My mother was from a very small town in Texas and playing the piano got her out into the world and saved her life. I think music saved my life as well. It gave me a private (and later public) space where I could truly express myself.
I played lots of jazz piano as well as ragtime piano until I was in high school. At that time I fell in love with rock music and the Beatles. In college it was Stravinsky and Bartok and synthesizers… so my love and influences are very eclectic. I think that shows in my scores. I’ve always jumped back and forth beetween small groups (“Stand and Deliver”, “Cheers”) to full orchestra (“Remo Williams”, “The Last Starfighter”) to totally electronic (“Warning Sign”, “Nightmare on Elm Street IV”)
I saw many great jazz players when I was young. My father used to take me to a club in Los Angeles where I saw Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, and many more.
I would just feel what the film needed. Film is a visual medium and I would try to lock into that with my musical thoughts. As a fine arts major in college I was attuned to the idea that the first thing an artist should do is choose a palette. For example, Picasso at one point chose to only paint using the color blue. I think music is very similar. The first thing I do when beginning a new score is chose a sound palette.
I was very influenced by Elmer Bernstein, Bernard Hermann, and Max Steiner. I was lucky to have Elmer as one of my mentors when I was starting out.
How do you see the music scene of today’s cinema?
There are many fine musicians working today. I think they are sometimes held back by the extensive use of “temp tracks” which serve to stifle a composer’s creativity.
Perhaps one of your best works is The Last Starfighter (1984). How did you came into this project and how did you develop its musical narrative?
I had composed the score for a previous film of the director, Nick Castle (TAG: The Assassination Game) and Nick brought me along for “Starfighter”. My musical goal was to write a theme that could be used in many different ways… for excitement, sadness, longing, love, and triumph. I also had a few different themes for various characters, but my overriding goal was to have one overarching theme.
The big differences are time and money. TV is written very quickly as there are fixed air dates. The budgest are usually much smaller than in feature films. However that seems to be changing a bit with some of the new cable shows.
I actually wrote quite a few films in the 90’s including “Mr. Wrong” and “Major Payne”, but I also wrote many television mini-series and movies. That’s just the way my career went. My latest project is an original cd “ROUGH MAGIC” which a concept album based on my impressions of the Paleolithic cave paintings of France and Spain. I travelled to many of these ancient sites and recorded sounds and created instruments. The CD will be released on Perseverance Records this July!
Have you done any work for the concert hall?
Yes. I am conducting my Overture from Remo Williams this week in Los Angeles.