Interviews

Published on March 8th, 2015 | by gareth

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We Talk Scoring Galavant, Video Games, And Agent Carter With Composer Chris Lennetz

With a busy schedule scoring Video Games as well as hit shows like Galavant and

Agent Carter, Composer Chris Lennetz was kind enough to talk to us about

his work and career.

What drew you to composing? What would you say is your biggest break?

Chris Lennertz: I fell in love with music at an early age, starting with trumpet when

I was nine and guitar when I was twelve. I remember before that, I would go see

John Williams when he was the conductor of the Boston Pops. This was at a very

young age, back around Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back and when Indiana

Jones was coming out. So I definitely fell in love with music for movies at that point.

And I really fell in love with music in general, and playing it, when I started playing

guitar and when I was in bands all throughout high school. I got very serious about

that and about studying theory and composition. Once I got to college, I really

focused in my second year on composition. Once I got to that point, that was when I

really decided that that was what I was made to do.

 

I’ve got a lot of big breaks. I think I’ve been very, very lucky along the way. Some of

my earliest were probably getting to work for Basil Poledouris, who did Conan [the

Barbarian], then, later, working for Michael Kamen. Those were really big breaks in

terms of learning the process and learning the business and things like that. As far

as big breaks creatively, there’s been quite a few. Obviously, Supernatural was a big

one for me, it being the first big series I did. That was for my good friend Eric Kripke.

Then, also, Alvin & the Chipmunks was a big break for me as it was a big hit movie,

and then Medal of Honor in the video game world. It’s been great, and I’m thankful

for all of those.

 

Can you tell the readers about the process of getting into the industry and how

you go about scoring for a series, especially when you first see the look, and

characters, and footage for a show?

CL: Well, getting into the industry is obviously very difficult. There’s really no

specific way to do it other then meeting a lot of people and showing them that you

can do it. For me it was a two or three-pronged attack. One was meeting young

filmmakers when I went to USC and doing short films, and then low-budget

independent films and proving in that ground that I could do what I needed to do.

That helped me to develop relationships with directors who would later go on to

work and do great things. Simultaneously, I was working as an assistant for Basil,

and for Michael, and collaborating and doing some writing for Mark Mancina and

doing orchestration for Brian Tyler and others. Doing all of that at the same time

was important for me in getting practice with an orchestra, and in working with

producers and directors and getting them comfortable. Kamen was really fantastic

at that.

 

Once you’re in the industry, and you first see a series or a show or anything, you do

take the look of the show very seriously. With something like Agent Carter, it’s

obvious that it’s a period show, but it’s also got technical overtones, or undertones, I

guess, and so for me it was very important to [have that be part of the sound]. Very

early on, starting with the producer and the director, I was making sure that that

was part of the sound.

 

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced scoring Agent Carter and

Galavant? What have been your greatest triumphs?

CL: With television the challenge is always sort of the same in that you don’t really

have enough time and, in many cases, you don’t really have enough money to do

entirely what you envisioned, so you have to get creative. I would love to have an 80

or 90-piece orchestra for both shows, especially for [Agent] Carter, but we didn’t. It

was impossible. I would love to have three or four weeks to write an episode, but

that’s also not realistic.

 

Obviously, in the past ten or eleven years I’ve been doing

Supernatural, I’ve gotten fast, I’ve gotten—hopefully—efficient, and I’ve got an

amazing team that I work with, who are up tirelessly the night before sessions

getting everything prepped, and orchestrated, and arranged, and programmed.

That’s a big part of it, too. So, the big challenge is just getting everything done on a

weekly TV series, and part of the triumph is getting it done and having people like it.

 

With these particular shows, I think it’s a triumph just that they’re on TV and that

we’re doing something that we really believe in—I mean, a musical set in medieval

times and a 1940s [show about a] woman who, quite honestly, kicks asses. It’s not

the easiest sell as a show and it’s something that we all had to stand behind, but

once we committed to it, we put it out there and we gave both of them really great,

unique styles and didn’t pull any punches and made them something unique. I think

so much of TV is very similar, so I think it’s nice to see something that’s so starkly

different. I really hope both of them succeed and we get to do it again.

 

Looking at the two shows, can you compare and contrast how the score for

each was created and from where you drew your inspiration?

CL: Well, the score for Galavant, first and foremost, only exists due to Alan Menken.

