Written By E. Corrado
When did you find out that you were scoring City of Ember, and how did it compare to when you found out about scoring other movies?
I got hired end of June, early July. City of Ember had a tight deadline, since it had a predetermined release date. With Journey to the Centre of the Earth, I had six months, so it varies.
What was it like working on this movie, and where did you draw your inspiration?
I read the book 1-2 years ago, I’m a huge fan of the book, and loved the idea of coming from a dark place, and going to a lighter one. In the music I tried to emanate that and I tried to make the back canvas a glimmer of hope. Lina, in the movie, is like the glimmer of hope who is going in a different direction then everyone else and ends up believing in something better, so I wanted to make her theme very uplifting and hopeful. Even before I had come on board, they had hired an orchestra, so I knew that there would be a choir, and quiet themes that would tell the story. It would start out dark, and become a sense of accomplishment and victory.
When you look back at other movies you have done, such as Saint Ralph, and Journey to the Centre of the Earth, how does ‘Ember’ compare?
Every movie is definitely different. What I loved about Ember is that it had a mix of action and real emotion, almost religious at times. You can find another emotional depth, which is multilayered, as opposed to two-dimensional.
When did you know that you wanted to be a composer?
Earlier on, I had three things that I wanted to be. A composer, an architect, or an airplane pilot. Now I know that I made the right choice by choosing composer. I had been composing since I was young. I was in a highschool band, but the band broke up, around the time that applications for university were due. I realized that I really liked movie music because the emotion for the movie develops over a period of time, and it is nice to be able to develop an idea over a period of 90 minutes, rather then 2 or 3.
Where did you study music?
Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo ON.
When composing music, do you use a keyboard and computer to mix the tracks electronically, before it’s played by the orchestra?
I use Logic Audio, and make Midi mockups. The studios want to know how it will sound when it’s done. In the old days, you would write the piece on piano, play it for them, and then be telling the studio execs, ‘this here will be oboe, here french horns, and here timpani’, which would leave a lot to the imagination. I like doing scores because orchestra productions are so expensive, movie studios are some of the last places that have the money for that.
Are there any scores that you’ve done that you aren’t happy with and think you could have done better?
No thankfully, but there is always that fear of not doing it as well as you could have, then sitting in front of the orchestra and thinking, I could have done that better’, or ‘I should have done those eight bars differently’. But I think that is more like a kind of quality control.
What was your favorite part of doing the music for ‘Ember’?
Lina. I liked her character development. I wanted her strength and determination to parallel the story in music, since on screen she sometimes comes across as more quiet, and humble.
What was your favorite movie to write music for, and why?
It is hard to choose since they are all so different, but when I had the opportunity to listen to clips of them, I have to say, Saint Ralph, Touch of Pink, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and City of Ember.
In City of Ember how did you come up with the theme that is played throughout the movie? (The one that comes through fully at the end, and on the last track of the soundtrack.)
I actually wrote it on an airplane flying back from a meeting with the director. I always carry manuscript paper with me, because I sometimes get an idea that I want to write down. I couldn’t get the theme just right, until finally I fixed that be changing it to 6/4 time.
How are the titles chosen for the soundtrack?
For City of Ember there was 80 minutes of music, and the soundtrack has 71. Some of the shorter cues become tracks combined in a suite. One thing I try to keep are the titles making sense in reference to that part of the movie for people who have seen it, while not giving too much away to those who have bought the soundtrack, but not seen the movie yet. Sometimes the titles are determined by the director, although I like to try to keep the original names.
Before the tracks have names, how are they referred to for the orchestra?
A lot of movies still have film on reels, and there will be 5-6 reels for the film, and about 15-20 minutes on each reel. They are numbered like 1-M-6, with the first number being the reel number, and the second number being the cue. So 1-M-6 would mean first reel, cue number 6. If there are only 6 cues on reel one, then the next reel would start at 2-M-7. When the second reel starts, the second number continues on where it is left off going from 6 to 7.
The reason for this is that sometimes they will rebalance the film, and make it be on five longer reels, instead if six. This way the musical cues always keep the same number association, even if the reel number changes.
When composing, do you have to watch, and make sure that you don’t have music running through the reel breaks?
That’s a good question. As time goes on and more movies go digital, it doesn’t matter. Some composers have started composing without the reel breaks now, but there are still many film theatres out there. I never play music through reel breaks, because at the theatre they will slice a few frames off of the reels, especially as they start to get beaten up at the reel breaks. I make it a point of having just over 2 seconds, before the end of the reel, and when it starts again about 1/2 second without music. This way the music doesn't get cut off for a second.
Since City of Ember was based on the first book in a set of four, if sequels are made, would you be doing, or willing to do, the music for them as well?
I would absolutely do all four. They have a magnificent story, and I was writing a theme that could evolve. At the end, it is the same melody, but a different incarnation. I would love to explore that further.
Can you tell us about any other upcoming projects that you are working on?
One Week, which opens in March 2009, and was at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The City of Ember soundtrack will be available in store November 4th, 2008, and was released October 21st, 2008 on iTunes.