An Interview with Andrew Lockington by John Mansell
You have been working on JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH which is due for release this year, what size orchestra did you utilise on this project?
The score for Journey was recorded at Air Lyndhurst in London. The orchestra was contracted by Isobel Griffiths who put together the most incredible group of musicians. At one point Andrew Dudman, my engineer, turned to me with a smile because he’d noticed the three trumpet players consisted of “the guy who plays all of John Williams stuff, the guy who played the Rocky Theme, and the guy who plays on all the Bond scores”. We had that caliber of talent in all the other sections as well. I’m not sure of the final numbers on the orchestra but with the overdubs it was approximately 90 players. It was a technically challenging score to play, a challenge which these players took on and conquered. Even more impressive was that after they were done doing two 3 hour sessions for us, they would hop across London to Abbey Road and record late into the night for THE GOLDEN COMPASS. Despite the crazy schedule, they always showed up in top form the next morning.
What musical education did you receive, and what instrument or instruments did you concentrate upon?
I played piano from an early age, and very quickly took to writing my own music. I always found myself wandering in a different musical direction after playing the first few bars of a classical piece – a trait that’s not appreciated by most piano teachers. Then, inevitably, I found my way into a rock band. The last few years of high school were often spent with classes in the day and playing clubs at night. Quite serendipitously, the group disbanded right around the time university applications were due and I went on to study music composition at Wilfrid Laurier University.
What would you say was the purpose of music in film?
That’s an interesting question that has a different answer for pretty much every film. I think most composers like to think of what they do as contributing to the story-telling in whatever way best serves the story. Personally, I feel a strong thematic score serves to bond a film together into a complete overall experience for the audience. It’s easy for a film-maker to veer towards making a score a series of music that best serves every two minutes of film, in the same way temp music does. A good film composer looks at the film as a whole first and uses the scenes to accomplish the overall goal of the music, rather than creating a collection of oscar clips to each scene. Leaving a theatre not having been aware of the score isn’t always a bad thing, but hearing the theme later and not remembering it, is.
Do you orchestrate all of your own music?
I used to. In fact earlier in my career I was fortunate to orchestrate for a other talented composers as well, so it’s common for people to assume I do it myself. I guess in many ways we all orchestrate our own material to some extent by the mere fact that in today’s film world, perfect midi mock-ups are a necessity. I think the days are gone where a composer would write a theme and a cue on the piano and have the orchestrator figure out the voicings from that. I know for me much of the orchestration is decided in the writing process. Once a cue is approved I pass it along to my long time orchestrator Nicholas Dodd. He’s an incredible talent both as an orchestrator and as a conductor and I can’t imagine doing an orchestral score without him.
When and where were you born, and do you come from a family that is musical at all?
I was born in 1974 in a city just outside Toronto, Canada. Both my parents studied piano when they were younger. As children, we too were put in piano lessons at a very young age. My father had 2 or 3 pieces that were favourites of his that he would often sit and play on a Friday or Saturday night before bed. ‘Für Elise’ was one of theme. To this day he plays those pieces as well as anyone I’ve heard. I remember encouraging him to keep playing by putting money in a glass on the top of the piano until my allowance was spent, only to have him return it after the show. My grandfather just turned 90 and still plays the cello. My sisters are both musical. I guess my entire family shares an appreciation of music, but I was the only one who pursued it as a career.
Did you always want to write music for film?
Yes and no. I think I realized early on that my I had a strongest emotional response to film music. I was a pretty impressionable kid when STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES and ET were released, and I spent a lot of time figuring out how to play those themes on the piano when I should have been practicing Mozart. In High School the allure of the rock band had me wanting to be a singer/songwriter, and I took to writing songs more than instrumental music. I still enjoy songwriting and often have a song or two in the soundtracks of my films.
When you agree to do a project, how many times do you normally have to watch the film before getting any fixed ideas about what type of music is required and where it will be placed etc?
