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Behind The Sound Interview: Matthew Llewellyn

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What was the first soundtrack or composition that you listened to and how did it affect you?

It’s hard to say because I’ve been listening to music for my entire life. My mom always likes to tell stories about playing Mozart in my room when I was a baby, haha. I think the first time I really noticed how powerful a film score could be was in Home Alone (partly because I watched that movie over and over and over when I was kid.) After that I started noticing the music in other films as well such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Tim Burton’s Batman. I didn’t know what film scoring was at that point but I could tell that something magical happens when you combine great music with a great movie.

What was it that first attracted you to horror?

I’ve loved horror films as long as I can remember. I still can recall the first time I saw The Exorcist, when I was about 12. On first watch I had to stop it because it scared the living crap out of me. Other films that I remember watching at a young age are Child’s Play, Pet Sematary, and of course the Friday the 13th and Halloween films.

What considerations do you take into account that are unique to composing horror scores?

The most important thing is to ensure that the score is thematic and musically interesting. It’s easy to fall back on writing cliché ambient pad/sfx horror scores so I try to avoid doing that. However, the mockup stage is a little bit more challenging if you’re writing a traditional orchestral horror score. There aren’t many sample libraries that have proper aleatoric effects, so if you want to have advanced orchestral playing techniques in your score you have to get a little creative. I think themes and motifs are just as important in horror scores as they are in other types of films, as is most evident in Hitchcock and Carpenter films.

What’s your approach to composing a score? Talk us through your method from preparation to completion.

The first step, as always, is to spot the film with the director and decide where music will and won’t go, what dramatic quality it will provide, and how it will help tell the story. After the film has been spotted I start working on the thematic material. Themes are typically for specific characters or sometimes places. For instance, these are the themes I wrote for Deep In The Darkness:

Michael’s Theme

Michael’s Contemplative Theme (Secondary theme)

Lady Zellis’ Theme

Ashborough Theme

Isolates’ Motif

Once the themes have been approved I map out how they will evolve throughout the film and start writing individual cues. After the cues have been approved I begin preparing for the recording session.

What are you working on now?

I just finished writing some additional music for Revenge (ABC) and I will be working for Brian Tyler on The Expendables 3.

deepinthedarknessWhat achievement are you most proud of?

I am extremely proud of my score for Deep In The Darkness. With each new project I always try to out-do myself and fine-tune my craft.

Who do you most admire musically?

I truly admire the works of John Williams. His level of craft and musical ability is endlessly inspiring for me. I also enjoy the music of Thomas Newman, Danny Elfman, Franz Waxman, and Bernard Herrmann. My iPod isn’t strictly film scores though; I listen to a wide variety of music ranging from Frank Sinatra to System of a Down to deadmau5 to Stravinsky. I just love music so I can find enjoyment in a lot of different styles/artists/composers etc. I go to concerts quite a bit as well; there’s nothing better than hearing your favourite band/artist live. It becomes more than a piece of music; it becomes a shared experience that you have with whomever is on stage.

Talk us through your musical training and background.

I started playing classical piano when I was six and continued lessons through high school. When I was about fourteen, I picked up the guitar as well. Growing up I was always a math and science kid but when I began the process of applying to colleges my parents and I got this crazy idea about going to a music college. After doing some research we happened upon a school in Boston called Berklee College of Music. We took a trip out there to investigate and after about three seconds I was hooked. I quickly applied and was thrilled to be accepted. When I first started Berklee I had it set in mind that I would study Music Business/Management and Music Production/Engineering. It wasn’t until my second year when I saw my roommate, who was a Film Scoring major, having a blast writing music to picture. I had an epiphany and realized I could combine my two favourite loves and potentially turn that into a career. After graduating Magna Cum Laude with a dual major in Film Scoring and Music Business/Management from Berklee, I moved out to Los Angeles to find a job. I worked for composer Richard Gibbs for about eight months then attended the film composition graduate program at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. Since graduating from USC I’ve been working for a handful of composers around town as well as focusing on my own projects.

What influences you when writing music?

It depends on the type of score I’m writing. I always try to make sure that the score is good music on its own as well as in the film.

Recommend a score.

John Williams’ score for Hook is still one of my all-time favourites. It’s a masterpiece that often gets overlooked, but it’s just as brilliant as some of his more famous scores.

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