Joseph Bishara talks about his role and his score in the film “Annabelle”

Photo by Dean Karr

Joseph Bishara is the amazing composer for horror films like “Insidious”, “The Conjuring” and most recently “Annabelle”. He is also probably the cause of a few of your nightmares since he played great characters like Lipstick-Face Demon in “Insidious” and Bathsheba in “The Conjuring”. Joseph took out some time to chat with Media Mikes again about his new film “Annabelle” and what we can expect.

Mike Gencarelli: From your role of Lipstick-Face Demon in “Insidious” to Bathsheba in “The Conjuring” to your latest role in “Annabelle”; what do you enjoy most about getting to play these roles?
Joseph Bishara: I like being able to look through the eyes of these characters, and getting to have a different perspective and take on the film. It’s seeing the scenes unfold from the inside. They were all very interesting characters to explore.

MG: We got to learn about your character in “Insidious” and “The Conjuring” but not much in “Annabelle”, give us some background on your role?
JB: It’s the demon that’s attached to the doll. When discussing the character with James (Wan), his take described it more specifically, as Lorraine Warren would explain as a “latching demonic”.

MG: Which of the three was the most challenging for you?
JB: I would have to say “The Conjuring” because it was the most time I was on set and also the longest to get into the makeup. “Insidious” was challenging also but it was different because it was more guerrilla filmmaking, where we had to make do with what we had to work with.

MG: How does it feel like to give a grown man nightmares with these roles?
JB: [laughs] That’s a good thing. I won’t apologize for anyone losing sleep, everyone needs to have nightmares.

MG: You not only have roles in the above-mentioned films but you also are the composer delivering spin-tingling scores; what do you enjoy most about working in this genre?
JB: It’s the genre that I feel most comfortable in, and with the directors that I have worked with I have been given a lot of freedom to take the scores in the directions I wanted. Horror is always a favorite of mine and I just really enjoy creating in that space.

MG: “Insidious” is easily one of the best horror scores in recent years; how do you approach a score when you are working with the film?
JB: When I start on a score, I just start hearing it in my head often from the moment it starts being discussed. I can’t really explain it but if the project is right, ideas will just come. It’s finding what the language is and isn’t, and then speaking it.

MG: What can we expect from you in terms of role and composer in “Insidious: Chapter 3″?
JB: I can’t say much just yet, but Leigh did an excellent job with it and brings a bit of a different flavor. Hopefully you’ll lose more sleep.

For more info, check out his official sites: www.jbishara.com and www.voidrecordings.com

Oscar Winning Composer, Steven Price talks about his new score for “Fury”

Steven Price is the very talented composer behind the film “Gravity”, which ended up winning him last year’s Oscar for Best Score (along with numerous other awards). Steven has also worked on film like “The World’s End” with Edgar Wright and TV series like “Believe” with “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuarón. Media Mikes had a chance to follow-up with Steven to discuss his new score for “Fury” and what we can expect.

Mike Gencarelli: You worked on the score for “Gravity” for about two years; at what point in the production did you come on board “Fury”?
Steven Price: I started on “Fury” about a year ago. I got the scripts and read through them. Usually, I am pretty useless at judging scripts. I tend to do better off waiting until I can see a little bit of what they have shot. But with this film, the script was really gripping. (Director) David Ayer has this ridiculous ability when writing characters that you feel like you totally know them in only a couple of pages, you care about them and you want to know what is going to happen to them. I loved the script. So I made a couple of calls and it turns out they were shooting it about 40 minutes from where I live. So I asked if I could visit and I actually ended up going a couple of times while they were shooting. I got to watch it being shot but also I got to spend a bit of time talking with David discussing what he was doing and what he hoped the music would be. It was an amazing opportunity to get to work with another director that really values what music can do for a film. It was important for him to have the music to carry emotion and be a part of the experience. So I was very keen to be involved.