Quite honestly, he’s one of my all-time heroes and just having the opportunity to

work with him and then to learn from him has been amazing. A lot of the music I

was writing was using his themes, and I tried very much to make it fit into his

stylistic universe—which I don’t think is all that far from mine. He’s just such a

genius and I wanted to compliment what he was doing and utilize all the amazing

themes he wrote for the songs, which was very easy because they’re incredibly

catchy and well crafted. I couldn’t have been happier about doing Galavant and

being in Alan’s world for a while.

 

Of course, it drew on medieval parody orchestral

stuff and so we had harpsichord and Renaissance flutes and things like that.

For Agent Carter, I had already done the Agent Carter One Shot, which I believe

came out with Ironman 3. Louis D’Esposito, who also did the pilot, directed that. Of

course, he’s co-president of Marvel, and he was very intent on making a period piece

that had all of the trappings of contemporary action, but that also felt at home in the

world of the ‘40s and the world of spies.

We did a lot of work on that One Shot and I

think that helped give the series an identity pretty early on. We knew we wanted

elements of that time, we knew we wanted it to feel like a Marvel movie, so it had to

be a unique blend of each. The other great thing was that we came up with some

really great themes for Peggy, and they managed to continue through onto the

series, so I think, hopefully, that’s something that people now associate with her

character. I’d really love that.

For shows like Agent Carter and Galavant, how many hours did you compose

for the shows and how much of that music made it into the final episodes?

CL: Every episode of Galavant tended to have about 6-8 minutes of songs and about

12 minutes or so of score, which, for a half-hour show, means it’s almost all music.

There’s a lot of music, there’s a lot of little bit and pieces in between all of the great

shows that Alan wrote. Part of the issue was that there was not only a decent

amount of music but there were also a lot of shorter cues, which sometimes are

actually tougher to write.

 

For Agent Carter there tends to be about 25-30 minutes per episode, and there will

be eight episodes, obviously, so there’s about 4 hours worth of music by the time

we’re all done. Almost everything is making it in, honestly. We’re spotting it really

well, the producers are very, very smart, and we’re just trying to give it music where

it’s needed, hoping it’s not overscored, and just trying to help the drama and the

action.

When scoring a game, show, or film, how much lead time do you have? What is

made available early in the process?

 

CL: Depending on how well my relationship is with the director or producers, I get

more or less lead time. If it’s a director I work with all the time, like Seth Gordon, or

Eric Kripke, or Tim Story, I will get more time because they’ll want me from the very

beginning and so I start coming in to read scripts before they shoot or see dailies

when they come back, whereas sometimes I get hired when they’re a month away

from finishing and the editing is already done. On a TV show, once we’re in

production, it’s usually a week or less per show. That’s really fast, especially when

you have 25 minutes of music.

 

So, I try to see and hear about things as early as

possible, but, inevitably with TV, you’re writing very quickly. As far as games go,

sometimes I’m brought in quite a bit earlier because the animation takes so long and

the graphics take so long to render and to finish, so I’m usually brought in early,

which is great. I love to be able to be creative and try to conceptualize with the

people making the game like the producers, and the level directors, and the audio

director. The more collaborative time we have the better because I want every game

to have its own identity and hopefully have it’s own musical universe.

How much time do you usually have to score an episode before it airs?

CL: I think I already answered that, but it’s usually about a week.

How does scoring a game compare to scoring a movie or a television show and

which do you prefer?

 

CL: Games usually have more time, which is lovely. Usually there are fewer specifics

in terms of timing and in terms of writing a cue or a particular melody because

gameplay is not linear. You’re not really shackled by when someone turns a corner

because, depending on the player, is not always the same time anyway. In a TV show

or movie, you do have to do that. So, there’s something really freeing about games,

which is really nice, and games tend to have really music friendly creators and

producers that want music to be a big part of the game.

 

There’s not as much of a script and there’s a lot of action that goes on without dialogue,

so there’s a lot of great storytelling that music can do in games because of that opening. I think it’s

great, I love when I get an opportunity to tell a longer, bigger, broader story in a

game, which I’ve had the opportunity to do quite often. Things like Gun, and Medal

of Honor specifically have been really great for that. Starhawk was great, too.

It’s been a fantastic experience. Movies and TV, basically, are linear. You have a

certain amount of music and the scenes are locked. You have to write specifically to

a scene, and there’s something very nice about that because you can build up to

certain moments and play them very definitively whereas in a game you might not

know when that is going to come.

