Jon Hopkins is a musican/composer who is known for his melodic electronica and dance music. Jon has released numerous albums and has worked an a few film scores the most recent being Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters”. Movie Mikes was lucky to chat with Jon to discuss his fantastic score for Monsters” and his process for creating music.
Mike Gencarelli: Where did you find your inspiration for the score to “Monsters”
Jon Hopkins: I think it is all in the visuals. There is such strong cinematography in the film. I am really inspired by brilliant photography. Gareth was known for his work in visual effects but I had no idea he was such an incredible camera man as well. I just saw some of the shots and they were like works of art. It just suggested to me the sound right away. The color scheme was a factor as well. The general feel of the film for me is captured by the way it looks and how the colors work, so that is where it comes from.
MG: Did you have any difficulty scoring the film?
JH: It was the first one I have done on my own. I have worked on a couple on with a team of composers. I was learning a lot. My studio wasn’t really equipped at that point to score a film. The computer I had was struggling a lot trying to have the picture playing same time while working. It was a great learning process. I learned a lot things not to do very quickly. I was able to work out the details of how to begin such a large project. We just got over all the barriers we faced. The biggest challenge was making something that sounded sort of orchestral without having an orchestra. I did that by recording one string player, Davide Ross and then just layered it up and built it to what sounds like an orchestra.
MG: Do you have a favorite scene that you enjoy scoring the most?
JH: There is a scene where Whitney (Able)’s character wakes up by the water just after the first encounter. It has the most beautiful dawn and she stands up and looks at the sky. For me that was such an amazing moment to score. I put my favorite piece of music into that point of the film.
MG: How did you original start working with Gareth Edwards?
JH: It was actually through Vertigo films, who is releasing “Monsters”. I worked with them on this film called “The Escapist”. I helped them with the end track for that film with was the track I worked with Coldplay. They saw I worked with Brian Eno on the score for “The Lovely Bones” and knew I could do scoring. They gave me a chance and they introduced my work to Gareth. He was completely behind me working on it.
MG: Did he did you any direction or did you have creative control?
JH: Luckily, he was behind all of my ideas. There are twenty two or twenty three pieces of music in the film. I think maybe with two of them I got the tone wrong and he would come in and we would work on it. He would come in and direct a few points and guide based on high or low points in a scene. It was more moving around to fit his vision than any major changes. Generally, it was great and we really hit it off.
MG: “Monsters” wasn’t your first feature, you also worked on “The Lovely Bones”, tell us about that process?
JH: Yeah that was awesome. It was my first feature film working experience. I collaborated a few times with Brian Eno for probably the last seven or eight years now. He was talking about how he was approached by Peter Jackson to do it. He loved the book and Peter Jackon’s work but wasn’t sure if he wanted to take on such a big project. We worked with another composer Leo Abrahams, who was an old friend of mine. The process was the three of us in Brian’s studio and we really didn’t have much from the film to work with. We were working off our knowledge of the book and off some big stills that Peter would send us. It was a lot of improvisation at first. We technically split it three ways. There was also a lot of involvement on the studios end since what we sent it to what finally come out, there was a lot of additional added. The score for me, you can hear that it sounds full of too many ideas for one score.
MG: Do you find it any different working on a film score than on a regular album?
JH: It is very different. Having written over twenty pieces of music for “Monsters”, I was done within three and half weeks. For an album it takes more like four months to do ten pieces. There is a lot of pressure when you are writing a score. It is not suppose to take 100% of your attention. When you make an album it has to hold your attention fully for an hour. In the film, you are helping drive the story. There is a moment in “Monsters”, where Gareth has no sound and it is just an incredible scenery shot. Those pieces need to be able to get the viewers attention.
MG: Tell us how you got to work on Coldplay’s album “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends”?
JH: Thanks to Brian Eno again, he was asked to produce the band and a few months into it he has the idea to invite other musician to work with them. They wanted to break things up and add some fresh ideas. Davide Rossi, the guy I used for the strings on “Monsters” was Coldplay’s string arranger, that is where I met him. I was in there just jamming for a few days. It just sort of evolved into co-writing and additional producing of a few of the tracks.
MG: Do you have a favorite film soundtrack?
My favorite soundtrack is “Lost in Translation”. The music is just my favorite collection of pieces. That film is not really one genre either, it is not a comedy, drama or love story. It is its own thing. Those are the kind of movies I am really interested in.
MG: Do you have plans to do any more film scores?
JH: My plans is I always just wait and see what appears. I never aimed specifically at doing scores. This film came a long, I saw it and I thought I really want to do this. My plan is wait for the right ones to come along. I do not have a huge range of styles that I want to write, so there will only be a few films that fit that. I love indie films. What I really love about “Monsters” is it doesn’t really fit into a genre, it is kind of a sci-fi road trip film and it is different in that way. I love that fact that it is not definable, it is not a horror film or action film.
Check out a the theme for “Monsters” by Jon Hopkins here: