Archive for June, 2008
Jun-24-2008 [9:49:12 AM CDT]
ScoreKeeper With Composer Mark Snow About THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE, The Creation Of The Series’ Theme, And Much More!!
Ain’t It Cool News
[Original article here]
Greetings! ScoreKeeper here secretly sleuthing my way with what could be my favorite composer interview to date.
Mark Snow is a legend. Sure, you probably know him as the composer for the smash-hit phenomenon THE X-FILES (1993-2002), but his legacy didn’t start nor ended with that series. He is the composer for countless television series and movies including SMALLVILLE (2001-2008), GHOST WHISPERER (2006-2008), THE LONE GUNMEN (2001), MILLENNIUM (1996-1999), HARSH REALM (1999-2000), 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1997), FALCON CREST (1986-1988), T.J. HOOKER (1982-1986), and HART TO HART (1979-1983) as well as a composer for theatrical motion pictures which include DISTURBING BEHAVIOR (1998), THE X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE (1998), CRAZY IN ALABAMA (1999), and COEURS (2006) which was nominated for a César Award for Best Score.
Now the sizzling Summer of ‘08 heats up even higher as Mark returns to the world of Agents Mulder and Scully in THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (2008). Already one of the more highly anticipated films of the summer, Mark sheds tiny slivers of light on what has successfully been a very clandestine production.
Mark was a joy to speak with. His casual demeanor and passionate expression created the perfect combination for a great interview. We gabbed about the new film, the old shows, and everything in between. As a die hard fan, it was difficult containing my inner geek. So I gave up and just had fun. I hope you will too.
Enjoy the interview…The truth is out there.
ScoreKeeper: Thank you for taking the time out to speak with me today. I’d like to start off talking about THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE. As a bona fide fan of the series, I am very excited about this new movie. How does it feel returning to the world of Mulder and Scully after six years? Did you miss it?
Mark Snow: I did and I knew many years ago that this project was in the works. In fact, Chris Carter called me from London about five years ago and said “Get ready. We are going to do another one…”.
Then it got bogged down and there was red tape with the studios while they were “ironing out” the contracts. But it came to pass and I was thrilled to be invited back. It just felt so comfortable.
SK: Having scored nine seasons of episodic television and a feature film, how did your approach to the new film fit within the X-FILES universe?
MS: It’s very different than the first movie. This is more of a stand alone episode while the first one followed the mythology story with government conspiracies and aliens. There is a lot more heart, warmth and tuneful music in this one – as well as all of the wonderful sound design and atmospheric things.
The idea of being able to write some great themes for some of these very emotional scenes…well, it’s really great! In the score there is this great contrast of fast and slow and loud and soft and melodic and atmospheric. There’s just so many wonderful textures.
I had my full battery of samples and synthesized sounds. I certainly bring back a few things that people might remember from the old days plus a lot of new things. I had a session with a big orchestra that just did atmospheric sound effect music. There was no music written out. I would just give the orchestra instructions like with an accent or a “boom,” or “let’s crescendo here,” or “make a funny noise here,” or “drop a pencil on the music stand,”…all kinds of real cool inventive things.
There’s a battery of percussion with these fabulous taiko drums and all kinds of things. Plus live whistlers and live singers…It’s quite a sound!
It was all very creative.
So, you’ve got that and then a big orchestra hanging out playing written out music for four days of recording. The thrust of the orchestra is mostly like a baritone to low orchestra. There are no trumpets, no high woodwinds. There is a flute solo but it’s an alto flute solo and there is one moment where there’s a high baroque trumpet playing over a very emotional scene. There are eight French horns, five trombones, and two pianos and harps…thirty-two violins, sixteen violas, twelve cellos, and eight basses…
MS: That makes a hell of a sound! It has been great.
One of the most wonderful things was I was able to get Alan Meyerson to be the scoring engineer and the music mixer. He does all of James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer’s stuff. His creativity is really just fantastic! His mixes just come alive.
SK: That improvised aleatoric jam session you talked about…Were you doing that to picture?
MS: No, there was no picture. I just made a tool box of all these sounds and had it at my disposal to sprinkle throughout the score. There’s all sorts of short accents and long sustained things…all kinds of drums…just really marvelous stuff.
SK: You mentioned Chris Carter said there was interest about five years ago to do a second film. At what point did the creative process begin for you? Did you receive a script during that time to start thinking about music? At what point did the compositional process begin for you?
MS: There was such incredible secrecy about this project. I did receive a script and each page had my name watermarked on it. I had to sign something saying if I gave this out then I would be killed.
MS: So that script was going to be chained to my wrist for the whole duration so to speak.
Certainly reading it was the beginning of my thought process and I remember the most direction that I got from Chris Carter was “This is a love story with spiritual and religious overtones.”
I’m reading the script and saw a love story in it along with real good classic X-FILES weirdness. It’s a very complex story. After the first reading, I was so intrigued and I read it so quickly that I had to read it twice and even a third time. But there is still nothing like seeing the visuals. That’s when it really kicks in!
I did write a couple of themes that I thought might work and actually one of the things I wrote before seeing the picture did work out beautifully. Another piece, Chris (Carter) and Frank Spotnitz, the producer, weren’t crazy about but I was able to take it and turn it around and make a variation of it. It worked out great.
SK: What is the functional purpose behind the two themes? Do they have a symbolic relationship in the film?
MS: There are two very distinct moments. I hope you will respect the fact that I can’t say too much about it…
SK: Oh! Of course. I don’t want to know too much about it, so, yeah, don’t go into spoilers. If that’s the case, that’s fine.
MS: These two particular pieces come back quite a few times in different orchestrations and settings and they really work out great. That is what was so satisfying…to be able to write real melodic and thematic music in this movie as well as all of the great X-FILES noises on top of it.
