Brett Rosenberg was born on August 29, 1962 in Australia, into a family with strong musical roots. During a time played the keyboards in his city, until he became interested in film music. He began taking private lessons with the composer Brian May (author of the first two parts of the Mad Max saga), and later completed his training at the prestigious University of UCLA, cradle of great film composers. Since 1996 he works for this medium, being internationally known for the extraordinary score done for the film of Demi Moore Half Light (2006). He is one of the young composers with more projection, and undoubtedly one of the leading figures, along with David Hirschfelder, of Australian film music.
Your father, Ron, was a pianist for big names of the song as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat ‘King’ Cole. How lived throught the young Brett these early contacts with music?
He did work as an accompanist with them and many others, as well as an arranger for many local artists and TV. Music was around me from a very young age, there were always people coming over to rehearse, my Dad was very busy when I was growing up. One of my first LP’s was Mary Poppins, and also I remember getting ‘The Lonely Bull’ by Herb Alpert. My dad was a big fan of jazz and Quincy Jones, and when I heard the album ‘Stuff Like That’ I just wanted to play that sort of music. At the same time, we would always talk about the wonderful music that was written for film, especially Henry Mancini, Elmer Bernstein, John Barry and Jerry Goldsmith.
If I remember correctly was Brian May, composer of the hit Mad Max, who recommended you study film music in Los Angeles at the prestigious UCLA. How did you know May?, tell us a bit about your relationship with him.
I met Brian through a bass player friend of mine who knew Brian very well. Brian was very encouraging, I would go to his house and he was very organised in how he taught..I still have his notes where he analyses things like construction of motives, creating ostinati, twentieth century composing techniques, and looking at scenes from a psychological perspective. I would be given a task each week and write a cue in response-this is before midi mockups were really common (in any case, at that stage I couldn’t afford any gear at that time!), so just on score paper. It was different from any other writing I had done in the past- getting to terms with the specifics of film scoring, things like synchronisation.
What teachers did you had in UCLA? And how was learning with them?
I took part in classes at UCLA extension and had two teachers. Don Ray was a former music head (I believe) at CBS and had scored a vast number of Hawaii-5-0 episodes. It was a very hands on, realistic look at film scoring and the industry, how to get work as well as composing tasks. We would write cues every week and play them, then there was a larger project done to film that was recorded by a live ensemble. The other class was Twentieth Century composing techniques taught by Joey Rand, which I found very interesting. At that time I used to read Jeff Rona’s Keyboard Magazine column about working in film music religiously and was fascinated by it. So I looked up his number in the phone book and asked him if he wanted an intern. He said yes so I learned all the technical side of film scoring from him, sampling, midi etc. Jeff was (and is!) a great guy, super supportive and helpful.
What was your first job for the cinema?
In LA I worked on a few short films but my first real ‘job’ was for the film ‘Hotel de Love’. It’s a romantic comedy directed by my brother Craig. It was his first film and so I very politely put myself forward as composer. As it turned out I had to do some demo cues to prove to the producers (and probably the director!) that I was up to the job. Anyhow they liked my demo cue and so I did the score. It was a combination of sequenced percussion and some live strings and piano. From that I got another job for the producer and then a few more jobs afterwards.
You have also worked in the world of advertising and TV. What differences do you think there is between composing for the movies and composing for other means?
I quite enjoy working in TV, love the challenge of developing music ideas though a series. On a practical level, I think film scoring has become much, much more difficult over the last 10 years. There are a lot of film students who get no instruction whatsover in film music and what it can do, nor do they know how long it takes to compose. Whereas in the ‘old days’ there used to be a fixed picture lockoff date(ie the movie will not change from this date forward), now because of digital editing techniques filmmakers can keep tweaking their film, and it never really ‘locks’. It makes it very difficult for the composer when scenes keep changing, who usually has a compressed time schedule anyhow. Advertising is another thing altogether, I don’t do a lot of ads nor do I really chase that work. I found it to be the kind of thing where I would write something, then get asked to change it a few times, and then end up back at the original!
What film composers you admire most?
Oh, there are a lot. I tend to go for the melody guys, I’m pretty tired of the current popular trends. Alexandre Desplat, Thomas Newman, James Newton-Howard, John Barry, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Henry Mancini, Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone. I also have a particular love for TV scores from the 60s and 70s, so Vic Mizzy, Fred Steiner, Billy Goldenberg, Gil Melle, Dick DeBenedictis, and other ‘unknowns’.
Do you orchestrate and direct your own scores or prefer to relegate in anybody this work?
I prefer to be in the booth listening, I think I’m one of those guys that cannot ‘multi-task’. My wife is actually a very good conductor and has conducted some of my scores. Also I have used Brett Kelly (Australia) and Nick Dodd(UK).
Perhaps your best-known work is Half light, with Demmi Moore. How did you get in this project, and what you inspired to compose a so special work?
It was a little nerve-wracking, but also exciting. I stayed in London for 3 months working on the score. My brother Craig (the director) is also a fan of the ‘older style’ melodic scores as is Joel Michaels (the producer) and so I felt I could try to come up with some memorable melodies and themes. I thought about the setting of the film, and without wanting to go to overtly ‘ethnic’ just wanted to get a flavour of the location into the music. Demi’s character had to be reflectively sad, not tragic, and with just a tiny bit of hope. The love theme had to be romantic but with intensity, not like a teen romance. The only cue I had trouble with was the music for when her and Angus finally get together, nothing felt quite right, so I decided just to do something thematically unrelated. I actually used an old piece I wrote at university that I’d always liked and remembered, and it worked really well! I wrote a bunch of themes and lived with them each for a few days, then discussed them with Craig and Joel. At the same time, because the film is multi-genre, I could manipulate those themes in different ways, as well as have a lot of fun trying out different orchestral effects. I have to say I had absolutely fantastic support from Nicholas Dodd who orchestrated and conducted, Kirsty Whalley who was music editor, and Geoff Foster who recorded and mixed at AIR Lyndhurst.
What directors you’ve ever felt more comfortable or more freedom when working?
I’ve worked with all different types of directors, from some who want everything to sound like the temp. music, to others who are very open to different ideas. Someone who is creative yet open is an ideal, but it’s not always like that.
How do you see the musical scene in your home country, with the irruption of composers as important as yourself or David Hirschfelder among others?
The film music industry here is quite small, the movie budgets don’t allow for a lot of larger scores. There are a lot of excellent composers here, but like everywhere there’s not enough work to keep everyone busy. As well, filmmakers here get very little training in film music and what a score can do for a film, there are filmmaking courses where music is never mentioned at all, so there is a slight cultural problem. Many filmmakers will just go to a friend or acquaintance to do their score because they just don’t understand film music in any depth.
Have you done any work for concert hall?
Not at the moment. I must admit I find it had to write in the abstract, I need a project to get me going.
What projects are you working on currently?
At present I am not doing any composing for film, so we’ll see if anything comes along. I have been doing quite a lot of arranging and orchestration, which I love to do. With the arranging I have revisited one of my first loves, which is jazz, which also comes from my father’s influence. I have written some charts for a few singers and some different projects. I’m just grateful to have made a living out of music.