An Interview with Cesar Benito by John Mansell
Benito has also worked as a producer, arranger, orchestrator, conductor, performer and music director of a wide variety of shows like The Emperor’s Jazz Orchestra, the American Society of Music Arrangers & Composers Big Band, the Boston Conservatory Orchestra, Musicals, Choral ensembles, International folk festivals featuring Symphonic Flamenco and other events like the Opening Gala & Unveiling of the Ricardo Montalban Theater in Hollywood–Where he also accompanied on the Piano to Broadway star, recording artist and Grammy, Tony and Emmy Award winner Robert Goulet.
Cesar graduated Magna Cum Laude in Film Scoring and Contemporary Writing & Production from Berklee College of Music, Boston. He also holds degrees in Music Theory, Piano and Composition by the Conservatories of Malaga and Madrid in Spain as well as a Diploma in Industrial Engineering by the University of Malaga.
Was it always your intention to write for film?
Not really. I didn’t even think about making a living with music until I was in my mid 20s. I even quit my music studies for a few years to get a degree in Industrial Engineering; only to find out how much I hated it. Then I developed a passion for Broadway, and West End musicals. So I went back to my music studies at the Conservatory in Spain, and in order to expand my musical knowledge I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Their Film Scoring program caught my eye, and I fell in love with the genre after the first few classes.
One of your recent projects is WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER; how did you become involved on this picture?
The director of the film, Gustavo Ron, and I are good friends. We also have very similar film, and music tastes. We enjoy, and get very excited about every opportunity we get to work together. We have a close rapport. WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER is my second collaboration with him. Our previous project was his debut film MÍA SARAH.
WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER is a touching and bittersweet tale that contains a highly emotional score, that is uplifting but also at times so sad. You fuse both conventional instrumentation with that of a more quirky line up of instrumentation which you combine with electronic support. How do these elements relate to the actual story and central characters in the movie?
Gustavo gave me some initial directions about the music aspects for this film. He didn’t want a score rich in melodies and lush orchestrations. He didn’t want a sad depressing score either. He asked me to write minimalistic music with an uplifting feel to support the spirit of the young protagonist. We tried many approaches and brainstormed together quite a bit until the very last moment.
How long did you have to work on the score and was the director hands on when it came to the music or was he happy to let you do your job?
The whole score was done from inception to completion in about three weeks. It was a very hectic process. Once I got the workprint, and had a spotting session with the director, he let me do my job during the composing period. But during the recording sessions he got more hands-on and contributed with great ideas that improved the overall score. He was also very supportive to me during the whole process which I really appreciated.
What would you say is the role of music in film?
It’s different on each film. Sometimes the score is crucial to transmit certain emotions that cannot be accomplished just with the acting, or the sound effects. Some other times the music plays a more subliminal role in the story, setting the mood, in the background. In some other films you can find good catchy themes to make a character more attractive, or you can also find leitmotivs that identify different characters, and situations. The music can also become a character by itself in the film. The possibilities are endless.
What musical education did you receive and did you come from a family background that was musical?
Both of my parents are classical music lovers. I’ve always been listening to classical music at home, or during road trips with my family. Mainly Bach, Beethoven and Chopin. My mom has some musical studies, and she was the one who introduced me and my sister to music at a very early age. I didn’t start studying music seriously until I was ten years old. I graduated in Piano, Music Theory, Orchestration, and Composition at the Conservatories of Malaga, and Madrid, I also have a Dual Major degree in Film Scoring, and Contemporary Writing & Production (Pop-Rock arranging, Jazz & Big band arranging, etc.) at Berklee College of Music. Additionally, I have studies in Conducting, Music Technology, Film Music Orchestration, Classical Percussion, Latin Percussion, Electroacoustic Music, and I also learned as a teenager how to play the Electric Guitar on my own by listening to the music of AC/DC and Van Halen.
You were born in Marbella in Spain. When did you re-locate to the United States and was this because of your musical career?
