I haven’t done a written piece in quite a while. Actually, it’s been over two years. That’s mainly because since then I’ve moved into the audio world, having been so graciously asked to join the podcast team at Sideshow Sound Theatre, and after moving though the ranks from guest to host, then producer and interviewer… Well, it’s been an absolutely joy.
But some things can detract from that joy, especially if you work specifically in the world of film music and composers. And if you have even a passing interest in film scores then you’ll have heard the shocking and heartbreaking news that Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson passed away at the tragically young age of just 48.
So I was inspired to write something. Johann was a very special person to a lot of people, but I remember hearing a music track of his on the Tom Ravenscroft radio show, and immediately had to buy the album and send that particular track to my good friend Will. This is Will Dodson, the co-founder of Sideshow, and at the time I wasn’t part of the team. I was just a fan of the show. We were just friends who would recommend music cues to each other.
That album was called The Miners’ Hymns. And that track was called “The Cause Of Labour Is The Hope Of The World”; a nearly 8-minute long, sprawling epic that used almost all traditional colliery instruments of the coal-mining district of County Durham. It immediately struck a nerve with me. But not just in a musical sense – something about it hit the core of me. It was so emotional, so beautiful, and so hopeful… It’s the only time I’ve listened to an 8-minute cue from a classical score five times in a row. And it wasn’t even the shortest track on the album.
That was my first introduction to Johann’s incredible and original voice in composition.
I could go on and list his background, and all the work he did building himself into the mass hive mind, but you can find all that on Wikipedia. I’m just here to write about what his music meant to me and how it made me feel.
But I will say it was the special relationship he built up with French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve that made the big leagues takes note, having collaborated on three impressive films, each bigger in scope and better in quality than the last; Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival. The Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory Of Everything cemented his reputation as a major player in the film scoring world.
He was greatly respected among his peers in the film composing community, and beyond. His passing prompted an outpouring of sorrow and respect from composers, directors and film critics alike.
To me, two things stand out. Firstly, he was far too young to leave us. 48 is no age for anyone to pass, especially as (selfishly) it makes me wonder what incredible music journeys he might have taken us on over the next few decades. But as I said, that’s selfish to say, as it no way compares to what his family and close friends must be feeling . So I apologise for that.
Secondly, and this is just me talking personally, Johann had a real gift for creating music that spoke to people. There are a lot of great composers out there – and I do mean truly, truly great. But every once in a while, a musical voice comes along that stands out as, well… special. You know it when you hear it. And Johann Johannsson was one of those.
But mostly, to go full-circle, I want to thank him for this piece of music that started the whole journey for me…
If you’ve read any of my articles before you’ll know two things; Firstly, I’m fascinated with anything to do with film, television, or media in general. And secondly, I’m especially interested by artists in any field, be it in front of or behind the camera, that either work on smaller independent projects or have roles in bigger productions that you don’t necessarily get to see or hear about. This could be a composer, a costume designer, or a cinematographer. You get the idea.
James Clarke is an incredible talent who falls into the latter category. You may not know his name as much as the people he aims his lens at, but you most certainly know his work. And that’s been my goal all along with these articles – To focus on (no pun intended) and bring to the foreground for once the immense talent that you may not know so well, and give them the spotlight for once.
I’ve been a very big admirer of James’ work for a long time, and after reaching out to his representative (who was lovely, thank you Madeleine) I was thrilled that he agreed to answer some questions for me. James has been a stalwart and a staple in the world of cinematography for British television and features for many years now. One of the hardest working people in the business, and gifted with a truly astonishing eye for composition of a shot. What you take for granted on your TV screens is the culmination of him spending years honing his craft to give you, the viewer, the most beautiful and exciting images possible.
You don’t need to be a TV nerd like me to know you’ve seen his work. Even the most casual of goggleboxers will have been a viewer of something James has shot. Some of the biggest shows on television are all presented to you through his lens. Credits including MASTERCHEF (as well as the Junior, Pros and Celebrity editions), THE APPRENTICE (for which he was nominated for a BAFTA in 2005 for Technical Craft), THE TRIP (Directed by acclaimed British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom and starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, and GREAT CANAL JOURNEYS with legends of stage and screen husband and wife team, Timothy West and Prunella Scales. See? Bet you’ve watched at least one of those. And you know what they all have in common? They look gorgeous.
James is, obviously, an incredibly busy man, so it took a while for him to find a gap in his insane schedule to answer my questions. But when he was finally free to do so, his answers were a joy to read, and wonderfully insightful. Not only that, but he was charming, generous with his time, more than helpful, but… The main thing that came across to me from his responses to my queries was this; He absolutely LOVES what he does. So here is my interview with Director Of Photography/Cinematographer James Clarke…
IAN: James, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I’m a very big admirer of your work, and I think people may be unaware of just how much of your work they will know, so I really wanted to give you the spotlight in this piece.
Obviously you’ve worked your way up through the technical and camera departments, to camera operator, and now cinematographer. How did you first become interested in this side of the business?
JAMES CLARKE: I was 13 years old and at my schools careers convention, about to take my options for GCSE’s. I was walking around, wondering what I should be looking for, and found a stand that was promoting the BBC. The display had some photos of a cameraman at work and it attracted my attention. I asked the chap at the stand what I would need to do to become a cameraman and he told me I needed Maths and Physics GCSE, not to be colour blind, and to have a “keen interest in photography”.
Well, I was already good at Maths and Physics, didn’t think I was colour blind, but didn’t have a camera. I’m not sure if this was the best careers advice ever and would probably not offer the same advice to anyone who asked me the same question now, apart from maybe the last point. To have a keen interest in photography.
I took myself off and next time I went home I took my savings and bought my first SLR (Single-Lens Reflex). It was a Zenit Russian made and cost me about £40, I think. It wasn’t a great camera and the results were poor, but it taught me the basic principles of photography and it was the beginning of a soon to be “keen interest in photography”.
My photography followed me through my education and I began to show an interest in photo journalism and the Magnum Agency. I’ve always been interested in observational documentary, and am a very nosey person. I like to observe from the outside and a camera allowed me to do that.
IAN: Were there any artists or pieces of work growing up that inspired you, and more actively seek out this aspect of production?
JAMES CLARKE: I would say my peers, teachers, employers and work colleagues all gave me the inspiration and competitive drive for me to reach where I am today.
IAN: What was the process like moving from camera operator to DOP/Cinematographer? Was it always a goal, or just a natural progression after working with so many crews?
JAMES CLARKE: Moving from operator to cinematographer was not necessarily a big difference for me as skill set was concerned, as for most of my professional life within the television industry I had been responsible for big lighting set ups and multi-camera operations. The main difference was the perceived elevation and the pressure that I put on myself, thinking that I would be out of my depth. The reality was that I found I was surrounded by like-minded people who were there to help and assist me, and made the whole working experience a more considered and controlled environment.
I have to thank Michael Winterbottom (Director: Jude, Welcome To Sarajevo, The Killer Inside Me, The Trip) for giving me the opportunity to cross over into dramas and features. He has been a great inspiration to me. He allowed me to take responsibility and made me look at things a different way. He has a knack of standing back, and then standing back a bit further. He knows what he wants and it’s always a joy to work with someone who knows what they want.
IAN: You have a real gift for versatility in your work, without ever compromising your quality. Do you enjoy the variations in the work you do, going from “reality television” (only in inverted commas as I’m not keen on that phrase) to dramas and then documentary-style programmes?
JAMES CLARKE: I love the diversity of work that I have had the opportunity to do, and essentially what I enjoy the most and think what I am best at is Ob Doc style. I enjoy throwing myself into an environment and not over thinking it. If you have an interesting subject to follow then the rest falls into place. The most common comment I get from people who I work with is that I listen. Listening to what is going on around you visually as well as verbally is key, and having a natural interest in the subject is essential.
IAN: To elaborate, THE APPRENTICE must be a very tricky balance to strike, as it needs to be a mixture of fly-on-the-wall moments, dramatic tension for the viewers, but all with a glossy cinematic feel. Does working on that show ever give you a headache?
JAMES CLARKE: I’ve worked on THE APPRENTICE from the very beginning and have been part of it for the last 11 years. Shooting it has become second nature, and over the years the team has managed to craft a beautiful show. At first we had to sit down and work out the best way of covering the content, and year by year we have worked out what works and what doesn’t.
I wouldn’t say it gives me a headache, it’s just a long slog. 7 weeks of shooting, 6 days a week filming 12-16 hours a day. There are a lot of logistics to put into place, but with enough pre-planning and recces it all falls into place. It’s a big team and I have a great team of cameramen who have also been part of the show for many years.
IAN: What’s a typical production day like on THE APPRENTICE, if such a thing exists? There must be so many camera units to coordinate with!
JAMES CLARKE: A typical APPRENTICE day starts around 5am. If it’s Day One of a task I will head to the briefing location and set up with one other crew to light and work the camera plan. I would have already recced this location so usually know what it is we need to achieve. We set up a portable gallery for the director ready to receive the other two crews who have ben filming the candidates at the house. They will join us, as well as the candidates, Lord Sugar and his advisors. We then shoot the briefing and when completed go straight into the task.
All crews grab their camera, put it on the shoulder and then cover the task for the rest of the day. There are many layers of content that we need to shoot including arrival shots, car shots, briefing, task and interviews. All this happens quickly and there is not much time to hang around, so I need a team that can work quick and can think on their feet. Some of the longer days there is a crew changeover, which means 2-4 new crews arriving to take on the rest of the task. This usually happens if there is not an 11 hour break between the end of day and the beginning of the next.
Boardroom Day is the day that we all take a deep breath. It’s a chance for all the crews to catch up and talk about what had just happened on the task, and then set to shoot the boardroom. We shoot this with 10 cameras and 13 camera positions. Once this is set it’s time for the most important part of the day… Lunch! The food at the studio is excellent and for all of the team it’s a much-needed break.
