Tell us a little about your background, both personally and professionally (in terms of film music). How did you first discover film music?
Movies have always been present in my family. In his youth, before I was born, my father used to run a film club. Later, when I was a kid, he used to volunteer every weekend as a projectionist in the movie theater of the small town where we lived. So I have very early cinema-related memories: I remember fondly the super-heated projection booth, the sound of the projector and the smell of the hot (and sometimes burning) film roll… Moreover, there was always music at home, because my mother is very fond of classical music. Rummaging through her records, I found quite interesting stuff, like the 45rpm release of Miklos Rozsa’s Ben-Hur, or a best of Ennio Morricone’s westerns. Meanwhile, I was increasingly paying attention to music in movies, both in feature films and on TV. And then Star Wars happened, which made me purchase my first movie soundtrack. After this important discovery, I became passionate about sci-fi: I was reading and watching everything related to it, and I started to buy the soundtracks of every sci-fi movie that I got to see (and even of movies that I didn’t see). So, almost at the same time as John Williams, I discovered Jerry Goldsmith with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The more I listened to the work of these composers, the more I wanted to know and hear everything. Very often, while watching movies on TV, I used to record the audio track from the TV speaker on a small tape recorder. Soon, I stopped limiting myself to a single genre of movies and I broadened my horizon to everything else, and to many other composers. And as I was becoming interested in many different types of music, the list grew quickly!
Meanwhile, I continued to listen to anything I could find on LP, and Elmer Bernstein, John Barry, Ennio Morricone, John Carpenter, Philippe Sarde, Georges Delerue, Maurice Jarre, and then Basil Poledouris, James Horner and many others entered my collection. I devoured articles devoted to music in many magazines, and even subscribed to the Soundtrack! Magazine, even though I could barely understand any English (which led me to progress quickly!). It was also at that point that I decided to work in the movie business, and I left my hometown to conquer Paris, only 17 years-old, and join a film school to learn all about editing and directing. I followed my course, directed some short films, and occupied every imaginable position on a movie set, whether for videos, short movies and even one or two feature films, before changing my career path, mainly for financial reasons. At the same time, I started to write movie reviews for a fanzine, always paying special attention to the music. A short experience that would nevertheless have a significant impact on the following years.
How did you begin your online magazine? Tell us a little about its history, and what you do now in terms of film music journalism.
In the late 90s, I was involved for a time into a movie magazine called Mad Movies, as a film critic but also writing about film music. Then in 1999, I had the opportunity to meet Michael Kamen, who came to France for a concert of his music. This first interview is for me very important for several reasons, not only because Kamen was a wonderful and passionate man, but also because on that day, I met Florent Groult, who would become a decade later the co-founder of UnderScores. From 2005, I started to travel to film music festivals, including the one in Ubeda, Spain, during which I met many enthusiasts, amateurs and professionals, and interviewed numerous composers, including an epic interview with Basil Poledouris shortly before his death. Florent and I were already considering to create a film music magazine, but at that time printed magazines began to falter and every film music-related magazine started to disappear one after another.
Nevertheless, we continued to talk about it, and as I was a big consumer of web content, the idea of creating an online magazine started to take shape. This format also allowed it to exist without the need to be financially profitable. So I learned the basics of HTML and PHP, created the site from scratch, and in September 2008, we launched UnderScores, a webzine dedicated to screen music in all its diversity. By chance, the only French existing webzine at that time, Traxzone, ceased to exist just prior to our launch, involuntarily helping us to attract their readers on UnderScores and its forum. This adventure began almost eight years ago, and UnderScores is now the most visited website dedicated to film music of the French speaking world. The website core team usually amounts to a dozen, assisted by many more occasional contributors, and I’ve been the editor-in-chief since the beginning. I also had the opportunity to give lectures on film music, contribute to TV and radio shows, and be part of the jury of the Jerry Goldsmith Awards for several years.
What, in your opinion, are the things that are necessary for a film score to be successful?