Theme writing is by far the most important part of film composing. It’s 90% of the work. The first time I see a film I immediately start hearing ideas, but I make every effort to view the film as an entire piece before figuring out an approach. When I got hired on JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, the first thing I did is go on ebay and buy the book. I was lucky to find one of the first printings from the late 1800s. It had all the original lithographs printed from the carved illustrations that Jules Verne himself supervised. I became very fascinated with Jules Verne and his incredible creative mind. We live in a time when inventions and discovery and the “unimaginable becoming reality” is fairly common. Back then, it was an incredible concept. Jules Verne’s book is very much a character in this film, and understanding the story from the source sucked me into Verne’s world.
From the first time you read the script or see the cut, communication with the director from the beginning is crucial. Eric Brevig had valuable insight into the story and the relationships on screen. At his core, Eric’s a master storyteller. He’s very good at looking at the big picture underlying themes of a story, and approached the music and the themes that way as well. We spent a lot of time talking about the underlying relationships and elements of the Journey that the score ultimately parallels. While Eric didn’t have the musical vocabulary to describe what he was looking for, he was able to communicate very well conceptually just what he wanted the music to accomplish.
The question of the use of the temp track is something that composers have different opinions upon, do you favour the use of the temp track on movies, or do you think that this practise is sometimes less than productive?
A few years ago that would have been an easy question to answer. I would have told you about my distain for temp music and how many great scores have never been realized because the composer was told to “copy the temp”. I would have told you that if “temping” a film didn’t exist we would have heard many more innovative and original scores in the past 20 years.
Today, I’d tell you the other side of that, I’ve worked for a few directors who have a very specific idea of what they’re looking for musically but have no way of describing it. In that sense, temp music can audition a multitude of approaches very quickly and get the composer and the director in the same ballpark early on in the game. Better still, and my best experiences, have come from being involved in the temp process and working with the music editor to place temp music that is reflective of what I’m trying to do with the score.
I’m finishing up a film called ONE WEEK. As it’s my 3rd collaboration with the director, Mike McGowan, he brought me onto the project in the very early stages. Reading the script and having discussions with him early on allowed me to hone in on an approach and even start writing themes before they’d finished filming. When the time came for temp score, he used those early themes in the cut. It was very helpful to both of us. I got to see how the themes were working and he was able to more easily “temp” his film. However, none of us were expecting how integral having the score themes in the edit process was to the realization of the film. It was an amazing collaborative space. The end result is a score which is obviously ingrained in the spiritual core of the film.
You have worked on films from varying genres, is there any genre that you would particularly like to work in that you already have not?
I’ve been fortunate to work in many different genres, including some I’d never imagined doing. I still remember getting the call from my agent regarding SKINWALKERS. I’d never have imagined myself writing the score for a werewolf movie, but after reading the script and meeting the director I was very excited to be working in what was for me, a new medium. It was an incredible experience. There’s something fresh about working in a new genre – like a sculptor picking up a paint brush for the first time. One genre I always wanted to do is to write a musical, and low and behold, I’ve just been approached to do so.
How do you work out your musical ideas, i.e. do you use a synthesiser a piano or maybe you write them down straight to manuscript?
I often use my keyboard or guitar to work out an idea, but many of my favourite themes came to me driving in the car or while doing something completely unrelated to music or film. In those situations I’ll phone myself and sing the melody onto my voicemail. It’s actually quite ridiculous. I have at least 15 themes in messages on my voicemail I’ve yet to transcribe. Every week the voice prompt asks me to erase and I have to press the 9 button to save it. My wife still rolls her eyes at the practice.
But I’ve got to say, this is the only method that works for me. For a time I had a dictophone that I would use instead, but one day in a meeting, low on batteries, it starting playing and the entire board room listened to my recorded voice belting out themes for some previous film. The mobile phone method works best.
Do you conduct all of your own film scores?
I’ve conducted several, but since working with Nicholas Dodd I’ve been happy to have him conduct them.
What was your degree of involvement on THE HULK?
