There are many times when we have watched a film or TV series and have liked certain compositions found within scenes, or parts of the entertainment in question. These are usually ones that stick in our minds as symbolic to the entertainment itself or at other times are due to the compositions being created by well-known composers.
Recently the soundtrack to 'The Crown: Season 2' was released; a epic masterpiece at that, the soundtrack itself devised by critically-acclaimed composers Lorne Balfe and Rupert Gregson-Williams and it is the latter of who Global Mainstream Arts spoke to regarding his involvement in the making of the soundtrack, his working relationship with Adam Sandler, working on 'Wonder Woman' and his passion for horse breeding.
"You don't walk into a room where Adam Sandler is and come out not smiling"
Rupert, what was it like working alongside Lorne Balfe on the soundtrack for 'The Crown: Season 2?
"Wonderful, I've known Lorne for many many years and we're great friends which helps, we have a lot of honesty between us when we're working so, we have a short-hand which we developed over the years. We have done some writing together in the past and I found that Lorne brought a lot of muscle and a different kind of emotion to 'The Crown' that we had before really which really suited the development of the second series."
How did you and Lorne decide on what parts you were going to score? Did you have your minds set on something, or did you flip a coin?
"(laughs), often it would be... towards the end of the process it became obvious who it suited. I would have thought that our strengths were obvious to ourselves, I always thought that I'd do the more sort of emotional things and Lorne would do the more muscular things, but actually the reality was that / is that Lorne who I've known for years is such an amazing composer he's adapted all of it, so no we didn't toss a coin but what we do is we watch the episodes through and if there was a through-line from one of the episodes that had come before i.e. the story of Philip that is continuing, whoever had been telling the story of Philip would probably take those moments and the other would take something else.
It was never an argument and was never a discussion we just... we didn't often carve things up either, often we would work in the room together or we would discuss things and send ideas to each other and the other would finish them off, something like that. It was never difficult and it became very organic by the end of the process in that we kind of knew what would suit either of us and from what we've done before."
Where did you and Lorne score the soundtrack for 'The Crown: Season 2'? Is it tough working in London?
"It was in London, mostly in London... I certainly did it in London and Lorne probably in one or two places I'm sure, but when we were together we were in London.
No no it's not tough, my studio actually isn't in London, it's at my house in the countryside. Back in the day I used to spend a lot of time in Soho where the work was and where the centre of the UK film industry really is, but I don't any more, I work at home and hopefully get the directors or the producers down to my place to review music and that way it doesn't really matter where I am."
How was you approached / hired to score the second season of 'The Crown'?
"While I was doing the first series, Peter Morgan the producer, the writer and the show-runner, he would phone me and talk about a second season and I had a little bit of fun with him, I breed racehorses and of course Elizabeth breeds racehorses too so he'll phone me every now and again and say 'OK what I want to happen is in this scene is, this, this and this, but are there any phrases that somebody who breeds horses would or might say, is there some lingo that I'm missing?' So I'd write a whole bunch of sentences of stuff that they would say and he would maybe steal a passage or a sentence and it would appear in the script, so I already knew I was going to be on board for the second season because Peter and I would already be talking about the development of the character and this horse-breeding that he would ask me for. "
What did you feel emotionally when watching the second series? Did you feel related to the characters?
"I found my respect for Elizabeth as a character and as a person has just grown and grown, just knowing that the job that she's undertaken since she took 'The Crown'. I mean I loved the characters, I was sorry to lose Winston Churchill obviously, he was just the most amazing character to score, but there were some interesting characters that we had in this year... a couple of weak prime ministers that were interesting in that they caused political problems or deal with political problems as well as Winston might have done and so they were very interesting. The family though, Philip and Elizabeth, I enjoyed scoring the developments for their character."
How long did the overall scoring take to complete?
"We probably did it over the course of around 4-5 months, quite a long time but it takes a while because the directors tend to do two episodes each and you spend 2-3 weeks on each of those, and then the next two come along and sometimes they're on top of each other which can make it hard."
Upon scoring the soundtrack for the second series, was there any character(s) you found particularly challenging to write music for?
"Well, Philip was a character who had sort of developed since the first series and we found it hard... I found it hard to try and tread a line with him where we still... I find him an interesting character because he had a tough time with finding his role in the Royal family and musically I wanted to... I didn't just want him to come across as a hard man who is difficult with his son; I didn't think he was that sort of person I think he had a very hard role. So yes Philip I found the most tricky and Lorne probably not, Lorne was a really good help in finding the characters themes, finding Philip's theme."
Which scene and musical score from 'The Crown: Season 2' is your favourite?
"I can't remember the title of the piece of music but I can tell you the scene it's in, it's when Elizabeth gives her first television speech to the nation at Christmas and there's a lot of things going on in Elizabeth's head at that point. She has chosen to do the speech but she doesn't really want to do it, she's been forced into a situation where she has to, and I enjoyed writing it, I like getting inside her head and I thought that specific episode was wonderfully directed and I enjoyed it a lot. I felt the music worked and it felt good to me at the time."
When you scored a piece, did you think to yourself that you could better it or adapt it?
"Writing music is just non-stop, you're always judging it and are always trying to create something, you know the best you can. This was no different from 'The Crown', I always try to find the best route into the story and with television it's so hard because there's so much music to be written... so there's that as well, you know if you're writing five hours of music or something for a series, and you're trying to make every single moment the best it can, it can be tough sometimes and that's why working with somebody else like Lorne really helps, it gets somebody else's perspective on it and also half the workload of actually creating the notes if you like."
Digressing away from 'The Crown S2', you've worked and have a long-partnership with the actor Adam Sandler, could you enlighten us on that?
