An Interview with Robert Gulya by John Mansell © 2013
Hungarian composer Robert Gulya studied at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna and attended a film scoring advanced program at the University of California, Los Angeles. He wrote several works for the Austrian guitarist Johanna Beisteiner, such as a Concert for guitar and orchestra, which was performed with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. Robert Gulya is now dividing his time between London and Budapest. His most recent film credits include: the exciting adventure film IN THE NAME OF SHERLOCK HOLMES; the chilling Lionsgate horror GINGERCLOWN 3D and Jo Kastner’s adaptation of TOM SAWYER & HUCKLEBERRY FINN.
You were born in Hungary and your father was a jazz pianist. Was music always something that you wanted to be involved in?
Yes since when I was 12. That was a turning point in my life. I decided to be a composer. First I was shy sharing my music with my teachers. As a pianist I used to play more and more difficult pieces and I remember I wanted to come out with my own composition which was even more complicated to play than Franz Liszt’s piano etudes. I managed to do it! Even if that piece wasn’t as good I would share with you now…
What is your earliest memory of any kind of music?
Apart from children songs I would say Chopin’s piano pieces. I always loved his sensibility even in my childhood.
You studied piano and also composition in Vienna and then you attended USC where you were taught by a number of well know composers of film music. Who were these and what studies did you undertake with them?
I graduated in Budapest first, then went to Vienna. I got the Fulbright scholarship, which realized my dream: I could become a film composer. In USC Film Scoring Program I had the opportunity to see how Chris Young wrote his film scores how he prepared them for a recording session, I was able to conduct a 90 piece symphonic orchestra and other ensembles on the Paramount Scoring Stage (and they played my piece), I had the honour to hear David Raksin’s narratives how he’d worked with Charlie Chaplin in the past, to see how folks mixed music in Skywalker Ranch but the most important I learnt how I could count on your friends when I was under pressure and needed some help.
Your score for IN THE NAME OF SHERLOCK HOLMES has been released by Howlin’ Wolf records in the United States. What input did you have in the release? By this I mean did you sequence the tracks and select which music was going to be used in the release?
Yes. Originally there were more cues in the film but sometimes some of them might not be on a CD release. They are OK in context with the film but as a separate piece of music they do not have enough strength. I thought the more powerful cues could fill up the CD.
In the notes you explain that the score is made from samples, so a live orchestra is not utilized at all in the recording. Did you approach the project in this way because of the budget?
I have to say yes, however I always indoctrinate producers that if they pay for live orchestra they hire 70 artists while if they hire me only that is 1 artist. With this score the producers and director did the maximum as far as financing the best score. We didn’t have the budget to pay 4-5 sessions with the full orchestra, even if the requirement was an adventure type of score from the director’s side. I decided to use only those elements from the orchestra which sound good as samples and came out with some strange and unusual (sampler) instruments, which made the score unique and give it that organic feeling.
I understand that you had nearly two months to prepare and record the score for IN THE NAME OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, which is quite a long time in the film business. How long do you normally have to create your scores for a production?
Hmm… Writing 70 minutes of music, record and mix your self: do you think it’s a plenty of time? (Unfortunately or fortunately?) I’m not a music industrial machine. Besides I didn’t have 2-3 assistants while I was composing, or 5 people orchestrating and 10 people helping me with music editing, etc…) I can work really hard but my partners (including directors and producers) are mainly thinking I am a human being and beyond this point they do understand the tiny little trick: a little more time and a little less stress could give you a much better result…
The violin solos are wonderful; these are the work of Gergely Kuklis. When you were writing the music did you have this particular soloist in mind to perform on the soundtrack?
Gergely is a friend of mine. But I actually offered this job to another friend of mine first, (who could probably play it equally good as Gergely did) just because he is also a friend but he was listed previously in my book because of his name starts with a “J” and not “K”. But it seems it was Gergely’s destiny to play the theme. He made a wonderful job and I’m so happy he made it.
You became involved on IN THE NAME OF SHERLOCK HOLMES because you had scored the directors first movie ILLUSIONS but how did he initially hear about you and your music?
He was not satisfied with his previous composer in ILLUSIONS. The scriptwriter suggested him to call me…
What composers would you say have had an influence upon the way you write for the cinema?
If you ask me about my favourite composers then I would say John Williams, Alan Silvestri, Harry Gregson-Williams. Influence is more difficult because in many cases directors ask for specific music. I’m talking about temp tracks.
Some of your music is included in the soundtracks for OUTLANDER and also VAMPIRES SUCK. Were these compositions written specifically for the movies or were they pieces of music that you had composed previously and the producers utilized them in the films?
I worked as music recording director in these projects.
How does working in Hungary differ from working in other countries. Are the facilities as good or better?
I actually don’t feel any differences. The film crews are same all over the World (if they are professionals.) I also record film music with the Budapest Symphony and mix them in the Hungarian National Radio and I have to say they make a great job. Even Hollywood or Abbey Road would be proud of the productions they do.
I understand that you are currently working on two movies, GINGER CLOWN 3D which stars Tim Curry and also TOM SAWYER AND HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Do you think that your music from these productions will be issued onto CD – and when will the movies be released ?
Hopefully yes. My manager, Greg Hubai is in charge of negotiating and it seems there will be some new releases. We just have to find the best time to come out with the CDs suited for the film releases.
What do you think is the purpose of music in film?
I think there is a strong collaboration between the footage and the music. The same strength as between the dragon and his rider from Eragon if you know what I mean… The purpose is to enhance, substitute and supplement the emotional content of the film you want to share with the audience.
Your first movie score was TRUCE which was released in 2005. How did you become involved on this project and what instrumentation or size of orchestra did you use for the project?
I’d worked with Dennis Trombly (producer) before I scored TRUCE. He recommended me to Matt Marconi, the director. I used a standard orchestra, classical and electric guitars.
Do you think that it is possible for a good score to save or help a film if it is not so good?
If the film is not so good then maybe. But if the film is bad there is no chance…
How do you get your musical ideas from your head and turn them into music and musical sounds. Do you use keyboard or a more hi tech fashion or maybe at times you use manuscript paper and pencil ?
I use everything. I feel I am lucky because I am a classical trained composer so I can imagine the sound of a full orchestra while I can do sophisticated computer simulations. I use piano to come out with themes and use computer to finish them and prepare them.
When you are asked to score a movie how many times do you like to see that movie before getting any fixed ideas about where music should be placed? What style of music should be employed etc? I know with IN THE NAME OF SHERLOCK HOLMES you started writing a main theme before you saw any footage and were inspired by the script. Does this happen on many occasions?
I watch 2-3 times before I start working on the score but I am convinced that first time viewing is the most important for me: It gives me the determinative approach and this is something that can be hardly changed even by directors. If my approach is different from the director’s approach we have to find a mutual approach.
You had a temp track on IN THE NAME OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Do you find temp tracks to be helpful or maybe sometimes a little distracting?
Both. It helps me to understand what people (without having music background) want to get. However these tracks could be dangerous when people such as directors or producers fall in love with them and can’t accept any changes…
Do you or have you performed on any of your film scores and do you conduct at all?
I conducted TRUCE and THE BOY WHO CRIED BITCH. But I think it is better to stay on the other side and hear what the conductor makes with my piece.