While the first films ever created were in fact silent films, they were almost always shown in theaters with an accompanying orchestra. The power a film’s score has on the emotions of its audience has been recognized since the birth of the medium in the late 1800s, and while the industry has experienced incredible technical advancements in filmmaking over the last century, music continues to play a vital and irreplaceable role in the creation of all of todays films.
I recently had the opportunity to interview a film, television and video game composer by the name of Alex Redfern. Redfern received a B.A. in Music Production from Leeds College of Music before going on to receive his Masters of Music in Scoring for Film, Television and Video Games at Berklee College of Music in Valencia, Spain. Although Redfern is relatively young, he has gained international recognition for his incredible composing abilities. Last year he flew to Los Angeles where he conducted a 47-piece orchestra at the Eastwood Scoring Stage at Warner Brothers Studios. Since then, Redfern has gone on to score several films including multi-award winning director Emilio Roso’s film Tumbleweed: A True Story, as well as many others.
To find out more about Alex Redfern’s exciting work and the power of music in film, read our interview below!
PLM: Where are you from?
AR: I’m originally from Bury St. Edmunds, a town in Suffolk in the UK. I have lots of friends and family there and it’s a couple of hours away from London, so I would regularly visit there.
PLM: How and when did you get into music?
AR: We always had a piano in the house while I was growing up and I started playing it when I was about 9 or 10. I had a great teacher who taught me to read music and sparked my interest in creating music. I picked up the guitar when I was 13 and played in bands throughout my teens. I was never any good at writing lyrics but wrote a lot of the backing tracks to songs we played. I loved going to recording studios and for a long time I wanted to be a music producer and have my own recording studio.
PLM: What motivated you to pursue a career as a composer for film?
AR: I had always been aware of music in films and was obsessed with the music from Jurassic Park and The Land Before Time when I was young, but it wasn’t until much later on when I decided I wanted to pursue it as a living. I studied music technology in school and we learned a little about film music. I decided to go to Leeds College of Music to do a BA in Music Production, still wanting to be a music producer but it was there that I fell in love with music for film. I chose to take all of the film music classes offered there and, under the instruction of some really great teachers, I found that I had some sort of talent for it. After Leeds, I moved to Valencia, Spain to do a Masters in scoring for Film Television and Video Games at Berklee College of Music’s brand new campus. I was part of the very first class at the college and one of only 20 film composers. I graduated Summa Cum Laude. I met some very talented composers there, many of whom, I still work with.
PLM: When did you first get into film? How did you feel about it then, and what relationship do you have with the medium today?
AR: I watched a lot of films growing up, as mentioned, Jurassic Park and The Land Before Time were two of my favorites, as well as Star Wars, The Goonies and the Pixar films. I loved how these worlds felt alive. When I was older, I would go to the cinema at least once a week, sometimes multiple times, so I could see all of the good (and bad) releases. I still try to watch a new film every week. It helps me to get inspiration for my own writing and gives me a chance to relax.
PLM: In your words, how would you describe the way the score brings a film to life?
AR: On it’s most basic level music will enhance the onscreen action, drama or tension. It can also give characters or places a more memorable identity if there are strong musical themes. If there is only a short while to introduce and develop characters, music can help to give them a personality. If you listen to the music without the film, it will instantly conjure up detailed images in your head.
PLM: Why is it such an important element in addition to the visual and narrative story unfolding before the audience?
AR: I think it can act as a character developing throughout the film as the story progresses meaning that the story has another level to it. Music seems to communicate with us so deeply it can really bring out the emotion of a film.
PLM: How did you land your first job in the industry?
AR: My first film as a composer was Happy Face, directed by Marc Juvé. It is an adventure film. Marc chose me to score the film after I did a demo to one of the scenes. It is a great Spielberg-esque film about a group of teenage boys who try to break into a mysterious old man’s house to find the rumored treasure. It covers a lot of bases very quickly– comedy, mystery, horror, romance. Writing in all of those styles was a challenge but definitely helped me to improve as a composer. It is an orchestral score, which I got to record out in Spain.
PLM: Can you talk about a few of your projects?