"I do, I've done loads of films I can't count how many films I've done with Adam and he is a good friend, we play in a band together so we know each other socially and I love working with him, I mean he is just... what you see in his movies is how Adam is in life, he's sharp, he's quick and he is not pretentious at all. He's just having fun and trying to do the best he can with the material he has got and he has a lot of fun doing it, and he is very loyal to me which I appreciate and always have appreciated, he's always asked me back to do his movies and we have a lot of fun.
If you're having a downer, he certainly brightens the day up... you don't walk into a room where Adam Sandler is and come out not smiling, you know he's in the room too I mean he doesn't sit in the room quietly. He's great fun and like I say he's very loyal and is a family man so we have some things in common like family and what have you, which we find as important if not more important than anything that we do and Adam gets that, he tends to surround himself with people who have similar values."
How did you get into composing; at what point did you want to get into it? Was it a childhood ambition?
"I would love movies, but when I was young as an early teenager I just wanted to be in a band like Pink Floyd, Genesis, I wanted to be able to play the keyboards like the keyboardist in the Frank Zappa band and I didn't actually discover that I could make a living out of TV or movies until I was in my early 20's because I was so focused on playing in a band, so I've been in bands all over the UK, trying to make that work and it didn't really. Then I met someone who is working in TV and my love for movies has never waned, I always loved it but I didn't realize that it could be something that I could be good at until I was in my 20's and also the dream of being a rock-star probably waned at that point as I grew up.
And what of the band Adam and yourself are in? Could you elaborate on that please?
"We play a couple of times a year at a function like an awards show or a party, he sings and plays the guitar, I play keyboards and we've got a lot of other friends who play in the band too and we get guest artists in. One year we had Slash playing guitar with us and Fergie singing, Blondie comes on and does some numbers with us, it's crazy but great fun so. It's not a regular thing, we don't have band practice, we don't have the time for that but we know we've got a gig coming up lets say in December and then we'll start rehearsing a couple times a week for a month beforehand and then we'll go out and do a whole bunch of numbers with a bunch of people; band name? I guess it's called the Sandler band, I don't know (laughs)"
It seems that people in Hollywood certainly have a hobby for down-time, surely this is vastly important?
"Well yeah it doesn't surprise me that some of these guys are either musicians or they're artists just because of the artistic nature in being an actor, director, composer, or whatever. For me breeding horses couldn't be more different than composing or the pressures of composing, and that's somewhere I get some relief from the pressures of work or get some contrast in my life. I think it's important for everybody to get some contrast in their life, well it's important for me anyway not necessarily important for everybody. Jim Carrey, the most amazing actor and comedian is just as incredibly good at art which doesn't surprise me that he's an artist, just because of his genes."
You've also done the scoring for the blockbuster "Wonder Woman", what was that like working on?
"That was like nothing else that I've been involved in or written the score for, it was an enormous undertaking, it was wonderful working with Patty Jenkins who is a great director and is full of passion. The biggest logistical thing for me was the amount of music that had to be written, but also there is a lot of effects-driven action in the movie and of course that doesn't get finished till quite close to where I was scoring. So that was tricky and quite a lot of the action music which inherently had more notes than anything else had to be written quite close to where I was going to record it, so that was hard logistically but it was great fun and like I said Patty was lovely to work with."
As a composer do you find it challenging to undertake different project styles e.g. 'Paul Blart' (comedy), Postman Pat (animation), etc?
"Yeah I do, every project has it's own challenges and when I've got a blank slate or I'm right at the beginning of a project, I do worry that I'm not going to be able to find the voice of the film and boy, nothing is easy and even if it's a comedy I find comedies difficult if not more difficult than a drama or something that has an epic tale to it, or a big romantic arch... comedies can be really, really hard. So yeah I struggle and that probably is a good thing because it means that I really have to think carefully before I start on writing my scenes or the angle I'm going to try and take with the movie. Some movies you have longer to sort of talk to yourself over, you know you come on late for whatever reason and you don't have long to score them... I've done a couple of those and they've actually been hard because you have to write a lot of music in a short amount of time, but I found them easier to find the voice because you haven't got the time you commit to, you go with your instincts and often your instincts can be right sometimes early on"
Is there a 'friendly brotherhood' between yourself and Harry? Not rivalry-like almost banter?
"We've never really gone into competition over the same movie as far as I know, he's always been my big brother so he was on the patch first as it were. What we do share is, I mean there's no one in the world who could empathize more to how it feels to be a composer and the pressures that happen, and the deadlines one has to reach... there's no one who can appreciate it more really than having a brother who does it. We do share that so, when we're having good time we share those moments and when the pressure is on and there's a lot to write or haven't quite found the sound of the film, it's nice to be able to pick up the phone and be a brother and talk about it; we both do that. Whenever I visit Harry he always plays me what he's doing and I do similarly when he comes to me, it's great to have somebody who understands what it's like. There's never been any serious rivalry and nothing more so than you expect luckily."
You have studios in both London and Los Angeles, surely it must be stressful travelling to and fro?
"It's stressing on the body and as I get older it's not something I tend to take lightly. I used to just sort of jump between countries and spend two days here and five days there and two days here, but I tend to do things in slightly longer periods now just to recover from jet lag and what have you, but I tend to be where I have to be and actually up until now, in the last two years with 'Tarzan', 'The Crown', 'Wonder Woman', etc they were all shot in the UK and I recorded them in Europe so I was lucky in that way, I could be where home is, home is in the UK so I was lucky. But over the next couple of years it might be that I'll be doing things more USA-centric and that's where I'll go, but yeah I try not to... you got to watch your jet lag especially when you get to my age (laughs)"
And so what projects are you working on at the moment?
"I'm working on a Melissa McCarthy comedy which I believe we are recording in about 4-6 weeks time, I've just started on 'Aquaman' for DC / Warner Bros which is very exciting."
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