Interview with Austin Wintory
Composer of differents productions, movies, video games, TV shows, commercials and much more


June 17, 2010

Starting from a childhood obsession with the music of Jerry Goldsmith, Austin Wintory's passion for composing has led to a career spanning over 200 productions, encompassing films and video games, TV shows, commercials, shorts, podcasts, video art installations and audio books.

Austin has scored over twenty five feature films, most notably the 2009 Sundance hit GRACE, as well as the 2008 Sundance Audience Award winner CAPTAIN ABU RAED. His score for the former garnered many horror film genre accolades, including a nomination at the 2010 Fangoria Chainsaw Awards for 'Best Original Score,' and Vision in Sound's Top Ten Scores for 2009. The latter was listed by the LA Times as a contender for the 2009 Academy Awards for 'Best Original Score' and also won Austin the Hollywood Music Award for «Best New Composer». The combined success of those films, along with several others, prompted The Hollywood Reporter to list Austin as one of 15 composers «Primed to take their place on the A-list», as well as a nomination by the International Film Music Critics Association for «Breakout Composer of the Year».

In addition to feature films, Austin has a tremendous passion for the world of game scoring. His first major game score FLOW in 2006 earned Austin a British Academy Award nomination and triple nominations at the Game Audio Network Guild awards («Innovative use of Audio», «Best Interactive Score» and winning for «Rookie of the Year»).

Austin also maintains a busy schedule writing concert music and composing/producing albums. In addition to more traditional chamber and orchestral music, in 2010 he released a meditation album entitled «Sounds of Darkness» using never-before recorded sacred Aztec chants. 2010 also saw the launch of Allogamy (www.allogamy.blogspot.com), an ambitious blog in collaboration with photographer Andrew Berglund which posts a new photo with a new piece of music for every single day in the year.

Beyond composing, Austin is also a strong advocate for music in the schools, particularly in early education, and as such is a very active member on the Board of Directors for Education Through Music - Los Angeles (alongside composers John Debney, Christopher Young, Michael Giacchino, James Dooley and many other music, business and education professionals).



Please tell us more about you, your origins, tastes, personality, and background?

I grew up in Denver, Colorado in the US and began studying piano at about age 10. My teacher was named Derry O'Leary, a big Irish guy who loved Jerry Goldsmith, and he instantly got me hooked (by playing PATTON and A PATCH OF BLUE and PAPILLON to me). Virtually overnight I wanted to write music for the rest of my life! I started composing and taught myself orchestration and conducting in front of my high school orchestra. After that, off to college and got my degrees from NYU and USC.

How did you begin working in the music industry? How old were you when you began playing an instrument?

I guess I mostly already answered this but I got started working through the typical sort of "pound the pavement" strategies. Lots of student films and independent shorts. TV commercials and all sorts of other strange stuff. Podcasts, video art installations, etc etc. All sorts of little things that eventually started to lead to slightly bigger things, and so on...

How were you brought on to score “A Little Help”? Could you tell us something about the movie? What genre is it?

I was brought into that film via my relationship with its two main producers, Dena Hysell and Joe Gressis. I had worked with them and we were friends, and they got the film going after years of work and development. I met with the director, Michael Weithorn, and we were off and running.

The movie is about a woman named Laura (played by Jenna Fischer from 'The Office') whose husband (played by Chris O'Donnell) dies and leaves her with a son she doesn't really know how to relate to. Her life proceeds to sort of spiral out of control after that. It's a dark comedy, with definite dramatic elements. A "dramedy" so to speak, though I sort of hate that term. It's funny and it's touching, like "Up in the Air" or "Sideways."




Can you describe your process of writing and explain your approach to scoring “A Little Help”?

The score to "A Little Help" is unique among my other projects because it's so short, and because it's sandwiched between so many other cues. There is a lot of source music in the film, both radio stuff (classic rock mostly) and on-screen performances, and also Jakob Dylan wrote original songs. So my score had to mesh with all those, while somehow still being different from them. A rock band forms the core ensemble of my stuff, but it's not really a rock score at all. In fact it's mostly just sort of strange, at times poignant and sweet and sometimes just plain weird.

What kind instruments do you use when scoring and how would you describe this score and music style?
Did you use choir and orchestra? Did you use some electronic music and synthesizer too?


Well like I said before "A Little Help" was centered around a rock band, though there are banjos and accordion and vocals and all sorts of other things in there as well. And yes electronics. Lots of electronics. I use them on almost every score, sometimes as the primary element, though in my heart I think of myself as a "traditional" or otherwise "acoustic" composer. But you can do literally anything you can dream of with electronics. That's both hindering and freeing.