SK: How about the iconic main theme? It’s interesting because in the first film it didn’t appear that much. I liked that you refrained from using it and composed a host new material. How does the main X-FILES theme work into this new film, if at all?
MS: Right from the get go you will probably recognize it and that’s all I can say. Then during the score, there are hints of it and variations of it. It is very subtle and it comes and goes. It doesn’t appear too frequently but enough that someone with a good musical ear will be able to pick it up. It’s not dominating the music whatsoever and these other thematic pieces actually have no relation to it at all.
SK: I find it interesting because you have such a long and fabulous career with so many different television shows and productions but it’s the THE X-FILES that has really come to define your career and help solidify your name in the scoring world.
How did your experience working on I WANT TO BELIEVE compare to nine seasons of THE X-FILES series, the previous film, and all the other scores you’ve done throughout your career?
MS: The most exciting stuff in the TV series, for me, was actually the stand-alone episodes. The mythology episodes had sort of a set palette and everyone kind of liked that. It was more of a traditional sound. The stand-alone episodes were a real free-for-all. They were like mini-movies unto themselves.
The freedom and trust that Chris and company had with me was so remarkable. I could basically do whatever I wanted and when you are given that kind of freedom it’s also a responsibility. No one was giving me notes. They would come over and they would watch every score of every episode for the whole nine years and mostly it would just be “Oh, we just love to get out of the studio and watch the music and see how it helps the picture.” There would rarely be any notes. If anything, “Oh, hit this louder,” or “When this guy jumps out of the box…smash it!” or “That’s too much…”. It was very minimal.
With the recent film, it was a combination of all the stuff that I loved so much about the series: the freedom to do what I wanted and the idea of writing these themes which turned out to be so potent and hopefully memorable.
Going from the orchestra’s reaction…the musicians were maybe thinking they were just going to be playing a bunch of sound effects. Then when all of these, dare I say, wonderful tunes showed up, it was just great. Chris, Frank, and the people at Fox would walk in from time to time listening to the cues and it was just “thumbs-up” the whole way.
Thomas Newman once said in regards to work, “There is war and peace. War is scoring a movie and peace is when you are between movies.” With I WANT TO BELIEVE there was no war, it was just a fabulous exhilarating experience.
SK: Take a moment to address all of the X-FILES fans out there. What is in store for them? What can they expect?
MS: All the best things of the stand alone episodes and the relationships with the characters… They will not be disappointed, I’m telling you!
SK: I’m among the many anxiously awaiting this one. Personally, this could be one of my more anticipated movies of the summer. Since hearing you describe the music in more detail, I’m even more excited.
How many minutes of music are there in the film?
MS: There’s about an hours worth. Maybe a little bit more. There are a couple of songs but really the thrust of the music really is the score.
There’s not more than three songs in the movie and they aren’t in a montage or playing during a whole scene where the sound effects and dialogue are cut out. The songs are more subliminal and more a part of the overall sound.
SK: When scoring the series you were primarily layering synth sounds without utilizing many live acoustical elements. When THE X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE came along, you had the opportunity to score with a live orchestra and again with I WANT TO BELIEVE.
First of all, how does the compositional process differ between the series and the films and to what effect did any differences outcome the music?
MS: Well, it didn’t really change at all. The big difference was when I was done with a piece, I would turn it into a MIDI file and it would go out to the copyist who would, in turn, put it through one of their programs to give to the orchestrators. They would see pretty clearly where the orchestral music was in regards to the strings, the horns, percussion, piano, harp, and they would write that out.
Sometimes my synth strings would be with the orchestral strings and sometimes not. Sometimes my percussion stuff would be plenty and we didn’t need any of the live percussion. It was a cue by cue situation. I felt very comfortable that all of my orchestral instruments would be much more fantastic with the real deal, especially with the size of that group.
SK: How do you work in the electronic elements of your acoustical scores? Do you have those planned out ahead of time or do you add them after the acoustical elements are in place?
MS: I basically hear the whole thing right from the get go. We separate every single individual synth or sampled sound on a separate track and Alan Meyerson mixes each one of those. He treats them with who knows what he does – it’s amazing to me – and then combines them all. Then it has to be mixed in 5.1 surround sound. It’s a miracle!
I do my thing and it sounds pretty good. We get an orchestra and live players and Alan Meyerson…Holy mackerel! I pinch myself listening back to these things. I said “Wow! I loved that! Holy Smokes! This is great!”
SK: It sounds like this could be a real peak for you as far as satisfaction throughout your career. Not just in the X-FILES world. It’s sounding very much like this is one of those top ranking experiences for you…
MS: I’m glad you said it because somewhere along this interview I was definitely going to say that. In terms of satisfaction this ranks the highest.
I did a movie in France with director Alain Resnais. That was also satisfying. The only thing missing was we didn’t have a live orchestra. The music for that – and there is going to be a CD coming out momentarily – was very subtle but also extremely thematic and tuneful. It’s all very emotional but in a quiet sort of sad-yearing-type of way.
It was also very satisfying in the sense that the director just said, “I’m a big fan of yours and I want you to do this. I hired you because I know you will do the right things. I don’t want to tell you what to do. Just go out there and do it.”
So I did and it turned out to be a really great experience.
SK: I received a promo copy of your score from PUBLIC FEARS IN PRIVATE PLACES (aka COEURS) and I wrote a brief preview of it on this site [HERE].
I loved it! I don’t normally review film music without having seen the film but in this case, I did. I really loved the music. You were nominated for what is basically the European equivalency of the Oscar for that score, is that correct? [details HERE]
MS: Yes, I was nominated. They call it a César Award. To get that nomination, that too, is pretty remarkable.
SK: Do you have a date yet when the score will be released on CD?
MS: It could literally be next week.
