INTERVIEW: Science Fair’s Composer Jeff Morrow
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Hi Jeff, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Thanks! Things are great. I just attended the premiere of Science Fair here in LA with 800 people laughing and I would bet most of them cried too. It was quite the experience.
Having a passion for music at an early stage in your life – was film and tv composing always the first road you wanted to go down?
I’ve always wanted to be a film composer, but up until I broke into the industry, I just never thought it was possible. I didn’t know any film composers or how to get started. I was very lucky to have dropped a demo CD of my music (mostly jazz at that point) off at a music production company in Toronto just as they were looking for a new composer. Two weeks later I started composing for a TV show.
What drew you into the industry?
I’ve always thought about composing music in terms of a narrative or a feeling. When you’re writing music for music’s sake, it is all pretty abstract, but when you’re writing music to play along with a film, it becomes real–and even more powerful. I’ve always been very affected by film music so it’s a thrill to be able to create it.
How does being from Canada play a role in your music?
The industry in Canada requires you to be really scrappy and inventive. You’re not going to get a budget to record a 100 piece orchestra so you have to think of other ways to achieve what you’re going for. It can lead to some interesting results.
Did your influences eventually change when you moved to Los Angeles?
When I moved to LA I had the incredible opportunity to work under the mentorship of A-list composer Christophe Beck (Frozen, Ant-Man, Hangover). He has been an enormous influence. He was mentored by composing legends like Jerry Goldsmith and has nearly 100 films to his name. He passed a lot of that knowledge and experience on to me, for which I’m very grateful
Does your approach change with working in different genres?
I always try to come at a project with a completely open mind. I want to find a way in. Something that the music can bring to the film that isn’t already there or a way to tell the subtext of the story. I talk with the filmmakers as much as I can, watch the film a number of times, go for a walk. My goal is always to create a score that lives with the film and that film alone. Something that feels unique, but more importantly it should feel intrinsic to the story and the visuals.
Let’s talk about Science Fair – how did you get involved?
One of the directors of Science Fair, Cristina Constantini is a friend of a friend. We met at the beach of all places (so LA), she said she was making a documentary that needed score and I said, “hey, I write music for things like documentaries”. That got me in the door. They got reels from a few composers and ended up liking mine. Never say no to going to the beach!
How has scoring Science Fair been different from the other projects you have worked on?
I’ve worked on many small films that have had some success, but the way that Science Fair has taken off with audiences is amazing. It won the Audience Choice Awards at both Sundance 2018 and SXSW 2018. Watching the film on the big screen in a full theater is really something else. Try to see it that way if you can!
Science Fair being a more conceptual score…is this something you bring to all of your projects or was this a special one?
All of my scores have a concept behind them, but some are more defined than others. In the case of Science Fair, the idea was what if high school kids made synthesizers for their science fair projects and that became the score. I used DIY synths, synths with wires all over the place and a really bad synth that might have belonged to this theoretical kid’s parents in the 80’s and they found it started messing with it. These are all actual thoughts I had when writing the score as ridiculous as it sounds.
There are so many great doc scores out there, did you draw influences from any of these in particular for this project? If so, which one/ones?
One thing I’ve learned from watching other documentaries is that they can handle big ideas and conceptual scores. Check out the score for Spellbound, it’s mostly harmonica and marimba–something you definitely couldn’t get away with in a drama. It gave me permission to try something different.
How was the writing and scoring process for the film?
I spent a lot of time tinkering with the science fair synths, experimenting with them and recording them. I then wrote a number of themes based on watching the film and with some of the characters in mind. I tried to create music that was nerdy and quirky but also inspirational, like the kids in the film. After that I start in on specific scenes, drawing on material that I created in the themes.
What else is happening next in your world?
I recently wrote the score for the Netflix comedy Ibiza directed by the incredibly talented Alex Richanbach and starring Gillian Jacobs. That also led to working with Gillian on her short thriller for the Refinery29 female filmmaker series Shatterbox. Coming up, I have a homecoming project – I’ll be scoring a Canadian film called Hammer directed by Christian Sparkes.
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