David Buckley is a composer on the rise and is quickly making a name for himself. I first discovered Buckley’s work through Harry Gregson-Williams since Harry is one of my favorite composers. Buckley did some additional music on a few of Harry’s scores like Flushed Away, The Number 23, Shrek The Third and Gone Baby Gone. His solo projects include the Joel Schumacher thriller Blood Creek, the epic martial arts fantasy The Forbidden Kingdom and recently the Luc Besson produced action flick From Paris With Love. I was honored when David agreed to do a live interview.
Kaya: Thanks for agreeing to do this, especially a live chat.
David: No problem! I hope my spelling does not let me down. By the way, i have to get this Dragon score of Powell's - you seem to like it a lot!
Kaya: It really is great. I've been busy with work but my next day off I wanna see it in IMAX.
David: I worked on these little olympic commercial spots that were tied into the film, and the characters seemed great. Looks like Dreamworks is raising its game.
Kaya: I've always loved Dreamworks. Kung Fu Panda really won me over and back in the day when Harry and John did most of the stuff, haha. Which they still do I guess, last Shrek coming up.
David: Yes, being mixed just upstairs from me now.
Kaya: Well, enough about those guys.
Kaya: So, I guess it would be interesting to know how you found your way into music, and I guess eventually film music.
David: Well, my mother was a music teacher so from a very young age I was messing around on a piano. I was probably making a horrible noise, but was allowed to explore and not forced to play from scores. I would play nonsense for hours and hours and really loved it.
Kaya: Nonsense is always the best.
David: I went on to be a cathedral choirboy and then studied composition at Cambridge. So, a liberating beginning, and then a very traditional study period.
Kaya: Which is interesting, because I think your style is anything but traditional.
David: I think there are things in my music that fall back on some of my passions, early music being one of them. Little flavors of mediaeval and renaissance music under the surface. Nothing explicit, but it's part of the musical language I was brought up with.
Kaya: What were you listening to growing up?
David: Well, I was performing every day, mainly music from the 1600's. My composition teacher then introduced me to Stravinsky and Messiaen. My grandfather was Indian, so he would play a lot of traditional Indian music.
Kaya: That's interesting.
David: My dad loved jazz so that would be coming from his radio. Quite a mix.
Kaya: So what made you want to be a film composer? Which is a very specific branch of composition.
David: Two things. I had sung on the score to The Last Temptation Of Christ and it was an incredible experience. We only recorded for a day, but I began to realize that music could work alongside other art forms, and the synthesis could be thrilling. Shortly after, I performed a piece of music written by my friend and mentor Richard Harvey.
Kaya: Love Richard Harvey.
David: Again, it was an eye-opener - full orchestra, choir, ethnic instruments, electric instruments, visuals, lighting. At the age of 10, I thought 'fuck'!
David: From this point on, I knew I wanted to get into this field and Richard has been great in helping me get to where I am.
Kaya: That's interesting because I come from the other side I think. I saw The Rock when I was 9 years old and thought 'Well, holy crap. The music is so awesome'. And that's how I wanted to be a filmmaker.
David: I loved The Rock too. I think these moments stick in our minds and give us drive. I guess we are both fortunate to have caught the bug at such an early age.
Kaya: Yeah, even though some people look at my score & DVD collection and think I'm a bit insane.
David: Because it is so vast?
Kaya: That's one part, and that I own every Hans score, Harry score, John score, etc. The ones that impacted me when I was little. Even every one of yours commercially released.
David: I guess I own all those too!
Kaya: Haha, great! Common ground!
Kaya: So how did you get involved with working with Harry Gregson-Williams?
David: Well Richard re-introduced us a few years back, but Harry and I had known each other in the classical music world back in the UK. I happened to be around when Harry was getting busy and he asked if I would stay on to help him out on a few things. I guess an example of being at the right place at the right time.
Kaya: Yeah, definitely. How would you describe working in such a collaborative environment. I know you've done some additional music on some of Harry's scores. How does that process help your creativity and learning process?
David: Anything I have learned about film scoring has come from Harry. I had worked in the UK prior to moving here writing music for TV and commercials, so I thought I was armed with the appropriate skills, but I was so wrong! It's pretty tough this film scoring stuff, and there is plenty to learn beyond just the musical. One also needs to understand film.
Kaya: I can't imagine how hard it is to tell a story through music, but you do it very well.
David: That's kind - thank you! I still feel I have plenty more to learn. I look back at an old score, and I think, gosh, I wish I had done this or that. But I have always been a revisionist.
