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Phoned interview

Interview with Christophe Beck at

[Music from We Are Marshall soundtrack]

INTERVIEWER: Hello everyone, welcome back to, composer interviews. We're happy to have with us today Chris Beck. Chris, how are you?

CHRIS BECK: I'm doing great. How are you?

I: I'm doing well too, thank you. What can you tell us about your most recent film, the score for We Are Marshall?

CB: Well it's .. my favourite project I've worked on for quite a while. I'm really pleased with the end result of the film and the score. Working with McG was an adventure and really really fun. He's incredibly charismatic and passionate and not a little insane. And so it was really fun because we were going on a ride with him doing this movie. I'm really pleased with the end result.

I: Well that's great. How did you first get involved with the project and at what stage did you get involved in creating the music for the film?

CB: Well I had worked with McG very very briefly actually on a project completely unrelated to the film business: a record (I believe it was a Sugar Ray record) several years back. We have a friend in common and I was recommended to do string arrangements for one song and that's how I got to know him, and he remembered me (this is now four years later) when my name came up for this movie, and I think he liked what he heard on my demo CD, and hired me. Pretty early. This was pretty early in shooting, about half way into shooting when I got hired. And it's always great to be hired early on a project because it gives time to experiment without too much pressure, work on themes etc.

I: Yeah, I can imagine so. Now, when a composer takes on a movie that deals with a real life tragedy how difficult is it to gauge the right type of music that you're going to use in it?

CB: Well, a film is about storytelling and whether the story is based on a true event or not the challenges for a film composer are the same: how best to enhance what's going on in the screen in a way that is in unison with the filmmaker's vision. Um, I will say that working on a true story was very exiting because you could go on some of the message boards discussing the movie on the internet and find people who've lost relatives in the crash participating in these messageboards about the film, or people who are actually depicted in the film and are still alive, and it was really special to be a part of that. But as far as mechanics of scoring the film, you know, I've got the picture in front of me and I've got the story and I've got to be part of the storytelling team - that works the same whether it's a true story or not.

I: Seems like there's a little bit more merit when you're dealing with a true story as opposed to what some of what's out there right now.

CB: Sure.

I: Now, can you tell us about a soundtrack release to this film, or will your score be included in it? Do you have any information on that?

CB: Actually to the best of my knowledge there are going to be two soundtracks to the film. The one I know of that actually exists and is coming out soon and is the score soundtrack, and that's music only from the score to the film by me, and that's coming out I think next week on the 19th on Varese Sarabande. And I know they have plans for a song soundtrack as well - there's [??] a period piece, there's no opportunities to use songs from the period of the late 60's, early 70's, and they're used to great effect in the film and it would make a great soundtrack. I know they're planning one, I have not yet seen it announced. I have no doubt it will be released sometime.

I: Okay, great. Now, in this case transitioning from television to film music, what are some of the challenges involved with that that you've picked up on?

CB: Well there are some superficial challenges. For example, budget and time. There aren't enough resources to have a live orchestra when you're doing a television show. The show I was one - Buffy The Vampire Slayer - required a really traditional symphonic score and I had to realise that electronically in my home studio. And I had to write 6, 8, 10 minutes a day, working in TV whereas now I enjoy a comparative luxury only having to write maybe 2 or 3. But besides that, like I said before, the question about how a story being true effects the job of being a film composer, besides those two differences there's really no difference in the mechanics of scoring. Once again you're faced with a picture and how best to solve the problem of putting music under it, and aside from all that the biggest difference is really perceptual, and I'm talking about the people in the industry who are, quite naturally because it's human nature, very quick to put people into boxes, and when you're in that TV composer box it's hard to be thought of as a film composer, and it's very easy for people in the film world to think, "oh that guy's a TV composer - he wouldn't be appropriate for the film". So I really had to take a bold step and kindof start over. And that's what I did. I quit all my TV shows and sortof hung up my hat: "hey, I'm a film composer now; I quit all my TV shows; I'm available, let's do it". And it took a year or two befor ethings really started moving in the right direction, but that's really what I had to do to change. Again, I think that the differences when it comes to the actual composing work are minimal and superficial - just how you're perceived in the industry.

I: Seems like you had to go cold turkey from television altogether. And in a way I suppose that's unfortunate given the way the industry is. Do you miss anything from television scoring at this point?