AR: Another film I composed for was Tumbleweed: A True Story, which was directed by Emilio Roso and starred Vincent Pastore, Martin Kove, Al Sapienza and Hemky Madera. I co-composed that with Amie Doherty and Jordan Gagne. It is a thriller about organized crime in the southwestern states and Mexico. It was mostly an electronic/synth score with lots of guitar in it. It was the first time I’d worked with guitar so extensively in a score, but it really helped to set the film. There was plenty of tension; it was fun to create these atmospheric sounds with the synths to set the tone.
Aside from being the composer on projects, I have also worked in the music department for films. I worked as a score mixer and midi programmer on a film, Holy Land, which is a short that is being combined with five others to form a feature. It was written and produced by James Franco and stars Jim Parrack. I have also been on the music departments of the short films The Curse of the Unkissable Kid and Larson’s Field.
More recently, I was on the music department of the new Cinderella film as score prep. The film is coming out in March 2015 and is directed by Kenneth Branagh and with music composed by Patrick Doyle.
I composed and conducted a piece of music called Riding Out West, which was recorded at the Eastwood Scoring Stage at Warner Bros. Studios in LA and performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra. It was my first time conducting for a full orchestra and the first time my work had been performed by an ensemble of that size. It was an amazing experience to have my music recorded in the same place and with many of the same musicians as some of my favorite films.
PLM: What did your work add to the overall outcome/impact of the individual projects you listed above?
AR: With Happy Face, I tried to create some strong themes that would help tell the story quickly. I feel that it helped with the comedic aspects of the film, as well as the sense of mystery and tension of breaking into the scary house. On Tumbleweed, the music added to the thrill and drama of the story. The movie gets quite dark, so the tone of the score helped to portray the turmoil and danger that the characters are in. One of the main characters, played by Vincent Pastore, is an out-of-luck cop that finds himself in a position of corruption. The music for his character is very melancholic which helps the audience empathize with him.
PLM: You have worked on a vast scope of productions over the course of your career, what makes you want to work on a project? What elements about a project do you consider when people approach you with an upcoming project?
AR: Good storylines are the first thing I look for in a project. I try to work on projects that will involve something I’ve never done before. I enjoy the challenge of doing something new and it means that I’m continually learning.
PLM: What upcoming projects will you be working on?
AR: I’m planning to move to Los Angeles to work with Ben Decter. He is a great composer; so working with him will be a brilliant experience.
PLM: Do you have any projects that you have already worked on, but are scheduled to be release in the next few months?
AR: I am currently working on two projects. I’m composing the music for a comedy film from the UK called Sisterhood of the Red Garter. It is a feature film, set in Northern England about a mysterious cult. It’s fun writing for comedy; you have to be delicate with the timings to make sure it has the right effect. The music is a cross between light-hearted and dark and mysterious. It is mostly orchestral, but it has a few surprises thrown in…
I’ve also just started to orchestrate for a feature film called Varanasi, directed by Rajan Kumar Patel and composed by Amie Doherty. It is a dark thriller set in the holy city of Varanasi in India. It uses orchestral and Indian instruments together. The orchestra will be recorded in December.
PLM: What is your favorite genre of projects in terms of composing? Why?
AR: Most of my favorite film scores are orchestral, so I like working with the orchestra the most, as you can get so much variety and emotion out of it. You can use it in pretty much any situation for film. My favorite style to work on would be adventure films (music can be grandiose and wondrous) but I also love the complexities and subtleties of music for drama films.
PLM: Are there any projects where all of the sounds were either created or played by you?
AR: I’ve played guitar and piano in a lot of my music and when working with electronic scores I try to make all of the synth sounds from scratch to give some extra individuality to sounds used in the music. Most of my projects use sampled instruments and midi, which will all be played in and tweaked by myself. Recently I’ve started learning to play the penny whistle so I would really like to work on a project soon where I can play that throughout the score.
PLM: Can you give me some more information on the Friends of Leeds College of Music Prize in Music Production award you received? What specifically did you win the “Friends of Leeds College of Music Prize in Music Production” award for?
AR: It was awarded to the top student of the music production course, which had over 80 students. Just one is awarded each year. I won money for it. It was given at the graduation ceremony.