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SST Exclusive Interview with Chris Lennertz
31 Aug 2006
Childhood (born 1/2/1972):
How did music play a part in your childhood?
My Grandfather was a semi-professional Jazz singer in the Boston area, but other than that, my family was not musical...other than being music lovers. I was very into music at a young age and wrote my first song in the 5th grade.
What instruments do you play? When did you start your music training?
I play guitar as my main instrument. I also play some bass, percussion, and piano, as well as sing. I started on trumpet when I was 9 and switched to guitar at 13.
Looking back at shows you saw as a child, was there one (or several) in particular that started your interest in film music?
At that time, it was Star Wars. No doubt about it.
Training & Education:
What first got you interested in being a composer?
I caught a Henry Mancini scoring session and watched the master work with the orchestra. After that... I was hooked.
Who are some of the composers you admired as you were growing up and learning your craft?
Growing up and spending many summers in the Boston area. I saw John Williams conduct the Boston Pops many times. Scores like ET, Indiana Jones, and Close Encounters definitely had a profound impact on me. Also, Goldsmith's Poltergeist scared the daylights out of me and was an early favorite amongst horror scores.
What have been the influences on your own personal musical style?
I think that my love of Jazz and history as a jazz and rock guitarist, combine with my training in the orchestral field to create a hybrid sound quite effectively. I also tend to utilize a lot of world music influences in my scores wherever possible. In the end, I love to write sweeping melodic lines whenever I get the right scene.
You graduated with a degree in Composition from the U of Southern California, one of the finest film music schools in the US. Who were some of your mentors in college and after graduation?
Well, I was extremely lucky to study at USC when I did. It was Elmer Bernstein and Christopher Young’s first year teaching as well as Bruce Broughton’s last. Elmer was a very inspirational man to me and not only taught me so much about scoring films, but also gave me some great direction in the business after college. Chris Young was and is a magnificent teacher and has been an inspiration to me throughout my career. After college, I was very fortunate to spend about 2 years working for Basil Poledouris, who is not only a fantastic composer, but a wonderful mentor and human being. It was working for Basil that gave me a lot of experience with recording and the electronics. I also think that his muscular action style has been a big influence on my writing. After that, I had an amazing experience working for Michael Kamen, leading to doing orchestrations and really polishing my chops with big orchestral writing and conducting.
What advice would you give young people, who are considering a career in film/video game music composition as far as formal education goes?
I think that anything that a young person can do to practice their craft while learning from people who excel at film composition is a great way to get started. That said, you’ll need to develop contacts and experience with filmmakers as well…so I think that USC is such a great place, because besides the study of scoring, there’s the nation’s finest film school where you can get your feet wet and start to develop as a collaborator.
Many universities now offer degrees and advanced studies in Interactive Media. What would you say to young up-and-coming composers who want to get into the video game business?
Once again, aspiring composers should put themselves in the closest proximity to the creative directors and producers of the mediums in which they’d like to work, so going to a school that has a great program for interactive studies is a great idea.
Was it difficult trying to establish yourself as a composer when you were first starting out?
I had done an internship during my last year at USC working for Roger Corman’s company. I booked my first feature length project because of that before I even graduated. It wasn’t glamorous, but it did lead to a steady stream of work as a composer after that. It took a while to be able to survive financially, but since I was working for Basil at the same time…I managed to keep the rent paid!
What was your first big break?
My first big break was probably the show Brimstone, where I finally got to work for Warner Brothers. It opened a lot of doors for me and my relationship there continues even now on Supernatural.
Was there one composer or person "in the biz" who changed your life?
Wow, there are too many…The person in the Biz who has changed my life the most is Doreen Ringer Ross, the head of film music at BMI. She has been such a neverending supporter, advisor, and confidant to me since I was still in school, that I wouldn’t want to imagine my life in this business without her. She is a true friend and amazing human being in a very tough business.
Composing music for media in general:
Can you briefly describe the steps between getting the scoring assignment and wrapping up the finished project?
