Marc Streitenfeld is a realtively new film composer who is bringing different styles and interesting sounds to his scores. After several years studying under and working with Hans Zimmer he caught the ear of Ridley Scott who asked him to take the helm on composing the score for A Good Year. That has lead to a regular collaboration between the two with Streitenfeld scoring the music for Scott's last two films as well as his next project, Body of Lies.
Marc was kind enough to take some time and talk about his experiences with Zimmer and Scott and the work on his latest project, American Gangster.
CB: How did you get your start working in the movie industry?
Marc: I grew up in Germany and when I was 19 I took a plane over to Los Angeles, you know, not with much of a plan. I had somebody who is now a friend of mine promise me that I could possibly have a job at Hans Zimmer’s studio. When I showed up, this person had been fired two months before so that was kind of the worst reference I could possibly have had when I walked in there. They just told me that he wasn’t around, that he was touring somewhere in Thailand and that there was nothing they could do for me, so that was kind of a disappointing start. But then, you know, I was persistent and they offered to let me try out as an intern for a few weeks. And so I interned and then I met Hans Zimmer and he offered me a job after, I think like three weeks.
CB: What was it like working with Hans Zimmer?
Marc: It was amazing. You know, to get the opportunity to work with somebody like him just right from the start, it was amazing. I had no idea about film music, really, didn’t know much about it at all. Just starting out with him was amazing, learning about so many different things. I mean, at that level it’s rare to get a chance to get see how things work from that perspective. Being around him, lots of technology, as a composer he’s really a leader in that aspect. And pretty much at every level, you know, it was an amazing education.
CB: You’ve worked a lot in the past with Ridley Scott including composing the scores for his last two films. What has it been like working with him as a director?
Marc: You know, it’s been great, really amazing and as you mention I’ve done quite a few films with him now and every experience has been really good. He’s a great director to work with. He’s very open to any kinds of ideas and also has a strong vision. It’s great to work with him.
CB: When you sit down to begin composing for a film, where do you start?
Marc: It really depends. I guess the first impressions you get are from the script and conversations you have with the director about the film and that might trigger some ideas. I might sit down and sketch out some ideas. I might take a little longer until I’ve seen some footage, but I usually try to put things down as they come out. I’ll take my time and whenever I feel I have an idea I just put it down and work on it a little bit and see where it goes.
CB: On your most recent project, American Gangster, was there anything in particular that went into how you prepared for that process?
Marc: I read the script and I first tried to think about what the movie was about and what was interesting about it. It definitely stood out that there are very strong characters, you know Denzel Washington’s character has a very intense personality. Those were some of the first things that went through my head. While Ridley was shooting in New York, you know, while he was shooting in Harlem, I spoke to him on the phone a few times and then he invited me to come out to New York to spend some time in the cutting room and on the set to get my first impressions. And I brought some music along, you know, just a couple of ideas that I put together after reading the script. Those seemed to resonate, and I knew that I was starting in the right direction. So I kept going that way. Then it’s another story once you see the whole film, or at least an assembly, like a rough cut. It definitely changed, a little bit, how I looked at the film and what it needed and I started to come up with new material.
CB: There are definite tones of soul and blues in the score, though they’re very dark. How did you go about incorporating some of those styles into the score?
Marc: Yeah, you know, I don’t think that happened too consciously. I didn’t want to do anything like a blues score or even go 70s. But those were all ideas that came into my head, that it would be nice to have those elements in the score. Have maybe something of a blues feel or maybe have a little reference to the 70s. So I just kind of started incorporating them, but I still felt the overall tone needed to be something bigger and darker. I guess that’s how it all came together.
CB: You've said that composing darker music comes more easily for you. There’s definite contrast between the darker music you wrote for American Gangster and the lighter music in the work you did for A Good Year. Was composing Gangster an easier process for you?
Marc: You know, it’s hard to say because I think every project has its own kinds of challenges. But I would say comedy -- not just in terms of music, but I think in terms of pacing and filmmaking -- it’s very fragile and there’s a lot of fine tuning involved, very tricky to get the right balance, the right pacing. And I think that’s what I referred to when I said that. Comedy is tricky to do. I think dark obviously has its own kind of challenges. It’s not like it’s easy to say you can do a dark score. But I would say it’s a different way of looking at it.
CB: American Gangster is going to get a film score release from Varese Sarabande, separate from the movie sound track that came out a few weeks ago (which includes songs from the movie and only a few score tracks). Are you involved in producing that release?
Marc: Yes, I am. I just got back from the studio where I finished those mixes, and I’m just putting the finishing touches on that. And then it should be ready for release.
CB: I understand there are over 100 minutes of music in the film. Will all of that make it into the release or will it be pared down to fit a single disc release?
Marc: I don’t know if you’re going to get the full album yet. I want to do the most interesting musical album, so I have to try and see how many minutes it will end up with, but a lot of the music from the score is going to be on there.
CB: You’re going to be composing the score for Ridley Scott’s next film, Body of Lies, as well, right?
Marc: Yes, that’s right. I am going to be composing the score for that film and I went to Morocco to get my first impressions for the film, as I did for American Gangster. It was great to get a glimpse of what the film is going to be like.
CB: What can you tell about the movie that you’ve seen so far and the kind of preparation you’re doing for it.
Marc: I have to say, I just got back, and I have to kind of digest the few little inputs I’ve had, you know. I just got glimpses of it really. I’ve read the script and I really like it and I’m just starting to think about what I’m going to do.
CB: Is there anything you can share about the story and where it goes?
Marc: I don’t know if I’m at liberty to say [laughing]. But you know, I would say it’s a spy story and it stars Leo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. But it looks amazing, what I’ve seen, and I’m very excited to be working on it.
CB: Are there any directors that you would like to work with in the future?
Marc: You know I haven’t really thought about it much so far. I’ve been busy doing the projects that came my way and I’m going to be working on Ridley’s next film and that’s kind of as far as I’m thinking. I need to focus on one thing at a time, I feel, or I want to do that at least. You know when I work on a project I give that my full priority and focus on that and try not to distract myself with anything else going on in that sense, and you know, really give it my full attention.