Interview with Mark Isham

Mark Isham is the composer for two current films this year “Warrior” and “Dolphin Tale”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Mark about working on these films and also what he has planned next.

Mike Gencarelli: What was your biggest challenge when it came to creating a score for “Warrior”?
Mark Isham: I would say the biggest challenge right off the bat was to figure out the vocabulary of the score. The film is not just about fighting or MMA. You don’t want to limit yourself to just the sounds of MMA but you don’t want to violate that world either. It became very apparent that this project wasn’t going to work with a traditional score. I spent a few weeks fooling around with the types of music we could put in this film. I worked with a few different music editors who helped experiment to find what the sound was of this picture. It ended up centering around the guitar. The sounds ranged from highly compressed basic electric sounds to huge rock and roll guitar sounds. There is some orchestration in the film which helped with the iconic “Rocky” style ending. You need the size and weight that an orchestra brings when you are building up to the final scene.

MG: Did you get inspiration from any other films?
MI: I can’t say there were any specific inspirations. The “Rocky” film is much more one dimensional than “Warrior” however you can’t deny the film being out there as it has worked so well. We knew we would have to use our own vocabulary in order to create the size and emotion of those final scenes.

MG: What was the process like for you working transitioning from “Warrior” to “Dolphin Tale”?
MI: “Dolphin Tale” was much easier to start. Charles Martin Smith who directed the film had a very clear sense of what he wanted as to where Gavin O’Conner was searching just as much as I was for a sound that fit the film. He wasn’t sure so it was an exploratory start for both of us. Charlie wanted a large traditional orchestral score. There was no trick to it as the story was very warm and open. He wanted me to find the two or three themes that the story really needed. We made sure we stayed very melodic as we didn’t want to fall victim to the current trends. Our catch phrase was “Shamelessly Melodic” [laughs].

MG: Do you prefer input from the directors or do you like to work from your ideas?
MI: I am a big believer in as much communication as possible. It’s a team effort no matter when you start. On “Warrior” I started right as the script was green lit because I had been friends with Gavin for some time. There is still not a chance where I am going to know as much as the director is going to know about what their concepts or philosophy will be about a film. The more time I can spend working with the director the better. A big part of my job is being able to communicate well with the director.

MG: Is there a genre that you prefer working on the most?
MI: No I don’t. I think over the years I have done a big enough variety of films that I feel comfortable working in any of them. I get quite excited when it comes to films no matter what the genre especially if it’s told in a creative way.

MG: From all of your work is there one score that you are most proud of?
MI: I think my two most recent ones “Warrior” and “Dolphin Tale”. I have discovered that one of the reasons I really love my job is that every time I work on a project a new door seems to open when it comes to exploring music. Not only do I try to present the best score I can according to the directors vision but I also want to challenge myself as a composer. I have noticed in the last few years that I have really done that and topped each of my previous works. I think in both of these two scores I learned a tremendous amount and I feel  they are some of my best work.

MG: Do you have any other upcoming projects?
MI: I scored a Scott Hicks picture earlier this year. The film is being held right now for marketing reasons. The film is a Zac Efron love story which I believe the will be being released around Valentine ’s Day so all the girlfriends can take their boyfriends 3 or 4 times [laughs].

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