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The Wonderful Musical "Labors" Of "Labor Day" Composer Rolfe Kent

Boy does time fly. It's amazing how far composer and genius Rolfe Kent has come since working with Director Alexander Payne on "Citizen Ruth" in 1996. Through the years, Rolfe's musical abilities evolved through some very unique and now memorable films such as "Election", "The Slums Of Beverly Hills", "Nurse Betty" and "The Theory Of Flight". After scoring the surprise blockbuster hits in the comedy, "Legally Blonde" and the time travelling romance of "Kate & Leopold" starring Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman. Rolfe's music was reaching the top of the mountain and has stayed there ever since with another blockbuster hit in the Disney remake of "Freaky Friday" starring Jaime Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan and followed with another blockbuster hit starring Lohan in the classic comedy, "Mean Girls".

Composer Rolfe Kent the grand musical mind of Jason Reitman's Labor Day and the upcoming horror comedy Vampire Academy.
Courtesy of Getty Images

Add to that, his collaboration with Alexander Payne on two Oscar nominated films in "About Schmidt" and the critically acclaimed "Sideways", contributing a brilliant jazz score that is infectious and catchy fitting the mood of the film quite perfectly which would translate exceptionally well into the dramas "Reign Over Me" starring Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle, the Oscar Nominated "Up In The Air" starring Oscar winner George Clooney and the Zac Efron starrer "Charlie St.Cloud", writing a very special dramatic scores for those films. After writing a memorable comedy score for the hit "Mr.Popper's Penguins" starring Jim Carrey, Rolfe has reteamed with Director Jason Reitman once again for his latest film, "Labor Day" starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin which is based on the novel by Joyce Maynard.

After a very insightful interview with Rolfe many years ago on his acclaimed "Mr. Popper's Penguins" score, this very special interview coincides with the recent release of his soundtrack for "Labor Day", Rolfe candidly shares with me his personal insight on the film as well the soundtrack along with many of his upcoming films on his very busy slate that include "Vampire Academy", "Bad Words" and "Don Hemingway". I'm very greatful for Rolfe for taking his time out of his very busy schedule to reteam for this interview and a total class act I definitely must say. So sit back and enjoy!

To refresh the readers, please tell the readers about what made you become
interested in music and composing.

RK: I have been “composing” for as long as I can remember- coming up with tunes, and
working out how to play and arrange them. I recall seeing a three-piece band accompanying local theatre when I was 5, and trying to persuade my mum to let me learn double bass. Through my teens I kept picking up different instruments and trying to teach myself to play them.

Let’s talk about your recent work on the film “Labor Day” starring Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet which also reteams you with Director Jason Reitman. What got you interested in this project?

RK: Jason Reitman asked me to start composing before they’d shot a frame! I’d read the book, and was intrigued to see what he would make from it. During production I went to Massachusetts to visit and meet the cast, and it was interesting how Jason was getting everyone to work outside of what they knew. Everything about it was different for everyone involved. When Jason had a rough edit of the film, he came to me and told me this was going to stretch me in new ways and he was so right. I thought it was just talk, but I quickly began to realize this was going to be very different for me.

Let’s talk about the score. Was it easy for you to come up with themes for it
or did that take a little time?

RK: At first there were no themes - Jason wanted moods and atmospheres, not melodies. So I got into discovering how to create organic textures, by using a variety of acoustic instruments and then processing them through warping processors. Then I’d layer them, and mix, and write strings around them. Or I’d come up with a pulse, some dark drum sound, and work from that. Melodies came later, when certain moments needed something very specific. There is one tune where I was told that the audience must be moved to tears! I thought, Oh Help, that’s a tall order. But I started playing the piano very softly, creating as fragile a melody as I could, and it seemed to work.

When you spotted the film with Jason, did he tell you exactly what he wanted the music to sound like or did he pretty much give you the leeway to write what you felt passionate about the film?

RK: Jason didn’t know what the sounds were going to be, so he left me to discover things and then I’d show him what I’d come up with. For the first few weeks he didn’t like anything, and I got rather anxious, started wondering what was ever going to work. But then with experimentation I found a sound that Jason responded to and gradually I started to understand what he was looking for.

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

RK: About 65 minutes.

What were the recording sessions like?