IAN: How freely can the APPRENTICE camera crews roam and sprint around London, or wherever a task takes them, without interference from the general public? Are the locations approached in advance, or if not have there been incidents with people getting involved just to “get on the telly”? Or is it possible that Londoners are just so used to seeing camera crews these days they simply don’t care?
JAMES CLARKE: When we first started THE APPRENTICE, 11 years ago, there was quite a lot of freedom. The task would begin and we would follow wherever the Candidates decided to go. We would film whatever they did with whoever they approached. We would shoot first and then ask questions later. This meant having to get release forms from the public after having shot the actuality. It was a great way to shoot, and made shooting it real fun.
Unfortunately the rules have changed a lot in the last 11 years, and we can’t have the same sort of freedom. You can’t just run around and film wherever you want these days, so the Candidates will have a set of rules regarding which areas they are allowed to go to. This ties in with permissions from the various councils around London. Depending on the task, some locations may have been pre-cleared.
So, for instance, if they want to go and sell a product in a market to the general public they will be given a list of 10 locations they can do this from. Also, if they are roaming the streets looking for places to, say, sell a product the Candidates will say that they want to go to this list of places and then production will contact those places and ask permission to have access to film from the proprietor. As you can imagine a lot of the general public will guess that we are shooting THE APPRENTICE, but we never disclose this to them and just ask them to deal with any interaction with the Candidates as if they were in any other business discussion.
Occasionally people act up to “get on the telly” but we either stop filming or the scene will just not be part of the show. There have been occasions where production has cancelled a sale from a team because the deal done with a member of the public was just not realistic.
IAN: Obviously you can’t give away any trade secrets, but when it comes to the firing in the Boardroom, have you and your crew ever been shocked by Lord Sugar’s decision, or the reactions by the Candidate after being fired? Do you ever secretly have favourites to either win or be fired? (ever make any bets with the crew?)
JAMES CLARKE: We are never truly sure of what decision Lord Sugar is going to make in the Boardroom, and often I don’t think he is. He will be briefed before the filming of The Boardroom by production, and he will talk to his advisors who are following the task. He will then conduct The Boardroom as if it was his own, and will make his decision based on how he reads the situation put in front of him.
IAN: Is Lord Sugar a good boss? I’m joking, of course, as he’s clearly an exceptional person and businessman, but how hands-on does he get with the production, edits and shot selection?
JAMES CLARKE: Lord Sugar has a real presence across the whole production. He is in constant contact with production during pre-production, and is involved in helping sign off on all the tasks. When it comes to the Boardroom it is very much his space. He has a production briefing before the boardroom starts with members of the senior production. When we start filming the boardroom he is in control of the whole meeting.
He has no talk back and conducts the meeting as if it was his own boardroom. Rarely the boardroom will stop, and maybe this would happen if he was getting contradicting information from the candidates to the information that he has been briefed with, so he may break to get clarification from the production team who are all over the content from the previous few days on task.
I’m not sure I would like him to be my boss, but that’s why I’m self-employed.
IAN: Going back to logistical nightmares, THE TRIP looks like an absolute blast to work on, with Steve and Rob, but given the semi-improvisational style how hard is it to prepare set ups and coverage if you’re never quite sure what you might get day-to-day?
JAMES CLARKE: THE TRIP probably has been my career dream job so far. It was a great team and we shot the journey as it happened, so we all felt that we were on the same Trip as Rob and Steve. There obviously is a script they work from, but a lot of ad lib happens during the scenes. Michael (Winterbottom) does not like to block through scenes and rarely rehearses with the actors or crew.
At first a lot of the crew, who mainly shoot features and drama, find it quite stressful and unsettles them, but for me it’s the way I usually work so it does not seem to be such a big deal. There is a real freedom to the way it is shot, although Michael is very clear about what he wants and how he wants it. Very soon most of the crew understand the way Michael works. He rarely shoots longer than 8 hours, but we wouldn’t have a lunch break so we would eat on the run.
After the shoot, when catching up with the crew, they would say they were on their next job and finding it hard to adjust to the slower pace of usual drama. I thrive on working at speed, and enjoy working hard and pushing myself to get the results that we were after. I’ve learnt not to over-complicate set ups, and light for the sake of lighting. With the cameras the way they are now, shooting the way I like has become a lot easier.
IAN: I really want to ask you about GREAT CANAL JOURNEYS. It’s a wonderful programme; insightful, funny and heartwarming. And the cinematography is beyond beautiful. How did you come across this project?
JAMES CLARKE: GREAT CANAL JOURNEYS is another project very close to my heart. I got a cal from the director Mike Taylor who I had just worked with for the first time on a previous job. He told me about the show and I thought it would be a nice environment for a weeks shoot.
At first I had no clue how the show would turn out but I had a very strong feeling, especially having just worked with Michael, that I wanted where possible to step back a bit and let things breathe. The original production was commissioned for More4 and there were many views coming from production and commissioners about what the show should be about. It became very clear very soon that Tim and Pru are a special couple with a very special relationship, and that their journey was what was most important.
IAN: A show like this, which some may label a “travel documentary” but is so much more than that, must rely on showing off these wonderful vistas that Tim and Pru travel through, especially in this new world of HD television. Is there a difference shooting documentary set ups with HD as opposed to SD? And are there any moments, when dealing with narrow canals when you’ve thought “How am I going to shoot this?”
JAMES CLARKE: It seemed the perfect environment to film in. The boat travels at 4mph which allows us to hop on and off and get ahead to shoot ups and bys. I work with a great shooting camera assistant who also heads up ahead of the boat and gets extra shots. It became apparent to me that being off the boat is as important as being on it, and to see the environment is key.
The combination of the journey, landscape, history of that canal, architecture, people and place en route, and Tim and Pru not only in a loving marriage but also with her condition makes for a beautiful show.
Series One was a great success for More4, and broke all existing records for the slot it was on by over doubling them. So when asked to come back for Series Two and Three, now for Channel 4, I could not refuse. When the job comes in it’s almost like I’m going on holiday with some great friends, which I happen to be shooting on the way.
Shooting HD is only a benefit for filming the often beautiful scenery we find ourselves in. I also think the show has a peaceful pace to it, as many of the shots have a gentle tracking movement due to being on a boat.
IAN: Tim and Pru must be an absolute joy to work with. You, the producers and director really capture the spirit of a loving couple enjoying these adventures together. How is a typical day shooting with them and the crew?
JAMES CLARKE: We have 5 days with Tim and Pru and do the whole journey with them. They stay on the boat and we leave each evening to a hotel and return the next day. We have 2 days at the end of the shoot to go back and shoot GV’s (“General View“, wide or broad shots), extra boat shots and the aerials.
Often at the end of a day Tim and Pru would insist on us joining them for a glass of wine, and we would often stay and have supper with them in a canal side pub. It isn’t really like work. They are both so well read and have a wealth of knowledge of the arts. Sitting with Tim, listening to one of his many anecdotes is very entertaining.
I think the reason the show feels the way it does is because it is a small crew who have all become good friends that trust each other and enjoy each others company, so it meant we are included into Tim and Pru’s life as it is.
IAN: Do you have any aspirations to direct?
JAMES CLARKE: Part of me thinks I will direct one day, but I think I will find it hard not to be behind the camera.
IAN: To finish up, all I can say is thank you for being so generous with your time to speak with me. As I said, I’m a very big admirer of your work and will always keep a keen eye on any of your future projects. Speaking of which, what’s up next for you?
JAMES CLARKE: I’ve just started a set of 6 documentaries about Stately Homes that are occupied by the owners. It has a similar feel to GREAT CANAL JOURNEYS. I worked with Michael on the feature doc “The Emporer’s New Clothes” with Russel Brand. Just finished series Three of GREAT CANAL JOURNEYS, and THE APPRENTICE Series Eleven is currently on our screens.
IAN: Assuming you ever get any free time, what do you like to watch when you want to unwind? And due to your profession is it possible to watch television or dramas objectively without studying the photography and set ups?
JAMES CLARKE: During my free time I do like to watch TV and film, and really what I like to watch is the sort of shows that I like to work on. So observational documentary and factual/comedy drama.
By the very nature of being a DOP you are always going to notice what stands out and what just doesn’t work. But if you can immerse yourself in a show that you forget about the mechanicals of the making of, then you know the production has done a great job.
A huge thank you to Mister James Clarke. As I mentioned, he is insanely busy, and rightfully so given his talent. But, and this is crucial, and something you can clearly see from what you’ve just read, once he had time in his schedule he was unbelievable generous and kind to not only answer my questions but to do so in such an involved way. (Writer’s Note: Once he had replied to my initial set of questions, he very kindly asked if I needed any more information and, if so, just let him know. I did, and he responded in kind).
Series 11 of THE APPRENTICE is currently airing on BBC 1 every Wednesday at 9pm.
GREAT CANAL JOURNEYS Series 3 on Channel 4 launched on 25th October. Episode One can be found on the catch-up service All4, and new episodes air Sunday evenings on Channel 4 at 8pm.
Feel a bit numb today. Woke up to news that is, depressingly, becoming far too often an occurrence. A legend of cinema passed away. A man who shaped our childhoods, made us giddy with the tales of terror and heroism, and most importantly was a true gentleman and fine human being.
Wes Craven passed away from his fight with brain cancer, and quite frankly a light in the world of movies has been extinguished far too soon. I don’t know if any of you reading this are fans of the horror genre, and really it doesn’t matter, because Mister Craven made films about people. It didn’t matter if they were being terrorized, or fighting for their lives, it mattered because he never forgot they were people.
Yes, he created possibly the best horror boogie-man in Freddy Kreuger, a child killer that would haunt teenagers in their dreams. But in each instalment he also created an equal; a character that would refuse to be tortured in their sleep and fight back for their own identity.
