An Interview with Trevor Morris by John Mansell ©2010
Composer Trevor Morris has recently been put into the spotlight of film music collectors via his haunting and highly original scores for the Showtime television series THE TUDORS which has had huge success all around the world. His music for this series literally made the film music community sit up and take notice and also paved the way for the composer to work on more high profile projects and motion pictures and television assignments with bigger budgets. Trevor was born in London Ontario in Canada, which is just a few hours away from Toronto. He was accepted to St Mary’s school of arts as a child where he studied choir and violin on a daily basis.
At the age of 13 he was commissioned by his school to compose a piece in honour of Pope John Paul’s visit to Canada, for which he received a fee of $50.00. When the composer moved onto college he attended the most prestigious school for recording and production, Fanshawe’s music industry arts program. The composer graduated at the top of his class after which he relocated to Toronto. During his mid 20’s the composer spent most of his time involved with many of the top music production studios but after a while focused upon the actual composition of music when he began to write at first for commercials. In 1999, Trevor moved to Los Angeles and his career as a film music composer began in earnest, it was during this time he began to work with James Newton Howard and also Hans Zimmer.
Did you always intend to write music for film?
Not really, the notion came to me in my early to mid 20’s, and when it did it came on strong.
PILLARS OF THE EARTH, is currently airing on British TV, your score is an integral part of the production, as this is a television production aired in separate sections, how do you score the project, by this I mean do you score it as one movie, or is each part score separately and do you also score it in any particular order, or do you start with larger pieces and work on smaller sections later etc?
It was derived from a famous book by Ken Follett, so in that regard it is one big long story arc. But being divided up was the only practical way to tackle such a monster program, but we always tried to keep the big picture and full story in mind while we worked.
What would you say is the purpose of music in film?
Music’s role in film is to tell the story, the narrative through music, heighten the emotions (whatever they may be) and really act as the glue that keeps everything together.
Did you come from a family that had a musical background?
My grandmother did, she is the one who really introduced me to music and the piano, I credit her for doing so.
The TUDORS is an excellent series on television, and your scores enhance and compliment perfectly every episode, what size orchestra did you utilise for these scores?
The Tudors was largely done with synthetic orchestra, that is “sampled” orchestra libraries. We did get to do some work with live orchestra and choir, especially the final two episodes of season IV. They were entirely live string brass and choir, which we recorded in Prague.
Do you conduct at all, or do you find it more useful if you are in the control box listening as the music is being applied to the film?
It depends. I do and have conducted, and enjoy being out there with the players. If it is a hybrid score with lots of percussion and other elements, I am better served at being in the booth.
How much time were you given to write the score for PILLARS OF THE EARTH?
It was an extraordinarily tight schedule. To put it in perspective… if you took a normal schedule of time for a composer to work on one 2-hour movie of similar subject matter, I had just a little more time than that to do all of Pillars. Which at 8 x 1 hour episodes is more or less the equivalent of FOUR feature films. It was the hardest and most challenging part of the project for sure.
The scores for THE TUDORS has been issued on compact disc, do you have any input into what cues actually make it onto the discs?
Yes I choose and sequence all my Soundtrack CD’s. I always think of it from the point of view of the fans of film and TV music, of which I am die-hard member, and what they would want to hear. I also try my best to go chronologically and try to recreate the story if I can through my music.
What musical education did you receive?
Not much! I studied as a young child, strings choir and piano. Then it all stopped when I went to high school, and the rest is all self taught.
How do you arrive at your musical solutions, do you use piano, keyboard or other means to work these out?
Always the piano, and of course the orchestral instruments themselves which I play through my computers. I write oboe parts on oboes and all that. But for the big ideas, I sit at my beautiful piano, listen to the overtones interact.
Considering the period in which THE TUDORS is set, your scores sound quite modern in places, which works very well. Was this something you decided to do from the outset, rather than go for the normal approach in which past productions dealing with this time period have been scored?
It was part of what Showtime and I were collectively going for, and I think achieved, which is a modern updated story-telling point of view. It made THE TUDORS feel relevant in a way for me. But no, my goal was never to be historically correct with the music ever.
Staying with THE TUDORS, it has a very haunting main theme, do you think it is important for a series on TV to have a theme that people can identify easily, or at least one that is like the TUDORS instantly recognisable?
I strongly do. I wish more shows took the time to do main titles. If you think about it, it can be one of the most memorable parts of a TV show. Think THE BRADY BUNCH, or THE SIMPSONS, or ER, or THE WEST WING, or NYPD BLUE or THE ADAMS FAMILY, the list goes on.
You worked alongside Hans Zimmer on movies such as PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and BAD BOYS 2, what is it like working with him?
It was a great experience in its own way, one I am glad I had.
How does scoring TV projects and scoring feature films differ?
From my perspective not much, I approach them in similar ways and with the same amount of ferver. Budget and timeline wise they can be very different, just inherently different animals.
You also worked with Wes Craven on the horror picture, THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2, how did this assignment come about, and did Craven have a hands on attitude to the type and also the placing of the music on the film?
Well he’s a legend, but was a pretty cool customer. I was psyched to work on one of his movies. I just went to meet him and the producers to talk and they chose me to score the film, simple as that.
What composers or artists would you say have influenced you and the way in which you compose music?
Some film composers obviously, most of the obvious ones. But also pop music like Peter Gabriel, and a lot of classical composers from Bach to Berlioz and back.
Do you do all of your own orchestrations?
Yes I do. Even if I hire orchestrators, its almost always written by me. But they have a very important part to play in the nuances, bowings and phrasing and stuff I don’t get the time to think about in detail.
When you are working on a project do you prefer to become involved at the rough cut stage or maybe earlier?
Always the earlier the better. Always, always. I do half my writing in my sleep or driving my car or what have you, takes time for ideas to marinade.
THE TUDORS is in its fourth season, will there be any more and will you be scoring them?
Tudors is done, like a good friend you loved and are sorry to see go, but feel proud to have known them. I couldn’t be prouder to have been part of such a ground breaking TV series, and feel lucky to have it come into my life.
What are you working on at the moment?
Doing a great series for Jerry Bruckheimer on NBC called CHASE, and finished a wonder indie movie that was a huge hit at the Toronto International Film Festival called BEAUTIFUL BOY. I also have a very cool big action movie lined up for early 2011.
My pleasure, thanks for having me.