A good score gives the film an extra voice, almost like an additional character, and enriches it on every level: aesthetic, emotional, narrative. Music can plays an active part of the fabric of the film, or be a counterpoint to the visual elements. It gives birth to various emotions without ever forcing the audience, without twisting the arms of the viewer. A good score doesn’t work as audio wallpaper, whose primary function is to decorate the picture without disturbing, not ever to be noticed. A good score is not necessarily ubiquitous, it simply comes when necessary. Finally, for the audience, it’s the melody that will make the whole thing memorable, and allow it to exist outside of the film. It is the peculiarity of great scores: they transcend the film for which they were created to live an independent life, and eventually enter the collective consciousness.
What is your opinion of the film music industry as it stands today, especially in France?
The ways film scores are created have changed a lot during the last two decades. Most of the time, directors use music in their film because they do not want to take the risk to do without it, but they do it while never asking themselves if it contributes to the success of the film. Their interest in music itself is limited: it’s only expected to be discreet, without any distinct personality. Only a few filmmakers use the score as a separate voice. Moreover, the technology has evolved, and because of digital editing, it is uncommon for composers to see a locked version of the film before starting to compose. The music must now be malleable in order to be more easily cut and reassembled according the editing changes of the movie. Composers must constantly adapt to a film that keeps changing rhythm, and it is difficult to craft a highly sophisticated score in these conditions.
Outside of big-budgeted movies, the money available to hire musicians for a film score is also reducing more and more. Orchestras and soloists are very often replaced by samples or an electronic approach. Moreover, for twenty years, the Zimmer school of composing gave the new generation of viewers (but also producers and directors) a taste for a generic musical style, even in France, where a few composers formed at Media Ventures/Remote Control are working today. However, even if we generally go firmly towards an impoverishment of music, some very talented composers become very visible by contrast, like Alexandre Desplat. But it is very difficult for a young talent to make his mark in a movie business asking more and more for wallpaper music. Luckily, in France, we are fortunate to have established talents like Desplat, Bruno Coulais, Philippe Rombi, Gabriel Yared, but also promising challengers: Eric Neveux, Pierre Adenot, Cyrille Aufort. And every year, we can discover new talents, not only from France, but also from all over the world, waiting to be revealed as soon as a film project gives them enough freedom to allow their creativity to express itself.
Who do you think are the best film music composers, historically and working today? What is it about their music that appeals to you?
It is not the place to list everyone, and it would be way too long! I would simply say that among the composers of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Miklós Rózsa and Bernard Herrmann are for me the most flamboyant. Jerry Goldsmith holds a very special place in the Silver Age through his boldness and versatility while John Williams made a near-perfect career without losing any inspiration on the way. Lalo Schifrin is the undisputed king of the groove, and that the irreplaceable voice of Ennio Morricone has resonated with uniqueness for over 50 years. Among the 80s generation, I particularly love the work of the late Michael Kamen and Basil Poledouris (and his monumental Conan the Barbarian), but also many other composers with strong musical personalities: Danny Elfman, Alan Silvestri, Christopher Young, Howard Shore, James Newton Howard, Patrick Doyle.
Beyond the legends that are still working today, Michael Giacchino and Marco Beltrami are the most outstanding composers of the new generation. Giacchino is able to link tradition and modernity by creating a very thematic music, technical but also very immediate, with a very personal and recognizable style, always in perfect harmony with the medium for which he composes, whether a game, movie or TV show. As for Beltrami, he’s a master at experimenting, taking risks and trying unexpected ways to give a unique personality to the movies. But there are many other composers of diverse origins who frequently offer exciting scores: Abel Korzeniowski, Roque Baños, Fernando Velázquez, Daniel Pemberton, Joe Kraemer, Panu Aaltio. In France, Desplat is incredibly productive and versatile. His music is remarkably elegant and that’s probably what also explains its success everywhere in the world. One can also mention those who are not necessarily into orchestral music, but expressed themselves through electronic music, for creative reasons: Daft Punk, Robin Coudert. Finally, there are also a lot of talents coming from TV (Bear McCreary, Murray Gold, Maurizio Malagnini) or video games (Austin Wintory, Jason Graves). Of course, this list is neither exhaustive nor static, and will hopefully evolve over tomorrow’s discoveries!
Read Olivier’s reviews at Underscores, like his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter at @HellboyLeRouge