His filmography speaks for himself. You name a classic horror pic, chances are Wes wrote or directed it. From 1972’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, 1977’s THE HILLS HAVE EYES, 1982’s SWAMP THING, 1984’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET… And then he seemed to take a different turn, almost recognising his own calling card, by going a bit meta with 1994’s A NEW NIGHTMARE – a film that actually put the audience, and himself, in on the joke.
Then he would perfect this trick with what would turn out to be the billion dollar franchise, SCREAM in 1996. This was an incredible nod of the hat to cinema and horror fans, as not only did it make them so much more involved, but was also a creative resurgence for Mister Craven. It wasn’t just a joke, it was also a truly scary movie for a modern audience.
He leaves behind him a legacy that will stand among the best of all time. And it pains me beyond belief he was taken from us far too young by a horrid disease. But he will live on in our hearts and minds. Every year there’s a new kid watching NIGHTMARE or SCREAM for the first time, and it’ll delight and scare the shit out of them!
I think Wes would like that. Thank you, Mister Craven. You will be missed, but never forgotten.
Now this is something of a thrill for me to present to you. Last year I had the incredible opportunity and good fortune to interview the cast and crew of director Paul Osborne’s wonderful indie thriller FAVOR – which, if you haven’t seen yet then I suggest you rectify this immediately. You can find it right here! As a writer, especially a nobody independent writer such as me, it’s beyond a joy to be given access to artists that you don’t just admire, but hold in great esteem. This cast and crew was just that. Paul and his colleagues were so generous with their time to me that I had to pinch myself several times. And, even more amazingly, the relationships we forged whilst doing that article have remained to this day.
Which brings me to this piece. One of the many people I interviewed for FAVOR was the composer Joe Kraemer. His score for that film still haunts me. I knew his previous work from THE WAY OF THE GUN, and the Christopher McQuarrie directed Tom Cruise thriller JACK REACHER. I asked him, somewhat in jest, if he’d been approached to score the next MISSION IMPOSSIBLE film, as McQuarrie had just been hired to direct it. And… well, here we are. Joe’s soundtrack for MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION has just been released and you can get it here!
Having previously interviewed the incredibly charming, insightful and talented composer I chanced my luck by asking if he’d consider a quick follow-up chat to talk about the process of taking on such a huge franchise. Honestly, I never expected a reply. I mean, the man is on a whirlwind international tour for this huge box office machine. To my surprise he not only responded saying “Sounds great”, but sent me the answers to my questions in a DAY! This guy is truly a class act, and very much deserving of his, as Paul Osborne put it, “seat on the A-list”. So here’s the interview!
IAN: Last time we talked it was for Paul Osborne’s amazing indie thriller FAVOR. When I wrote the piece it had yet to come out, but you must have been really impressed with the response the film got. It was number one on the iTunes thriller chart for three weeks! You must be so proud of how well received it was, and deservedly so. I still can’t get your main theme for that film out of my head.
JOE KRAEMER: Well, thank you very much. I am very fond of the film and the score. I’m very glad it had such a successful run on the indie circuit. Paul is really tenacious and one would do well to study what he did if they want to find success making their own film.
IAN: In that interview I believe my final question was, after having worked with Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise on JACK REACHER, would your next project possibly be M:I-5. You were very cagey in your answer, and rightfully so, but I have to know; did you honestly not know at that point or was it already a done deal and you simply couldn’t say anything?
JOE KRAEMER: I honestly didn’t know whether I was doing M:I-5 until September 2014. So if we talked before then, I was not being cagey (Writer’s Note: It was before that date). And there was only a few weeks between being hired and announcing I had the job, so I suspect, since memory fails on the specific date, that I was not trying to deceive you.
IAN: Personally I think your score for M:I-5 is a triumph, not that I expected any less, but I have to ask the boring question that I’ve already seen you answer a million times on the Internet; Was there any pressure following the likes of Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer and Michael Giacchino going into this franchise?
JOE KRAEMER: No, not really. Having done three films with Christopher McQuarrie, plus 100 other films with other directors, I felt confident that I could deliver what this project needed. I didn’t really think much about the fact that Elfman, Zimmer and Giacchino preceded me. I feel like the music of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE is so iconic that it transcends any one composer’s legacy, with the exception of Lalo Schiffrin. And I felt like I was scoring Christopher’s film, not the films the other three composers tackled before me.
IAN: I really think you managed, and maybe this comes from your long relationship with Christopher, to achieve a classic yet fresh feel. It doesn’t sound like any of the other MISSION IMPOSSIBLE scores, but still sounds so original, maybe because of the international tones you injected into it?
JOE KRAEMER: Again, thank you for the compliment. I was encouraged to go back and watch the original television shows and listen to those scores, and that gave me the inspiration to create a score that could have been recorded in 1966 when the series started. I feel like that gave me the retro sound I was looking for, without sounding like I was spoofing the original. I allowed myself to write any music I liked, but it had to be able to be performed without any electronics. Therefore, the score ended up being entirely acoustic, performed on symphonic orchestral instruments.
IAN: I have to ask about the theme. I assume that, this far into the series, the pressure was off you when it comes to this iconic theme. It’s already been established, many times over, so the audience is already familiar and surely that gave you carte blanche to make the rest of the score your own? To put your own stamp on it?
JOE KRAEMER: I decided to embrace, rather than run away from, Lalo’s original theme. I spent a great deal of time playing around with it, and broke it down into three constituent parts. During the scoring of the film, I would use these three parts in various forms: upside down, backwards, faster, slower, etc. I wanted the whole film’s music to feel cohesive, which is why elements of Puccini’s “Turandot” also appear in the score. I didn’t want the opera sequence to feel like it was just plopped into the middle of the movie.
As far as putting my own stamp on it, I took the liberty of creating the music for the villain from whole cloth, and I gave Ethan Hunt a theme in this film, which works as a nice counterpoint to the original TV show theme. I also came up with many action treatments myself.
IAN: Just out of curiosity, and it’s a bit of an unfair question, but personally which of the previous MISSION IMPOSSIBLE scores did you like most, and what did you want to avoid?
JOE KRAEMER: I think they all reflect the times they were made in, and the intentions of the composers and directors who made them. I will say I was really delighted when M:I-3 (Giacchino’s first outing) returned to a more orchestral sound.
IAN: In stark contrast to FAVOR where, due to budget restraints, you had no orchestra to work with and yet still composed a memorable score electronically, how was it different this time? What size orchestra did you use?
JOE KRAEMER: I had about 86 players, but we recorded the score in an unconventional way to help the music cut through the action scenes. John Finklea, my music editor, devised this plan, which involved recording the score in small sections in a smaller room, more like a TV score, first, then recording it with a full orchestra at Abbey Road Studio 1. Then when we mixed the music into the film, we could favor the bigger or the smaller one depending on which cut through the mix better. Obviously it was much different to FAVOR, which was done entirely on synths.
IAN: I know you can’t answer this really, and truth be told after our FAVOR interview I’m not sure I’d believe you, but has there been any talk of you and Christopher returning for M:I-6?
JOE KRAEMER: Not yet. M:I-5 hasn’t even come out yet!!
IAN: Lastly, I want to ask you about the next film from Paul Osborne CRUEL HEARTS. You can’t dodge this one, as I’ve already spoken to Paul and he’s confirmed that you will be scoring it. I think you guys are an amazing team, so what can we expect?
JOE KRAEMER: I know nothing about the film CRUEL HEARTS yet, except that I am going to score it – I have not read the script or anything. So I can only tell you that I think Paul is a fantastic writer and director, and that my guess is whatever it ends up being will be very disturbing!
I genuinely cannot thank Joe enough for sparing me some of his valuable time out of what I can only assume is a mind-numblingly hectic schedule at the moment. As I said, the man is a class act. And his work on MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION is a truly brilliant piece of work. It’s totally original from any Mission score we’ve heard before, yet still intrinsically feels like a Mission Impossible score. As a matter of fact, it was my Pick Of The Week on the weekly news podcast I do for Sideshow Sound Radio which you can find here!
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION is in theatres now, and you can purchase Joe’s wonderful soundtrack here!
This is a tough one to write. I’m not scripting this, just going to share some initial raw thoughts. After unconfirmed reports on Monday morning, it was later confirmed that legendary film composer James Horner had been killed in a plane crash in Los Angeles. A trained pilot, and the only person aboard, he was merely 61 years old.
It’s hard to process this, to be honest. As someone who takes ridiculous pleasure in enjoying and writing about all things media, especially films and film music, as well as being part of the podcast team at Sideshow Sound Radio where we talk about composers and their work that we love, this is a real blow.
For everyone that loves films and music, especially those of James (and trust me, even the casual fan knows more of his groundbreaking work than they know), this is also a massive blow. Cinema, music, and people in general have lost a true artist of our time. Maybe of all time. I need to be clear; I never once met James or had any contact with him (I would’ve been so lucky), but despite not knowing him I felt I DID. You can’t grow up with so much of his iconic work without feeling some kind of kinship.
But the real blow, obviously, is to his friends and family. One can only imagine what they are going through now, and so my heart goes out to them unreservedly. We have lost a genius… They have lost a part of their lives.
In case you weren’t that familiar with his work, but I’m honestly assuming if you’re reading this then you are, then here’s what you probably know him for:
His big breakthrough was in what many consider to be the best STAR TREK film – STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN. It’s still the film by which all other STAR TREK films are measured, and that’s in no short thanks to James’ incredible, brutal, haunting score. He was 28.
My personal favourites were never his huge, bombastic action scores, despite how brilliant they were. Because James was an incredibly versatile and complex composer, able to adjust to any genre or tone and always make something memorable. I always appreciated him more when he went a little outside the box, in films such as SNEAKERS, THE ROCKETEER, A BEAUTIFUL MIND, ENEMY AT THE GATES… and especially one of the greatest film scores ever written… GLORY.
As a tribute to the man himself I urge you to seek out just one of these scores and listen to a talent that was taken from us far too soon in the most horrible, tragic and unnecessary way to lose someone.