I had dreamed of moving to the United States since I was about twelve or thirteen years old. I don’t really remember what triggered that idea in me. It wasn’t music at that time; maybe it started with my love for basketball and the L.A. Lakers. Once I decided I wanted to be a composer the idea of moving to the U.S. grew stronger in me. It took me many years to decide when to move because I felt that I should have a very solid musical foundation before I took the leap. I first thought of moving to New York to get into the world of Broadway, and write a musical, but then after I studied Film Scoring I decided to pursue a career as a film composer in Hollywood. I still want to write a musical sometime soon!
You have worked on TV productions such as the Spanish remake of the BBC show LIFE ON MARS, LA CHICA DE AYER and have scored motion pictures and worked on various musical projects, what would you identify as the main differences between the mediums apart from maybe budget?
When I work in films I’m given a time frame to meet a deadline, and I can manage my own schedule as long as I meet the deadline. On TV shows deadlines are much more tight, and immediate. The lower budget in TV projects forces me to work with sampled instruments rather than a real orchestra, so that limits my musical possibilities in these kinds of projects.
Do you orchestrate your own music all of the time or do you at times use an orchestrator; also do you conduct at all?
So far, I have always orchestrated and conducted all of my projects. However I would love to have a project with a budget that would allow me to work with some of the big orchestrators from Hollywood some day.
When spotting a movie how many times do you like to see it before you begin to get fixed ideas about the style of music and also the placing of the music?
I usually watch the film over, and over. Sometimes I respond immediately to the images, and good ideas can come fairly quickly while others I need more time to get inspired. I try to come up with music that reflects the personality of the film. I try not to repeat myself from other projects, and instead I try to be as unique as I can with every new project to give it its own individual personality. The beginning is always hard; trying to find out the tone of the story, the rhythm, the dramatic aspects, an identity for the music, etc. Of the time frame I’m given to score a film I usually use about 60% of that time to compose the best original themes and ideas that I can. When I think I have a decent amount of material to work with I start scoring and orchestrating scene by scene, usually in chronologically order, so the music evolves in tandem with the story, and the dramatic arc of every scene, and the film as a whole.
When working on a film score or indeed any musical assignment how do you bring your musical ideas to fruition, do you use piano, synth or write straight to manuscript?
I mostly sit at the Piano, but I also hum while I drive, walk or go for a hike recording those ideas on any portable device I have at hand, or in the sequencer if I’m sitting in front of my computer. Occasionally I will write down something on paper if I’m already in bed…
What composers or artists would you say have influenced you at all?
I guess every composer I like has influenced me in some way. My role model would be John Williams.
Were you involved in the sequencing of the soundtrack compact disc for WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER; I mean did you select what music was to be on the disc?
Absolutely, this CD is my brainchild. I selected all the tracks, edited, and mix-and-match them to make the listening of the album more enjoyable. I also worked with the engineer, Javier Ferreiro, to remix and remaster some of the tracks to improve them sonically for the CD. I basically did everything to make a presentable product in the market from hiring the graphic designer of the CD cover to contacting the publisher.
Have any movies that you worked on contained a temp track of any type and if so did you find it helpful or distracting when trying to think of ways to score the film?
I get a temp track on most of the films I score. Sometimes they help, sometimes they distract, or sometimes they could be an obstacle when the director has fallen in love with it.
Out of the movies you have worked on is there any one or two that hold a special place in your affections and why?
I love most of my scores as if they were my children, but maybe MÍA SARAH is the one that holds that special place in my heart. It was the first feature film I got to use a real orchestra to record my music. I like the themes I wrote, and the way I used them as leitmotivs for each character and situations all along the story.
What are the main differences between Spain and The United States in the way of recording facilities orchestras etc?
I love working in the United States because of the level of expertise and professionalism of the musicians.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently scoring two very musically ambitious TV shows for Antena 3 TV (Spain). The third season of LOS PROTEGIDOS (a show about kids with super-powers, action-packed with thrills, drama, comedy, and romance) and EL TIEMPO ENTRE COSTURAS (a story about a Spanish seamstress that becomes a spy for the British government during the WWII based on the bestselling novel by the writer Maria Dueñas) I predict it’s going to be a huge success. Also I just initiated talks with a film director from India to score his next feature film, a psycho-thriller.
Many thanks, for your time and patience…