MG: “Gravity” was set in the vast unknowns of space; tell us about how you approached “Fury”, which is set in the hell of World War II?
SP: I think “hell” was the key to it actually. We talked about what the characters had already been through by the time that we meet up with them in the first reel of the film. They have been in the war for 3-4 years by that point and have seen and done unimaginable things. They are exhausted and terrified but they have to keep going forward. So it was a matter of capturing that sense of exhaustion and of being in hell with this constant motion and this grinding forward. I wanted to capture that quality in the music whilst putting you there with the men and their emotions throughout the film. So that’s the conversation we had at the start and then had to work out how that would actually sound.

MG: I was going to ask if you looked for influence from other World War II films but this has such a unique sound for the genre and even sort of crosses over the line of horror with the use of the overlying chanting throughout.
SP: With where they are within the timeline of WW2, the film being set just 3 weeks before the Nazi surrender, I think it is easy to imagine that things were less intense at that point, but in actual fact the crews were in the middle of Nazi Germany… they were surrounded, and things were unimaginably bleak and threatening. I did a lot of work with a choir that is constantly chanting and whispering around you. It is an eerie sound in lots of ways. You never feel, like they never felt, safe for a moment. There is something that could happen that would be life ending, you never know. It was a real turning point for me, while writing, when I got the idea to use the choir in that way. I recorded them in all sorts of different ways. Sometimes it was as a choir but often times I would give them all their own individual microphones and get them saying different things. We could make it sound like individuals at times or make them sound like this group marching forward. They are only really used as a traditional choir in terms of singing at the very end of the film. So until then, they are this voice of constant persistent danger.

MG: Were you able to able anything you learned from “Gravity” on this project?
SP: I think the great thing I learned from “Gravity” experience was to just keep trying and keep experimenting with new things. That was a process for me that was really useful on this. The film was evolving as I was working on it and there was always a chance to look at something from a different angle.

MG: What were some of your biggest challenges that you faced here?
SP: The biggest challenge on this film was just getting the journeys right. Take the character, Norman (played by Logan Lerman), when we first meet him in the film and he goes from being terrified to suddenly plunged into a tank battle. So trying to figure out musically, how was his journey through the film and his growing and understanding of what it means to be in this was a challenge. Also Brad Pitt’s character, Wardaddy, was challenging since his enigma itself almost could be played musically and how much we should learn about him and his team through the music. So a lot of it were character challenges and trying to support them and their stories. That was the stuff that got me scratching my head at night and trying different things.

MG: I love that the score is so epic and yet you still have some beautiful piano work in tracks like “I’m Scared Too”.
SP: I did an early demo with piano and David sort of immediately attached to it. It is very simple piano work and all quite blunt actually in terms of the musical construction of it. They characters aren’t verbose sort of characters. They speak clearly and what they say is clear. Musically, I wanted it to be like that too. I wanted it to be very concise. The piano writing was very simple and also it needed to be played with great emotion. One of my oldest friends, who is not a full time professional musician but is a great player, ended up playing it for me. He came in and just completely understood what I wanted to do with it. His touch on the piano really made the whole thing work. We spend a long time getting the right sound for it as well. We ended up going about it in a peculiar way using two very old 1940’s microphones underneath the piano. It is not the sound that you would ordinarily do for a big posh film piano sound but it just felt right. You hear the mechanics of the piano, the pedal sounds, the contacts between the hammers and the strings and that seemed like it was suitable for this film.

MG: Since you are no longer working on “Ant-Man”; what is your next project?
SP: There is stuff knocking around a bit but not allowed to say much about anything at the moment though. But at the moment, I am in the bit where I should have been doing “Ant-Man”. Having spent a lot of time with Edgar Wright and considering him a good friend, it was never going to be an option for me to do that film. We spent so long talking about musical ideas for the film and it would have been so wrong taking it with someone else’s vision really. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to work with him again soon. But we will see what is around the corner next, yeah!