If anyone would like to share any thoughts they have on the mighty James Horner, please send any emails or audio clips to firstname.lastname@example.org by Thursday 25th June as we’d love to include you in this celebration of a maestro… and it will be a celebration.
Thank you, Mr Horner. Rest In Peace. But mainly… Thank you…
The date is November 1st of 2014, and I’m embarking on something I’ve never done before. To quote The Dark Knight, I need to be honest and clear. This is an undertaking that may fail horribly, only on my part. But if any of you have read my interviews before, I hope the one thing that comes across (like them or not) is that with each one I try and push myself further. No posssible way to get better at something you love doing, right? As a wise man once said, “Never sit in the comfy chair”.
As self-congratulatory as that may sound (not intentional), this isn’t really just referring to me. It’s also referring to Blayne Weaver. Without bias I can truly say he’s one of the nicest, hardest working and inventive filmmakers in the business. I’ve interviewed Blayne a couple of times before, but never quite like this. It’s not even really an interview, so to speak. He’s the one who’s really embarking into new waters here.
After successes with WEATHER GIRL, 6 MONTH RULE and FAVOR (the last of which I have to point out was written and directed by Paul Osborne… or he’ll kill me), Blayne launched a Kickstarter campaign to get his new, as yet untitled, directorial project off the ground. I was pretty sure he might be gracious enough to let me write a piece about this project. Then it struck me…
This film, from fundraising to completion, would probably take the best part of a year. Maybe more. So why not do the same? A written piece, almost a journal, from the start of the project to the end. Encompassing updates, news, interviews and sneaky tidbits, I wanted to show the whole process.
So imagine my surprise when the man himself, Blayne, said yes. And then imagine my fear at the prospect. But it all started falling into place. Rather than one long written piece every so often, I would endeavour to write every month about the progress of Untitled, every so often publishing little nuggets for fans of Blayne. And at the very end publish the entire thing as an e-book, a companion piece, which is hopefully what you’re reading now.
As I said, this may fail horribly, but let’s give the less comfy chair a go.
I just received the first project update from Blayne regarding Untitled. Now, at this point the Kickstarter campaign was nearing its end, and it was all about the financing – whether or not this would get off the ground. So here is his first email to me regarding funding and how it came about…
BLAYNE: Choosing the amount of dough to go for was really just a shot in the dark. With FAVOR we raised about 22K, and Paul & I guessed that I was responsible for raising about 10K of that. Since I did that, 6MR was released and I did the festivals and theatricals and then eventually a huge festival run for FAVOR. So, I hypothosised that I may have doubled my money raising ability. Luckily we were right because it’s a lot easier to raise money with three people than with just one.
Also, I was a bit restrained in what I could put in the video. My plan was always to go to investors and raise more money, but I didn’t want to say that on the chance that I couldn’t raise anymore. And I plan to star in the film but if the additional financiers didn’t want that, I wouldn’t be able to do it. So I couldn’t say that. Basically I had to just ask people to invest in me and trust that I would make something cool.
Capital Arts is a company I’ve worked for as an actor. I pitched to them the idea of coming in for 20K and getting a 40K film directed by someone who can actually make a good film for that level of budget. They’re interested but only if they can get a star in for the bad guy. So, we add two days in Los Angeles at the end of the film and I go looking for a star.
So, that star adds more pressure to the budget which means I go out looking for investors. I’m looking to raise $20K from outside so it will be Kickstarter 20, Capital Arts 20, Investors 20.
I’m so relieved that we hit our goal. I can’t wait to get into making the film.
More to follow soon…
I have to be honest here. This (Part 2) is the hardest thing I’ve ever written. Writing about Paul Osborne’s FAVOR was tough because I didn’t want to mention any spoilers. Writing about Gary King’s HOW DO YOU WRITE A JOE SCHERMANN SONG was an absolute challenge, as it was presented as a round-table piece when no one was in the same room (or even country). But this… KING OF HERRINGS… was something else altogether.
It’s a simpler piece, if that even matters, but that’s what makes it harder. There’s nothing to say, apart from the brilliance of the film itself, and the outstanding generosity of the incredible cast and crew for giving me such access to the making of this gem of cinema.
I’ve always prided myself on writing about films that you may not have known were out there, but I knew you would love them if you did. I have nothing to do with these films. No affiliation whatsoever. I just love them, and I’m lucky enough that the people behind these films are willing to talk to me. But by the time I’m writing these articles I just FEEL like part of it, even though I have no right to. It’s like joining a new family and being welcomed with open arms.
I think the reason Part 2 of this article was so hard to write was that there was no angle. It’s not a crime thriller with twists, it’s not a musical, it’s just a fucking great film. About people. Flawed people, dishonest people, honest people, vulnerable people. It’s people you know, and maybe you’re one of them. And it’s told in an impeccable way. But I’d rather let the people behind it tell you themselves…
IAN: What was the genesis? The moment you decided, be it over breakfast or an improv class, to expand this idea into a truly remarkable piece of cinema?
EDDIE JEMISION: It’s a boring story, Ian. But it shows how desperate actors can be to just do something. (John) Mese and I were doing these “diner scenes” I wrote for a teacher-less acting class in L.A when he suggested I email them to our friends (David) Jensen and Joe (Chrest) in Baton Rouge. Those guys sometimes sneak into our old theatre on the LSU campus to act out scenes for fun. They liked them and over Christmas, Jensen arranged a read-through. On a hunch he invited a young film-maker, Sean (Richardson), to just check it out.
DAVID JENSEN: The genesis for me was we we’re initially going to “Cloud Talk” aka KOH as a play, getting our teacher John Dennis to direct it in Baton Rouge. After the read-through and a short rehearsal at a local Methodist church it was evident he wasn’t up to it physically so I suggested to Eddie that he should shoot it.
I felt it would be a good exercise knowing that Eddie was going to continue to write, and I still feel the best is yet to come out of him. I had no idea how much he would have to work to get KOH to where it is to date.
EDDIE JEMISON: We all played entirely different characters in the reading, by the way, than we wound up playing in the film. After the reading this guy, Sean, very politely but firmly said “I want to shoot this”. I think that was the turning point.
DAVID JENSEN: I met Sean Richardson through a mutual friend and thought he had a good energy and would work well with Eddie. In fact, Sean was at the first read-through.
IAN: What locations did you use? Being a small/no-budget film it must have been hard to secure places to film around the schedules everyone had?
JOHN MESE: Eddie is magic when it comes to charming people. He literally walked into Anita’s Grill with his daughter and asked to speak with the owner. He didn’t know him, or anyone connected to the place, he just saw it and thought it was perfect. After a small conversation with the owner… we had our major location. The guy just gave Eddie the keys to his business and let us shoot there every night for a week, for free. How does that happen? Eddie Jemison, that’s how!
EDDIE JEMISON: All the actors were busy with jobs and auditions so we had to shoot two weeks quick. Unfortunately it had to be in late August in New Orleans in places with no air conditioning. But I think the sweat is a plus when you see it.
The main location was the diner. It had to have a long counter and booths, you know. There are many in New Orleans, but all of them wanted to charge large fees. I walked into Anita’s Diner and immediately the owner said “You can shoot after we’re closed”, hands me the key and says “I’m not gonna charge you”. I think his manager, Miss Duwana, buttered him up for me. She was a force. We showed up at 4pm every day as they closed, ate Miss Duwana’s red beans and rice, then shot all night. We still visit Miss Duwana when we’re in town.
DAVID JENSEN: The number one location was Eddie’s mother’s parents house in Metairie and it was picture ready with a few exceptions. This was Ditch and Mary’s apartment, and played as The Professor’s kitchen when Leon comes round after the fight in Anita’s bathroom. The bathroom sequence was shot in an old dormitory in the LSU football stadium.
EDDIE JEMISON: The second location was the bathroom where the shakedown happens. We wanted something worn and gritty. Jensen and Joe talked about bathrooms in the old LSU football stadium, it used to double as a student dorm in the 30’s. We snuck in and it was perfect. One of the students let us in and no one told any of the teachers so we were good for a day or two.
JOHN MESE: The bathroom scene was filmed at a bathroom in Tiger Stadium at Louisiana State University, that David Jensen knew of and secured by talking to an artist he knew that painted in this odd little area of the HUGE stadium. It was all just kind of “Sure, I’ll let y’all in”. So we tried not to make a big deal of being there, and kind of snuck in and shot the scene all day.
DAVID JENSEN: The quiet kitchen scene was shot at my kitchen in Baton Rouge. It has a 40’s look which lent to the timeless feel of the relationships.
EDDIE JEMISON: Last was Ditch and Mary’s apartment. We shot those scenes in the double shotgun house that my grandfather built. My Aunt Weasie lived in that apartment. It was the classic New Orleans, wooden-floored shotgun double. I got the furniture, the old Catholic art and sewing stuff from my Mom and all my Aunts. It was great being back in the home of my childhood, and all was well until Mese broke the bed.
JOHN MESE: Mary and Ditch’s apartment was another Eddie Jemison bit of brilliance. That’s his Aunt and Uncle’s house, and just luckily it was empty at the time. Eddie asked if he could use it, then proceeded to beg and borrow just the right furniture to fill it out for the movie. I walked into it the first day and couldn’t believe Eddie had done it all himself. It looked like Ditch and Mary actually lived there.
EDDIE JEMISON: The wedding dress was the dress that Andrea wore at her first wedding. She was kind enough to let us rip it to shreds.
IAN: The decision to use monochrome as opposed to colour was a bold, artistic choice, and one that I’m personally always pleased to see. I can’t imagine that in this day and age shooting on black and white saves money on colour correction, so was it always the plan artistically?
EDDIE JEMISON: Sean actually spent a LOT of time getting those blacks just right.