Sure. The first step is to spot the project with the director/producers, where you decide where the music should start and stop as well as what needs to be achieved dramatically. You’ll discus things like instrumentation and tempo as well as mood and atmosphere. After this you write the major themes and get them approved. Then you can proceed to write the rest of the score, showing your work to the director a bit at a time and making adjustments according to his or her direction. When all is written and approved, you’ll orchestrate and record the orchestra or whatever instruments need to be tracked live, and then mix down the cues. Once the music editor has everything in time with the picture perfectly, you will deliver a protools session of the final music mixes to a dubbing stage where they blend it with the FX and dialogue. Then you can finally get some sleep.
What are the most striking differences between scoring for films, TV, and video games? What are the aspects of each genre that you either particularly enjoy or dislike?
TV and film are basically the same, although the schedules in TV are much tighter. Video games are very similar, but since they are not a linear medium the approach is to concentrate more on changing levels of intensity than specific hits that occur precisely at certain times. In a musical way, this can be very good in that you can finish melodic lines and write a bit more musically without being cut short by picture changes, but…you lose the ability in many situations to change the dramatic mood in sync with the action on the screen. The changes are just a bit less precise. There are pros and cons to both.
How much of your work is done using synthesizers and how much using full orchestra or small acoustical group? Which do you prefer?
Most of my TV work is sample based, whereas my work for film and games is predominantly orchestral. In all situations though, the project determines the ensemble. Some films only need a small ensemble while a game may need an orchestra and choir. As long as you can let the project dictate the group, things are perfect…the hard part comes when a budget prevents you from using the ensemble the project truly needs. Even then, the problem can often be solved with an interesting creative approach.
Where do you do most of your actual composing - in a studio at home or elsewhere?
I have a studio that is about five minutes from my home. Almost all of my writing takes place there.
Do you work with an orchestrator?
I work with quite a few orchestrators, depending on the schedule of any project. After being an orchestrator myself for quite a few years, I know what a talented orchestrator can bring to the project. Schedules today are so tight, that orchestrators are essential to finishing the job on time. They are very valuable members of a composer’s team.
Can you tell us a little about musical innovations you've tried in instrumentation to create novel or unique sounds?
Recently, I’ve done a lot with the bowing of hammered dulcimers like the Hungarian cimbalom. It’s become part of my textures for Supernatural, and many times the addition of an organic instrument played in an unusual way can really give the audience something to take them into the world of the film or show.
Where do you get your inspiration to come up with a completely original theme or melody for a character or scene?
Many times, a truly inspirational scene or character will “put” a theme very quickly into your head. At that point, I just need to write it down. Other times, it’s a bit more of a process. Normally, I do hear music in my head when I first watch a film with out music. Occasionally the end result will be very different than that first reaction, but most of the time, the first instinct is pretty close to what ends up as the piece.
What is it like to receive your first Emmy nomination?
It was an honor to be nominated. I was thrilled that it was for a collaboration with Eric Kripke. We’ve been friends and collaborators for so many years, that it was wonderful to get the recognition here.
What is your approach to scoring a scary moment, like when a ghost or demon appears and make the audience jump? Please tell us a bit about your work process when you score an episode.
Many times, the best approach with us is to actually fake the audience in to thinking that the tension is waning and the cue is about to stop, then to have the scare on screen hit them with the shock. After that, the terror can wail at full tilt!!! I’ll normally spot an episode and have about a week to turn it around, so I’ll start writing right away for about 5 days. On the last day, I’ll record some electric cello or woodwinds and then mix the episode all night for the next day delivery. Fast, but fun.
Was it difficult taking over for Michael Giacchino for the Medal of Honor: Rising Sun score?
Of course Michael had set the standard for orchestral video game scoring on the MOH series and he is a fantastic writer, so yes, I was aware of the expectations, but I knew that the project was right up my alley and wanted to continue the quality of the series.
How did you approach scoring MOH:RS? Were you required to keep many of the themes or were you given a lot of liberty to compose the music as you saw fit?
I used Michael’s main theme where it fit as well as the Nazi theme, but because of the far-east locale, there was an opportunity to do a lot of my own thematic introduction as well. Ultimately, we had to serve the dramatic needs of the game first and foremost.
MOH:RS is arguably your most popular game score. What others have you done that you're especially pleased with?
Well, I think European Assault was even better. I’m also very proud of From Russia with Love and Gun. They came out fantastic as well.
What has been your most rewarding experience or personal achievement thus far as a film composer?
It was great to get to see The Deal out here in LA at the Arclight theater. It came out very well and I think it had a lot of my style to it. Also, Dr. Dolittle 3 came out great and I got to record at Fox which is an amazing studio.