SK: I’ll be on the look out for that. The promo CD that I got only had ten or twelve minutes of music on it, so I’m definitely dying to hear more.
SK NOTE: Since this interview was conducted, BuySoundtrax.com has announced the release of PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC PLACES (aka COEURS) on their own BSX Records label. I ordered my copy immediately upon hearing the announcement. Check out their web site [HERE] for more information.
I’ve heard there is already a CD planned for THE X-FILES 2: I WANT TO BELIEVE. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
MS: It’s going to be coming out on Decca. They are bugging me, “Let’s go do some record mixes for it right away!” It will probably be 90% of the score because a lot of the pieces are just sound effect style stuff.
There is also a song by Xzibit which plays during the end credits. I think that song is going to be on the CD as well. There’s also a really great new band that Chris Carter knew about that did a remix of THE X-FILES theme which sounds fantastic. That’s going to be on there as well.
SK: What about the series? I remember when THE TRUTH AND THE LIGHT CD came out. I was very excited they finally released your music from the show. Any future plans of releasing more?
MS: I understand that there’s going to be CDs released on the other series that Chris did: MILLENNIUM, THE LONE GUNMEN, and HARSH REALM.
They’re talking about this massive compilation of THE X-FILES too. But nine years times…it could be ten thousand minutes of music! That would be a real challenge to choose from that much music but I understand that that is in the works too.
SK: That would be awesome!
I’ve interviewed and talked with a lot of different television composers and one thing that frequently comes up is we seem to be currently witnessing a genuine renaissance in television.
The various facets of television are reaching new heights in terms of quality and one of those facets is music. We are getting some absolutely fantastic scores in television these days. In the past several decades that hasn’t always been the case.
I’ve always attributed this modern boom back to THE X-FILES. Even during the nineties, television wasn’t the place to go if you wanted to hear great scores. But I very much believe it was your work on THE X-FILES that helped catalyze the resurrection of well-crafted scores for television.
It was your music, in fact, that first got me sucked into the show. I was flipping channels one night – I believe it was during the second season – and I came across a show and said to myself, “What is this music?” I was loving it. It turned out it was THE X-FILES. I tuned in the following week just so I could hear more music. The next thing I knew, I was hooked on the show.
I’d like for you to comment a little on the recent trends of television scoring because I think you deserve a lot of credit for raising the bar and improving the overall quality of it.
MS: That’s an immense compliment and I really appreciate it. I think the most important factor was that Chris and company really seemed to trust me.
First of all, there is a lot of music in the show. At first, with the pilot, they really wanted very atmospheric stuff. Not melodic or cheesy. Just supportive almost sound designed music. That’s where we started.
I felt after a while that was getting too one dimensional and so I started experimenting. Every time I did, it was encouraged by Chris and company so I just kept going and going and they kept liking it and liking it.
It’s rare that you are in a situation where you are given such creative freedom. In television, the music editor has to do temp tracks that have to be approved by the studio, the network, the producers and then those things are tweaked and changed and then it comes back to the composer and the composer is given these marching orders, “Copy this as close as you can come,” which does take some degree of one’s own creative impetus out of the process. It just depends on the show and it depends on the people that you are working for.
I think Chris Carter and Steven Cannell, Dick Wolfe, and Steven Bochco, are the last of the great singular people that a composer had to answer to. Not committees and not networks. These guys would tell us what they wanted and it was just wonderful being able to answer to just one person.
SK: That seems to be the reoccurring theme. The more creative freedom talented individuals receive the better the product is going to be. It’s not a law, but it’s definitely something common amongst the great shows of our time.
To me, I think without the success of THE X-FILES, I don’t know if we would have some of the great television scores that we are getting today. Trust begets trust.
MS: I really appreciate that but at this point in the interview I have to give credit to someone who was actually my mentor. I think this man was the absolute first composer for TV music that gave it some legitimacy and that’s Earl Hagen.
Although he did a lot of light hearted and comedy music, his more dramatic music and the range of what he could do was exceptional. He was such a hard worker. In those days there was no such thing as a sampler or a synthesizer. Everything was written out and played by live musicians. If you listen to some of the underscore of some of his dramatic shows it is so brilliant!
He was incredibly generous to young composers who were starting out. He would have this class at his house out in Calabasas California, where there is a big country club that he belonged to. He loved golf. He made a ton of money on all of the TV shows so the fee for getting into the class was a dozen Titleist golf balls.
We would have a ten week session each year. There wouldn’t be more than ten people and once a week we would sit around with him while he played some of his music and teach us about the technical side of things.
I just remember he would never kick you out. If you wanted to stay there until four in the morning, he would be right there with you and you could ask him any question, talk about stuff, or listen to all kinds of music. It was incredibly inspiring.
SK: I’m glad you brought him up. I couldn’t agree more. When he passed away a few weeks ago, I wrote a brief memorial article for Ain’t It Cool News [HERE].
When you talk about the father of television scoring, nobody can quite compare. His body of work is just legendary. That’s an amazing anecdote.
MS: Also, in a funny way, my X-FILES theme with the whistle is sort of my homage to Earl. He whistled (the theme from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW) himself. I wasn’t that good of a whistler. But he did it.
SK: That’s awesome!
What I’d like to do now is take you back through THE X-FILES series a little bit. I’m going to mention a handful of individual episodes and I want you to give me some initial thoughts of reflection or an anecdote or whatever comes to your mind when I mention the episode. I’m going to start off with one of the more legendary X-FILES episodes of all time
MS: That was so powerful and so incredible…the idea behind it. All I had to do was sit there at the keyboard as something came up right from my gut, into my fingers and plopped down.
