An Interview with Lucas Vidal by John Mansell © 2011
Lucas Vidal is a versatile and expressive composer who recently scored the feature films THE RAVEN with John Cusack and THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY starring Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver. A native of Spain, Vidal made history at the Berklee College of Music where he was the youngest student to ever compose and record the score for a feature film with an 80-piece orchestra. He then moved to New York to continue his studies under the guidance of Richard Danielpour while attending the Julliard School of Music. Vidal was exposed to the intricacies of music composition at a very young age, allowing him to develop his distinct style of composition and a unique use of longhand writing skills. In addition to numerous feature films, his impressive resume includes writing a piece for the opening gala of the Boston Ballet, conducing at the Boston Symphony Hall, commercial advertising and video game soundtracks. He has recorded over 100 sessions in most of the major studios throughout the United States and Europe. Lucas Vidal currently splits his time between Madrid and Los Angeles.
You were born in Madrid, and started to take an interest in music at the age of four, did you know even at that early age that you wanted to write music or perform?
My parents were always encouraging my interest in music. I played piano and flute from a very early age, and I loved to “improvise” on piano. I was very inspired by classical music. I think that was my first contact with composing.
Do you come from a family background that is musical, as in are any of your family member’s performers or composers?
My grandfather was a great pianist, and was the Founder of “Hispavox”, an important Spanish record label from the 1960s into the 1980s. Even though my father is a doctor, he is also an excellent piano player. And my mother has an amazing ear! She would know whenever I made mistakes while playing the piano.
You began to compose your own music as early as nine years of age. Were you inspired by any one composer at this stage?
I was doing very small pieces, mostly with the flute, recorder or piano. Everything was very classically oriented (baroque, classical…)
I understand you at one time enrolled in film school. Was this a career that you thought you might pursue, and was it whilst you were in film school you decided to become a film music composer?
I decided I wanted to be a film composer when I was 15 and first went to a summer program at Berklee College of Music. I discovered the world of film scoring and I knew that it was my thing. But I also wanted to study film, in order to understand better the process and the creative vision of the filmmakers.
What instruments did you concentrate upon when you were studying music?
Piano, flute and a little bit of saxophone.
When did you decide to go to the United States to continue your musical studies at Berklee and why?
After attending 2 summer programs at Berklee, I decided to go there for college. I went to Barcelona to audition for a scholarship, and they gave me a really good one!
One of your first credits is a film entitled CATHEDRAL PINES, a horror story of sorts, how did you become involved on this picture?
I had written music for the first big recording session at Berklee with 65 players. At that time I met my business partner, Steve Dzialowski, who was studying music business. He was taking care of all the production of the project. Everybody knew he was the best doing that! During that project we worked with the head of Music Production and Engineering department. He had a friend that was doing a film and needed a composer. He recommended me for the job. It was fun and I learned a lot!
It looks to me from glancing at your credits that you have more or less worked non stop from 2006 through to the present and are even now involved with movies in their post production stages, which will not be released until 2013. Considering the work load do you orchestrate all of your own music and do you also conduct all of your scores?
I used to orchestrate everything myself, but with the bigger projects that have tighter deadlines and larger amounts of music, I simply don’t have the time. I am very lucky to have in my team Rick Giovinazzo, my orchestration supervisor. He has done many big budget films such as Inception, Rio and others! But I always conduct the films that I do. I love to be in the studio giving directions to the players directly. And as I said before, Steve takes care of all the productions and business, so he is the one organizing everything, without him it would be impossible to do it!
When is the best time for you to become involved on a project. I know at times composers like to see a script, but then others prefer to not get on board with an assignment until the rough cut of the movie is ready?
I like to become involved as soon as possible at the script stage, because then I have more time to think about the film and how the music could work. Later on the concept of the score may completely change, but at least I can do research, preparation, etc.
THE IMMORTAL VOYAGE OF CAPTAIN DRAKE is a wonderful score, very grand and epic. This was a TV movie from 2009, what size orchestra did you utilize for the picture and how much music did you compose for it?
It was a big orchestra, (85 players). We recorded in Kiev and I had to compose 70 minutes of music, which is a lot!
MIENTRAS DUERMES or SLEEP TIGHT as it has been titled outside of Spain, is a movie that has generated more than a few enthusiastic comments from critics, the director Jaume Balaguero is well respected. Did he have much input into where he wanted music placed and what type of music should be written etc?
Yes, I was extremely fortunate to work with him. Jaume has a lot of intuition with music. He also has good ears and knows what he wants. On the other hand, he was giving me a lot of freedom and he always wanted me to try new sonorities.
How many times do you like to watch a movie or project before you start to get any set ideas about music etc?
Once or twice, but no more than that.
Do you record your scores solely in the United States and the UK or do you return to Spain to record at times. If so, how do facilities and availability of musicians vary between the countries?
Well, it depends on the budget. The best places to record are in London (Abbey Road or Air Studios) and L.A. After these places, Prague, Kiev, Bratislava are other good options as well. I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity record in most of these places.
You are working on a few projects at the moment one of them is INVASOR which is still being filmed I understand. Do you go on location at all; if so do you start to get ideas on what music you will write whilst on set?
I normally go to location, yes. In fact I am going in December to INVASOR’s shooting. I think it is beneficial to see as much of the filmmaking process as possible, including the photography. Directors generally like to share ideas while shooting. I also went to the shooting of THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY, starring Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver, and it was a great experience!
What composers either classical or contemporary have influenced you in your approach to composition or in the way you approach scoring a movie?
Bach, Wagner and Tchaikovsky, among others… And I have influences from film composers such as Morricone, Desplat and Williams.
Do you have a set routine of working once you are assigned to a project. I mean by this, do you start with the opening theme for a film and work through to the end credits, or do you tackle large cues first and leave smaller ones till later?
Once I know my main themes, I always like to start from the beginning and work to the end. Sometimes the director wants to hear something from reel four or five before the rest, so I will write those later cues first. But working chronologically is better for me. I think that it is good to discover the story of the film from the beginning to end.
You have worked on documentaries, motion pictures, shorts, TV movies etc, what would you say were the main differences between these mediums of film when it comes to scoring them?
Time! When you do a short film you have one week to do it, a TV commercial two days, and a film five or six weeks… and also budget wise, they tend to have larger budgets for films, so we can normally record with orchestra.
Temp tracks are often used on movies before original music has been composed. Do you find the temp track useful or maybe a little off putting, as there is always the danger of the director falling in love with the temp on the film and not being able to accept any other music on the picture?
Temp tracks are a dangerous thing. It definitely helps, because I understand what the director wants. The problem is that if he falls in love with the temp, then no matter what I write he will always prefer the temp track! That’s why I think it’s better to start the process from the pre-production stage, so then I can send ideas or tracks and they can use those as temp music!
Have you given concerts that have included your film music?
Yes, I have conducted twice at the Boston Symphony Hall, and I have written ballet music, with the Boston Ballet and Providence Ballet.
When a compact disc is going to be released of one of your scores do you have any input into what music will go onto the compact disc at all?
Well, I always like to know what tracks they are going to put on the CD, but I believe and trust in the label.