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Interview with Steven Gutheinz

Versión en español

Steve GutheinzSteven Gutheinz is a composer of the new wave that tries to find a place in Hollywood. With a broad experience in the field of the short films, he has done already some feature films and he has been compared with Thomas Newman among others. Let's see what can Steve explain us about his work. More in

BS: You studied with big names such as Raksin, Bernstein or Christopher Young. How was the experience of be learning from the masters? Do you remember something specially interesting or funny about the lessons?
SG: It was a great experience, no doubt. Raksin and Bernstein were both great and they both gave plenty of anecdotes about the business. Raksin also autographed a copy of "Laura" for my grandmother, which was very nice!
Chris Young is very much in touch with what it is like to be a young up and coming film composer in Hollywood these days and is a huge inspiration to many composers like myself. Not only is he a great film composer, but he cares about film music as an art form. He's passionate about it, and I think it really shows.

BS: How does a composer like you decide that he wants to direct his career towards the music for movies? Do you have your "heroes" of the film music, whose works have inspired you to follow this way? Talk us a bit about how everything began, and your musical education in that sense...
SG: I grew up with the scores to "Star Wars", "E.T.", and all of the classic scores that John Williams (and others) did during that time. I think those scores were probably the first pieces of symphonic music I really listened to! So, I was into film music long before I started getting into classical music and composition. It has been with me since the beginning.

BS: When it comes to student films, you have a pretty large curriculum.
SG: I might guess that not all of the directors were your friends before start their projects. How does it works with student films, are the directors looking for you or you are looking for the directors? As there are no managers involved, how do you get in contact with each other?
I would say that well over half of the student films I've scored have come from existing relationships and contacts. The others came about through various channels, but student directors are always looking for composers. If the film is a student film, they're most likely working with a composer for the first time, so they have to actually go out and find someone to score their film.

BS: Surely the budget is always a problem when it comes to student films. You seem to like more to use smaller ensembles instead of fake the orchestra through a sampler. Do you use software just when the final sound is going to be sampled, or you compose always with it, even if later the performance comes with real instruments?
SG: Budgets are always a problem, but I do like to work with live musicians when I can. Sometimes I can't get the money to do it, but I always try.
I use software throughout the scoring process. Even in live scores, everything is recorded directly into Pro Tools! I use Digital Performer, Pro Tools, Gigastudio, and Finale.

BS: Since you have worked with both orchestras and small ensembles, do you use to have problems when looking for performers, or it's just a simple matter of budget?
SG: It's a matter of budget. It's obviously very expensive to record a film score with full orchestra, so expensive that only the bigger budget films have that luxury. I must say, though, that I really enjoy doing small chamber scores. People tend to believe that the more musicians, the better. That isn't always true. However, you can't use a chamber group to score Star Wars!!

BS: "The Crossing" is scored for full orchestra and doesn't belong to any film. What were your motives for writing? Was it comissioned with some reason or was just your decission? Without any budget belonging to a movie or a comission, did you just went and hired the orchestra by yourself?
SG: "The Crossing" is part of a much larger work that I hope to do someday. If not for a film score, then for a concert work or opera.

BS: Tell us a bit about your work with Rob Hardy. You made your first feature film with him: "Trois" and later, "Pandora's box". How do you think that you contribute with your music to his films?
SG: I came onto "Trois" very late in the game and was hired to replace part of an existing score. It was far from an ideal situation. I had about 2 weeks to compose, record, and deliver my cues and I had a very small budget! Luckily, Rob was a great guy to work with.
"Pandora's Box" was also very low budget and I had very little time to work on it. Again, though, Rob was great to work with.

BS: Who is the most interesting director that you found among the ones you have worked with? Someone who you think that would be a star if he only had the chance of have his work widely exposed...
SG: Tough question! I've worked with a lot of talented filmmakers, I could never name one. There are several who I believe will go on to do great things.

BS: Spectrum of light"Spectrum of light" seems to be one of your most popular soundtracks among many reviewers on Internet. I haven't seen the film, but to my taste the music gives the feeling of something that would fit good with the images, but with a listening a bit difficult on CD. I know that your goal was to write music for the film, so what is your opinion about the CD editions? should a soundtrack be appreciated also in the separated listening or the only goal is to serve the film?
SG: I think the primary goal for any score is to support the film. Of course it is great if the music has a life outside the film, but it isn't the primary function of a score.
I've had a lot of people request a CD of that score, people who have never seen the film. No one has seen the film really, it had only one screening!

