An Interview with Michael Richard Plowman by John Mansell © 2011
For the past 30 years, London, Los Angeles and Vancouver based composer Michael Richard Plowman has been composing award winning and internationally recognized music, touching audiences in over 120 countries. His passion for creativity began in his birth place of England where he learned to play the trumpet at the early age of three. Plowman’s love and talent of music quickly grew, as did his aspirations. He began teaching himself different orchestral instruments. Over the course of his school years, Plowman was a member of jazz and rock groups, playing gigs at local clubs, and at 14 landed his first commercial television job. At 16 he received a recording contract and produced his first album, “The Now Sounds of Today”. He works with many of the major players in the industry world wide; including Sony Pictures Television, BBC, Cartoon Network, WB, 20th Century Fox, New Line Cinema, MTV, Nickelodeon, Disney, A&E, Discovery, Animal Planet & Stephen King. Plowman has written over 150 scores to date in live-action, animation, film and games, including Hunt to Kill, George of the Jungle, A Dangerous Man, Trucks, Never Cry Werewolf, Splinter Cell and Polar Storm.
You are based in the UK, Canada and also in The United States, how do facilities i.e.; recording studios, orchestras and musicians differ if indeed they do in these three locations?
Most of the time I am based in the UK, this is where my main studio is located. I do travel to North America depending on the project that I am working on. The facilities that I work at are quite similar in that the people are not only wonderful but also professional. The Orchestras are very different in that the sound of the players is quite different from UK to North America and Eastern Europe.
AGE OF HEROES is one of your more recent works; it’s a large scale score and in my opinion goes back to the more traditional style of scoring. As in the vintage war movies, such as PATTON, WHERE EAGLES DARE, BLUE MAX etc, it has a strong thematic content, but also has a very powerful percussive foundation, so the best of both worlds really, old and new. How did you become involved on this project and is it the largest project you have worked on thus far in your career?
This is definitely one of the larger projects I’ve worked on. Since a big part of my career has been TV it was wonderful to be working in the cinema side for a part of the year. I was brought on the project while I was still in North America; I was brought in at a late stage to the production to replace the composer. The producers were looking for a very large emotional style score and after a few demos and a meeting with the director we all knew it would be a wonderful fit for me. I did want to bring a score that was reminiscent of the Great War movie scores of the past but as you said a very strong percussive side to the film also.
For AGE OF HEROES you utilized the Hungarian Studio Orchestra, did you record in Hungary simply because of budget?
As with so many films these days budget is the thorn in a composer’s side. The film needed a real orchestra to accomplish the emotion we were looking for. In Budapest I could get a great performance and still stay within the financial limitations that we had on the movie.
How large was the orchestra?
I was in Budapest for 2 days with 65 players.
Peter Pejtsik is the conductor on the score, do you conduct at all?
Whenever I record in Budapest I have Peter conduct for me. This is a complete language issue. When time is of the essence and I want to get the most out of the players having a conductor who is also a translator is the best way to accomplish this. Peter is a wonderful conductor and has amazing respect from the whole orchestra. Normally I do conduct when there is no language issue.
How much time did you get to complete the score for AGE OF HEROES?
On Age of Heroes I had a little less than normal. Which was about 4 weeks.
Was the film temp tracked at all, and do you as a composer welcome the use of temp tracks?
Temp scores can be at times a good thing and times a terrible hindrance to the creative process. Because I was brought in so late in the process and the producers didn’t put a large amount of effort into a temp score I had a very open canvass. Their main comments were a large emotional exiting score.
As well as scoring movies, you have also written the music for a number of games, how does the scoring process differ between the two mediums?
Yes I have scored quite a few big games. The main difference is the focus. In films I am dealing with a larger piece of music that focuses on a specific and emotion. Where as games are less specific and more emotion. This is mainly because of the platform and how the music works with the media. In movies you know where everything is and it will always be there where games everything is always a moving target.
You began your interest in music at a very early age, I understand you started out playing trumpet and also performing in bands, and at the age of 14 got your first chance of writing for a TV programme. What was the TV programme and what musical education did you receive?
My first so called paying gig was when I was 14 it was for a TV commercial writing for a car racing speedway. I recorded it with pencil and paper, two cassette players bouncing back and forth, a bass guitar, an old Roland drum machine, a synth and a space echo. Back in the days when you could do more with less. Sometimes I really miss those times; it was more about the writing. I’ve had formal lessons on trumpet and piano since I was four and after six years of composition at university I taught at university for a few years for what seemed to be my greatest education of all.
What composers and artists would you say have influenced you?
Apart from a large amount of music written in the romantic period; Vangelis, Brahms, Debussy, Puccini, Waxman, Broughton and of course Williams.
Your score for AGE OF HEROES has just been released onto CD, did you have any input into the sequencing of the tracks and also the selection of what cues would be used?
Movie Score Media is a wonderful soundtrack company. It has given opportunities to composers that sometimes would not have the chances otherwise. I have an amazing amount of input in the track selection although I do have help from the people around me in the selection since by the time I’ve finished the film I do need an honest opinion.
Do you orchestrate all of your own music, or do you at times utilize an orchestrator?
Even though I love to orchestrate and my midi is quite complete when I pass it on I have used the same orchestrator for the last 10 years. An incredible orchestrator, composer named Chris Nickel. After this long he knows exactly what I’m thinking and the shortcuts based on the limitations of the time and technology.
When scoring a film, do you have a set routine, do you start with the central theme and build the remainder of the score around this, or do you maybe tackle smaller cues first and how do you bring your musical ideas to fruition, i.e., straight to manuscript, computer, piano etc ?
When I start a movie I always just start writing ideas even if I never use them. I call it getting the bad ideas out of the way. From then I move onto themes, which I mostly do with pencil and paper or singing into my I phone. From there I start digging into the film. Depending on the project I might bounce around or start from the beginning and race to the end.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m just finishing three films at the same time. A LONELY PLACE TO DIE an amazing action thriller that will be in cinemas this fall. I recorded the score in London.
TREASURE GUARDS a big budget action TV movie I recorded with 70 players and full choir in Budapest. The one that I’m just finishing writing and will be recorded in London at the end of August is an animated feature called CLOCKWORK GIRL. A fantasy action film with about 94 minutes of music.