Kaya: I do that all the time with my short films.
David: I think as we grow as people our outlook changes a little and it is inevitable that we want to tell the story a little differently. More about nuances than wholesale rewriting.
Kaya: Do you ever look back at a score you've done and think to take parts of that work and maybe expand on them for a different film? I guess sort of evolving your sound.
David: Well, sometimes the nature of the film dictates that one can never take the ideas as far as one wants. For example, I wrote a score for a Scott Free film - Tell Tale, which had quite a nice theme and harmonic invention, but the film just required me to simmer for most of the time. To have done anything more would have been way too much for the film. But I do think there are some ideas there that could be expanded, but I guess it would be odd, if not illegal to use them in another project!
Kaya: I just think it’s unfair that when a director reuses a shot or recycles a story idea it’s a sign of being an auteur and then i hear composers being called unoriginal or hacks when they reuse ideas.
David: Yes, and of course there are only 12 notes!
Kaya: Right, which makes what you do even more impressive.
David: Aren't there only 5 real plots for story-telling? Or something like that. Maybe we have it easy - over double the amount of building blocks!
Kaya: Haha maybe? So, I'm listening to The Forbidden Kingdom right now and I have to say it's maybe my favorite of yours.
David: Ah, thank you! I'm fond of it too. Brings back good memories.
Kaya: I know you mentioned this to me before, but could you go into the whole Morricone style riff that found its way into the score?
David: Yep - it was not actually my idea - I think it was a producer or music editor who thought it would be amusing to dress Ni Chang up with this sound. Even though on paper she comes across as a terrifying bitch, I think she needed a little help on screen. So this was an idea to give her a bit of identity. I tried other things along the way - including a shrill male countertenor voice, but this sound got the laugh in the screenings, and it also added to the idea that we were making a spaghetti Eastern!
Kaya: Haha, love that approach!
David: By the way, Harry may come down here any minute to ask me something, so do excuse me if I break for a few mins! I'll be back! Here he comes!
Kaya: Of course.
David: Ok! sorry.
Kaya: Not a problem at all. Was his question concerning Shrek at all? Or is it secret? Haha.
David: Oh, just a general catch up- he got back from London last night.
Kaya: Ah. So, From Paris With Love. That was a fun score I thought.
David: Well I thought so, but not every one did it would seem!
Kaya: I mean, I can honestly say the movie itself while fun didn't do a whole lot for me, but I was smiling at certain points with your score. Especially within the film.
David: I think the movie was what it was - an action flick, take it or leave it. Perhaps not the best script in the world.
Kaya: But it's a Luc Besson production, always fun stuff.
David: Yes - over the top, silly, noisy, raucous...
Kaya: The Fifth Element is still one of my favorite movies from growing up. So there's a special place in my heart for Luc.
David: Quite - a great film.
Kaya: You also scored a documentary called In The Land Of The Free . . . What was that like?
David: Yes, in fact it will be aired end of April, I believe. Not sure where. It's a fascinating story. Three guys who have been in solitary confinement for over 25 years - for a crime they almost certainly did not commit. I have worked on documentaries before, but this is feature length, and the music plays an important role in telling the story.
Kaya: How is approaching a documentary different than a fictional film? Is it more challenging?
David: Good question. I don't think it seemed that different. I still had to write around the dialogue, had to commit to themes and expand on them. It seemed surprisingly similar now I think back on it. Harder work perhaps because there was no money or very little.
Kaya: Yeah, that can be a limitation on smaller budgets, but I guess in the end it was a story with protagonists and a goal. Is that how you pretty much looked at it?
David: Totally. And even though a serious topic, there were moments of lightness and laughter - it tapped into the whole gamut of human emotions.
Kaya: The magic of the medium.
David: I guess if I were scoring a documentary about the history of the food processor, maybe it would have been different, but this film certainly felt comfortable and allowed me to do what I wanted to do.
Kaya: You do television too such as The Good Wife. How does episodic television bring new challenges versus films, which I imagine it does.
David: It does indeed. The producers were brave hiring someone who had mainly worked in film to score a TV show. The schedule is tough, and one has to be writing stuff that is close to right the first time out. The luxury of meetings and revisits that we have in the film world are not present here. I guess trusting instincts is key. I've been loving it though.
Kaya: Since the stories and arcs span much more time than in a film do you ever keep the end in sight or are you scoring in the moment. Like, I'm sure Micheal Giacchino on LOST has some comfort in knowing where the story will finish. And Geoff Zanelli said that The Pacific was all but completed in a somewhat finished form before they even touched it.