RK: Almost all the recording was done in my workshop, with me alone with a mic. So that’s really how it all happened. I’d pick up whatever instrument I wanted to use, which included charango and guitar, and then I’d record a bit, and then play with processors to see what it could morph into. It was slow, cumulative work.

Let’s talk about the soundtrack album, what was it like putting it together?

RK: Quite simple. Jason is very involved, so I showed him a list of my favourite tracks, and he paired it down a little to allow for the songs, and the fact it had to fit on 2 sides of an LP. As with UP IN THE AIR this is first an LP, then a CD/Digital release.

Let’s talk about another film that you have coming out in the comedy “Vampire
Academy” which reunites you with your frequent collaborator in director Mark
Watters. What made you take on this film?

RK: Mark did. He’s always a favourite person to work with.

What was your approach to the score after viewing and spotting the film with Mark?

RK: I knew it was going to be dark, moody and full of action, but also had some opportunities for terrific emotional melody. At first I was thinking, let’s not use big heavy drums everywhere, because that’s so ubiquitous these days. But after a while I realized that was what this film needed; some juicy big bottom-end power to go with my themes and the action.

Did the tone and themes of the score come to you instantly for this film like “Labor Day”?

RK: Who said Labor Day happened instantly? Quite the opposite-they took ages. And on VAMPIRE ACADEMY it was a bit more traditional, so the themes came a littlefaster. I was conscious that this might be a series of films, so I wanted any theme to be able to hold up over any sequels. There is a main theme for the main two girls, and it came out amazingly.

Please tell us about the score itself and what should we expect when we see the film?

RK: I think you just have to delve in and see it for yourself. It’s a nice change of pace for me to write muscular, noisy music for a change. I have yet to see the finished film with the final mix, but I hope it has as much power as it did in the studio.

Will there be a release of your score for Vampire Academy?

RK: I hope so.

Let’s talk about yet another film in your busy late surge of 2013/14 with Jason Bateman’s highly anticipated directorial debut for the comedy “Bad Words”. What attracted you to this film?

RK: Jason Bateman is a very charming fellow, and so it was really just the chance to
work with him.

What tone did Jason want for this score, that you immediately just said “Yes”, I can do it?

RK: He was very open, and has a very creative vibe. We talked about doing it all with woodwind, and he said he’d love that, and I thought to myself that this is a rare director that can be so open to interesting ideas.

Was writing a theme for this score for you very easy and simple like your other scores?

RK: Again, I don’t know where you get this idea that it is ever simple. No, here in BAD WORDS it’s a surprising film, with very interesting energies, so it took a while to figure out how to play it.

After writing so many comedy scores, did writing the scores to both “Bad Words” and “Vampire Academy” come pretty easy for you as compared to writing another project that we’ll get to in “Dom Hemingway”?

RK: Well, VA isn’t really a comedy, so that was very different, and I must say comedy writing is actually the hardest of all. Now I get more dramas I love it, as it is so much easier to compose for dramas, and everyone pays much more attention to the music. DOM was difficult for different reasons. First, Richard Shepard insists I score it seriously, not as comedy. Second, he wanted a new feel to it, unlike anything I’d ever done. I got halfway through completing the score when I
discovered a new approach and suddenly Richard was saying “That’s great! Start
over with that approach” and I had to throw out all the previous music!

Now let’s talk about your future project “Dom Hemingway” starring Jude Law and Emilia Clarke. The film looks very entertaining, was this the reason that you got attached to it?

RK: No, as always its the director that makes me want to do a project. Almost always
is. Richard and I go way back. That and all the swearing, that really sold me on it.

Was Law’s character the first theme that you came up with musically or did you go in another direction?

RK: I think it was Dom’s feeling for his daughter that was the first theme I wrote.
There’s a hint of it in the pub near the beginning.

How much time did you have to write the score?

RK: About a month.

Will the soundtrack featuring your score be released?

RK: Yes.

This obviously has been a very busy year for you. Do you enjoy that aspect of
writing film music?

RK: Being busy, No. I get too exhausted, because I get too caught up in it, the work
and the music rather takes over one’s life. So I need a break and to chill for a
bit. 2013 was super busy, and it took it out of me.

When you’re not as busy, what do you do to keep yourself fresh for the next film that comes along?

