An Interview with Serge Franklin by John Mansell © 2008
Composer Serge Franklin is in my opinion one of France’s most talented and original composers. For me Franklin ranks alongside the likes of Francis Lai, Michel Legrand, Michel Magne and François de Roubaix. His music is highly original and full of melody. But despite his obvious talent the composer remains virtually unknown outside of his native France. I contacted the composer recently asking for an interview, I was surprised and pleased when Mr. Franklin replied and agreed.
I would like to thank the composer for his time and also his patience. I would also like to acknowledge everyone at Lympia Records (France) who put me in contact with Mr. Franklin.
Where and when were you born, and did you come from a family that had a musical background?
I was born in a small French town called Mountlucon; this was during World War II. My family were not musical at all; I gained my musical education from the songs and music that I heard from all over the world.
So you received no formal education in music?
Well no, I never attended a conservatory but I did have tuition from private teachers; this was for Fugue and also counterpoint. Plus I gained experience from working with many talented musicians from all over the globe.
I understand that you travelled to many countries before you began to compose music for television and the cinema. Did this help broaden your musical horizons?
Yes, most definitely; these experiences are the base of my composing. Discovering the Sitar in India was for me one of the most rewarding encounters. Also the rhythms of Africa and Cuba, and the incredible emotion of the Japanese Shakuatchi, the Bouzouki in Greece; so many sounds of humanity are still in my head.
When did you decide to start writing music for film?
I did not actually make a decision to write specifically for film. I was writing music for the theatre and was involved with Jean-Louis Barrault’s company. He was one of the most famous directors in France in 1970. In this prestigious company there were many talented actors and comediennes working – some of these began to direct and became well known. I began to work with these and that is how I started to compose music for the cinema.
What was your first scoring assignment for a motion picture?
This was in 1976, I scored THOMAS GUERIN – this was a made for television movie for a French channel. It won the EMI award for best foreign film that year.
You have scored motion pictures but have also worked on numerous TV projects. For you, what are the main differences between the two?
The writing process is basically the same, but normally when working in television the budgets are much smaller, this means that you cannot have so many musicians, so it is restricting, and you need more imagination and inspiration maybe.
Your score for the Television mini series L’ENFANT DES LOUPS is wonderful. The series ran for three episodes all of which had a duration of some 90 minutes. How much music did you write for this project?
There was just over 2 hours of music in all.
What size orchestra did you utilise for this score?
It depended on what scenes we were scoring, but I would say I used a 60 piece orchestra and also a 30 voice choir.
I notice that you have a conductor on many of your scores i.e. Mario Klemens; do you not conduct at all?
I did conduct my score for COUP DE SIROCCO but I honestly did not enjoy this, so I have since then always had someone conduct for me.
Do you orchestrate all of your own scores, and do you believe that orchestration is an important part of the composing process?
Absolutely, it is the colour of the music, to have the main theme played by oboe, or maybe by celli, or to add some percussion nobody else could do that for me.
It is sad to say that your compact disc releases are very hard to come by outside of France. Have you ever thought of producing and releasing any of your scores that have not yet been issued?
Yes, I did have some offers to do this, but I am very lazy, so I did not take the time to do this. Nowadays CD sales are in such a mess that the only way to make my music available would be on the web, which is something that I am considering doing.
When you begin to work on a project, how early do you like to become involved? Do you like to read the script or do you prefer to come into the proceedings at the films rough cut stage?
Because I come from the theatre I love to read plays and scripts. This for me is the best source of inspiration because I can write themes without the constraint of dialogue, effects and editing.
What composers would you say have influenced you?
Mozart, Keith Jarret, Elvis Presley, and for orchestration, Ravel, Stravinsky and Bartok.
What would you say was the most enjoyable project that you have worked on?
Almost impossible to say as I have worked and enjoyed working on so many different projects – so I cannot answer your question.
How long do you normally get to complete a score?
When I first began to score movies I was given about two months; nowadays it’s much less, probably three weeks at the most.
Your score for L’ENFANT DES LOUPS was issued on Lympia Records recently; do you think you will be working with them again?
I hope so, they had the courage to release this CD, and they put a lot of work into the release, which I thank them for.
When you start work on a film do you have a set way in which you score it i.e. main titles through to end titles etc?
I follow the movie and score it scene by scene; I incorporate the main theme into some of the cues but also use other music. It depends on the requirements of the individual film.
What is your opinion of the temp tack process?
If you are referring to the demo track on a film I hate it. I say to the filmmaker if you want that music then keep it, but if not I do not want to hear it at all. Let us talk of your film’s musical needs and do not reduce my imagination. Musical preferences are OK but not with the picture.
Have you ever had a score rejected or maybe have you refused or declined an assignment?
I have declined pictures but this is normally because I am busy working on something else and the producers of the film will not wait for me to finish the project I am working on. I have also had scores rejected; I think every composer has – this was because the producers of the film could not reach an agreement on what style of music they wanted and so I became fed up with this war between them.
What is your opinion of the state of film music today?
Same as always, its a hard business to be in – music is a dirty job but someone has to do it.
When there is to be a compact disc release of one of your scores, do you have any input into what music will go onto the disc?
Yes, I always select the titles and the tracks of my CD releases, except on L’ENFANTS DES LOUPS; I left this entirely up to Lympia Records.
How many times do you like to see a movie before getting any fixed ideas of what style of music and how much music etc it needs?
I like to see a picture twice and then maybe go back and look at certain scenes; it all depends on the number of cues I have to write.
How do you arrive at your musical solutions; do you use piano, or a computer?
Piano, Guitar and also a computer.
What are you working on at the moment?
A musical THE FIRST TOP SECRET.
I think I am right in saying that most of your assignments have been for French productions. Have you worked outside of France on anything?
Oh yes. I worked for Channel 4 in the UK; have worked for American producers on A TALE OF TWO CITIES and THE SAINT and did work for the BBC. Plus, have worked on a number of co-productions, as well as working as a musician in India.
Many thanks to Serge Franklin.