BS: Making Love"Making Love" has a brilliant soundtrack. The music fits well on the film and the listening in the CD is also good. Can you talk us about the experience of that work?
SG: Thanks. Overall, it was a great experience. The recording session was quite an adventure, though. I originally had a small chamber orchestra assembled and when we started recording the music I really didn't like the way it was going. So after about 15 minutes of that I decided to just use 1 violin, 1 cello, piano, and dismiss everyone else. It was stressful for a few minutes, but when we started recording again, things went smoothly. The director and I were both pleased with the final recording.

BS: "Of light and darkness" is an unusual project. How do you approach a videogame compared with your way to approach a film? How did you get the job? did you contacted the makers or they contacted you?
SG: I got the job through a feature film that I had scored right before it. The feature ("Taxed") was never even screened, but it got me the job scoring "Of Light and Darkness". It was a very unusual game that never really got the audience it probably deserved. The graphics were amazing (by Gil Bruvel). In fact the game was built around his art.
The approach was nothing like a film. My job was to create background music that functioned as part of the environment for each game level. I didn't ever score to video or anything specific like that.

BS: Would you score more videogames in the future?
SG: Absolutely. I'm actually scoring a game demo for a developer right now. I just haven't had the opportunity to do another game score, but I'd certainly love to.

BS: What is the way that a composer must go through if he wants to score feature films? Must he has a lot of contacts or is just a matter of insist and insist ringing the producers? how does it works?
SG: It is very difficult. I wish I could tell you that there is a science to it, but there really isn't. I think the one key to success in anything is perseverance. Good contacts don't hurt.

BS: Through the listening of your works, one gets the feeling that you don't have problems using all kinds of ensembles, from orchestra to small group, sax ensemble, synthetizers... having a broad experience with many different kinds of music, what is the most peculiar or strange work that you have done?
SG: The most strange? I suppose that would have to be my mock jingle/TV show theme "Goosebumps Zombies". I think it would make a great kids TV show theme, but I haven't had much luck with that. Someday, I hope to do a theme for TV show!!

BS: And the one you are proudest of?
SG: That is tough. I suppose I'm proudest of "Cracking Shadows". I've done so many short films and this is one of the few where the music feels complete to me. I can't imagine expanding the Cracking Shadows music into something larger. Most of my other short film scores feel incomplete to me.

BS: L.A. Twister is your newest work, the film is ready to be released in USA in February. What can you tell us about it?
SG: It's an independent film directed by Sven Pape. I've known Sven for a while now and worked with him on a small documentary he directed at a couple of years ago. "L.A. Twister" is his first feature. It's a comedy and was a challenge for me, but I had fun.

BS: Do you have some project for the future?
SG: I have a lot of stuff lined up for next year and a few potential big breaks in the pipeline. I can't talk about any of them here, but I'm hoping to finally move up the ladder a little bit next year.

BS: Is it possible to make a living from composing when you are not a steady guy in Hollywood? If not, what do you do for a living?
SG: It's hard.

BS: Internet might be good to promote oneself, but do you think that is THAT GOOD to distribute your music? The legal mp3 sites seem to be having serious problems to survive today...
SG: I don't know. It's been great for me, but I give away my mp3's. I'm not sure about the pay sites (like itunes), but it seems like people are ok with it. I personally prefer buying real CD's.

BS: After the dawn of, where can we get your cds? in your webpage you are offering just a promo...
SG: Right now, I'm just selling the promo CD. I also sell specific things to people who ask for them, but that's about it for now. I haven't had the opportunity to score a big budget film yet. When I do, there will hopefully be a real soundtrack CD for it.

BS: Nowadays, can you mention some interesting composers in the film industry?
SG: There are so many composers that I know and admire. I could never name names! John Williams is a living master, probably the best ever. Of the old generation, Herrmann is my favorite by far.

BS: What is your dream project? A western? A pirates movie?...
SG: Right now, my dream movie is one that has enough money to record the whole thing without massive restrictions. I just want that opportunity!

BS: Tell me a director you would love to work with.
SG: I'd like to work with any director who likes my music.

BS: Must a film composer love the cinema or to compose for movies is just a work?
SG: I think you have to love it. Otherwise you'll just want to quit. It's not a good 'job' because it is so intense and so politically difficult.

BS: If you love cinema, can you recommend to all of us in BSO Spirit some great movie that might have gone unnoticed?
SG: Well, I think "Meet Joe Black" is a great movie that really didn't get much attention (other than negative reviews). I really like the score, too.

Interview and translation by Rubén Sánchez

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