Joachim Horsely is a composer and musician out of New York. He has just recently completed music for the short film HUG which showed at SXSW 2009.
AUSTIN DAZE: So you’re job seems to come with some pressure. You’ve got all these filmmakers that create these visions and then come to you to…
JOACHIM HORSELY: Save the movie. No, I can’t do that. Composer can’t do that. But he can help. Once the film is in post-production you have to work with what you got and if the emotional content isn’t there it can be a problem. Generally the joke is, “We need Beethoven but better in two weeks.” What’s most interesting about this job, writing music for film, is that you are dealing with a director that is probably at his wits end, because the film is almost done, and they are looking at you to tilt the needle of the emotional content of the film in the right direction. Usually it’s about making sure the film is going to be completed the way the director envisions.
AD: So tell me about this process. How does it work?
JH: Usually I’ll sit down and watch the whole film in a rough cut or lock cut. We sit down and spot the film–spotting is when you go through where the music will be and what it should be like. It’s a somewhat creative conversation. I like to talk in the abstract rather than talk about instruments. It’s more important to talk about what the story is trying to say. At some point I’ll start doing some mock-ups on the computer and also maybe do some ensemble work depending on what’s necessary. And then we tweak together—it’s usually a collaborative process. Usually the director will make a lot of choices –sometimes from big picture choices to small choices. I like to work in a collaborative way. One thing I always keep in mind is that doing music for film is always about being part of someone else’s vision. What I bring to the table is helping them articulate their story. It’s a mistake to try and impose yourself. It’s a lot more rewarding to morph your personality for whatever film.
AD: So you’ve heard about writer’s block. Have you ever had a similar type of freak out scenario?
JH: Yes. I have to find new ways to stimulate my brain. I can’t just be creative necessarily sitting in a chair in a studio with some coffee in this nice comfy environment. You’ve got to listen to a lot of music that’s relevant and understand what’s going on. I’ve done movies where the characters are from totally different cultures and the score should be there. So it’s important for me to do a lot of research. And that is very inspiring because it forces me to think about things in a different way. And also things like reading the newspaper or getting some fresh air and some exercise and getting away from the computer and the score pad and the instruments, will make you think about different things. It’s important to immerse yourself in a variety of life experiences in order to really keep your art fresh. And that’s ultimately what’s really important.
AD: Temp music. You like it or hate it?
JH: I actually like to have some context in there. The director has something in mind anyway you might as well have some examples. Of course there’s a problem if that person has fallen in love with music that already exists because then you are really in a tough spot. They call it “Temp love.” When they really like a piece of music it’s my job to really listen to them and reverse engineer why that piece of music is working for the film and then take it to another level which is to customize a piece of music that really makes a vivid story. Temp music is great because it’s about guiding me so I understand the vision of the director.
AD: Tell me about the composer/director relationship. Do you ever butt heads?
JH: Yes, but it has not ever been more than a family fight. Typically we become good friends. And it’s OK to disagree but not become disagreeable. After all, you’re writing music for their film. There were a couple of times where I thought it should go one way and they thought it should go the other and we both thought it was best for the film. Usually it ends up being what the director wants. And usually, it ends up being the best thing for the film.
AD: Tell us about this latest project, Hug.
JH: Speaking of great directors, Cary Jones is a terrific guy, great director. He actually came to me wanting to mix it—sound design. We sat down and started talking about music and I wrote some demos for the film and he really liked what I was doing and so I ended up doing both–which is really fun. The film is about a composer who is having a manic episode of sorts and what happens; how he desperately wants to get a hug from his sister. He has this theory, that if he got just a little bit of affection from the people he loves, maybe he wouldn’t have to take his medication any more. He just goes on this long rant. Because we have this character that goes back and forth, we did some really interesting things with the music. On one hand you’ve got this light orchestral texture and then you have this subtle, dark, electronic tone that we sort of mixed in. So the music itself is manic which I thought was a really neat way to do a film about a guy who is bipolar. It was great and great working together and a terrific project.
AD: Even though it’s creative, does your job ever feel like a day at the office?
JH: It really is work and not everything about it is fun. It’s a fun job but sometimes you really just have to figure it out. Especially when there is pressure to be creative—you have to find ways to do that. I’ve talked to other composers who think it’s very important to do your own music and I agree with that. Otherwise you wonder if you have your own voice. I have a band with my brother called Little Horse and we’ve toured and put out several records. That’s becoming very much a project a passion. But it’s very important to be able to do stuff that’s entirely your own or else you don’t know where your center is. It really comes down to: you never want to be bored with your own stuff.