JOHN MESE: Eddie always had it in his mind for it to be Black and White. He had discussions with Sean about it and took some great measure in designing the sets and costumes so it would work well in Black and White. Of course it looked really cool in colour as well… but the story goes that the first scene Sean converted to Black and White sold them both on the idea of not using colour. “It’s just looked dirtier” is how Eddie put it. I saw the Black and White scene and told him “Perfect”.
EDDIE JEMISON: I had asked Sean to watch some black and white films weeks before we shot, especially THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and STRANGER THAN PARADISE but I don’t think he ever did. We couldn’t decide… so all the costumes and furniture were all carefully done in beige to give the film a somewhat antique, timeless feel. After the first day of shooting though, Sean colour-corrected it for black and white and we knew we were doomed. It had to be black and white. It just looked so… stark.
IAN: What music scores or sound designs were influences? It almost has a blues-noir feel to it that at times is totally against the tension of the scenes, which then makes it all the more threatening when the tone of the music changes.
CHRIS WALDEN: There weren’t really any specific music influences, we didn’t model the score after an existing score. When Eddie and I first got together to discuss the score he had the idea of the score being jazzy and performed only with 2 or 3 instruments. Sparse instrumentation but yet still emotional. This was an artistic as well as a budget decision.
EDDIE JEMISON: On our first meeting Chris asked me to toss out a score I liked and I mentioned IN COLD BLOOD. Not only did Chris know the film, he knew the score and its composer, Quincy Jones, and he told me that the musicians recorded the score while watching IN COLD BLOOD and improvising on Jones’ themes in real-time as the film played. All news to me.
CHRIS WALDEN: With the rather vague description of a musical direction I had the freedom to write a score that I felt reflected the roughness of the male characters, the tender emotions of Mary and Evie, and also create a sound that fits the film noir feel of the picture.
JOHN MESE: Eddie had the idea of using minimal instruments and spoke with the genius Chris Walden who was immediately excited by the idea. Eddie and Chris just worked so well together in creating all of the music. Again, magic happened.
EDDIE JEMISON: Because it was set in New Orleans, Chris wanted to add a touch of traditional jazz to the score, which was a great idea. It was Chris who insisted all the instruments be acoustic (no sampling) and in some cases, very old. The celeste, for example, that Chris played was at least a hundred years old and had to be pumped by hand. And Chris plays all the trumpet on the film himself.
His score is a rarity in that it’s both evocative and moody but unapologetically melodic. Moody as it is, the score is filled with melodic themes that state themselves, repeat and transform themselves. I hear all kinds of things in this score, not just jazz. There’s old timey folk in there and even touches of gospel. There’s bebop and swing. Even classical elements, especially in the female scenes. There’s even a dirge-like marching brass band sound in the heavier scenes at the end of the film. This score has touches of everything, but the strong sense of melody is what unifies it. That, and it has a very light, tasteful touch.
CHRIS WALDEN: While recording the score, Eddie was very hands on and guided us musicians to fine tune the musical expressions to fulfill his cinematic vision.
IAN: Let’s discuss Ditch. A truly unpleasant person, or simply a coward taking out his under-achievements on others?
EDDIE JEMISON: He’s both. An unpleasant person and a coward… And a braggart… And selfish… And a liar, prone to self-aggrandizement. But what he is not, is a cheater. He would never cheat on Mary, no matter how he claims he would. In fact, Ditch never does any of the things he claims he would. He’s too busy talking to actually do anything. He’s a liar but not a cheater. Mary, on the other hand, the “good person” of the film, does in fact cheat. As hard to stomach as Ditch is, he never means to hurt anyone.
IAN: The opening card game scene is a revelation. In less than 4 minutes you’re told all you need to know about these characters (at least at that early point in the story). But the chemistry was so effortless that I’m assuming you guys have been friends for a long while.
EDDIE JEMISON: Mese, Joe, Wayne and I (and Andrea too) all went to LSU and studied theatre under John Dennis. We all went to the first MFA program there as well. Mese and Joe graduated. Jensen and I dropped out. So that must be where the natural chemistry comes from. That, and the fact that we were so tired. Because we had to start shooting in the bar after closing time. Fatigue really does make for better acting.
JOHN MESE: The actors in that first scene have all known each other for over 25 years, so yeah, it just happened. Eddie wrote the scene at the suggestion of a friend who had seen an early cut and thought it needed something to see all of the characters together at the beginning in perhaps happier times. We waited until the REAL BAR emptied out around 2 or 3am in the morning… set up and shot until daylight. Easy peasy.
IAN: Another revelation (and maybe my favourite scene) is the “Silent Breakfast” Scene. Hardly a word is spoken but the scene itself speaks volumes.
EDDIE JEMISON: This scene was added a year later, after principal photography. A pal of mine wanted to see Mary and Ditch living a little together before they begin to fall apart. There was so much talking in the piece, I thought wouldn’t it be nice if someone at some point never said a word. Couples so often don’t need to talk anyway, so… it worked out nicely. I love the way Sean shot this scene. And that is Jensen’s kitchen. We wanted it because he has that really old stove and it just looks like it could have happened a long, long time ago. Or yesterday.
DAVID JENSEN: It’s still interesting to me that each of us thought our character was the true heart of the piece, but it wasn’t until I saw it projected that Mary is the hero and the heart, no doubt. And her performance is what makes the whole thing work. I think Eddie wrote KOH for Laura and I’m so thankful he did.
IAN: How the hell did you guys get a camera above a ceiling fan???
EDDIE JEMISON: Sean set up a little Go-Pro above the fan and turned the fan blades with his hand.
JOHN MESE: We had all kinds of grand plans to plant a small camera mounted on the ceiling but in the end Sean stood up on a kitchen chair and held his camera just over the fan blades enough to get the shot.
DAVID JENSEN: I love shots through a fan. Certainly gives the viewer a “fly on the wall” voyeur feeling.
IAN: Now, we’re pretty okay with swearing here in the UK, especially on indie films, but I doubt even we’d have managed to get that many “C-Bombs” past the censors!
EDDIE JEMISON: I always like the Sex Pistols’ use of the word “cunt”. John Lydon said he and his friends were the first guys in London to call other men cunts. I like language that binds people together and separates them from the rest of us. Plus, there’s this musician pal of mine who used to say “Hey! When are we gonna make a movie where we shoot guns and call each other cunts?!”. Always loved that. Just left out the guns.
There were times, during the festival screenings for nice audiences that I wish I had never included all those swear words. In my defence, only the guys call each other cunts. The women are very nice to each other.
IAN: Please tell me what the $9 debt was for?
EDDIE JEMISON: The Professor lends Ditch $9 for a “certain wager” Ditch needed to make. I always thought they were at the track or something and Ditch wanted to make a bet on a horse but was broke so he hit The Professor up for nine bucks. And you know, Ditch probably never pays anyone back. It’s not about the nine bucks, of course, it’s about everything else. Pride mostly.
IAN: Is Leon essentially the voice of reason between these friends? And the irony of that question isn’t lost on me. But in later scenes he almost becomes dangerous, like the harmless friend you can tell secrets to but he harbours them.
EDDIE JEMISON: I wanted Leon to be the peace maker, the most sensitive, the most poetic, the only one with anything “nice” to say. So to have Leon not be able to speak seemed like the best way to go. Like the guy with the most wisdom, has the smallest voice. I guess Leon’s “dangerous” because he’s the only one of the gang who sees, who knows. Truth, not volume, being his only power.
IAN: Is the “Wedding Dress Scene” the first real sign that Mary’s entrapment has skewered her reality due to Ditch’s treatment of her? And then later a further symbol of her mind – undone and in tatters to start with, then pristine and beautiful after Evie and The Professor’s visits. Is this Mary coming alive through the dress?
EDDIE JEMISON: That’s a love way of putting it, Ian. Mary is frozen at the beginning of the film, she has no purpose and no love, and so the dress only lives in her mind. But once The Professor gives her attention and she has hope, she pours all of herself into the dress.
IAN: Speaking of The Professor’s visit, could that be the most menacing seduction scene ever committed to film?
EDDIE JEMISON: Ha! That makes me very happy that you say that. The Professor is a strange man. Joe Chrest said that, when he first visited Mary, he doesn’t necessarily want to sleep with her, he just wants to leave the smell of his cologne around the apartment. To get Mary dreaming. And to drive Ditch crazy.
A big question that came up during the festivals was does The Professor really care for Mary or is he just using her? In my mind, it’s a complicated tangle of both. He may even feel in the end that he is not worthy of her, but I hate to speculate.
IAN: Without spoilers, the “Look At Me” scene must have been hard to film.
EDDIE JEMISON: Thanks for saying that, Ian. But like Laura said, it had to be one of the easiest.
Once Sean, Mese, Laura and I worked out the physical movement of the scene – we kinda do a circle around the room during the fight – everything fell into place. It’s because unlike most scenes, Mary and Ditch finally say exactly what they’re thinking. So much of what couples say is in code, but during fights, people just blurt out what they mean, so in some ways those scenes are the easiest to do.
JOHN MESE: Well honestly, Laura and Eddie just did it. Perhaps they had worked on it a little together, but I am betting not. Laura is fucking intuitive and natural in everything she does. I mean, look, they’re married in real life, and they are both brilliant actors. Sean seemed AGAIN to know exactly where to put the camera… We rolled and Eddie and Laura just nailed it every time.
What Eddie, Sean and the whole cast/crew have managed to do with this film is create a slice of life that everyone can relate to. It may not always be a comfortable slice of life to watch, but is yours? There’s no heroes here, no real villains. It’s just people’s lives. And isn’t the purpose of cinema to be a mirror? To show you what you may be or what you could become? And, by the way, it’s incredibly funny as well. Just like life.
KING OF HERRINGS is released JANUARY 20TH on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon and Vimeo.
Once again I have lucked out. If any of you have read my previous articles you’ll know how unbelievably generous artists/broadcasters/film makers have been with me. Not only with their time for the piece in question, but also after the fact. I’m the first to admit that in the world of writing I am a nobody, and I’m okay with that. You have to earn your stripes, and more importantly – trust.