CB: You know, I do. It hasn't been quite cold turkey. I have returned periodically: I did come back to do one episode of Buffy (I believe it was the 100th episode), and I did come back also to do the musical episode. And just recently a director I worked with on a film had a TV pilot that I came on to score. It was called Daybreak. It was on ABC. It kindof replaced Lost in its timeslot. And I did about half the first episode, then handed it on to another composer. So I recently had the experience of going back to TV, and it was a nice place to visit but I'm not sure I want to live there.

I: I guess it's a matter of establishing yourself in a certain direction to kindof give you the leeway to come back.

CB: Well exactly. ... The good part about returning to TV is, you know, you're not stuck on a project for six months: you're in, you're out, it's efficient, but what I don't miss is havcing to turn out so much music so quickly, week in week out for a whole year.

I: Yeah I bet. It's hard to keep that creative energy I'm sure when you're dealing with fatigue.

CB: Right, exactly. Like, okay, here's the 100th episode of Buffy fighting vampires I've scored - how can I do it differently this time?

I: Right, where's my inspiration? Now you must enjoy the diversity some of your film scoring assignments have given you, though, is that correct?

CB: Ah, that's absolutely correct. It's great.

I: And I was going to ask you, how could you describe what your style is to people who might be new to your work, but I guess [it] really depends on the score they're listening to?

CB: Yeah, I do a lot of different styles, a lot of different kinds of movies, I really like it that way. I can recognise my style because I'm me. As to actually describing it, I don't know how I would put that into words. You know, I would certainly like to think of myself as a composer who writes strong themes, and when appropriate ...high concept, sound design, but that's for other people to judge. To tell you the truth I wouldn't really know how to describe my style. I'm sure my agent's good.

I: [Laughs]. In a creative field it is kindof tough to gauge a question like that.

CB: Right, I certainly have my favourite devices and my favourite kinds of things to do, but the work is so varied because it really depends on the need of the project and the tastes of the people I'm working with, so you never really know what to expect.

I: Now, who were, and still might be, your musical influences?

CB: Well I would have to put at the top of the list Jerry Goldsmith who I actually had the pleasure of studying with years ago when he taught at USC. And he taught me (and the rest of us in my class) the importance of a strong melody, a strong theme, and to take the time at the outset to make sure that you have your materials all set and that it's very strong. And as I found out with We Are Marshall, which is by far my most dramatic score yet, when you have your themes done and you're happy with them, it's just so much easier to write the rest of the score, because the decision of what elements to use is for the most part made for you. It's not like, "okay, here's a scene that I'm looking at and there's a blank canvass and what am I going to do here?", it's more like, "okay, here's a scene, what theme would be appropriate, and how can I arrange it or orchestrate it in such a way that it works with the ebbs and flows of the scene, and the demands of the theme itself?"

I: Yeah, that's interesting. And it must have been a heck of a course to take for someone like you.

CB: Yeah, it was great. He also emphasized the imprtance of being economical. He's really the master of that. He was a master of making a whole score out of nothing basically, and I certainly don't mean that as a comment on the quality of the music, but he can make a three minute chase cue out of a three-note motive, and it's tight and focussed and just constructed really really well, and I think he's the master of that.

I: In closing here I'd like to segue into what you might have lined up in the furture. What are some of the scores you might be working on for the future?

CB: Well I''m just finishing up now on a movie called Year Of The Dog which is directed by Mike White. Mike is a very special writer. He wrote School Of Rock and The Good Girl and Nacho Libre, and this is his directorial debut, and it's a very quirky sortof comedic drama that stars Molly Shannon. Basically about the relationship between a woman and her dog and what happens when the dog dies and how it affects her life. And it's a total change of pace from certainly We Are Marshall, you know - and intimate small ensemble as opposed to a giant orchestra. And while certainly there are themes in this score, it's really more about rhythms and textures: it's a 180 from We Are Marshall so it's very refreshing. After that I'm doing a Robin Williams comedy called License to Wed, and who knows after that.

I: Well we'll be looking forward to We Are Marshall. It sounds like it's going to be an interesting experience, so cross the board with it.

CB: Great.

I: Thank you for your time.

[Music from We Are Marshall soundtrack]