I was possessed absolutely with that episode. I’m telling you, when the shows were that good it was less than easy. It just flowed. It was so natural and came so easily. I don’t know what else to say. It was just so inspiring that you couldn’t miss. You couldn’t go wrong when you were just so completely mesmerized by the show and that was one of the classics. You are absolutely right.
SK: That’s TV history in my opinion. Nobody has seen anything like that since or before and it still remains one of those episodes you clearly remember where you were when you first saw it.
MS: I also thought that it was so powerful even with no music and just sound effects. Like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) and how great that was.
But (HOME) was a classic no doubt about it.
SK: The next one is one of the more beautiful and poignant scores you’ve done for the series. It’s one of my favorites, THE FIELD WHERE I DIED.
MS: There was an opportunity there. So much of the music in the first season or first part of the first year was all of this musical vapor and atmospheric sound design stuff. I knew that I just loved being able to write a melodic piece and here was an opportunity where it presented itself that worked out great.
I was a little nervous when Chris and company would hear a melody. They might think “Uh oh.” I tried to make it as honest and heartfelt as possible.
I think that actually leads right over to what I did with I WANT TO BELIEVE with these themes. Frank Spotnitz is a real straight forward, serious, but good-natured guy and he walked over during one of the recordings of one of these pieces and there were tears in his eyes. That was like, “Wow!”
I don’t want to sound like I’m so full of myself but there were so many magic moments in the scoring of this movie, especially with these themes. I think you will know what I mean when you see it.
SK: The teary eyes from any of your audience members is definitely the ultimate compliment for a film or television composer.
The episode that I consider to be the quintessential episode – if no body had ever seen the show and they said “What one episode should I see?” I would tell them to go see JOSE CHUNG’S FROM OUTER SPACE.
MS: That was such a remarkable episode. Getting Charles Nelson Riley in that was genius. He was just so quirky and perfect. That’s another thing that seemed to play automatic.
The idea…what was sort of like 50’s bebop jazz with the bongos…almost like something from Ed Wood but finger snapping and the piano thing.
Using the little jazz combo – without overdoing it – gave such an interesting flavor and again, very different from most X-FILES music.
SK: THE X-FILES is well-known for darkness and for beauty but one element that often gets overlooked was comedy. I’ve always thought SMALL POTATOES was one of the great comedic episodes of the series.
MS: There was a palette of instruments consisting of strings and woodwinds that I had for that show that in a way dictated some of the other lighthearted or comic shows. The sound relied on pizzicato strings a lot.
Nevertheless it seemed sparse enough and not over-the-top but definitely lighthearted with a lot of good space between notes. There were woodwind solos with pizzicato strings and some piano and every once in a while one of the classic X-FILES weird sounds would pop in.
Those episodes were tons of fun because it really relied on timing. It also seemed that the economy of the music was a big part of that to make it successful.
SK: One of the things I’ve always been curious about is in the episode CLOSURE from the seventh season when you finally learned the fate of Mulder’s sister, it’s one of the rare moments where you didn’t actually compose the music. They cut in “My Weakness” by Moby.
First of all, did you have anything to do with the selection of that piece and I often wondered was it at all disappointing for you not be able to score such a major resolution in the X-FILES mythology?
MS: That’s a good question and luckily for myself, I really thought that song was perfect. I didn’t have anything to do with it or the decision behind it but I felt totally comfortable.
Every once in a while, when Chris would pick out a pop song or whatever, he would always make really great choices and I thought that was a good one.
He was a big fan of Moby at the time and actually my theme for HARSH REALM was inspired by Moby where I used some snippets of Mussolini giving a speech. I used it in sort of a musical-sample way over the dark music. There was sort of a hip-hop type rhythm section I used with this Mussolini thing. It think it had a pretty cool effect actually.
SK: If somebody had told me before watching CLOSURE, that they ended it with a piece that you didn’t compose, I would have screamed “Blasphemy!”
That said, I do think it was one of the more powerful, amazing, and emotional moments in the entire series.
MS: Chris’s taste in pop music and alternative music…I’ve been right there with him.
So that’s always great. I remember in MILLENNIUM, there were some opera pieces and in the great black-and-white show, THE POST-MODERN PROMETHEUS, they took a piece from (Camille) Saint-Saëns, called THE CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS. So we have been all over the map. What’s that Johnny Cash song? “I’ve been everywhere man…”
I have been everywhere musically with the X-FILES. From harpsichord baroque, string quartets, live sopranos…the Scully theme that people talk about a lot, so…
They were talking about doing another movie after (I WANT TO BELIEVE) and I thought “You are kidding! I thought this was going to be it.” I suppose if this does big business or acceptable business they might keep doing some more. That would be incredible.
SK: Looking back on it all…the show, the two films, in your best summation, what does the X-FILES mean to you?
MS: At first it was an absolute shock! When I first saw the pilot, I knew it was good. I knew it was well done but like everyone else I had no idea whatsoever that it was going to turn into this cult phenomenon.
The magic of that time in my life was just amazing. If that happened again in my life it would be a miracle of miracles. To be a part of something where I do music for either a TV show or a movie that became another iconic thing, that would be amazing. But believe me, I am very satisfied with this one!
SK: Can you recount your experience composing the now classic theme for the THE X-FILES series?
MS: The story about the theme is so cool.
At first, Chris sent me a collection of CDs and music ranging from classical to punk rock to all sorts of things. He said “I like the guitar here. I like the vocals here. I like the drum sound here.” So to make a long story short, I did four themes before I hit upon the final one and all of them were based on material that he gave me.
They were more of what you would think perhaps a sci-fi theme would be: loud, fast, and weird. He was very cool about the whole process. I said, “Look, let’s try this…Let me just start from scratch and erase everything we have done and see what I can come up with. I’m getting to know you better and your musical sensibilities and what you have a taste for, so just give me a shot here.” He said, “Absolutely!”
