An Interview with David Kitay by John Mansell
David Kitay’s most recent assignment to hit the cinemas is for the spoof DATE MOVIE for writers/directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. The movie, which has been successful in the United States, stars Adam Campbell, Allyson Hannigan, Eddie Griffin, Fred Willard and Jennifer Coolidge. The film is a send up of the hit romantic comedies of recent years. 20th Century Fox released the film in February and Lakeshore Records released the accompanying soundtrack on March 7, which includes a version of the theme song to ‘The Price Is Right’ performed by the composer. The DATE MOVIE score was designed to operate on two levels. Although it sounds authentic to the familiar images of romance, it also conveys the humour of the spoof.
DATE MOVIE is the latest in a series of hit comedies Kitay has done since early in his scoring career. After solidifying his reputation in the teen genre with hit movies like CLUELESS, CAN’T HARDLY WAIT, SCARY MOVIE, HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE and DUDE, WHERE’S MY CAR?, Kitay kept his sense of humour and expanded into independent film. Two upcoming releases, ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL and DARWIN AWARDS, are the next examples of off-beat, interesting films Kitay has done for a variety of innovative directors. Showing remarkable innovation, his score for Finn Taylor’s upcoming DARWIN AWARDS is the world’s first retrograde reverse score, wherein the music was performed backwards and digitally reversed to play forwards, so the notes sound reversed even though they are accurate.
Kitay has also completed scores for RELATIVE STRANGERS, starring Ron Livingston, and John Cosgrove’s comedy ensemble CAFFEINE, both set for release this year. Among other honours, David has received four prestigious BMI awards, several for his scores for the hit TV series MAD ABOUT YOU. In addition to scoring, David has recently produced records for such artists as The Boxing Ghandis, Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles) and David Baerwald.
You came from a musical family; I understand your father was an opera singer. When did you start to become interested in music and what musical education did you receive?
Actually my father was an accountant… my mother was the opera singer. I started private lessons at around age eight and pretty much had music as my saving grace ever since. I had a few years at Dick Grove School of Music out of high school but I pretty much started working as a guitar player/arranger/producer in bands and records pretty early (late teens early twenties).
I think I am right in saying that your favourite instrument is the guitar and you did work as a session musician for a number of bands. When and where was this and who were the bands you worked with?
The bands made records but were never very successful, but that got me to start working for different producers and songwriters as a guitar player which started me off as a session player for Motown and others.
How did you become involved with Motown records?
My name started getting around as a good guitar player so I started getting hired; it was Barry Mann the songwriter producer who got me involved with Motown.
You played with The Temptations. Did you go on tour with them at all or were you involved with just their studio recordings?
I was only involved in studio recordings for groups like The Temptations and The Four Tops. I never toured with them on live gigs and I also worked with Aretha Franklin and James Ingram.
When did you decide to begin working as a composer of music for film/TV?
I found being a session player a bit like typing and I wanted something more challenging like writing.
The majority of your film scores have been for comedies and spoof movies; do you feel that maybe you have been typecast as a composer who works mainly on this kind of movie?
Well… they probably don’t look at my credits and think of me for SUPERMAN or OUT OF AFRICA 2 or whatever. It makes sense to me that when they are making a certain kind of movie; they look for people that have done that genre before because they want to emulate that success.
The good news for me is that I have been successful in a couple of different genres and, I get the honour of making music for a living, and I love to laugh! I expect that if I get more success in other genres I will do other things In the meantime; I will continue to make music… and laugh a lot!
You have worked on a number of TV projects. Apart from maybe the budget on these assignments what would you say are the major differences between working on a television score as opposed to a score for a motion picture?
If you are referring to episodic TV, it is totally different where you usually have your themes already written and you are just making them work within the structure of that particular episode. It’s like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes and running, whereas in a movie you are (hopefully) coming up with something new for every job. If you are referring to the Disney TV movies that I have done, they are more like doing features with fast turnarounds and no director to bounce off of. So, they are usually very freeing and musically fun because you are just really trying to please yourself at the end of the day. Of course it has to work within the confines of the story and the ‘Disney’ way of writing. But I really like doing those.
Many of your scores are accompanied by songs on the soundtrack. Do you as a composer have any involvement in what songs are utilised within the movie?
When you have a relationship with the director and they ask, I am pretty free with my opinions. I have also written some of the songs i.e.: ‘Supermodel’ for CLUELESS.
Do you orchestrate all of your own music?
Yes, I do most of it. I have been doing that for about 6 years. Before that I always used an orchestrator until I did the TV version of CLUELESS and they didn’t have an orchestrator in the budget. I was forced to do it myself. In that three year period I started to learn about it and I now like what it brings to my process. It tends to create a more original sound (whether good or bad. It is more honest). The potential weird harmonies don’t get smoothed out etc.
When you are asked to work on a project, how early do you like to become involved?
It is usually 6 weeks to two months but sometimes it is two weeks! Often a short turnaround is exciting and you are going on fast pure instinct without having the time to rethink, retread, and whittle down the idea. Sometimes when you start on a project before you know what the picture even looks or feels like (due to cast or art design etc.) you might go down a million wrong paths but other times an idea you garner from a script will survive as a potent idea. So, I guess my answer is, they are all interesting experiences sometimes two or three months can feel just right. Other times two or three weeks can feel just right each project has its own interesting life and I wouldn’t change anything on any of them.
You starred in the movie ALWAYS what did this involve?
If you consider being a guitar player in a bar band that was on camera for a split second a starring role! It was just a sideline gig that I took, because a friend of mine worked at Universal at the time, and asked me if I wanted to do it. Although it was fun to watch Spielberg work for 5 days.
If one of your scores is to be given a commercial release, do you have any input into what music will be going onto that CD release, or is this left up to the record/film company?
It’s usually up to the film company or the director
Are there any composers working in film at the moment that you find particularly interesting or original?
I like John Powell, Alexander Desplat, and James Newton Howard.
Are there any composers either classical, film music or songwriters etc that you think have influenced you in the way you write music?
Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Mozart, Gershwin, Zepplin, Miles, Pink Floyd, Prince, Yes, Lennon, Norman Whitfield, Peter Gabriel, and I’m sure I missed a million more.
When working on a movie have you a set way in which you score it; i.e. do you like to maybe come up with a central theme first or do you prefer to tackle the smaller musical stabs and cues before embarking on the composing of the main score?
After watching the movie a bunch of times with no music in it, I like to go away from it and wait till I have some theme ideas that I like. Then, I put those up against a scene I was thinking that it would be good for, and if I like it than I play that for the director and if he/she likes it. Then the party has begun! I usually do the biggest cues first and go from there.
What size orchestra did you use on DATE MOVIE?
You have recently scored DATE MOVIE, RELATIVE STRANGERS, ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL and DARWIN AWARDS. The latter sounds interesting to me as it is said to be the world’s first retrograde reverse score;p what does this actually mean?
I wrote the score forwards then rewrote it backwards, had the orchestra play it backwards than digitally flipped it forwards so the notes are correct but they sound backwards.
You have been very busy recently, so what is up next for you?
I am working on a couple of films right now and there are a couple of directors that I have worked for in the past that are planning to hire me for their next projects.
As well as scoring movies you have been producing records for other artistes – can you tell us something about this side of your career?
Not much to tell. I have produced some records. I thought I wanted to be a record producer when I was younger but my experiences confirmed that I have more fun and I am more successful in film composing. I still produce some stuff but mostly it is related to a film project rather than just a CD for an artist.
Thanks to Tom Kidd, Ray Costa and of course David Kitay.