But I hope what I’ve managed to do is show that I care about whatever it is I’m writing for. I wouldn’t do it if not. I can’t imagine investing time and energy (not to mention taking some of their time away) into something you don’t deeply care about. Every interview I take on is a work of love, passion and intent.
I apologise for the long-winded and slightly convoluted intro here, but I’m getting to the crux. And the crux is thus; My piece on Paul Osborne’s FAVOR was the catalyst for this. He is very good friends with a ridiculously talented actor/writer/director named Eddie Jemison. Eddie is a complete sweetheart and, along with his equally talented family/cast/crew, has made one of the best independent films in years with KING OF HERRINGS.
You probably know Eddie best from the Soderbergh OCEAN’S film where he played Livingston alongside the Hollywood royalty of George/Julia/Matt/Brad. I love those films, and thought he was terrific in them, but I didn’t want to talk to him about that too much as the rest of his filmography is just as, if not more, interesting and exciting.
However, as if to prove once more what a generous and giving person he is, he invited me to call him at his home for a pre-interview chat. I spent about an hour talking with him and his incredibly talented and wonderfully sweet wife and partner, Laura Lamson. She is also in KING OF HERRINGS with a truly knockout performance, which of course I will discuss further in her interview. I cannot thank them both enough for the opportunity to do this, and we basically just shot the shit about everything from life to films, and how they balance out. Hell, Eddie was even good enough to talk about the OCEAN’S movies, a subject he must be sick to death of talking about, but I won’t be writing about that. It was a ‘get to know you’ kinda chat, and I’m here to talk about his film.
This is part one of two. A short intro into the artists behind KING OF HERRINGS. Part two will be longer and more in-depth and film specific, which I’ll be posting nearer the VOD/iTunes release date. So, let me introduce you to some folks…
EDDIE JEMISON (Actor – “Ditch”/Writer/Co-Director/Producer)
Eddie Jemison is an actor you could best describe as a chameleon. You know him, you’re just not sure where you know him from. And I mean that as the highest compliment possible. He disappears and invests into every performance so completely you’re only ever watching the character. You’ll know him from OCEAN’S, THE INFORMANT, WAITRESS, VERONICA MARS, and JUSTIFIED.
He’s also a very sweet, generous, and lovely man. Very few people working in Hollywood would invite you to call his home and spend an hour with his wife talking to you – and I’m lucky I’ve met a few. I won’t be necessarily be transcribing that phone conversation, as it was more about feeling out the vibe for this article and getting acquainted, but I did get a few questions to him on email before we get down to the nitty-gritty of the film in part two…
IAN: Eddie, you’re an absolute gent for agreeing to do this piece. Before we get to your outstanding film KING OF HERRINGS I’d like to go through a few pieces of your filmography, because you just happen to have been in some of my favourite things.
EDDIE JEMISON: Thank you, Ian. You’re an absolute gent for writing this.
The first film I acted in was an indie, SCHIZOPOLIS, directed by Steven Soderbergh. In scale the film was small but the experience had a powerful effect on me. I think the crew was maybe five people and it was shot by Steven himself with friends at friends’ houses in Baton Rouge, LA. The whole thing seemed very down and dirty and catch-as-catch-can, and it made movies seem like such a fun, free medium to me at the time. The only constraints were Steven Soderbergh’s script which was absolutely brilliant, and different from anything before or since, and his vision which seemed to be improvisatory and whimsical and so clear that he could make something unique out of any circumstance that came up – any location, any logistical problem.
It made such an impression on me that years later when Sean and I did KING OF HERRINGS we tried to achieve that same feeling with a tiny crew of four who did everything (including act) and a cast of very talented friends. Working with friends was the trick. Fun was the goal. But, you know, artistic fun, not goofing around. The fun of satisfying your creative inclinations. I started out acting in an indie film and now I’ve acted in a new string of indie films, films like KING OF HERRINGS, COFFEE, KILL BOSS, JUNE and THE SUMMERLAND PROJECT and it’s really very satisfying. I makes me like acting again.
IAN: I’m not going to ask you about the OCEAN’S films much, as you must be sick to death of being asked about them. I loved them, and thought you were brilliant as Livingston, but I’m guessing all you get asked about in regards to those movies is the “Brad/George/Julia/Matt” thing, and as lovely as I’m sure they are it must get boring. You have so many more things that you’ve done that, as a geek, I’m far more interested in talking about. Is that cool?
EDDIE JEMISON: That’s totally cool, although I don’t mind talking about the OCEAN’S movies at all. Besides hanging out with that cast of stars, all interesting, very intelligent, very funny people (and artists too), I got to see much of Europe and how big studio films are made. Although the OCEAN’S movies aren’t quite representative of how many studio films are made because Steven Soderbergh still directs even big movies with incredible economy with a premium on focused, fun work. But, they were a blast and all those stars you mentioned changed my mind about what I thought of Hollywood. They were all such thoughtful, generous people and as I say, artists with their own ideas and a passion to express them. Hard working, kind, engaged. Not one of those people was in any way a phony or a stereotypical “Hollywood Movie Star”.
IAN: I thought THE INFORMANT was a truly brilliant piece of film making. True, in many ways it’s a tense thriller, and I think that’s how the studio was trying to sell it, but I actually saw it more as a comedy.
EDDIE JEMISON: Laura and I first heard about Mark Whitacre and him blowing the whistle on ADM’s price fixing on the radio from an amazing This American Life episode. The story was so full of surprises and tension all based on Whitacre’s competing needs to lie and tell the truth, be liked and do the right thing, to put himself in incredible danger and also grab as much money for himself that he could. It was fascinating. We just sat in the car for an hour.
I thought THE INFORMANT definitely got things right by making Matt Damon maybe one of the least trustworthy narrators in film. And I completely agree with you that it was designed as a comedy, but I think I was disappointed by that because I was so locked into This American Life’s take on it. But, it’s a complex story and the film has a complex approach to it, which is great.
IAN: I’ve written about a couple of films now that started with a Kickstarter campaign, both of which I’d happily take over 90% of summer CGI box office fare. And you were in certainly, to this date, the daddy of them all – VERONICA MARS. I was a big fan of the show, and to see a cancelled TV series come back in a film thanks mainly to the fans was just lovely. When I talked to Paul Osborne about FAVOR and how Kickstarter works it became clear that fans or film makers no longer needed studios if they knew what they wanted to make and for how much. How was your experience on VERONICA MARS, and did it inspire you to go the same route with KING OF HERRINGS?
EDDIE JEMISON: KING OF HERRINGS made about half its original shooting budget from Kickstarter so it did exactly what it was supposed to do which was to kick-start our film, but I can’t honestly say we were inspired by VERONICA MARS – I think we were done shooting by the time that phenomenon took shape. But VERONICA MARS was a blast to work on – such sweet, smart, funny people. I think it’s great that VERONICA MARS was able to fund their movie by the fans, but I also think it’s silly that they were forced to do that. Are studios so risk averse now that they won’t fund any film that doesn’t involve superheros, explosions or beautiful people doing things with guns?
IAN: One of my favourite films of the last decade, and one that criminally not enough people saw, was WAITRESS. An awe-inspiring cast and such beautiful writing from Adrienne. What was that experience like, especially considering the bitter-sweet way it won festival awards?
EDDIE JEMISON: WAITRESS is one of my favourite films and performances. The characters are so singular, so unique. The world of that film too is so… complete. It feels more like the real world for all its quaint, slightly off-kilter style. There’s self-conscious quirky and there’s real quirky, born out of how odd and funny the world is – especially little worlds: little towns, little cafes, places with orbits all their own.
WAITRESS captured this perfectly, people and their odd sweetness. Adrienne Shelly should’ve gone on to make more films. She was a special kind of task master, her direction was so specific and while she asked you to do difficult things onscreen she also let you know that you absolutely could do them – so she kind of willed a performance and a filmic reality out of her desire to see it. She was lovely. She should be here.
SEAN RICHARDSON (Co-Director/Producer/Cinematographer/Editor)
The golden rule of super low-budget films is very simple; everyone pitches in. If a role in the production needs filling, be it behind or in front of the camera, you do it. It’s regardless of whether you’ve ever done that role before, or even have the slightest clue how to do it – you pitch in.
Luckily for KING OF HERRINGS, Sean Richardson knows how to do pretty much everything on a set, and knows how to do them incredibly well. So if being Co-Director, Producer, Cinematographer and Editor of a film, with little to no money to work with seems daunting to you, I promise you that after watching this movie you’ll hardly ever see one person make it look so easy.
IAN: Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about the wonderful KING OF HERRINGS. Before we get to that I wanted to ask you guys a few pre-piece questions. C0-directors are a rarity in the business, but when they work they really work. How did you get into directing and then evolve into co-directing partnerships, a process you seem to enjoy and clearly works for you.
SEAN RICHARDSON: My first love is directing. I started off doing stand-up comedy. I did that for about a year and after writing new material every week I built up a pretty big writing sample. So I started turning them into short screenplays. So when I started in filmmaking the only people I knew were actors. No one wanted to be behind the camera. It was out of necessity that I taught myself editing, lighting, camera angles and composition. But I began to love it. I was addicted to it. Everyday I wrote for a bit, then would read anything I could get my hands on about filmmaking. I watch films religiously. But I don’t just watch them, I study them. I will watch a movie over and over again looking at the light, and the editing. I would ask myself, “how they got that reaction out of me?”, and start to break down the film. It kind of sucks. I can’t just sit and enjoy a movie. I have to break it down.
Working with Eddie was my first time co-directing something. It was new to both of us. To be honest we kind of got thrown together and it was a pretty amazing marriage. At first I was only supposed to be cinematographer for the film. Then one day Eddie called me and asked me if I wanted to direct it with him as well. And I think I said I would edit the damn thing.