I remember he walked out of the studio. I put my hand down on the keyboard and I had this delay echo effect which later became the four note piano triplet figure that repeats itself, “Da-da-da, Da-da-da, Da-da-da…” I said, “Wow! That’s a happy accident.” So keeping with the Chris Carter school of music – nothing slick or overproduced and really, really simple – I thought, “What else does it really need?”
It needed a pad of stuff underneath and then a melody and that was it. So I had the piano part. I had the pad combination of a lot of things, and then I came up with this tune.
Then it was a matter of what instrument or sound would play it and I went through everything that makes a sound from saxophone to guitar to flutes, all of the regular instruments and synthesizer stuff. I then stumbled upon this one sound.
I remember my wife hearing that whistle sound. She was out in the yard and the door was open. She came in and said, “You know, that’s pretty cool.”
I got Chris back in my studio and he’s very quiet. He hears it and he says “That’s great” in a very low key way. He kept hearing it and hearing it and he said, “I think that’s it. I think that’s our TWILIGHT ZONE theme.”
Then he said, “OK, now we have to get it approved by Fox so I want to bring it in with you. We’ll both sit there with them and play it.”
I meet him over at the studio and I have a boom box and a CD and we go in there and he looks at his watch and goes, “Oh no! I have a meeting. I can’t stay. Hey guys, this is the theme I want. Here’s Mark Snow… I have got to go.”
So I’m left with these four executives and they are all in suits and they are all very nice and respectful and I played the piece and they looked like they didn’t know what the hell happened. They couldn’t say anything.
One guy said “You know, that is really…I am telling you…” and then he would look to his friend and say “Bill, what do you think?”…“This piece…Sam?” and they would go around the room and no one would say anything. But they signed off on it.
Whatever it was, a month or two later when the show was beginning to take off and the music was getting noticed, one of these guys called up and said “Didn’t I tell you how great that was, huh?”
What do you day? You say “Yes Sir, thank you very much.”
SK: That very first draft that you played for Chris, is that the draft that we hear on the show?
MS: Actually there was a little more stuff in it. He said “Why don’t you just simplify it? You’ve got these three basic elements. Just take out this, this, and this.” It wasn’t too much more.
SK: Are there any particular episodes that I might not have mentioned that seem to stand out in your mind as being a favorite of yours?
MS: Oh God…
SK: Hard question, huh?
MS: That is. I forget the name of the show, but the side show circus group with this guy who had…
MS: Yeah, HUMBUG, where his twin was attached to him and would crawl out in the middle of the night to all kinds of mischief. God that was amazing! I’m just at a loss of remembering names…THE POSTMODERN PROMETHEUS was a big deal. JOSE CHUNG was great. CLYDE BRUCKMAN was a great one…HOME.
SK: THE HOST…That was probably the first slap across the face for people watching the X-FILES in its debut season. They are getting comfortable in the first season and all of a sudden THE HOST comes on, it’s like, “Whoa! This is something different.”
MS: The series of shows that Micheal McKean was in (DREAMLAND and DREAMLAND II)…Just name it. They are all good. The JFK black-and-white in and out with the Cigarette Smoking Man was amazing…
SK: There’s that block of episodes in the fourth season that stick out for me, with HOME, UNRUHE, MUSINGS OF A CIGARETTE SMOKING MAN, NEVER AGAIN, THE FIELD WHERE I DIED…There are like five or six of them within an eight week period that I think represent some of the best episodes of the series. What an amazing run. I have a hard time picking my favorites too.
MS: I remember there was one where there is an Amish sect that has all kinds of crazy stuff going on in a very rural country setting.
I remember using this ram’s horn sound as a signature sound for that episode with just two notes that sounded very primitive. It also had a kind of scary religious overtone to it.
SK: Great stuff! Real quick, do you have anything planned after X-FILES 2? What do you have coming up in the future?
MS: Actually I’m writing a score now that is a completely different change of pace. It’s a kids movie, sort of Tom Sawyer meets Hitchcock and it’s really well done and cute and sweet. It’s an independent movie.
In fact, it’s directed by a guy named Bobby Moresco, who was one of the producers of MILLENNIUM of all things and he also co-wrote CRASH (2004) with Paul Haggis. He really had a love for this story and did a really great job. It’s a lot of fun going from the big X-FILES to this other thing.
SK: Well Mark, I’ve had a blast chatting with you today. I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do so. I wish you the very best in your future endeavors hope I can talk more X-FILES again soon.
MS: Thanks! It was my pleasure.
If you’d like to catch a great series of photos from the scoring sessions for THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE, check out the spread at ScoringSessions.com [HERE] and see Mark in action!
On behalf of Ain’t It Cool News I’d like to thank Mark Snow for his time. He worked in a generous hour between recording sessions for THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE in order to talk with me. Time is sparse during such hectic days for a composer and I’m very thankful Mark chose to divvy up some my way.
I’d also like to thank Costa Communications for their assistance with this interview.
There’s no doubt about it…I WANT TO BELIVE!
Scoring Stage Visit: The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Shock Till You Drop
[Original article here]
On 20th Century Fox’s scoring stage, producer Frank Spotnitz and composer Mark Snow seem to share the energetic second wind of two artist who know they’re in the home stretch. Months after we were invited out to the set of The X-Files: I Want to Believe (read Ryan Rotten’s report here), the pair are overseeing the scoring of the same scene we witnessed with intense, booming notes that mark a decided departure from the television series to something much grander on-screen.
Snow, who scored the series from its very first episode (including 1998’s The X-Files: Fight the Future feature film), has evolved as a composer, moving across dozens of other projects since the series premiered in 1993. He concentrates on the images on-screen, syncing his orchestral sound with the picture.