Kevin Kliesch talks about composing the score for Disney Junior’s “Sofia the First”

Kevin Kliesch is a composer that recently earned his first Emmy nomination for his work on the hit Disney Junior series “Sofia The First”. He has worked as a composer and orchestrator on over 100 feature films spanning the past seventeen years, including “Frozen”, “The Hangover” and “Tangled”. He also received his first Annie Award nomination for his work on the “Thundercats” series in 2012. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Kevin about his work both composing and orchestrating.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us how you got started composing for the Disney Junior series “Sofia the First”?
Kevin Kliesch: I had worked as an orchestrator on “Tangled” in 2010 and became friends with the film’s editor. After hearing my mockups and orchestrations from Alan Menken’s score, he happened to recommend me to the head of music at the Disney Channel since they were looking for a composer to score their new series “Sofia the First.” I met with the Sofia team and they liked my background, so I got the job.

MG: Congrats on your first Emmy nomination for your work on the show; what do you enjoy most about composing for this show?
KK: Thanks! The best thing about writing for Sofia is that I get to write the traditional Disney-style music that we all grew up with. The producers wanted to stay away from typical cartoon music and instead draw on the lush sound of past Disney films, which I am honored to have been a part of, having worked as an orchestrator on “Enchanted,” “The Muppets” and “Tangled.”

MG: How is it going from a show like “Sofia the First” to working with DC Comics’ animated movies like “Superman: Unbound” and “Justice League: War”?
KK: The two are musically about as far apart as you can get! I really enjoy scoring the DC films because it gives me a chance to write in a completely different genre than the Disney style. I’ve always been a fan of action scores, so it’s great to be able to call up a different palette of sounds and get my superhero vibe going.

MG: “Frozen” and Tangled” are two of my favorite newer Disney films; tell us about your involvement with these films?
KK: I was the orchestrator on both of those films. On “Tangled,” I worked with the legendary Alan Menken on bringing his score to life. He would send me complete piano sketches and I would have to take those and make complete orchestra scores from those sketches. I also had to do computer mockups of all of the music so the directors and producers could hear what the score was going to sound like before we went to record it with a live orchestra. On “Frozen,” I didn’t have to do any of the mockups since the composer Christophe Beck did his own mockups, but I did wind up orchestrating about two thirds of the score from his sketches.

MG: Switching roles from orchestrator to composer; what do you enjoy most and why?
KK: As an orchestrator, I get to work on someone else’s vision of how the score should support the film’s narrative. As a composer, I get to create that vision myself – which is eminently enjoyable. Being able to translate emotion into music is both very challenging and rewarding.

MG: How does it differ doing a score for a film than it does for a television series?
KK: There’s not much difference in terms of how I approach the story. Both genres require that the music support the drama and the characters; I always strive to give emotional weight to what’s happening on screen. There’s also not much difference in the time I have to do each project. While a DC film might have 70 minutes of music, I’m usually given a few weeks to complete it. On my television series, I usually wind up writing 20 minutes per episode, and I get anywhere from 7-14 days to do that. Both genres require that I write about 3 minutes a day to reach my deadline.

MG: I have a two year old daughter, who loves “Sofia the First”; with you also having a young daughter, does it only making working on a show like this 100% better?
KK: Absolutely! My 6-year-old comes into my studio every day and asks me what episode I’m working on. Sometimes I’ll play the whole episode for her, which she loves because she gets to watch it before anyone else! I also really enjoy watching the episodes with her when they air on tv.

MG: Being a fan of the series; I have to ask was it a daunting task to redo the theme song for the reboot series of “Thundercats”?
KK: It was daunting only for the fact that the producers wanted to compress the 2-minute original theme song down into 10 seconds, so I had to figure out how not to make the die-hard fans angry!

MG: What else do you have in the cards for the rest of 2014 and onwards?
KK: “Sofia the First” has been renewed for a third season, so that will keep me busy well into 2015. I’ve also been approached to orchestrate a new ABC/Disney television series called “Galavant” which will have original songs written by Alan Menken and an original score by Christopher Lennertz. So I’m super-excited to be working with the Disney team again!

