Monday, September 29, 2008

He did the music for 'Octopus Volcano' you know

I'm starting to realise just how little I really understand about how television is put together, mainly because if you're a writer, your involvement in the process tends to end just as everyone else's starts. So I thought I'd maybe start asking a few people at the more technical end of things some questions, and put the answers up here.

Chat One: Garry Judd, a composer who has scored for over one hundred television programmes. He knows his onions and was cajoled into revealing them thusly:
What you done music for then? Anything me and the missus would have seen?
Trinny And Susannah Undress, Highland Rescue, All About Me, Robbie Coltrane’s B-Road Britain...over 120 TV shows (oy!!!) and my library stuff has been used on...Gardeners’ World, Dalziel & Pasco, That 70s Show etc...
How did you get into composing scores for television shows? Is there a recognized career path, or is it something you sort of wander into?
I always wanted to do it whereas others can fall into it between writing pop music and stuff like that. My brother and I teamed up about 14 years ago and started from scratch...He is my agent and gets me most of my TV work.
What's the job of a composer exactly (and is that the right job title)? Is it one of those annoying jobs where, if you do it right, no-one notices you were even there?
I like 'composer'...I write, arrange, record and get the music into the edit/dub. If I’m lucky, I can use the occasional real musician, so I have to organise them, or get a fixer to do it for me and book any extra studio time that’s needed. Mostly though, it’s just me, my computers and my instrument collection!!! Yes, really good music helps rather than sticks out, although there can be moments where the music can be enjoyed in its own right.
What particularly annoys me at the moment is that a lot of music in television dramas seem to simply underline every emotion, telling the viewer what to feel all the time. How do composers get round this sort of 'swannee whistle' problem? Or am I just being picky?
Yes, there’s really too much music in each show in my opinion. I do a lot of wildlife/Discovery-type docs and they’re about 99% music. There’s no need for it all...I think it’s lack of confidence really.
Do you tend to get pigeonholed in certain genres, or can you skip across different types of show like a mad thing?
Yes, I’m typecast as a light entertainment/documentary/reality composer, whereas I’d love to do dramas and films.
Why, in stuff like Doctor Who, does the music often seem louder than the dialogue? Something wrong with my telly? Or have my ears gone mad?
It’s probably bad mixing...I watched the Ocean’s 11 etc... films recently and the music was mixed far too loud so I had to watch it with one finger on the remote.
What kind of brief do you get given? Do you get briefs on specific scenes, or is it more 'here's a finished episode of telly, go on stick half an hour's worth of music on it'? 
The far extremes are writing lots of pieces in various moods specified by the director which they can then put where they want to writing everything to picture. If I do it that way, then I usually get to either watch it with the director (spotting) or I get notes on each scene where they need music.
If a producer actually knows a bit about music themselves, does that make them harder, or easier to work with?

If they know a little about music, then it’s a recipe for disaster, because they can put you off track by using the wrong technical words. If they know a lot about music, then...Well, I’ve not worked with one like that, but I can imagine it would help up until a point.
Are there briefs/instructions you dread being given by producers?
“We’d like something totally different...Something that you’d never expect on this type of show”, or, “We’d like something that we could release as a single.” Negative instructions are the worst “I don’t like the fuzz guitar.” Doesn’t give you anywhere to go.
What briefs/instructions do you like being given by producers? What makes you think 'ooh I'm looking forward to this one'?
I’m happiest doing orchestral stuff. I did an online drama for the BBC recently (Signs Of Life) and it was great working with a proper drama director who wanted the music to reflect character motivations etc... I loved all that!!!
Are there any shows that from your point of view have particularly good score (is it a bit insulting to call it 'background music')?
I particularly liked the music for Kid A. There wasn’t much of it, but it was very effective.
Any film scores you think do a particularly great job?
Just about anything by John Barry, Quincy Jones, Bernard Herrman and James Horner, John Williams, In particular, Midnight Cowboy, The Ipcress File, Cocoon, Apollo 13, Psycho, The Italian Job, The Indiana Jones fillums etc...
What are the cool gigs to get, that make all your composer mates jealous?
One that has lots of parts and lots of repeated music, because of the royalties!!! Personally, I get HORRIBLY jealous of anyone doing a drama, particularly if I know of a bit of politics that got them the job while I wasn’t in with a chance.
Do you get to pick the top three indie tunes to play over the emotional bit in a episode of Skins or whatever, or is that someone else's job?
No...The writer or director will usually do that with the help of a music clearance expert.
What would you like to be doing in the future?
Dramas and films.

Do you ever have proper shouty fights with producers?
No, I am English, so I am charming and lovely to their face and I then go away and plot to kill them in various painful ways in my leisure time.

Many thanks Garry.


Eleanor said...

Great interview!

Thanks for posting it. :)

Boz said...

"No, I am English, so I am charming and lovely to their face and I then go away and plot to kill them in various painful ways in my leisure time."

These are the watchwords of anyone who has what can be described as 'clients'.

Brilliant interview!

patroclus said...

I hereby deem 'reality composer' the best job title ever.

Anonymous said...

I think the composers are the unsung heroes of television and film production. I watched a documentary about music in films and it's surprising how flat a high-action scene can appear without the music. Try watching a James Bond film with the sound muted and the subtitles on. (It's what you do when the baby is FINALLY asleep!)

Lucy V said...

What is Patroclus doing commenting on this blog, she only had a baby five seconds ago! You're a bad man James Henry, make her rest and put her feet up whilst you feed her grapes and stroke her hair and tell her she's brilliant. NOW.

patroclus said...

Ahh, James does all those things, he's very good. In fact right now he's cooking the dinner while I'm upstairs 'keeping an eye on the baby' - for which read 'commenting on blogs'.

The baby is fine, though, I hasten to add. She's currently sleeping angelically in her cot, dreaming of the day when she has a blog of her own in which to recount the embarrassing things her parents do.

Lucy V said...

Glad to see P you're taking full advantage - having a baby is the ONLY time in a woman's life where she gets to COMPLETELY laze about for at least two weeks and not feel guilty. In fact, I'm thinking of having another one just to get some time off. Pity about the other 18 yrs.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant interview, Mr Cat. I'm trying to get into the lower echelons of the world of TV/fillum music at the moment, and frankly Gary has the best career I could dream of. Me wantee.

Jonathan Whitehead is my hero.

(My other hero, that is, alongside John Barry.)

(And Derrek Griffiths, though that's for his non-film-score work and irrelevant to this discussion.)

Lucy, could Patroclus's grapes not feed themselves for a few days while she recovers her composure?

Lucy V said...

Don't be ridiculous my friend, grapes need 24/7 care.

realdoc said...

Who needs a media studies course when we have James

James Henry said...

I've been doing some mentoring/marking for the Professional Writing MA at Falmouth, so I'm probably getting carried away with the whole thing.

*sews leather patches onto tweed jacket*

Lucy V said...

No way! I almost did that course - ten years ago. Had I waited all this time AND not moved away from that area where I spent one excruciating summer with a freak ex, you could have been my mentor. Wow. Small world, hey?