IAN: Do you find it easier to collaborate with like-minded film makers, rather than shoulder the burden yourself?
SEAN RICHARDSON: For me that’s a tough one. I love working with Eddie. In fact the next film we are co-directing as well. But because of how I got into filmmaking I belive that it has made me a very selfish filmmaker. I started thinking “Crap, I have to producer, write, shoot, direct and edit this thing”. So I have to producer, write, shoot, direct and edit my films. I had it in my head that the film was going to succeed or fail based on my vision. But working with Eddie kind of released me from that thinking. I still think that I will direct and maybe shoot most of my films, but I will for sure be handing off the editing to someone else, just to take the pressure off. After making KING OF HERRINGS I had to take some time away from the editing room.
IAN: Was it daunting going from success with short films, such as MONDAY and WEDNESDAY, to undertaking a feature?
SEAN RICHARDSON: Not really, I believe it was the Duplass Brothers in an interview that I heard them talking about going from shorts to features. They said “A feature is just a bunch of short films.” That really stuck You just have to break the script down and work with it like a short. That’s how I did KOH. We broke it sown to about 8 sections and just knocked it out. For me, shooting is the easy part. When we film I shoot to edit.
Since I usually edit the films I know what I’m going to do in post. I usually don’t work with a shot list. We didn’t use one for any of my shorts or for KOH. I think that frreaks out a lot of AD’s, but usually I will go over what we’re going to do at the beginning of the day so they have an idea. I know that sounds crazy, but I started my career in the commercial industry. Working with micro-sized crews made me adopt a quick-paced style of filming, and that has carried over to my features. And I feel that forces the crew to be on their A-game. Either get on or get out of the way.
LAURA LAMSON (Actor – “Mary”)
Laura Lamson is an actor that can, with a single look, or tiniest change in facial expression, break your heart, make you want to look after her, or be shit scared in one instant. Her towering performance as Mary in KING OF HERRINGS, Ditch’s long-suffering wife, is nothing short of a marvel. When you also consider that she and Eddie Jemison, who plays her onscreen husband, are a very charming, happily married couple in real life, it brings even more gravitas to their scenes.
As if I needed to reiterate what a bunch of sweethearts the HERRINGS bunch are, let me paint you a picture: It’s late in the evening (here in the UK, at least), and writer/director Eddie Jemison has very graciously allowed me to call him at his family home. After a few seconds his wife Laura walks through the door, probably barely even having time to take her coat off or put her keys down, and they then both proceeded to spend an hour talking with this stranger of a writer in the most relaxed, welcoming, and generous manner. The warmth of their relationship was tangible and infectious, even over a phone line distance of a few thousand miles.
IAN: This must be a project close to your heart, as you’ve lived with it for so long. Was it a joy to have it in your life as a passion project, or were there moments (as independent film is never an easy road) where you wanted it to finish?
LAURA LAMSON: Being Eddie’s wife and seeing how the whole project evolved from scenes he wrote for our acting class to a full length script and movie, I felt invested in following its completion from the very beginning to the bittersweet end. As an actor, I loved delving into the world of Mary and found it very fulfilling to explore the emotional depths of her character. I know I am biased but I think that Eddie has a gift for creating truly unique characters and dialogue that you so often don’t get the chance to play as a struggling actor auditioning for bit-parts in TV shows, etc – it was nice to have something substantive acting wise that you could really sink your teeth into.
It harkened back to our days of doing theatre and through rehearsal/performances, diving into the emotional journey of your character in the story and how she changes along the way. On the flip side of this, as his wife, it has been difficult living with the financial strain and emotional struggle of producing your own movie – the endless and costly festival submission process, the promotional marketing aspects, etc. Because it is not a particularly commercial film and more of an arty film (and black and white) with some strong language (writer’s note: SOME strong language??), it has been difficult to sell and a frustrating process promotionally. However, the times that we have screened it in front of an audience in a movie theatre, the audiences seem to really engage and go on the ride of the movie.
IAN: Being in a relationship with one of the lead artists is always a strain, but especially as Eddie was playing someone so different from his normal self. Did you notice a change?
LAURA LAMSON: As we discussed on the phone, Eddie was wearing so many hats as co-director, producer, writer and actor, that was probably the most stressful aspect versus his role as Ditch. Once it came time to act with him, there was an ease and unspoken emotional history from being married, that we were able to rely on our instincts as actors and as husband and wife. Even though they were emotionally trying scenes, they were tremendously fulfilling and thrilling to perform with each other.
IAN: I’m assuming (and hoping) that a family holiday was the order of business once the film was completed. Was it nice to leave the characters behind, or was the project so dear to you guys that you almost missed them when they were gone?
LAURA LAMSON: Because we are producing the movie ourselves and are still in the promotional marketing phase up until its digital release, the film does not yet feel completed so it’s still been with us in a lot of ways. Unfortunately, the fun part of acting in it is over, and I do miss that because it was one of the most fulfilling, relaxed, and fun experiences as an actor because we were with each other and acting with our friends.
JOHN MESE (Actor – “Augie”/Producer/Assistant Director)
John Mese has one of those job titles on a film set that I both admire and pity him for, as it’s one I’ve done myself. His role is basically to jump on any job that needs doing at any given moment. And that role can change day-to-day, and even several times during that day. Need someone to handle producing responsibilities? How about help with directing? Maybe there’s an acting part that needs filling and you know they can handle it? That’s John Mese. Hell, even Eddie Jemison himself calls John “The man who does everything”. But when you see the film you’ll see for yourself how true this is; that this is one damn good actor, and clearly knows what he’s doing behind the scenes too.
IAN: Before we get to the incredible KING OF HERRINGS on the next interview, I’d like to ask about a couple of other things on your filmography first. The first being Showtime’s WEEDS. I absolutely adored that show, and I’m not just saying that. How did you get in on that, and what was the experience like? It seemed from the vibe that Jenji ran a loose and fun set.
JOHN MESE: I got WEEDS pretty much the way I get (most) everything. I auditioned. I really loved the scene… and it was awesome to get to work with Julie Bowen, who got in and out of that bed several times buck naked 🙂 I kind of knew the director, Craig Zisk, and I’m sure that didn’t hurt (I knew him from one of the first shows I ever worked on as a recurring regular – REASONABLE DOUBTS with Marlee Matlin and Mark Harmon). Unfortunately I never met Jenji on the set. It’s possible she was there at the audition, but I honestly don’t remember.
IAN: And then there was CASTLE. As a huge geek and FIREFLY fan it was a joy to see not just Nathan Fillion, but a whole cast get a show that was good quality, eased into its skin, and actually ran. I hear that pranks are rife on set which, like WEEDS, looks pretty easy-going.
JOHN MESE: CASTLE, pretty much the same thing. Auditioned, and shot it in a day. I actually never even met Nathan. But I left him a copy of KING OF HERRINGS for him along with my children’s book series, and a note telling him “Hey from Eddie”, who worked with him on WAITRESS. I was happy to have the gig, but it was a kind of simple in-and-out operation when I was there. But hey, I just got a nice residual check in the mail TODAY for the third time it re-played… so far! But WEEDS was cool to me, because my wife and I had watched it since it first started airing.
CHRIS WALDEN (Composer)
Making an independent film with a miniscule budget is stupidly hard, especially when you’re trying to get it noticed with the Big-Budget Boys, but one thing you definitely have in your corner is atmosphere and character. I realise that’s technically two things, but they go hand-in-hand. When you don’t have the money to make all things go “boom” or create an alien/robot/dinosaur army (delete as applicable) then you rely on the basics; story, characters and atmosphere. Chris Walden is a composer with just an insane career back catalogue.
Grammy nominations, feature films, stupidly popular TV shows… this man can do it all.
IAN: You’ve worked with some greats in the music world: Barbara Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Michael Bolton, Christina Aguilera… the list goes on. With such success in that field what is it that makes you keep wanting to come back to visual composing?
CHRIS WALDEN: I actually like to go back and forth between the two media. After doing a few records I enjoy writing music to picture for a change, where I can draw inspiration from the film I’m writing the music to. And after doing that for a while I enjoy writing for an album where I don’t have to write music in sync to picture.
IAN: You’re a 5-time Grammy nominee. What is it about film work that keeps drawing you back?
CHRIS WALDEN: I like being part of the story telling process. That is something music can only do in film and not so much on records. Music together with pictures can tell great stories.
IAN: Your TV work includes SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, and REN & STIMPY. That’s no mean feat for a composer clearly in demand. Is TV a direction you’d like to keep your toe in?
CHRIS WALDEN: The credits you mentioned are just shows that licensed pre-existing music of mine, I didn’t write specifically for them.
But TV shows that I actually wrote music for are THE OSCARS, AMERICAN IDOL, THE EMMYS, and lots of other award shows. And I scored TV Movies for the SyFy Channel, Hallmark, ABC, CBS, and lots more. Plus I scored a few indie movies, but so far I’ve done more TV than film, but I’d like to do more film in the future because there I have more creative freedom.
LIANA COCKFIELD (PA)
I was really pleased to get an interview with this lady. Everyone kind of knows what a PA is, but not many could tell you what a PA does, especially on a low-budget, micro-crew indie film. So I thought it’d be a fascinating insight into a crew member you don’t often get to hear from.
LIANA COCKFIELD: I would be happy to answer your questions. I’m actually still in film school (I just turned 21 and I’m graduating in May), so I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve broken into the industry, but I guess that’s subjective. KING OF HERRINGS was the first film I ever worked on actually, I was 17 and just starting film school. It was by pure luck that I got to work on KOH, honestly. I’ve worked on many student films and a couple of independent films since.
In high school, I was in a couple of film classes they offered and I just really loved the feeling of a camera in my hand, and collaborating on projects with fellow students. It was my favourite part of the day every single day, and so I decided to come to the University of New Orleans and study film.