I had worked with Mychael Danna for many years. He had always been supportive of me doing my own projects when I had the opportunity and it had reached the point where I was consistently working on my own. When he was hired to do the Hulk he invited me to come back and work with him on this big film. We both moved to San Francisco and set up music studios in the production office. Mychael is a very talented composer and I learned a lot working with him over the years. The Hulk was no exception.
How do you think the film music of today compares with scores from the 1960s 1970s and even the golden age, i.e.; Korngold, Steiner etc?
Film music is continually evolving. I think some of those scores you’re referring to had music with more recognizable themes than we hear today. But you have to remember the medium of film is changing as well. I recently rewatched the Godfather paying special attention to the score. There was very little “underscore”. The music was mainly used to establish scenes and was almost always heard exclusive of dialogue and sound effects. Pacing being a priority for many current film-makers often eliminates those opportunities and changes the game. For better or for worse, a direct comparison isn’t possible.
Have you ever had a score rejected or indeed have you ever refused to work on any project at all?
I think most of the well-known Hollywood composers have a story about being removed from a project. I worked on a film a few years ago where the director was removed and blocked from having anything to do with the music. I had worked with the producer before and they hired me to write the score and work with the producer. A few weeks into the project the director threatened to remove his name from the film and the producers brought him back in. Needless to say, he wanted to throw out the progress that had been made in his absence and start from scratch. As I was about to begin another film, we decided to part company. I’ve chosen not to do some projects that I weren’t right for me, but for the most part I’m able to find an approach to scoring most films that intrigues me.
You have worked on TV shows as well as motion pictures, how does working for the small screen compare with working on a feature?
TV is very rewarding in it’s own way. Television scores are very quick. Not a lot of time for second guessing your approach. Writing music for film can be a very drawn out process which allows you to spend more time theme writing, but also gives you more time to second guess good ideas.
When I searched for your soundtracks on Compact disc, I was very perplexed to see that only 1 was available which was a promo of THE STRANGER INSIDE plus SKINWALKERS (a great score ) was only available as a download, is it a little frustrating that you are not well represented on compact disc?
It is frustrating. It’s getting harder and harder to secure releases of soundtracks, especially on independent films. I’ve been fortunate that my recent and upcoming films will have soundtrack releases.
Are you working on anything at this time?
I am just finishing up a score for a film called ONE WEEK, written and directed my Michael McGowan. This is our 3rd collaboration, our first being his film SAINT RALPH in 2004. We spotted the film 6 hours after I got of the plane from recording and mixing JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH in London. It was great to dive into something incredibly different after living in the epic/orchestral score world for 6 months. It’s a minimalist score that plays with some unique instruments and unusual ensembles. I’m very much enjoying the change in medium.
Are there any composers either classical or maybe film music composers, that you think have influenced you in the way you compose?
There are a lot of very talented composers out there today, but I wouldn’t say any of them in are a major influence.
When you are working on a score for a movie, have you a set way in which you work. By this I mean do you tackle smaller cues first or maybe the larger tracks, and do you work from main title through to end credits?
I spend a lot of time tackling the themes and figuring out their evolution and dispersion throughout the film. By the nature of that process I have a pretty good idea of what the score will be for many of the pivitol cues. From there I start from the beginning and work through to the end. On Journey to the Center of the Earth there were some action scenes that the music editor couldn’t get any temp music to even come close to working on. I decided to work on those scenes early on. He and I were able to really help each other out. After the director was happy with those cues, the music editor started trying those themes against other scenes later in the film. His ideas sparked some interesting results, and influenced how I approached those cues when I came to writing them.
How early on in the proceedings do you like to be involved on a project?
Many of the films I work on are for directors I’ve worked with before. It’s a real luxury to be brought on at the script stage and have the opportunity to get a take on the film as a story, rather than a visual medium. Ultimately the film has evolved once it’s gone through production and is in a different place, but I still find those first ideas and concepts conceived at the script stage incredibly useful.
Do you collect or buy soundtracks, and have you a favourite score either of your own or by another composer?
I stopped doing that about 7 or 8 years ago. I appreciate hearing scores in the context of watching films, but often the last thing I feel like doing if I’m not writing music is listening to film scores.