David: I actually don't know what will happen at the end of the season, so I guess I am writing in the moment. Not sure if that is good or bad now you mention it!
Kaya: I don't know, I feel like it may be hard on a composer’s part to close things out. Like I feel bad for Jim Dooley whose score to Pushing Daisies is amazing but of course that show got cut short. So now, it seems like it was a train of thought cut off in a way. Must be the same for the writers I guess if a show ends abruptly.
David: Yes, I had not realized that - have not seen the show.
Kaya: You also did the accompanying Shrek Forever After video game. Many film composers are doing video games these days. How do you make sure your music in a video game actually tells a story and doesn't fall into the category of "background music"?
David: I don't think one can be a hundred percent certain that it will play exactly as intended as there is a certain amount of chance as to how it will all work. For that reason, certainly in my experience, one writes to set scenes and describe locations and characters, as the story is really determined by the player. I think! Although I don't really play games. But that is my understanding. Having said which, the music I composed is symphonic and has its fair share of drama and emotion.
Kaya: What are the major differences of scoring a video game versus a movie?
David: I guess much the same as above. Add to that that much of the music must be able to loop. Therefore keys and tempos need to be considered in a different way. Overall a video game score cannot be linear as far as I can tell, as there must be infinite ways in which the story will run.
Kaya: We all know Harry scored all four Shrek films (first one co-composed with John Powell). Did you look at what he did in the films and work off those ideas and themes or did you start fresh?
David: The remit was to write in a 'Shrekian' style, but all material, including themes was to be original. Having worked on Shrek The Third and Shrek The Halls, I was acquainted with the style, so I understood what they were looking for. I'd like to think I've made it my own however and that there are some unexpected departures. It was certainly a fun project, and I was very glad to be back with a symphony orchestra once again...
Kaya: So, I guess maybe to wrap things up. If David Buckley is driving in his car alone with his thoughts. What music is playing?
David: Haha - well I can't drive, so that is a scary prospect...
Kaya: Haha, okay so maybe sitting at your computer.
David: I don't listen to enough music you know, but someone is always telling me about a great score here or a great band there. A lot of classical repertoire - particularly Debussy and Ravel. Crap answer, sorry!
Kaya: Haha, no, I like it!
David: I used to be terrible. I used to only listen to things I thought I would like and not give anything else the time of day, but I guess since moving on in this business, one needs to be open to anything and everything.
Kaya: Can't ever hurt! Haha.
David: I think western classical music holds a significant place in my heart - it's where I began my musical journey...
Kaya: Is there any film from the past you'd like to take a crack at with no disrespect to the original composer?
David: Oh wow, good question. Since doing Blood Creek, I have really enjoyed the horror genre and would love to score more horror films. So maybe something like Paranormal Activity - did it have a score? I can't remember.
Kaya: I don't think it did. For $11,000 can't imagine so, haha.
David: But, I think I would love to get my teeth into a film with a similar scope to The Forbidden Kingdom.
Kaya: But yeah, Blood Creek. I wish that got a release. I love the Urban Thriller album you put out on iTunes.
David: As much as I enjoy electronica, and I know it has a significant place in modern scoring, I do like thematic music, and the thrill of the full symphony orchestra.
Kaya: The blending of the two is equally great I think.
David: So, I imagine having a go at one of my favorite films - The English Patient would be a fun challenge. But I have to admit, that score is one of the best I have heard.
Kaya: Oh wow, nice pick!
David: So would be a doomed exercise.
Kaya: Well, it's been a pleasure to chat! I really appreciate it. Any big projects on the horizon?
David: Thank you! Very nice to talk with you too. There is something on the horizon, in fact I have started it, but it's not official yet, so I should probably not say anything... Sorry, i'll let you know when it is confirmed.
Kaya: No problem. Best of luck! Tell Harry I can't wait for Prince Of Persia, Shrek 4, Twelve and of course Unstoppable! He has a busy slate!
David: Thanks Kaya. Best of luck with your work too. Will pass it on!
Again, thanks so much to David Buckley for taking the time to do the interview with his schedule. Check out his scores to The Forbidden Kingdom and From Paris With Love; all available on iTunes, Amazon MP3 and CD. David Buckley’s Urban Thriller album is available on iTunes and Amazon MP3. The Shrek Forever After video game hits shelves on May 18, 2010 on pretty much every system available.