RK: I travel a fair bit, and I love to travel. And I am always working in theatre, and that’s a very different atmosphere, so I love that.

What is your favorite film score that you haven’t written?

RK: I’d love to do a very operatic score, lots of solo voices as well as choir. I don’t want to write an opera, but I did use 2 sopranos in both MEAN GIRLS and in THE HUNTING PARTY, and that has something to it, that idea of simply beautiful duet voices.

Who is your favorite director that you’ve worked with?

All directors are so different, and so driven, and bring different things out of me, so each one is a fantastic collaborator on the music. The process is so rich for me because of their involvement.

What is your favorite film that you’ve personally scored to date?

LABOR DAY. I don’t really have a favourite film, because you know I lived with each for so long, it’s not the same as being an audience member.

Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects.

RK: Well, there’s 108 DEMONS, a French film, and there’s The Undoing, which is an immersive musical. Fun projects both!

Very special and heartfelt thanks to Rolfe for once again sharing his wonderful insights on his latest projects and personal passions. You're the best. Also very special thanks to Beth Krakowker for always making things so smooth with these great musical minds. Keep smiling you're brilliant!

Please visit Rolfe's official webpage at for updates on his latest film projects as well as samples of his wonderful music.

The soundtrack to "Labor Day" is now available on Warner Bros. Records available to order at and iTunes downloads.

Here is Rolfe's Bio:

"Unexpected texture, sounds and a signature musical personality are the hallmarks of British film composer Rolfe Kent, who has scored more than 50 films, including Academy Award nominated UP IN THE AIR (for which he won a Golden Satellite award), SIDEWAYS (for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award in 2007), YOUNG ADULT, CHARLIE ST. CLOUD, ABOUT SCHMIDT, ELECTION, MEAN GIRLS, LEGALLY BLONDE and LEGALLY BLONDE II, WEDDING CRASHERS, THE MATADOR, REIGN OVER ME, THE HUNTING PARTY, THE GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST, and THANK YOU FOR SMOKING. Kent also composed the Emmy-nominated main title theme for the Showtime hit, DEXTER. In 2012, he received the Richard Kirk award for career achievement.

Born in England into a non-musical family, Kent intuitively felt at age 12 that he wanted to be a film composer, although his early musical training was brief and not so formal. Citing Jarre's Lawrence of Arabia and Morricone's The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, as inspirations, Kent took the advice of an early music teacher to avoid rigid course work that would dampen his enthusiasm. He followed an entirely different path and, taking counterpoint to what is often cited as culture mired in cynicism, profited from his early course work in theology to relate it to music.


After enrolling in psychology studies at University of Leeds in Yorkshire, Kent's musical career was casually begun at a dance club when the director of a play offered him a chance to "do" the music. His jump-start was his composition for a stage musical Gross at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a springboard for authors, composers and performers.

In the confines of his musically busy studio, one can immediately see why his musical personality is as distinct and his own. Constantly on the go, adventurous and curious, Kent has developed a style that is not only distinct, but indicative of his aversion to the-anticipated-score in tone, texture and rhythm. The walls are lined with many familiar and many more unfamiliar instruments, gingerly handled and gleefully demonstrated for their sonic qualities. Among his collection are the Indonesian percussion instrument the angklung, the shawm (first used in military maneuvers as a psychological weapon), the melodica, used for the light, soothing effect in Kent's jazz-infused score for his Golden Globe-nominated SIDEWAYS, and an instrument he discovered and cannot name that sounds like the world's beaches at their most romantic high tide... combined.

At first blush, Kent takes his initial cue from the film's director and infuses it with his own voice, striving to make the difference between looking at a film and being absorbed by it. In Jason Reitman's LABOR DAY Kent took intimate instrumentation, including guitars, charango and sounds of crickets, and processed them to create intense moody ambiences, at once both organic and other-worldly, delicately navigating a line between tension and emotion.

In addition to Reitman, Kent has the distinction of attracting and sustaining relationships with directors as popular and diverse as Alexander Payne, Mark Waters, Richard Shepard, and Burr Steers. Kent's upcoming films include LABOR DAY (Jason Reitman), DOM HEMINGWAY (Richard Shepard), BAD WORDS (film directorial debut of Jason Bateman) and THE SCAPEGOAT (Nicolas Bary)."

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