Interview with Christopher Lennertz

Christopher Lennertz is known for his diverse scores ranging from “Alvin and the Chipmunks” to TV’s “Supernatural” to “Vampires Suck”.  Chris recently completed work on the new film “Hop” and is also working on a projects that is very important to him which is called “A Symphony of Hope: The Haiti Project”.  Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Chris about his new film “Hop”, as well as his upcoming projects.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about your score for the film “Hop.” What was your inspiration?
Christopher Lennertz: It’s definitely a family film. I knew it had to have a lot of heart and magic to it. But the other thing that makes it really interesting is that the Easter Bunny wants to be a drummer. In the very first scene when you finally meet him he’s playing drums. So we knew there would be a big element of percussion. So we wanted to give him the personality of this really cool rock and roll drummer. And since it’s Russell Brand it made a lot of sense. (NOTE: Brand provides the voice for E.B. in “Hop”).

MG: When you were composing did you rely on any footage or just character ideas?
CL: We had a lot of footage, but the animation wasn’t finished. We had a lot of footage of the live action characters – James Marsden and those guys. But a lot of the animation wasn’t done…it was blocked out in very rough terms. So I had to imagine. And Tim Hill, the director, would tell me “this is what it’s eventually going
to look like.”

MG: Which score was harder to compose, “Hop” or “Alvin and the Chipmunks”?
CL: I felt it was definitely easier this time around because it’s my second time working with Tim Hill. I know what Tim likes and I feel we have a real comfortable relationship. I feel free to try new things and to look at things in a slightly different way. He lets me try it. We had a great time on this movie…we had a lot of fun. It really was a great
creative experience. We both knew what kind of movie we were trying to make but we both wanted to have the most fun while making it.

MG: You have done quite a few parody films, including “The Comebacks”, “Meet The Spartans”, “Disaster Movie” and the recent “Vampires Suck.” How did you get involved with these films?
CL: “Disaster Movie,” “Meet the Spartans” and “Vampires Suck” were all from the same directing team. We really get along. They like to use me because I know they like their music really BIG! Very over the top. It really plays their comedy well. And Tom Brady, who directed “The Comebacks,” and I really got along well because we both love sports movies and that was the kind of movies the film was parodying. I think I was the right fit for those kind of things. And I like doing comedies. Comedies are really hard to score. People don’t think so, but the comic timing has to be perfect or you can kill a joke. So it’s fun for me to help people tell their jokes.

MG: Is the process any different for creating scores for those type of films?
CL: Well comedy is harder because you have to be part of the joke. It’s like a comic that doesn’t tell the punch line right. If the music is not right on timing right you can actually make the joke not funny. And you certainly don’t want to do that. I love being a part of that. One of my greatest teachers and mentors was Elmer Bernstein, who wrote the music for “Stripes,” “Caddyshack,” “Animal House,” “Airplane!”…all those great comedies…”Ghostbusters.” For me he was the guy that revolutionized scoring for comedies in terms of really having the music be in on the joke. That’s what I really try to do with my comedy music as well. (NOTE: Elmer Bernstein was a 14 time Academy Award nominee who composed the scores for such classic films as “To Kill A Mockingbird,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Great Escape,” the original “True Grit” and “The Age of Innocence.” He won the Oscar for his score for “Thoroughly Modern Millie”).

MG: Do you enjoy going from a film like “Hop” to something like the television series “Supernatural?”
CL: I do actually. I’m sort of an ADD guy so it keeps me from getting bored (laughs). I love being able to do different styles of music. Just when I’ve done some really nice family stuff…really sweet themes…I can jump right in and do something scary for “Supernatural.” Get that out of my bloodstream (laughs). I love being able to mix it up.

MG: What has been your hardest score to compose to date?
CL: The one that was probably the hardest score to do, even though it was a short score, was the movie “Adam,” which came out last year. It was a much more serious score. It had comic moments but it was a pretty serious indie movie. It was about a guy that had Aspergers and fell in love. The thing about that movie that made it really rewarding – but also made it difficult – was that it was such an intimate movie. You couldn’t hide behind any visual effects or big explosions or scares…anything like that. You had to be out in the open. It wasn’t a big score. It wasn’t a big orchestra or anything. It was mostly guitars and pianos and cellos. It was about really being subtle and touching on the emotions that the characters were going through. Sometimes it’s hard to do that…to be really exposed and put it out there. We spent a lot of time working on it but in the end it really came out great.

MG: You have done quite a few video game scores. How do you feel that compares to film or TV?
CL: The only major difference is how the score is constructed. You have to write it in such a way where the music has to change depending on how good the player is. But an action piece in a video game will work like an action piece for a movie except where in the movie the character is played by an actor in the game he’s played by the player. I try to approach it in the same way because that’s what people play video games for in the first place. They want to be able to fantasize about being in another world, or the pilot of a ship or a soldier. People play video games for that escapist entertainment. So what I want to do is make them feel like they’re in the middle of that movie…of that battle. That’s what I try to accomplish when I write for video games.

MS: Tell us about your latest project, “A Symphony of Hope: The Haiti Project.”
CL: We actually recorded it last week at Warner Brothers. It was a project that I worked on for a year and three months. I came up with the idea after the earthquake hit. I had been working with a charity in Haiti that is run by a family friend of ours, Tom Hagen. The charity is called Hands Together. They build schools and they feed people and they build wells for clean water and teach people how to farm…they do all of this amazing stuff. When the earthquake hit it just broke my heart. I realized how lucky we were to be where we were and to be safe and healthy. There is so much to do in Haiti…so much catching up to do. I realized that we in the film music community had to do something. So I came up with the idea of inviting a lot of my colleagues and other composers to conceive and write a symphony that is a compilation of all of our work. It’s based off of a Haitian folk song called “Wongolo.” It ended up being a full 50 minute symphony that we recorded with a full orchestra and chorus at the Clint Eastwood scoring stage at Warner Brothers. By the summer we will have a CD out and a DVD documentary about the project. We’re going to try to really raise a lot of money to give back to this foundation so they can build more schools as well as fix the ones that were destroyed in the earthquake. We want to try and bring the people of this country along and give them something to hope for.