Mychael Danna (Composer - 'Breach')
'Further Musical Transgressions!'
Grammy nominated for his score to the hit comedy "Little Miss Sunshine," composer Mychael Danna turns serious with the score to the dramatic thriller, "Breach," for director Billy Ray with whom Danna previously worked on "Shattered Glass."
The award-winning composer sets the tone for the drama with a mysterious and beautiful score for piano and strings. Starring Ryan Philippe, Chris Cooper and Laura Linney, the film inspired by true events will be released by Universal Pictures February 16. Varese Sarabande releases the score CD February 27.
The dramatic and emotional score was recorded with the 45-piece Hollywood Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Dodd. Well known for his expertise of combining non-Western sound sources with orchestral and electronic minimalism in film music, the music is used here, according to director Billy Ray, "... to underline the tragedy of Robert Hanssen, score the journey of Eric O'Neill, and score the tension of the chase between them. Mychael hooked into all three elements immediately and knocked it out of the park."
Widely recognized for his work, Danna most recently received a Grammy nomination for his score to "Little Miss Sunshine." In addition, he scored the Oscar-winning "Capote," "The Nativity Story" for director Catherine Hardwicke, "Black" for director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and, with his brother Jeff Danna, "Tideland" for director Terry Gilliam. He next turns his talents to "Surf's Up," a behind-the-scenes look at the Penguin World Surfing Championship.
Taking it from the top and what were your musical influences growing up and how many still factor into your compositions today? "It was completely an accident of fate. I studied what I was interested in, which was ethnomusicology; early music. I ended up writing music for theatre at the university. That’s where I met Atom Egoyan, who was also involved in writing theatre pieces. So that is how I accidentally fell into writing for film."
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of you and was thinking of buying your some of your previous soundtrack works, which one would you yourself advise them to listen to? "Hmm, best, now that's a tough one. “The Ice Storm,” I'm very, very proud of how that score turned out, but it was brutal to work on. Ang [Lee], is a brilliant director and I love my collaboration with him but it's tough to work with him. I mean, it's really tough. He's very hard on everyone including himself in the sense that it's a process and he's relentless in finding the absolute best solution."
For your work on the Grammy nominated score to 'Little Miss Sunshine' you kept things light, melodic. But here on the 'Breach' soundtrack, you had to turn a little more serious in tone and such. Which do you prefer to compose, given the choice? "Every film is different, and the question is not, “What do I want to do?” It’s “What is the best thing for the film?” I’ve worked where atmospheric, non-thematic music is certainly the way to go. Then there’s films like “The Nativity Story” where it’s best to have more orchestral and melodic elements working in it."
"But there’s films where that’s not the right thing to do. I don’t think that sound would have worked for “Ice Storm.” You just really have to get to the essence of what the film is before you write a single note or select your instruments."
How easy (or hard) was it to record this emotional score to 'Breach' with the 45-piece Hollywood Symphony Orchestra having to be constantly entwined into the mix also? Can too many (musical) cooks (sometimes) really spoil the (creative) broth, perhaps? "There’s different solutions for every film. It’s not always just an orchestra playing let 19th Century style, which is what a lot of film scores are. I think you need to start at the ground level and figure out what will work for each movie individually. I always try to come up with some kind of concept – an idea, a way of approaching the music for a film that will help tell the story and do something kind of interesting and maybe unexpected, but that helps enlighten the story."
"The most difficult scores are the ones with the fewest notes and the most difficult recordings are the ones with the fewest musicians. When you have a 60-piece orchestra playing full blast, it just works from the first run through. It all just organically works."
You received your Grammy nomination for your 'LMS' score and have also worked on the Oscar-winning 'Capote.' But, when it comes to composing so many films a year, has there ever been a moment during the conceptions that you've taken a (mental) step back and muttered to yourself that this is going to be something rather special? "There is just no way of telling. The process of filmmaking in total is a collaborative art. Anyone who is not comfortable with that wouldn’t survive very long. It’s just part of the process of working with other people."
Has work begun yet on any new soundtrack projects that you can discuss at this time, perhaps? "I’m just starting on a film called “Surf’s Up,” which is an animated project. It’s something very different for me; I’ve never done animation before. I’m really looking forward to it."
What classic film score would you love to rearrange today in your own style if you were given the chance? "I can’t really answer that question because I just concentrate on my own work. I just don’t have the inclination to judge my fellow composers."
Lastly, Exclusive Magazine love Penguins ... do you?! "Of course!"
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