By his side stands Spotnitz who – joining Chris Carter’s 10:13 Productions in the The X-Files‘ second season – has been working on the show for nearly as long. He wrote nearly 50 of the series’ episodes, shares a story credit on Fight the Future with Carter and co-penned/produced I Want to Believe.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: How much of this is starting something brand new and how much is returning to material you’ve already created before?
Mark Snow: That’s a good question, because it was 10 years ago that we did the first movie and this one is totally different. It’s a different time, musically, for the world and for me. And having the wonderful nine years of the show and the first movie, there were certain kinds of sounds and instruments that I’d use that have found their way back in this one, but morphed in a sense and a different perspective and a different creative sensibility about it. With this movie, there’s still so many complex musical motifs. For example, there’s a lot of percussion stuff that just plays by itself. There are some very, really emotional pieces of music that people might not associate with classic X-Files sounds. And then the combination of my own studio electronic stuff that I did on the TV show and now with this almost 100-piece orchestra. And we’ve got a live boy soprano singing, coming in later. We’ve got a second orchestra that just plays effects, not music. We had a session where I just conducted and gave them instructions on what kind of sort of sound effect things to do, not melodic pieces. There’s a fellow who’s doing a special percussion sample overdubbed. So, we’ve got two orchestras, all my synth master tracks, a singer and we’ve got the greatest mixer here, Alan Meyerson, who’s done every big movie in the last five years. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. He’s just amazing. This is a great scoring stage.
Shock: How has the musical world changed since the last movie? Is it bringing in those percussive elements?
Snow: I think mostly it’s about what the movie is about. I mean, after reading the script and I spoke to Chris Carter. The first thing out of his mouth was, ‘This is a love story, mostly, with religious sort of overtones and spiritual overtones, so just keep that in mind.’ But I’m reading along and there are some pretty wild things that go on. I’m trying to make sure that the love story really becomes apparent to the audience. And it’s a big part of it.
Shock: What’s your process? Where did you start?
Snow: Well, I start with my home studio stuff. And then, there are glorified demos of all the material so I can play it for Frank and Chris and get the this, or the this, or the this. I can adjust those. It’s interesting, because now we have the orchestra here. By the time the orchestra comes in, it’s just pure pleasure, because there are no surprises. Everyone knows what the music is going to be, but now it’s fleshed out with this marvelous group. After it’s mixed all together, it should be a great CD.
Shock: Do you assign specific motifs to the characters and themes? How do you come up with what the body of what the score’s going to be?
Snow: It seems – and actually with the TV show as well – there were mostly themes for situations, not so much for characters – oh, here comes someone, oh, this theme. I mean, that’s a little traditional, a little old-fashioned. I don’t think that applies to this. This is more of a standalone episode rather than the mythology episode that the first movie was, which is really kind of fun, because there’s a little more room to have a more creative palette with this. The mythology movie, there was a certain palette that I established in the TV show that flourished in the movie, but this one has really more latitude and room to do some crazy stuff.
Shock: How long ago did you start?
Snow: I guess it was as soon as there was the first rough cut, which was about a month and a half ago. The nerve-wracking thing about that is we had to sort of race to do a temp dub. I had to write music, myself and Jeff Charbonneau, the music editor, had to prepare music for this temp dub pretty quickly so the studio people could see it and start their discussions and how they wanted to shape the movie and work with Chris and Frank. But that was very helpful, because we saw what was working, what wasn’t, what areas needed help and it was a really good place to start. It was frustrating, because then getting to the final cut took quite a quite a while and we were all, ‘Let’s go. When are we going to get it?’ Anyway, it arrived and we’re here and it’s going to be great.
Shock: On the temp dub, was it existing X-Files music or did you get something new?
Snow: It was half and half. There was some existing X-Files stuff and stuff that I’d written. It was a short time to prepare for that, so I couldn’t do too much. But the music editor and myself got it together in time.
Shock: Had you read the script previously to get some kind of feel or idea for it?
Snow: It was the emotional part of the script that was most interesting, because then I could hone in on this melodic, thematic part. There are two major melodic themes that appear in the movie that I think, if people heard alone, they might not associate with X-Files, but in this particular case it just marries up beautifully. And then having that interspersed with all the mysterious atmospheric sounds and stuff.
Shock: Frank, can you talk about what your collaboration was? What kind of guidance did you give him?
Frank Spotnitz: Well, that’s the beauty of working with Mark, is that obviously he knows X-Files and the X-Files musical palette better than anyone, because he created it. So there’s not a lot, honestly, of discussion. It’s general, like you were saying. The love story is important or we talked a lot about atonal stuff, sections of the movie that aren’t melodic. But just very general, because Mark knows how to do it better than anybody. It’s more us reacting to what he does than providing guidance.
Snow: It’s always collaborative. The collaborative nature of it is always very, very exciting to me, because sometimes I think I’m dead-on with something and here’s something, and it’s like, ‘What the hell is that?’ No. Or vice versa. I’ll write something and say, ‘I don’t know if this is all right.’ And it’s like, ‘No, no. Just make more of that.’ That’s the excitement for me in film music, it’s that collaboration. You’re alone and you do it and then you bring it out there.
Spotnitz: My favorite part of the process is hearing his music, because I don’t do a thing. I just sit there and the movie gets fifty percent better. That’s not an exaggeration. It gets fifty percent better just from the music. And it’s also interesting because Mark is like this amazing barometer, and you can judge how successful what you’ve done based on his music. It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s what we did.’ It’s like a counterpoint to what you’ve done and in some ways it’s like, the better the score is, probably the better the movie is. There was this cue you did last week, Steve was there, and we were just sitting there and we were all silent afterwards and it was just like… [Spotnitz claps] It was so fantastic.
Snow: I’ll make a note. Which one was that? I’ll make a note.