IAN: Were films a big influence growing up? For me, it was always the movies my folks showed me that led me to seek out others, and thusly become obsessed with the magic of the screen.
LIANA COCKFIELD: I love goofy movies. Films that feature comedy and adventure (and are often over-the-top in both respects) hold a special place in my heart. Examples of these would be: CLUE (1985), CHARADE (1963), GHOSTBUSTERS (1986), FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986), ACE VENTURA: WHEN NATURE CALLS (1995), and most films that feature Jim Carrey, Bill Murray and Gene Wilder. I grew up watching these, and they are still my favourites to date.
Also, the freaky and thrilling were a huge influence on me when I was a teen. Alfred Hitchcock, The Twilight Zone, Twin Peaks, etc.
IAN: How was it breaking into the scene, so to speak?
LIANA COCKFIELD: I wouldn’t say I’ve already broken in, but I’ve got a foot in the door. And the process thus far has been interesting, exciting, and a stupendous amount of fun. Let me elaborate… (prepare yourself for a rant)…
New Orleans (where I live, go to college, and “break in” to the film scene) is an insane hodgepodge of new and exciting movies and other film-related projects. New Orleans’ film scene is currently making more money than Los Angeles’. We’re becoming what people are calling the “Hollywood South” (sorry if some of this is all just review for you). The stupendously fun part about all this can be attributed to three things: all the beautiful talented people I’ve had the pleasure of working with, the projects I’ve made with these people, and the fact that with all this advancing technology, I believe that the film scene/Hollywood/cinematic art or whatever you want to call it, is taking a shift and becoming another animal altogether. Independent films are becoming more and more popular, digital distribution is a priority, and Netflix is taking over the world.
Just look at KING OF HERRINGS, a feature film made with just a few friends and a very small budget, makes the festival circuit, wins a couple of awards, and lands a sweet distribution deal. That’s hella cool. Another example is TWIN PEAKS. A TV show that only had two seasons in 1990-91, a younger generation discovers it on Netflix 20 years later, and is now finishing its series on Showtime in 2016…?! That’s insane. And really really really exciting.
To me, cinema is still a very new art form, and it’s going to keep growing and twisting and turning and transforming in ways we hadn’t previously thought of. Maybe I’m just a zany film nerd, but to me, I think this is incredible. And New Orleans is right in the heart of all the change taking place in the film scene right now.
So, in short, my answer is enthralling. Breaking in thus far has been enthralling.
My thanks once again to everyone who took part in this article, and will be taking part in the next article when we really get down to brass tacks about the production, the themes, and the journey of making this incredible film. Look for it soon!
KING OF HERRINGS is officially released on JANUARY 20TH and can be pre-ordered on iTunes here, with releases also on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube and Vimeo.
I hope you’ll forgive me for the terrible pun title of this piece, as I hope the man himself will forgive me too. This isn’t about a film, per se (yet), but more about the possibilities of film in the modern world.
I’m a huge fan of independent films and media, as anyone who has read my previous articles will know. The types of films that are not so much hidden gems, but more the sort that you will love, if only you knew they were out there. That’s where I try to help. To just put the word out there. Be it 6 MONTH RULE, FAVOR, HOW DO YOU WRITE A JOE SCHERMANN SONG, or my upcoming piece on Eddie Jemison’s insanely brilliant KING OF HERRINGS, if I can turn you on to a film you were previously unaware of and let these film makers keep doing what they’re doing, then job done.
Blayne Weaver is a ridiculously nice human being, and stupidly talented. An actor, writer, producer and director, I have been a huge fan of Blayne’s since his online short film LOSING LOIS LANE. After that I followed his career as a film maker through the progressively impressive OUTSIDE SALES, WEATHER GIRL, and 6 MONTH RULE and FAVOR (the last two of which I was lucky enough to interview him for on this very blog.
He, like everyone that has been gracious enough to indulge me with interviews, is the absolute epitome of working outside the “mainstream” film industry and my god – do they make it work. He also has amazing hair.
Blayne is currently hard at work on his next feature film, of course writing, directing and starring in. Although I know nothing of the project itself, simply called “Untitled Blayne Weaver Project“, I hope to in the future and maybe snag my third interview with him and the crew.
But first he needs to make the thing, and that’s why I’m writing this. The project is currently being funded by Kickstarter, which basically means YOU get to be part of something very cool if you donate to help fund the film. And you get loads of cool stuff if you do. So instead of shelling out £12 or $20 (depending where you live) to see yet another Transformers movie, why not donate that amount to help interesting, original, intelligent films get made. And the best part is, you get to say “I helped get that made”.
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Don’t delay. Visit Blayne’s Kickstarter page now and be part of something special. And trust me when I say this; I know the guy. It WILL be special.
The BBC’s SHERLOCK is unquestionably the station’s most celebrated, most loved original drama series in decades. Viewers don’t just love it, they hang on every word, every beat, every melody and are rabid for when the next instalment might be coming their way.
It is a coming together of minds of the best kind, with Stephen Moffat (DOCTOR WHO, TIN TIN) and Mark Gatiss (DOCTOR WHO, THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN) taking the legendary sleuth and placing him in our modern world, crucially without changing any of his characteristics or foibles, and simply letting him do what he does best; solving crimes and acting superior.
With so many iterations of the Sherlock character being displayed on screen recently, all trying to attempt something different to stand out, it is Moffat and Gatiss’ version that strikes the hardest chord. Simply put, they didn’t change the characters of Holmes and Watson. They merely made them current.
As a huge fan of film and television music I became slightly obsessed with the music for SHERLOCK, composed by Michael Price and David Arnold. And I was fortunate enough that Michael agreed to take time out of his insane schedule, especially since winning the Emmy this year for the SHERLOCK score, to answer some questions for me…
IAN: First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I’m a huge film/TV score geek, so it’s a big honour for me.
MICHAEL PRICE: You’re very welcome.
IAN: How did you first come across the project of SHERLOCK?
MICHAEL PRICE: Mark Gatiss had known David (Arnold) for ages before SHERLOCK, and when they were trying to find a musical voice for the show, at the pilot stage, Mark asked David to have a look. David asked me, and we took a shot at it.
IAN: What were the initial directives from Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss as to the tone of the stories, and therefore the score?
MICHAEL PRICE: We did discuss some of the theoretical aspects of the updating, but really everything we needed to know was on screen – in the script, the storytelling, and the performances.
IAN: How is the working relationship with David? It sounds seamless in the score, but what did you each bring to the table?
MICHAEL PRICE: We’ve known each other for many years now, and worked together on all sorts of projects in all sorts of ways, so we find it very easy to work around each other. I guess we both have strengths and weaknesses, but the most important thing is that we trust each other enough to be able to make suggestions openly without feeling that the other is going to get the hump.
IAN: The score has an almost Eastern European vibe to it in places, mixing with current trends and a huge cinematic scope. Almost playful. Was this intentional, or just a mashing of cultures as that is how Sherlock’s brain works?
MICHAEL PRICE: We were trying right from the outset to find both internal and external ways of drawing the audience into Sherlock’s world, which is a varied and sometimes theatrical one. The palette of sounds has developed through the three series’, driven by the different stories, into a pretty eclectic selection.
IAN: How does a typical day of co-composing work? I can’t think of a composing duo that fit so well together since James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer on the first two Nolan BATMAN films. Do you write together, separately, or tag-team?
MICHAEL PRICE: David works from his room at Air Studios, and my room is out in the sticks in Hertfordshire, so we exchange files, sing down the phone at each other, and gossip a lot. It’s great to have someone else who totally gets it, and I think the combination of the two of us produces an interesting result.
IAN: Is it a different process writing for SHERLOCK than, say, THE INBETWEENERS films?
MICHAEL PRICE: THE INBETWEENERS films are so fundamentally different from SHERLOCK in terms of what the music needs to do, that sometimes it feels like a different job. With SHERLOCK there is usually 60+ mins of score in a 90 min episode, and with an INBETWEENERS movie there’s usually less than 10 mins of actual score, that isn’t a track. They’re wonderful to work on, though, as the people involved are great and very funny themselves, and sitting in a big cinema with an audience really laughing is a great experience.
IAN: Who would you say your film composer heroes are? Who inspired you?
MICHAEL PRICE: The first film and television composer who I ever met was Nick Bicat, and he was and is an absolute gent. Michael Kamen, with whom I worked for 5 years, was a great inspiration. But my musical heroes tend to be from classical work, like Arvo Part.
IAN: Obviously BBC budgets are limited (not that they sound like it), so what size and type of orchestra do you and David use to score SHERLOCK?
MICHAEL PRICE: We always record live strings, between 10 and 20 in the group, depending on the episode, and lots of the guitars and percussion are live thanks to the amazing Rael Jones. We also pick and choose our soloists (whether instruments or voices) to try and not rely on the samples too much.
IAN: And what, if anything, can you tell us about series 4 and the specials?
MICHAEL PRICE: We’re always the last to know!
What Michael and David have managed to achieve with their work on SHERLOCK is a score for a music-heavy, cerebral BBC show that at once is both cinematic, unique and, most importantly, has become a character in its own right with episodes. Of course, to keep referring to it as a “BBC show” is doing it somewhat of an injustice. It is clearly without doubt that the BBC – one of the best, if not the best, broadcasters in the world – has put their faith in a stellar creative team to make SHERLOCK that rare beast; a smart, funny, razor-sharp programme that never once panders to the audience.
But SHERLOCK has gone beyond just being a BBC show now. It has truly gone global, with international audiences salivating at the prospect of new installments. So much so that Peter Jackson delayed the start of filming THE HOBBIT to accommodate Martin Freeman’s SHERLOCK schedule. And let us not forget Michael Price and David Arnold’s recent win at the Emmy Awards for their musical triumph. It seems that the people behind this wonderful creation cannot make it fast enough to keep up with the demand for it. But as long as the stories, performances, production and music maintain the incredible quality they have thus far, I personally think it’s worth the wait.