Steven Price talks about composing the score for “Gravity”

I am a huge fan of film scores, always have been. I am always keeping my eyes open for a new favorite. Well, I have found him…enter Steven Price. Steven has three film scores currently under his belt including “Attack of the Block” and “The World’s End”. His latest score for the hugely successful film “Gravity” is no question the best score of the year! I have a feeling it is going to be winning many awards in the coming months. Media Mikes had a chance to chat about developing the score for this film and his involvement with the film.

Mike Gencarelli: Where you ever concerned about delivering the sound to the soundlessness of space with your score for “Gravity”?
Steven Price: It was one of those things that looking back on it I should have been absolutely terrified. At the time we were so into trying things and experimenting that I didn’t realize what a ridiculous thing that I had attempted to do until I finished it really. This was actually lucky cause otherwise I would have sat frozen to my chair and never written a note. At the time it felt like it was a great opportunity to take on this daunting task but I can see now that it was perhaps now quite an ambitious task to undertake.

MG: I felt like the score was the third member of the cast in the film; was that a goal of yours?
SP: The hope for the music was that it was going to add to this idea of immersion. The camera was floating up in space, weightless like the characters and the music was there to follow through with that. You were up in space with them and you felt like you were immersed in that. For me it is the third character in some ways but I was always closely tied to the character of Ryan. A lot of what the music was trying to do was express her emotions and feelings. The hope was certainly that it would have this immersive feel and the sense that it would really all come together as a whole experience.

MG: What did you use for inspiration to come up with this amazing score?
SP: From the word “Go”, Alfonso (Cuarón) was really clear that he didn’t want this to be a traditional film score. I didn’t go and listen to other film scores about space. I avoided things like that actually. We would listen to all types of different music and draw specific aspects from each. You might be listening to rock music one week and then the next some really extreme electronica. All of these things would trigger off little experiments that I would use to apply during the writing process. Everything was really open and we had a lot of freedom. There was no one telling us how we had to create the sound. We got to make something that really fitted this film well and that was also very distinctive.

MG: I read that the score was mixed to be enhanced with the Dolby Atmos technology; tell us about that process?
SP: Yeah! That was the last thing that we did. We came back this past summer and did a new mix for that. This film really suits with Dolby Atmos and the whole thing about it is that you are completely surrounded by speakers. They are all around you. I based a lot around the knowledge that we were doing that when I wrote it as well. You can take it to another level. So if the camera enters the helmet of Sandra Bullock, then all of the sudden the score can feel like it compressed around your head. We had a lot of fun doing that and it is easily my favorite mix. There are so few Dolby Atmos screens in the UK but it is the one that I recommend to my friends for sure in America!

MG: “Don’t Let Go” is one hell of an emotional 11+ minute track; give us some background on its development?
SP: When I wrote it originally it started as 4 or 5 cues. They all did separate things but were designed to flow together. It became the bit that I was most proud of, so that is why I put it on the album as one continuous track. It just felt like it worked so well. It starts off with the introduction of the most dramatic stuff. You’ve had all this chaos and disorientation in the film for the first 20 minutes and this was the first time when you can take a breath. So it let me do a little bit of that kind of writing style which then went into a really choreographed action section. This idea came along early in the writing process that as the actors move around that I can reflect their movement within the music. I thought that that aspect was sort of a breakthrough and I was very excited during mixing that one. I was just so happy with how it all came together and how the emotions carried through it.

MG: What was your timeline on this film?
SP: I started back in December 2011 and we finished the main film mix November/December of last year but then came back like I said this year and did a little more. So I have been involved for the better part of two years now, which in the great scheme of this project is nothing. There are people that have spent around four or five years working on it. But it was great that since it was in fact so much longer than the typical composing project on a film where you are always in a race against time that with this film you got a chance to go back and try different things. I was also involved with temp mixes with the sound crew, so we all sort of evolved the sound together. It was pretty rare and really great to see the whole project develop over the years.