Shock: You talk about the romantic theme, but Frank has mentioned there are a lot of scares. What’s the balance for you? Is it just seeing what the footage ends up being like or punctuating something that jumps out? How do you figure those moments?
Snow: I think it’s sort of the challenging part about that. Where you need a good sense of sophistication, there are moments where you could do so little and it could be so amazingly effective. And then, on the other hand, where you can really jump on something. When you see the movie in full tilt, you’ll see these sections where wow, the orchestra is just going crazy, you know. Other times where it’s just making these atmospheric sounds. But there’s action yet, it’s just sort of my feel for the material and the experience of doing the show from the get go, of knowing when to sort of hold ’em and knowing when to fold ’em.
Shock: Do you think modern technology could ever replace a live orchestra?
Snow: It’s getting close, but I don’t think so. I mean, what’s fascinating in this combination is there’s such cool mysterious sounds that I’ve sort of invented or altered, taken something that you might know as a, for a lack of any better word, a bell, and toned it down and taken the attack off, and it used to sound like “ding” and now it sounds like “wha.” All these kinds of interesting electronically treated sounds are laying in there in a special way for me, and the orchestra plays along. The combination is really interesting.
Shock: The level of secrecy that the filmmakers have had, have you had the same amount of secrecy?
Snow: Well, I guess there’s certain things I can’t reveal. You know, if I said something about a certain musical section.
Shock: Give us an example.
Snow: When I got the script, the cover was bare and I opened the first page and it had my name watermarked on each page. Underneath, ‘Dear Mark, you will be killed if this finds its way into the world somehow.’ So, you’d better shut up. Also, when I get footage it has my name on the film, “Mark Snow. Do not copy.” If one of my kids takes this thing and chucks it into the garbage and someone sneaks around, I’m in trouble. Anyway, that’s not going to happen.
Spotnitz: I have to tell you as an aside, I was flying and I had a DVD of the movie because I had to give notes and I was out of town. I’m in the airplane and I’m flying coach, and I’m about to load the DVD into my laptop and it dropped. It’s the second half of the movie. This is true. And it says, ‘Frank Spotnitz. Do not Copy.’ I’m reaching on the floor under my coach seat and I can’t feel the DVD. I look and the woman next to me is asleep, so I can’t sort of…I’m contorting around, trying to get the DVD, I could make the story go on for quite a while. I couldn’t find it, I asked everybody in the plane, all the way back to the back. It was about an hour and I was in absolute agony, and it turned out that it had fallen and slid like here, behind my seat. The guy behind me finally pulled it out. It was just like, I could see it happening. It would be on the Internet. Like, somehow the X-Files fan behind me realized what this was.
Shock: Can you talk about the atmosphere or tone of the music. Were there any classical cues or composers that you took inspiration from?
Snow: When I was in New York, a student at Julliard, I was a huge fan of avant-garde music, and I guess one of them… For me the most exciting thing about X-Files is when we did the pilot, they tracked music from other movies and Chris said, ‘I love the sparseness of this underscore, and I love just tons of very atmospheric supportive music under dialogue.’ No slick stuff, no melody, just pads and supportive atonal kind of mush, in a way. That was very successful at the beginning, and it got to be a little old at about episode eight or something. I slowly started to sneak some other things in it. It was based on my early experiences as a student being influenced by Ligeti, Penderecki, Xenakis, I mean all these really atonal composers. And the beauty of it is I kept sneaking these different elements in there and no one said stop. It was encouraged. Then eventually some melodic themes came in and it just blossomed beautifully. No one ever sat on me and said, ‘No, no, no. Go back to the original. Just tread water here.’ That was the most exciting thing that I naturally just followed my own instincts, and that’s so unusual, because most TV shows and films you’re sort of told what to do or here’s the temp music and please sort of copy it.
Spotnitz: And because the episodes were so varied, the score was so varied as well. It was just an incredible range.
Snow: From black comedy to all the scariest stuff possible.
Shock: Have there been any scenes in the movie where you thought this needed some score accompaniment and you saw the scene and you thought it would work better without music?
Snow: I don’t know. It felt like we were pretty much in agreement.
Spotnitz: Yeah. I think there are some cues we’re recording here that at the end of the day we might not be using. We’ll see. I think we’ve decided we’ll cover ourselves and then we’ll decide whether to pull back.
Shock: You basically design wall-to-wall music and then figure out what fits and what doesn’t?
Snow: No, I mean we’re used to a certain kind of working relationship where we sort of have an instinct with each other knowing where things should go. If you err on the ‘a little too much’ it’s much easier to take it out than to add at the last minute.
Shock: How was it years later to come back and revisit this franchise? Was it easy to get back into it or was it like an old friend?
Snow: That’s sort of the same thing. Was it easy to get back? Yes. Was it an old friend? Yes. It was just fantastic, especially that this movie was more of an individual standalone piece, where the palette…there was much more room for new kind of X-Files sounds, if you will.
Shock: Are there any fears that X-Files fans are going to not recognize it? Because what we heard sounds very broad and huge.
Spotnitz: Well, that piece might not be…
Snow: There’s another version of that, by the way, that is so totally different. But it remains to be seen which piece will survive. All I can say is from the very opening of the movie there will be no disappointed X-Files fans.
Spotnitz: I agree. If we can, I’d like to play that music without picture before you guys go. To me, it sounds unmistakably like The X-Files. It’s like we were saying…in the series Mark did such an incredible range of styles of music and he has something very personal that you recognize regardless of what it does.
Snow: But seeing, also, how the characters have grown and changed, just physically over the years, and what’s going on with their relationship in the movie made a big impact on me in coming up with these emotional pieces, because it couldn’t be over-the-top schmaltzy. It had to have a real super honest, emotional quality about it. I think the fans, it’ll help them get what they want out of this. They’ll be very satisfied.
