fun challenge is trying to recreate someone else’s musical cue that was probably recorded with 10 times the budget and make it my own.
You also worked on Robotech: Shadow Chronicles, a few years ago which is how I personally discovered your work along with the fact that I remembered the cartoon. You wrote a neat and engaging score for that film, tell us about the approach you took working with animation?
SG: That is another leitmotiv score! In that case, they were also listening to Chasing Ghosts (in fact, an early trailer was temped with it). Because Robotech had a lot of different characters and development, I decided to again use the leitmotiv technique. It really works well with these types of films with a lot of characters. The other conversation I had with the director was about the music from the original show and how to modernize it. We spoke about Horner and his taking Start Trek into new musical territory with Star Trek 2. We spoke a lot about Star Wars, so basically it was a mash-up of Star Wars, Star Trek, and the original Robotech music. As for working with animation, that was new to me. I started with what they call a “pencil test” version of the film (looks like character paper cut out bouncing along the screen with the dialog). For the most part it worked out well except one scene where the bad guys get their new orders from their superior via a laser beam to the head. In the pencil test it was a slow draw across the screen which I wrote this slow crawling chromatic line down in the winds. When I saw the final it was a quick zap! You can’t win them all. I left the music as I originally wrote it which can be heard in the track “The Awareness” on the album.
Robotech: Shadow Chronicles also marked your very first soundtrack release by the great label, Varese Sarabande. How did you feel when they decided to release the music to that film?
SG: Robotech was also a big moment for me as a composer because as my childhood dream of someday having an album released by Varese Sarabande was realized! It was a huge deal for me. I still thank Robert Townson for deciding to do it. I am betting the fact that Robotech was a well known franchise had contributed to that decision. As a side note, I just finished working on arrangements for the forthcoming film “ROBOTECH: LOVE, LIVE, ALIVE” so there is more Robotech coming your way soon.
The Gene Generation was another soundtrack released by Varese Sarabande not too long after Robotech, which was very energetic and unique work. Tell me about your experiences on that score as well, as the soundtrack.
SG: The Gene Generation still holds a special place in my heart. I came up with a nice little main theme for the character Michelle and I was lucky to have it played by a wonderful player (Yunhe Liang on Zhonghu, a Chinese cello-style instrument). Another great aspect for that score was the vocals of Melissa R. Kaplan. I had met her years ago while working for Ed Shearmur. He worked with her on K-Pax and few others films of his so I felt honored to work with her again (she also sang on Robotech for me). In The Gene Generation, I had her sing “pan-ethnically” which is a little hard to describe. Basically the director, Pearry Teo, created a alphabet for his film. Mostly for the signs or computer screens in this future dystopian universe the film takes place in. I assign phonetics to each of those syllables and had Melissa sing these phonetics, but I didn’t stop there. I also told her to start the vocal line in a Bulgarian style singing that she is known for but then mid way switch to Cantonese opera style ending with Indian Raga melismas. It came out very unique sounding. I think my only regret about The Gene Generation score was that there was no budget to record the orchestra live, I had to fake it. I think if I’d done that it would have been totally perfect, but you know, as an artist we always want more and feel we can do better. In the end, The Gene Generation came out as a very nice score that I am proud to have had the chance to write.
You were taught by Academy Award winner John Corigliano, who was also the mentor for Elliot Goldenthal. Tell us about your experiences learning from a highly regarded composer such as him.
