An Interview with Marco Beltrami by John Mansell
At what age did you begin to take an interest in music?
I started playing recorder in first grade, piano in second, and began writing pieces as soon as I started. I think I was always more interested in composing than practicing.
Coming from an Italian background, are you aware of the Italian composers that were prominent in film scoring during the 1960s thru to the late 1970s and beyond, such as Morricone, Trovaioli, Nicolai, Fidenco, Cipriani etc…?
I was not aware of any film composers until college. My interest was until then more in the concert venue. Nino rota was the first Italian composer to inspire me and get me curious about film music and then I became aware of Morricone. It wasn’t until more recently that I became familiar with the others.
You studied film music under Jerry Goldsmith – what was he like as a teacher?
He was difficult at times but great. He was a master of economy and themes.
What was your first foray into writing for film?
I started with a television show called LANDS END – I worked on 22 episodes and also did the main title for the show in 1995. My first motion picture was called DEATH MATCH for Showtime, but my first real feature was SCREAM which was in 1996.
I love the theme for THE FACULTY; it is I think like a macabre sounding waltz, it sounds so grand. What size orchestra did you use for this score?
I cannot recall the exact size of orchestra we recorded up at Skywalker; I remember that. Probably around 90 or so.
The Scream trilogy is probably what brought you to the attention of soundtrack collectors. In the first score there is a guitar passage which to me is reminiscent of a style that was utilised in the Italian westerns – did you do this consciously, or was it something that just developed as you worked on the score?
There was a quirky feel to the character Deputy Dewey and the guitar seemed to fit him. Yes, I was aware there was a similarity to some of the Morricone western scores that is what gave the theme some of its humour, and Wes, the director seemed to like it.
The Omen is one of your recent works. Within the score you have included some of Jerry Goldsmith’s material from the original movie – was it your idea to do this as a homage to him?
Yes, I thought the best way to pay tribute to him was not copy him directly but use some of his motives – including some of the latin text and crafting the score in a similar fashion to how he did.
You have worked on a number of films within the horror/shocker genre. Do you think that you have become somewhat typecast as a composer of horror scores and does this worry you at all?
Yes, I have composed my fair share of horror scores but not exclusively and don’t feel particularly worried by it.
When scoring a movie do you have a particular way in which you tackle it. By this I mean do you start with the main titles and work through to the end themes or maybe you start with the smaller cues first, leaving the larger ones till later?
I usually start with simply watching the film and getting an overall feel, then sit and write away from the film. Then I’ll try playing some ideas with various scenes. The important thing is to not get caught up with specifics at first. To me, each film is sort of like solving a puzzle.
Pete Anthony conducts a number of your scores – do you conduct at all?
Yes, I do conduct but when I can afford him I like to share conducting duties with Pete.
Have you ever declined to work on a project, or had a score rejected?
I did a western for Miramax/Dimension called TEXAS RANGERS. It was my best score ever I think, but they opted to throw it out. Luckily the movie was pulled from theatres right away.
Are there any film music composers that have influenced you in the way that you write or orchestrate your music?
For film music composers I would say Bernard Herrmann, Nino Rota, Jerry Goldsmith and Ennio Morricone.
Out of all the movies that you have worked on are there any, or maybe one, that you have particularly fond memories of?
Specific fond memories stick with each individual project – some are music related, some are not. The great thing is each is unique.
A number of your scores have been issued on composer promos – why is it that these were not given commercial releases?
Usually the record labels did not feel there would be enough commercial interest to warrant a compact disc release.
When a score of yours is going to be issued on to a compact disc, do you have the final say on what music will go onto the disc?
Yes, I usually pick the pieces that will go onto any compact disc and also I put the tracks in the correct running order.
Staying with soundtrack releases, a few of your scores have been issued on CDs that contain mostly songs, selections from your score being relegated to the end of the CD or even just a suite of music appearing to represent your work on the film. This must be slightly irritating for you?
It is – especially when many of the songs have nothing to do with the movie at all.
You worked with the director of HELLBOY on three movies. What is he like to work with and does he have much input in to where music should be placed etc…?
Guillermo is a great director and yes, we always start out by discussing where the music should go.
Staying with HELLBOY, there was a lot of music in the movie – do you think that the complete score will be issued in the future?
No, probably not, at least not at this moment in time.
What do you think is the purpose of music in film?
I suppose there are different purposes, but I usually like it most when the music can supply an emotional dimension that cannot be supplied by any other aspect of the film.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I draw my inspiration from everything—all styles of music, art, nature, urban environments, etc…
Are there any directors that you have not yet worked with that you would like to.
I have to say yes to that. What directors? Well maybe too many to list.
When working on a score, how do you work out your musical idea – do you use piano, or a synth, or write your ideas straight to manuscript?
I usually write pen and paper at first and then try out at the piano then do synth mock ups.
David and Lisa is a beautiful score – how long were you given to work on this project.
Do you think that orchestration is an important part of the composing process?
I think it is vital. I often think texturally.
What classical composers do you think might have influenced you at all?
Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bartok, Schoenberg, Ives, Druckman, Beethoven, Mozart, Liszt, Bach, Scriabin, Greig and Weill, to name but a few.
What would you say was your most difficult assignment?
A film called THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS. I had no idea what the director was looking for and ended up re-writing the score at least half a dozen times, before we got there.
At what stage do you like to become involved on a project – do you like to start with a script, or maybe you prefer to wait until the rough cut of the film is ready?
Usually during the editing phase, but sometimes I’ll get hired before they start shooting. I don’t like doing any detailed work until I have seen the picture though.
What is your opinion of the infamous TEMP TRACK practice – do you find it helpful or distracting?
Doesn’t bother me either way.
How many times do you like to watch a movie before you begin to get any fixed ideas about what kind of music you will write, or where the music will be placed in the film?
Usually around 2 or 3 times.
What is the biggest orchestra that you have used on a film score?
I think we had 97 on T3
Do you think that a good score is able to help a bad movie?
Not really, though it can take on a life of its own.
You have worked on cinema and also TV projects – for you as a composer what are the main differences between the two mediums?
Yes, television usually is a lot quicker time frame and usually doesn’t have the orchestral budget. On the other hand the time factor can work to your advantage.
Do you think that maybe the other Omen movies will get a re-make?
I could not say.
When you work on a sequel to a movie that you have not scored, do you take a look at the previous film or listen to its score at all?
Usually, if the director has an affinity for it.
Is there a genre of film that you have not yet worked on that you would like to?
I’d like another shot at a western – a good one this time.
Many thanks to Marco
- Since this interview he has scored another western and a good one, 3:10 TO YUMA, for which the composer was nominated for an Oscar.