Spotnitz: That’s the thing. I don’t know what the fans were expecting this movie to be. I said before, I don’t know what they think it is, but I can tell you it’s not a cynical movie. There’s nothing about it that is calculated, ‘Oh, they’re going to want this.’ I think you’ll see that when you see it. It’s a heartfelt film with integrity and I suspect people will respond to that, or not, but that felt like the right thing to do rather than trying to be calculating and handicapping, ‘They’re going to want this.’ The movie has none of that quality.
Shock: Sometimes soundtracks reveal spoilers in the titles of the songs. Are you guys taking any precautions?
Spotnitz: Track one, track two, track three. [laughs] No, it’s a good point, though. I hadn’t thought about that. But that’s a good point. We’ll have to be careful.
Snow: It’ll be in French.
Shock: How has the nature of composing changed since you first started. Do people want the same kind of music that they did then?
Snow: Well, this temp track thing is a big deal. Nobody wants to be surprised anymore. So they put temp music in these movies and it’s discussed with the composer and if the composer has a big reputation like John Williams, etc., they’ll always use his stuff, so he’s sort of copying himself. It used to be, when I would conduct the orchestras, the producers and director didn’t know exactly what was coming and there were always those moments I call walking the plank. It’s where you’d be out there conducting and you’d have to walk back into the control room and hear the comments or in your headset you’d get something like, ‘Mark, could you come in here please.’ And you think, ‘Oh, shit. I’m dead.’ Or, ‘Oh, man, you’re the greatest blah, blah, blah.’ And sometimes they’d fool me and say, ‘Mark, uh, we’ve got to talk.’ I’d go in there like, ‘Oh, shit.’ And I’d walk in and they’d go, ‘Yeah!’ Like, ‘What just happened?’ But I think for a lot of composers it’s been sort of frustrating, a safety net for the studios, that there aren’t going to be a lot of surprises and, like, ‘Wow, what the hell is that? We didn’t expect that.’
Shock: Putting you under the gun here, you’ve been around since day one, story-wise, what do you think about this movie? How does it stand?
Snow: I thought it was an amazing script. I had to read it at least twice, and I read it a third time. On the second reading, I started making notes, so I made sure I understood exactly what was going on. It’s very dense and complex. And seeing it on the printed page is so one-dimensional compared when the film is fleshed out. I had to re-read things and make sure, ‘Is that right?’ Because sometimes there will be literally a half of a line that’s like a clue to a big part of it, and if you just kind of fluff over it, the story is like, ‘What? What the hell happened here?’
Shock: How much of a break do you take between movies? Do they kind of overlap?
Snow: It depends on if you’re offered something. You can’t do too many things at the same time. I guess it’s a good question. The worst time of that for all of us, we were doing the X-Files series, the X-Files movie, Millennium and was there one more?
Spotnitz: That was it.
Snow: That was it. I remember, I’ve never seen this before, but Chris Carter’s a pretty mellow guy. He talks quietly, there’s nothing really flamboyant about him. I came out of the scoring stage and I saw him, like one of those keystone cop movies running from one end of the lot to the next. I mean, literally running. It’s totally unlike him. And he said, ‘Man, that that was the toughest.’ For you too? We were all dying. But we survived.
Shock: Was it hard to keep the music from overlapping?
Snow: That wasn’t too bad. Millennium luckily it had a sound of its own. It was in the dark realm as well, but it had this thing with this violin thing and that never showed up in X-File-land. That was kind of easy to keep that off to the side.
Shock: For the trailer, did you do the music on that?
Snow: That’s become a whole art form in itself. I mean, apparently, for good reason, that is so important, that the trailer get people to show up on opening weekend. Those trailer people, if they think some other music is right, they use it, or if music from X-Files is right, they use it, or a combination, and I think, in fact, my wife called me last night, she saw it on Fox TV, that they played the trailer and she heard [whistles X-Files theme].
Spotnitz: Weren’t there five pieces of music in that trailer? Five distinct pieces. They saved the little thing for the end, the best.
Snow: Which is going to be in the movie. [laughs]
Spotnitz: Surprise, surprise.
Shock: Is there a point where you feel like you’ve used it way too much? How did you decide how many times to put that in?
Snow: Well, there are a couple of times it’s used as you once knew it and loved it by itself. And, I don’t know if I can [talk about it]. Throughout the score, you’ll hear it mixed in with the score in variation. It’s sort of subliminal, but I’m sure, it’s such a simple tune, it will…
Spotnitz: It works on you, though. Like at times you’re watching the movie and you go, ‘I feel something,’ and you go, ‘Oh.’ It does have its affect.
Snow: You can use it, it’s six notes, sometimes it’s four or three. All you have to do is, ‘Duh dee.’ I mean, that’s it. ‘Duh dee duh.’ That’s enough sometimes. But there are a couple of really cool variations of it.
Spotnitz: There’s one, when you see the movie you’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s what they wouldn’t tell us.’ There’s one that’s very memorable.
Shock: Is the process of composing for you very academic? Is it literally constructing these pieces or is it kind of intuitive?
Snow: Because of the advent of the technology, electronics, I’ll sit down and I’ll have the movie synched up to my equipment, I’ll push ‘go’ and I’ll start sort of improvising and playing along with it. Then ideas come and they start to grow and form, and that’s really how it happens. God, I remember my first jobs where you’d go, you’d see a show, there was no video. They’d give you these timing notes where every tenth of a second someone jumps or runs or dialogue and you’re trying to imagine this and you’re writing it out, you know? There’s no keyboards. You have a piano, certainly. But things have really changed. I mean, John Williams still sits down and writes out his sketches and they’re copied just like the old days. He is, for that stuff, the best.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe opens in theaters on July 25th.