SG: John Corigliano was a landmark in my training for sure. I worked with him twice. Once while at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and a few years later at the Aspen Music Festival. I think Apsen was a much better 1-on-1 experience for me. Uniquely, his focus while teaching in Aspen was on his film music which is really rare! Most of the time, he teaches concert music at Juilliard and such. For me being around him really taught me the level of quality that I needed to aspire to as a composer. John hears everything in his head when looking at a full score, he walks and breathes music, he can conceive of the grand structure of a score and he teaches composers to tell a story with their music using focused ideas instead of what most young composers do; putting far too many ideas in their work. This concept has stayed with me over the years and for me the best film scores are the ones that take us on a musical adventure with the film. I think of film composers like screenwriters. We are there to tell a story musically and to accompany the story being told. We should develop themes, have acts of dramatic arcs and come to a place of arrival at the end of a film. I am really not for the composers who just write tracks in their studio away from the film and hand the tracks to editor to drop in randomly. That for me is not film scoring as the craft. It should be a tapestry of music that moves with the film, acknowledges various points in the scene and supports the emotional undercurrent of the film. That’s the beauty of film scoring; it is that hyper-reality, the sub-text of the film and it’s characters we get to work with. We also get the wonderful opportunity to emotionally direct the audience. That is a great thing--- to make people jump in a horror movie, or swoon at the love scene, or be thrilled at the hero winning the fight! That’s what thrills me and a huge reason I am a composer. Connecting with people wether they know it or not!
I also worked with Goldenthal when he was premiering his ballet with the San Francisco ballet. I was studying conducting at the time with the previous conductor of the ballet so he pulled some strings for me to understudy that score. I really didn’t work much with Goldenthal. I was at the rehearsals and so was he. It was still quite a memorable experience for me and certainly I am a huge fan of Goldenthal’s music.
When you score a film, do you do all your own orchestrations? Please tell the readers what an orchestrator does.
SG; An Orchestrator takes the composer’s ideas and assigns them to the various parts of the orchestra (ie. winds, brass, percussion, etc). Generally composers work in sketch form, either a sketch orchestra of a few staff lines or tracks in a computer program. The Orchestrator takes those ideas which could be as simple as a theme over chords played on the piano to fully-rendered fake orchestral mockups and puts them to full orchestral score paper (which then goes to a copiest to make parts for the players). They are vital in that they help us think of music on more of a basic level of “these notes are in the winds” versus “the flute gets this note, the oboe gets that one”, etc. They also know how to make the music sound just a little better or fuller through their insights into what works well for the orchestra. Trained composers know this stuff generally, but our focus is on the notes and the time we have left to write them.
How important is an orchestrator to you?
SG: An Orchestrator is very important to me. They help me stay focused on my primary job of picking the notes. It’s a lot of stuff to be done by the composer on a film, so it is great to have trained people helping you through the process and in some cases giving you feedback on what works and doesn’t. My primary orchestrator, Tim Rodier, has been with me over many films, and I trust his opinions with my music. My sketches are usually fully worked out; however, sometimes, it is nice to have another set of trained ears on the music before it gets recorded.
It is hard for you do action films as opposed to something more dramatic for example?
SG: Yes. For the simple fact that action is a LOT of notes to write at quick tempos. Then it is ultimately buried by the movie sound effects of gun shots, laser beams, or any sort of machine sounds. On Hack! for instance, “chainsaw love” cue is all chainsaw sounds in the movie but it is a fun track on the album. It’s tough work and takes time to do, but there is no time on these films. I remember on Robotech spending 3-4 days on one space battle. I think with drama I resonate more and come up with ideas easier that I know will also potentially be heard in the film, but I do enjoy action at times too (if there is time to write it). The pressure of time on films is really very intense and can stress a composer out tremendously; sometimes getting great work, but also not being great for a person’s health. I like deadlines, but the pressure can be intense to force creativity on a large scale. Composers write 60+ minutes of professional music in a month whereas a band may spend a whole year on an album.
What was the hardest film you’ve had to score to date and why?
SG: They all have their unique challenges. I think THE LEGEND OF AWESOMEST MAXIMUS was the toughest so far for one reason; I had about 10 days to write 80+ minutes of epic Roman music as a parody to sound like Gladiator, Troy, 300, and Braveheart. Also, there was no budget to hire help or to record a live orchestra so it was just a challenge of time and money. Basically, I got the score done but it did drag on a few months after for the song replacements (which I ended up having to create), and the main title which showed up months later. I think in the end, I probably had more time to do the score, but the producers told me 10 days at the time. I wish I would have known so I could have at least slept or worked in a reoccurring theme. It was just a no-sleep week of writing as fast as I could type of project. That’s a little too much for me without a team to help, but I am happy with how it came out. I still plan to release the album someday when I can find the time to master it and release it.