MG: It’s been a busy year for you with “Gravity” and “The World’s End”, tell us about how ?
SP: I had done a film called “Attack of the Block”, in which Edgar Wright produced a few years ago. So “The World’s End” came from that basically. It was just great to work with Edgar on that film. He is so interested in his music. The whole film is so cleverly structured and the music is a part of that. You get really involved really early. Again, I got a script way before they even shot that one and got to discuss how they were going to do things and how we could adapt the sound. That was great fun and a lot of my role in that was around the energy of how everything happened in one night in the film. We got to play into a bunch of different styles since there were comedy bits, action bits and even romantic bits as well. It was just good fun to be able to press different buttons. From being in this very immersive “Gravity” world, it was great to break out and do something different.

MG: What do you have planned after this film?
SP: There are a few things that I have knocking about. Since I am relatively new to this whole composing thing and I am not one of these people that have done like 50 films, I still feel incredibly lucky to be doing it. But also I feel paranoid that it will stop all of the sudden [laughs]. So there are a few things in the works but I don’t want to curse them by talking about them just yet. But there is definitely some exciting stuff coming up!

Reinhold Heil talks about co-composing the score for "Cloud Atlas"

Reinhold Heil is one of the three composers behind the stunning score for the film “Cloud Atlas”, along with Tom Tykwer and Johnny Klimek. They have worked together on numerous films including “Perfume”, “The International” and “Run Lola Run”. The trio of composer also got nominated recently for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score for “Cloud Atlas”. Media Mikes had a chance to pick Reinhold’s brain about this wonderful score and also what he has planned next.

Mike Gencarelli: You co-composed the “Cloud Atlas” score with Tom Tykwer and Johnny Klimek, tell us about that collaboration?
Reinhold Heil: We have been working together now for 16 years on many different films. The only major film that Tom Tykwer directed that we didn’t work on was “Heaven”, which he did in 2001. All the others starting with “Winter Sleepers” in 1996, we have all worked together. Tom isn’t necessarily amazing with the computer programs but he is an excellent musician. Composing is such an integral part of the filmmaking process. He starts thinking about the music in the screenwriting process. He sends the screenplays to us then and we get together and try and conceive what we think the sound would be like. Once the screenplay is done, the music is already starting to emerge and then gets nurtured all the way through post-production. We have this old tradition of setting up two work stations, one for Johnny and one for me and Tom alternates between the two. From conception of an idea it is instantly shared, so all three of us end up working on every aspect of what is being done. I have more of a classical background, so if it falls into that area I would take on more of a role. But what has established over this 16 year relationship is that all three of us have really grown and we developed this overlapping skill set. We each could score our own movies and we have in the past and will again in the future but we enjoy collaborating together.

MG: Some of my favorite tracks are “The Atlas March” and “The Cloud Atlas Sextet for Orchestra”; tell us about where you got the inspiration this score?
RH: With the “Sextet” it has this specific problem that is mentioned and even described in the novel. The way it is described it has this avant-gardist chamber piece from the first half of the 20th century. At the same time it continues, it gets forgotten for decades and then gets slowly unearthed towards the end of the century and then in the future it becomes this ubiquitous piece that everyone knows and has this quasi-religion aspect. There is even a holiday for the piece called “Sextet Week”, so if you read the book it is even crazier than in the film. So being confronted with this task of actually having to write this piece that has all these qualities is very daunting. We wanted to keep it true to the aspect that it is a 20th century chamber piece but it wasn’t as important as to give it this main theme sound that works and has this beauty to it. We just followed our inspiration and wrote this piano piece that could have been done during that period. With the arrangement, we tried all sorts of things. We tried chamber, choir, string orchestra and even full orchestra. That is where our crazy method comes through that we overwork something and only a fraction of it gets seen. The songs theme is really everywhere, almost in every cue somehow. The same goes for “The Atlas March”. The idea for that was that we needed something that was emotional, simple, uplifting and that it can build from almost nothing to this big orchestral piece. We worked all the cues in a way that these two melodies were reprised throughout the whole score. The opening titles, for instance, was a totally different piece originally. It had acoustic guitars and other melodic elements but it ended up just including the “Atlas March” melody and the “Sextet” melody. The same goes for the next track “Travel to Edinburgh”; you have all three main themes combined there. It is based on the “Sextet” but doesn’t have the “Sextet” melody instead it has “The Atlas March” melody. It also has the “Eternal Recurrence” melody built in together. The idea for that piece “Eternal Recurrence” is used to have something that gives the feeling of faith playing itself out and propelling the story forward. These are the main building blocks of the score.