Sometimes too many ideas just drowns the score, and it's better to scale back and deliberately limit yourself. And yes I've certainly worked many times with orchestra and choir and all the rest, but like electronics or anything else, what matters most of all is their relevance to the particular score at hand.


Which information, requirements or advice do you receive before you start with the composing and writing? Where did you find your inspiration and ideas and what were the difficulties in this score?

The more information and dialogue with the director and producer(s) as possible, the better. After all, it's their vision you're fitting into, and usually they've lived with the movie for years before a composer is ever hired, so they have a nuanced understanding of the film and its structure. Much deeper knowledge about the characters than I ever could hope to grasp just jumping in. So lots and lots and lots of dialogue is key. Really get into their heads.

The inspirations on "A Little Help," like I said before, came mostly from all the other music in the film that I had to somehow fit amongst. But the challenge was also in sounding very different from those. The scenes with my score are usually emotionally very different than the rest, so in a way the function of the score was to deliberately contrast from the source music and original Dylan songs. Finding that balance took a lot of back and forth with Michael, Joe and Dena, but ultimately we arrived at something we're all really proud of and think really works well.


How much time did you spend working on this score?

I'm not sure exactly. I became lightly involved a few months beforehand, and even helped them create a temp score for the film. I started writing in maybe October or November of 2009, and finished sometime in December. It was a pretty luxurious schedule for how short the score is, but at the same time it's really detailed and really nuanced, so we worked hard on it. Felt fast!

What is your typical day at work? What kind of music do you listen to, if it isn't a soundtrack or score?

I like to get up really early. Like 5am or earlier. So usually I do that and drive to my studio (I don't work from home), make some coffee and maybe watch the news or something. But usually composing begins immediately. This year I've been doing a blog called "Allogamy" (www.allogamy.net) where I have to compose a piece for every day of 2010. 365 individual pieces of music (paired with photographs by my friend Andy Berglund).

So frequently that's how I start my day, by writing a short work for that. They're usually very, very different from whatever film or video game I'm working on at the time. As for music I listen to, I mostly listen to concert / classical music, film scores and miscellaneous other random things (like contemporary electronic music, or the occasional indie rock band or something). I'm not much of a Top 40 guy, and usually pretty ignorant to whose the current hit.


What are you doing in your free time?

Music is my life through and through. When I'm not working on a movie or video game, I'm usually working on one of many on-going personal projects. Right now I'm working on a cello concerto, a song cycle for soprano and harp (based on poems by my cousin Sonja Eisenberg: www.sonjaeisenberg.net), a wind quartet and a few others. Some other album projects are also brewing.

But I suppose other than music, I mostly just spend time with my wife and our awesome kitties. And the usual stuff. Movies with friends and dinner and whatever. I lead a pretty simple life!


Please tell us something about your next projects. What kind of composing are you doing right now? What would you ever like to compose or be a part of?

I've just finished several great films, most recently a thriller called "Leave" directed by Robert Celestino. It's a GREAT movie and I'm really proud of the score. We've worked hard on it. Keep an eye later this year to see the film out in theaters. It's funny you ask what would ever I dream to score because just today a director friend of mine who I've worked with before emailed me a new a script he's written and it's a western. I called him up so excited "Oh man I've always dreamed of scoring a western!!!"

Have you got a last unpublished note or info for our readers, to finish this interview?

Well this is totally unrelated to my music, but I sit on the Board of Directors for a music charity here in Los Angeles that helps bring children music education. It's called "Education Through Music" and other board members include composers Christopher Young, John Debney, Michael Giacchino, Jim Dooley and others. Our website is www.etmla.org.

If any of your readers would be interested in supporting young children have music in their lives, it would be great if they could go to the website and check it out. We're a non-profit, and we specifically target really poor neighborhoods with tough situations in their schools. Schools where the kids are eager to learn but the circumstances have made it a really tough environment. If people have any extra money they might be able to donate, it would mean the world to me in trying to help out these kids (so far we're helping about 2500 children in Los Angeles). Thank you so much.


Thank you very much for your time and all the best from Switzerland and France.

It is my pleasure! Thank you!


Fabrice Steurer in collaboration with Christine Blanc
www.hans-zimmer.ch www.inter-activities.com

© Copyright by Fabrice Steurer & Christine Blanc. All Rights Reserved.





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