What has been your most enjoyable movie score to compose? What was the most challenging?
I don’t know about most enjoyable, since I’ve loved so many, but The 4th Tenor was special because it was so Italian and I have such a fond memory of that music and my Grandfather. The most challenging have usually been the ones with the low budgets only because you have to get really creative to get the sound, in a situation where you can’t always afford to do the things you hear in your head.
Can you give us some personal insights into your score for Saint Sinner?
Saint Sinner was great because I love working with Josh Butler and Clive Barker is such a fantastic guy. I was really allowed to get pretty dark with the 20th century music and got to record in Budapest. Since Chris Young was one of my teachers, it was very cool to delve into his world working on a Clive movie, especially after I had so much respect for what they had done on Hellraiser.
There must be times when you and the director or producer don't agree on the music for a movie or scene. What do you do in those situations?
I try to explain my viewpoint as well as possible, but always remind myself that the director has been on the film so much longer than I have at this point and has been so intimate with the story, that there is usually a very good reason for his or her interpretation. At the end of the day, my job is to musically support and convey the director’s vision, and that it what I’ll do.
What is your feeling about the use of temp tracks?
It’s a double edged sword because in the current day of accelerated post schedules and preview screenings, it can lead a composer in the right direction in terms of the producer/director’s desires quickly. This is essential when there is no time for second guessing, BUT…because of all the temps, there is no allowance of time for creative conceptualization, thus…most scores sound alike. As the composer you need to get them job done and make everyone happy, but also try to push some of your own style into the project. It can be very difficult, but I don’t see the trend changing anytime soon.
How important do you think music is to a film?
I’d say music is as important as any main character or any great location. It can further the drama and set the mood equally as well as visuals and dialogue. I think the really great directors understand and appreciate this. As a young composer, I just hope to find as many directors that agree with me as possible!
In your opinion, how do most people view music in film today?
Outside of our industry, most people don’t realize the effect music has. Its much more subconscious, which is fine. They’d be much more aware if it wasn’t there. In really great pieces of filmmaking, the music, cinematography, performances, etc can all really shine. Then you have your classics.
What do you see in the future for soundtracks?
I think the digital delivery of soundtracks will allow for a lot more music to be released, which I think is great. Ideally, people want soundtracks to remind them of how they felt while watching the movie. So, the better the movies get…the more demand there will be for the music.
Since we're all soundtrack fans and collectors, we would be very pleased to see a release of Supernatural or another Christopher Lennertz score. What can we look forward to from you in the near future?
I hope so too. I’d love to see Supernatural released. No news yet. From Russia With Love should be on itunes soon and we’re trying to get GUN out there as well.
What other projects are you currently working on that you can tell us about?
Season 2 of Supernatural is coming up as are 2 big playstation 3 games that I can’t reveal yet. Also, My movies Sharkbait and Tortilla Heaven are due to be out this year. Keep you eyes open for them.
What kind of film would you like the opportunity to score in the future?
I love sports films like Hoosiers and Rocky. I’d love to do one of those. Also, I love epic period pieces…That’d be great for me. Anything where I can write a great lasting melody that really pulls at the heart.
If you were to compose something for yourself, what would it sound like?
It’d probably be a hybrid of orchestra, electronics, and ethnic instruments. I’d also love to collaborate with contemporary artists and bands. I’ve really enjoyed working on the record side of music as well.
Who are some of your favorite composers working today?
Williams is still at the top of his game…and I’m a big fan of Goldenthal, Newton-Howard, Morricone, and Elfman. Silvestri and both Newmans are also favorites. As for some of the newer guys, I like what John Powell does. Jan Kazcmarek is also fantastic…as is Chris Beck. I also really like John Brion’s dramatic stuff. Very smart.
Care to give us an idea of what music you've been listening to on your personal iPod?
Hmmm…I just returned from my honeymoon and my favorites while on the beach were: Herbie Hancock’s new album, Possibilities; The newer U2, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, The Ennio/Yo-Yo Ma album, and a bunch of Arvo Part’s orchestral work.
Again, congratulations on your Emmy nomination. We'll be watching the show on August 27th. Good luck!
Thanks, 24 took the prize, but it was still an honor to get the recognition.
Thank you very much.
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