An Interview with Mark Mckenzie by Rudy Koppl
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.16/No.64/1997
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven and Rudy Koppl
In THE DISAPPEARANCE OF GARCIA LORCA, Andy Garcia plays Lorca, one of Spain’s greatest poets. Esai Morales plays a young man who is looking for something meaningful in his life. He’s from Spain, but his parents move to Granada during the Spanish revolution. He goes back to Spain to discover his roots, and wants to find out who his father really is. The film jumps back and forth in time. Edward James Olmos plays the powerful government man who’s instrumental in Lorca’s death; later he becomes somebody who’s is very passionate about Lorca’s poetry and publishes it.
Mark McKenzie, a renowned orchestrator who has become a film composer on his own during the last 6 years, scoring such pictures as MY FAMILY, FRANK AND JESSE, and DR. JEKYLL AND MS. HYDE, has crafted a highly emotional score for this historical drama.
Your score for LORCA has to be the best score you’ve done so far, at least in terms of sheer emotion.
I am the most proud of this than anything that I’ve done. I feel like I’m maturing as a composer.
When did you compose LORCA?
I composed it in August and September of 96. I wrote it in three and a half weeks. It’s the kind of thing where I had to fight hard to even get that. It would have been nice to take more time on this score. So often when I finish a cue, you think you’re done, but there’s always something that you could do to just tweak it a little bit and make it a little bit more interesting, or fine tune it just a tad bit more. When you’re a perfectionist you can really get carried away with this.
Would you then explain the themes you composed?
Ricardo’s Theme and Marie Eugenia’s Theme are connected together. Her theme is the inversion of his theme. The whole idea is that in the movie I never play both his theme and her theme together to make that completeness. I never played them together until they actually come together in the love making scene (‘Butterfly of Your Kiss’ on the CD). That’s the first time in the movie where those themes come together and you’ll hear that Ricardo’s Theme goes beautifully right into her theme. For the purposes of the CD, I put some of this love music right up front in The Overture, so when you’re listening to track number one you’ll hear both those themes together. The middle section is Lorca’s Theme, which is also heard as the Main Title. Then there’s another theme that I called the Uprising Theme which is first heard in track six, ‘A Thunderstorm Is Brewing’. I use this D Minor theme each time we’re going back to the uprising or actual revolution. Also there’s the Death Theme where the flamenco singing came in. That theme is first heard at the beginning of the Main Title, where the singer comes in with the opening, then it gets transferred into the orchestra. That theme comes back throughout the score. Whenever the voice is singing, it’s using that Death Theme. The flamenco singing aspect was instrumental in conjuring up the idea of death, that was always back there, in the mind of Lorca because he was consumed with death.
On Lorca’s Theme you’ve created a deeply emotional experience. Where is this coming from?
For better or for worse I am an immensely emotional person. For the first time in my writing, my intentions were to not hold back what really moves me, but to just throw out all the preoccupations with technique that I’ve had in the past and to just write from the heart. That’s where it came from, that’s the emotional me.
When you compose do you constantly view the film over and over again, or do you put the film inside you head, leaving an impression, and then compose?
I watch the film over and over and over. It gets to be almost pathetic the number of times I watch it. When I write, I write by locking up all my synthesizers to the film and I play in everything I write as I watch it. I’ll watch it literally a hundred times or more. I see things that work and I keep them. I see things that don’t work and I throw them out. It’s just a matter of that instantaneous feedback you get when you watch the film and hear what you’re writing at the same time. This makes me feel, when I get on a scoring stage, totally confident that everything I’ve written works extremely well, because I’ve seen it work to the picture a hundred times.
In the cues, ‘I Invented Some Wings For Flying’ and ‘A Thunderstorm Is Brewing’, there are some great furious driving string sounds. What does this portray?
It’s portraying the revolution. Everything in the film has to do with a reoccurring motive that starts right at the beginning of the film. The Spanish Revolution began, literally, exactly at five o’clock in the afternoon. Lorca had this very famous poem about everything that happened at five o’ clock in the afternoon. That’s why I titled apiece ‘Five By All Clocks In The Afternoon’. The thunderstorm is basically the beginning of the revolution, while ‘Sing His Elegance’ has more revolution activity going on.
You used a cymbalom on some cues to nice effect.
This is a Hungarian string instrument that you play with hammers, like a hammered dulcimer. This was a sampled instrument, because it was played so freely, I didn’t want to take a risk of having to spend a lot of the orchestral recording time trying to get somebody to duplicate what I really wanted.
What size orchestras did you use for Lorca?
We used three different orchestras here. The biggest was 68 pieces while the smallest was 45 players.
You’re a well-known orchestrator. Why didn’t you orchestrate Lorca?
Every instrumental decision that was made was mine. My sketches are eleven lines; they’re just like miniature scores. There is just not enough time in a day to do complete mock ups of every cue and then at the end of the day take your sketch and put it on to the 32-stave orchestral pages. It’s just a time factor, so I basically just wrote miniature scores and then the orchestrator transferred those over to big scores.
Do you feel this is your best film score?
I think it’s my most mature score, because it’s the first score where I feel like I had the freedom to write what I wanted to write. The other scores that I’ve done, I had a director breathing down my neck through every cue and I had to deal with temp tracks. In this score, the temp track that was there was so wrong. The director was trusting in me and he was very supportive, so I was able to just write Mark McKenzie and not be rewriting someone else. This was, absolutely, one of my better scores.
It was a very special project and it was very painful to start with because there were negotiation issues that were unreasonable for me. They had thrown out the score to a very dear friend of the director, so they had already used up all their money and time. So when they asked me in, there wasn’t enough money or time to do a score that was appropriate for the movie. It was so painful for me to have to say “No, I won’t do it given these parameters, because it won’t be what the film deserves to have.”
The director had to come with a huge amount of money out of his own pocket; fortunately he is a very successful commercial director in Puerto Rico. He believed strongly in letting me do the score, so he drew a huge amount of money out of his own bank account to get the score. For that reason it was very special because I knew that every penny being spent was personal money, it wasn’t like a corporate thing.