Do you think movies have changed for better or worse since you’ve become a composer?
SG: You know, I like to remain optimistic in life. So much stuff can get us down if we let it, so for me it is better. There is much to not be happy with; homogeneity in musical ideas and sound, more and more faking orchestras, crazy budgets and schedules, writing music without picture to be dropped in and then, hopefully, through serendipity something hits. It’s kind of a crazy time, but at least now we can produce very convincing scores out of our home studios. I can really write anything musically I can come up with and realize it using computers. The limitations have really gone with what can be imagined musically. The other great thing right now is that anyone can be given the chance to shine in this business. In the past it was a very particular skill being a film composer but now a guy who does trailers or is in a band can score a huge big budget studio film. It is open to good work and bad, cheap, not-good-dramatically, work too. I guess it is a double-edged sword. For the most part, I am optimistic for the future and hope that I can be around (and still get the calls) to contribute to that future.
What do you think about films today in general in terms of film scoring?
SG: Generally there is really great work happening! Life of Pi, Cloud Atlas, Argo, Lincoln were all great examples of excellent filmmaking recently, which helps me to ignore all the terrible remakes and musically bad choices (even critically-acclaimed music) being made. I will say, I was thrilled with THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN and James Horner’s score in that film. It really was the best remake I have seen and generally a very well-balanced film (I was surprised because I was expecting to hate it). I do love superhero films! I guess that’s because I grew up reading comics. Someday I hope to get the chance to score a superhero film.
What is your favorite film score that you haven’t written?
SG: BACK TO THE FUTURE. It’s fun, exciting, filled with great big, bold orchestra. Then of course ALIEN by Goldsmith. Too bad it wasn’t entirely used in the film, but what a great score it is. John Williams EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is also a all time favorite!I really don’t know if I have an all-time favorite, but I know what inspires me. That I think is the true test of an artist, how he inspires others in their work or even in life.
What is your favorite film that you have scored to date?
SG: Very hard to answer this because they all have good elements to them. I think HACK! is the best recorded score I have done. I think BONE DRY has some of the best drama-to-action-to-cathartic-elements to it. I think the theme from LO and GENE GENERATION have been my most memorable. There are great things about CHASING GHOSTS too with it’s leitmotiv writing which I never hear any more. I think RIDDLE has some very wonderful moments in it, too. I think also, for most composers it is our most recent work that we favor because it is new. HATCHET 3 came out very nice in the end. I hope we get to release that one as an album.
What is your dream project?
SG: To do a superhero or Alien franchise movie would be awesome! I think it all goes back to what you dream about as a kid. What films, what music, what everything that inspired you is what we want to be involved with as adults, and it is being true to yourself to do so.
Please tell the readers about your latest upcoming projects you have.
SG: As already mentioned, I finished the score to HACHET 3 in January and now I am working on the score to the Romantic-Comedy film starring Haylie Duff called THE WEDDING PACT. After that, I am looking for the next project. Composers are always in two states of mind, freaking out trying to finish a huge amount of music on time or freaking out because they have no work. We never have much time in between for vacations (at least I don’t) but I wouldn’t trade the adventure of being a busy film composer with any other job on the planet. I feel very lucky so far.
I really want to thank you once again Scott for granting me this interview and I’m looking forward to your future projects.
SG: Thanks so much for doing this! I really appreciate it. It has been fun!
Very very special thanks so much for Scott for great interview and amazing insight on the industry. You're best!
For more info on Scott's work and future projects Hatchet 3 and The Wedding Pact head over to his webpage http://www.scottglasgowmusic.com/
Riddle is available on Varese Sarabande Records http://www.varesesarabande.com/servlet/the-1098/Riddle/Detail
Bone Dry is available on Intrada Records http://store.intrada.com/s.nl/it.A/id.5736/.f