MG: What was the timeline of the score from the moment you came on this project to completion?
RH: We were in Berlin for the first time in late March/early April of 2011. We knew the film was going to – or hoped it was going to happen – as far back as the summer of 2008. Of course we read the book back then and started thinking about what it would sound like in advance. We listened to a lot of John Adams. Though, I do not necessarily think that you will find that much inspiration from John Adams in the score but that was our first idea behind it. The real decision for the music always comes after the rough cut comes and you start slapping much on to see what works and what doesn’t. So during that time we worked for about two and half weeks and had already came up with ideas for “The Atlas March” and “Eternal Recurrence” themes. The “Sextet” was not there yet, but we were charging ahead with that and we still trying to give it a more “arty-fartsy” direction. We went back home to LA and then came back in June/July of 2011 and had a six week explosive creative session. At that time Tom was also struggling with the financing of the film. There was no studio behind it and it was the most expensive independently financed film ever, which made it more complicated. So I think for him personally coming back to the music studio in the late afternoon to spend a few hours with us was a therapeutic thing for him and taking a break. Tom was really explosive with ideas throughout the process though. With the orchestra session it was a challenge since the volume of music we generated was getting out of hand. Luckily one of our assistants, straight from USC, we brought along jumped it and we had two orchestras working their asses off. We did four day orchestra sessions and since the only way we could do that was since it wasn’t an experienced film orchestra otherwise the music budget would have been out of control. The people were though super motivated and tried very hard. We ended up recording unbelievable amounts of music. It was a giant post production since we had to play with various little snippets of music. Then we ended up having to go back and forth from LA to Germany in early 2012 while the film was being cut. I was also working on a TV show at the time and putting in about 14-16 hours at day. It was just an amazing amount of work. When you work with Tom, he doesn’t do anything half-assed. So in all, we are talking about 15-16 months from the first conception to the delivery. Even after delivery though, there is always still little tweaked here and there.

MG: How does that timeline compare to some of your other projects?
RH: The other project that we did together that took a very long time was “Perfume”, which started in 2004. We knew it had to have a full symphonic orchestra score, which we didn’t have a lot of experience with. We had to do a lot of experimenting since it was a new aspect for us. We then recorded choir in 2005 and then wrote a whole bunch more before the film was even shot. Then we pieced it all together and it was crazy work. I believe it also took longer than “Cloud Atlas” but it also included a lot of a learning curve for us. Looking back it was more of a two year process. We also did “The International”, where we did the same thing. It had a six week writing session before the film was shot then three months of developing that material and then five months of post-production. So those are some of our larger scale projects.

MG: You are working again with Johnny Klimek on “I, Frankenstein”; is that your next project?
RH: Yep that is next. It is also pretty much done. We started working on it in July of 2012. We might have some changes in the coming months but as of right now it has been written and recorded already. We recorded in Sydney, since it is an Australian production. It was really a very impressive experience. The scoring sessions were very professional with great staff that has done this before many times. It was quite different than “Cloud Atlas”, where it was all new for them. I hope that with the growing respect that we have received from “Cloud Atlas” – I know it is not a huge blockbuster, but it did just receive a Golden Globe nomination – hopefully we will get new projects were we can record here in Los Angeles. I would love nothing more than to record with Los Angeles musicians.