 

As far as what I prefer? I prefer working with

 

really great, interesting, smart people who are great to work with and enthusiastic

and on projects that I think are interesting. I almost don’t care whether it’s TV or

movies or [games]. Sometimes if it’s a long TV show, a 22 episode series, every

single week, and you get behind production schedules and things like that, it’s very

fast and I’d say that’s my least favorite thing to do: write a lot of music very fast for a

long period of time because you can’t dig your heels in and can’t necessarily be as

creative and prolific as you want to be.

Movies, for me, will always be my first love That’s

where I fell in love with music and film compositions like E.T., and Raiders [of

the Lost Ark], and The Godfather and stuff like that. I think that’s where my heart

originally lies, but now I feel like TV looks more like movies, and games look more

like movies, and movies look more like games. I think everything, stylistically, is

coming a lot closer together, so I don’t feel like there’s that same amount of

separation that there used to be. It’s great, I’m happy about that.

 

As a follow up, any game compositions in the works?

 

CL: Yes I do have a game that I’m starting work on very soon. Unfortunately, I can’t

say what it is. It’s for a large developer and it’s going to be a lot of music, and a lot of

really interesting music. Hopefully, it’ll be exciting and—unfortunately that’s all I

can really say, but I think people are really going to like it. It’s pretty fantastic.

 

How much leeway did you have in the creation of the score for Agent Carter?

Did Marvel give you the framework you had to work in, or was it more of a

collaboration?

 

CL: Marvel, or at least, Louis [D’Esposito], who is my boss as the director, gave me a

lot of leeway to start with. He’s very encouraging and he has great instincts, and he

likes music, and he wants music to play a part in his shows, so I couldn’t be a bigger

fan of Louis and I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity that he’s given me. I

never felt like they were being overly managing in a way. I felt like they were very

open to all my ideas. Most of them flew, a couple of them didn’t and that’s fine. I’m

happy for it to be that way. In fact, I love the idea of collaboration. At the end of the

day, it’s a team sport.

 

Telling a story, making a movie, making a show, it’s everybody.

It’s the cinematographer, it’s the costume designer, it’s the production designer, it’s

me, it’s the editor. Everyone needs to come together to tell the story. I think it’s a

team effort and I’m happy to be part of the team. In fact, one of the things I love the

most is to work with people and collaborate with other enthusiastic, cool, and

interesting people. I learn from them just like they learn from me. Literally as

specific as the fact that in episode one, Peggy’s hat was so bright red as she walked

across the street.

 

That probably influenced the kind of drumbeat that I wrote, and it

probably influenced the brightness of what was going on in my music. When Jarvis

comes out, and he’s in the shadows, wearing muted colors the first time you meet

him. That influenced me as well. I think I’m influenced greatly by the other

collaborators and by the show runners. I take a lot of leads from them and just try to

run with it. It’s been a great experience so far.

 

What do you like to do in your free time?

CL: (laughs) I don’t have nearly as much free time as I probably wish I did. I

certainly always want more. But, ultimately, spending time with my family. I have

two young girls, a lovely wife, a wonderful dog, and an extended family that all lives

out here in California, and they’re all fantastic. I love spending time with them, I love

going up to the mountains—I’m a skier—and I have a sail boat. I love sailing and I

haven’t been on it in far, far too long. I love to catch up on movies and things like

that as well. Just taking a little time away from my brain constantly being on when

I’m composing. Any time I get to shut down a little bit and have some quiet time is

great.

 

What do you have upcoming that we can look forward to?

 

CL: We’ve got a bunch. I’ve got Ride Along 2, which is another Tim Story movie with

Kevin [Hart] and Ice Cube. That’s one’s going to be even bigger and more action-packed

than the first one was, which I also did. Then I’m going to be doing a movie

called Michelle Darnell, which is a Melissa McCarthey film that her husband is

directing. They’re both fantastic and very, very smart, so I can’t wait to do that.

That’ll be for Universal. Supernatural’s back for Season 11 next year, so we’re

excited about that, and hopefully Galavant and Agent Carter come back as well.

That’s what we’ve got coming up.

 

Thanks very much for your time. I’m so happy to answer some of your questions.

Thanks for reading and listening!


About the Author

Syndicated movie & game critic, writer, author and frequent radio guest. His work has appeared in over 60 publications worldwide and he is the creator of the rising entertainment site and publication “Skewed and Reviewed”. He has three books of film, game reviews and interviews published and is a well-received and in demand speaker on the convention circuit. Gareth has appeared in movies and is a regular guest on a top-rated Seattle morning show. He has also appeared briefly in films such as “Prefountaine”, “Postal”. “Far Cry”. and others. Gareth is also an in-demand speaker at several conventions and has conducted popular panels for over two decades.



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