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Interview with Mark McKenzie

Versión en español

BS: First, a typical question... how did you start to make music for films?
MM: I began by earning a degree in music composition at the University of Wisconsin and then a masters and doctorate degree in composition at the University of Southern California. While at USC I became interested in film and composed a couple of scores for student films. That was the beginning of my love for film and without wanting to bore you, let me invite you before I forget to my website at to learn more and hear clips of my music.

BS: As orchestrator, you had the chance to work on great scores, even to take part in "Dances with wolves", a work that really deserved the Oscar. From all your works as orchestrator, which one is closer to your heart?
MM: Each film I work on has something special about it. I'm pleased with aspects of my work on Alan Silvestri's score to THE MUMMY RETURNS, Jerry Goldsmith's score to SUM OF ALL FEARS, John William's score to THE PATRIOT, Danny Elfman's score to SPIDERMAN, Bruce Broughton's score to YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES, and of course John Barry's DANCES WITH WOLVES.

BS: You have been the usual Danny Elfman's orchestrator, remembering specially his last works: Spiderman, Sleepy Hollow or his masterpiece Nightmare Before Christmas ( What can you explain about to work with him?
MM: Working with Danny always involves a certain amount of craziness with deadlines, musical complexities, technological problems and so forth but the end result is always groundbreaking, colorful, and powerful. His music always pushes boundaries for me and that is both exciting and a bit unnerving.

BS: As you are also a composer, do you find that there are times when you are orchestrating a soundtrack and you feel that if you had the chance, you would make the music totally different than what you are listening to? Has that happened some times?
MM: Yes that happens often. I try to take what ideas I get and use them in a positive way to help whoever I'm working for. The ideal is "Synergy" where two musical minds are exponentially better when they work well together well and each is given the freedom to creatively contribute

BS: Personally, I love your work for "Warlock: The Armageddon" (
) Can you talk us little about this great score?
MM: Thanks, "WARLOCK" was written in a very short amount of time with a very small musical budget. When I first saw the film, I tried to get out of composing it because some of the horrific scenes were a bit offensive. I was told by the music agent who got the job for me "If you want to keep working in this town and have any sort of relationship with me, you will do this film; if you don't do it, you will have no relationship with me at all." At that point I just got to work and did the best I could writing the most horrific music I could think of. The recording quality is inferior because it was recorded in a large vacant storehouse with very little equiptment and with very little time to get good recordings. It works well in the film and I have been surprised that many have said they love that score. I find it to be one of my least favorites but that is mostly because of the movie and the sound recording quality. I'm pleased with the integrity of the music and loved working with a choir in an epic, gothic music genre.

BS: "Frank and Jessie" shows how good you can get with the melodical cues. How comes that a TV movie can have such an impressive soundtrack, that sounds like it's coming from a big Hollywood film instead of something made directly for TV?
MM: I didn't earn even a penny on FRANK AND JESSE. It was my 3rd score and the first film that wasn't a horror film so I decided to invest the entire small budget into musicians and recording. First I hired a 48 piece orchestra and recorded the large outdoor action and epic scenery portions of the movie with that orchestra. Then I recorded the other half of the music with 4 soloists: a wooden flute player, harmonica, gtr, and a percussionist along with my synthesizer tracks. The small ensemble created some very tender music and the epic western music creates some a powerful, emotional civil war anthems, pounding action and breathtaking brass heroic moments.

BS: "Disappearance of Garcia Lorca" locates you in our land; Spain. Concretely in Andalucia and Granada. How was the experience of to compose for something that spanish? Can you talk us about the instrumentation in this score?
MM: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF GARCIA LORCA was a tremendous movie and a meaningful musical opportunity. Marcos Zurinaga, the director, is a man of vision and passion whom I have great respect for. Marcos, over and over asked me to put as much passion into the score as possible and I tried hard to do just that. I was fortunate to have Manolo Segura present in Los Angeles at the time I was finishing this score. I added his voice over the top of my main title and a few other choice spots late one night after his performance at the Ford Theater in Los Angeles. He sings with amazing passion and beauty. There is are several themes in this score (One string elegy theme and one reflective piano melody) that came as I pondered the passion and beauty of Garcia Lorca's poetry and the character Andy Garcia created so beautifully. They are themes I enjoy listening to repeatedly. I had one person tell me the death theme allowed them to grieve the loss of a parent as he listened again and again. I have an affinity to the Spanish people and to Spanish music. Spain is such a fine place, so rich with culture, emotion, beauty, faith, pain and victory.

BS: "Durango" is a work with important Irish roots. Can you talk to us about it? Did you have "The Quiet Man" by Victor Young as a reference when composing?
MM: I've seen that movie but No I don't know the score to Quiet Man. I did listen and play through many Irish melodies to awaken the Irish music in my blood. This has been my most popular score. It is cheerful, warm, sensitive and I think emotionally uplifiting. I often have people tell me they have worn out their DURANGO cd and that is rewarding to hear. In this score I wrote a large symphonic pieces and then I overlayed traditional Irish Instruments such as bodhran drums, uilleann pipes, penny whistle, recorder, and pan pipes. The Academy Awards featured my Durango music in a large segment the year George C. Scott died and that piece went on to earn the Producer a well deserved Emmy Award.

BS: "Blizzard" is your new work. What can you tell us about it?
MM: BLIZZARD is a huge score with 40 voice woman's choir and 80 piece orchestra. It is full of warmth, melody, Christmas joy and Holiday Spirt. The 75th Academy Awards producer got a hold of the score early and decided to open the Academy Awards with a 3 minute Suite from BLIZZARD so you've maybe already heard part of the score to BLIZZARD. The movie is Levar Burton's (of Star Trek fame) directorial debut. It has Christopher Plummer, Whoopie Goldberg and Kevin Pollak. BLIZZARD is an entertaining and classy children's film and I think the score, when it is finally released on compact disc, will be well liked for its melody, beauty and uplifting emotional content. I love the colorful orchestration that Christmas allows with bells, celestas, strings, women's voices etc. Levar Burton was a pleasure to work with and I appreciate the words he had to say about my score: "As musically talented as Mark McKenzie is, I believe his most valuable asset as a composer might be his enormous heart. From the very beginning, Mark felt what this movie was about and was able to translate those emotions into a lush, beautiful score.
Working with Mark on the Blizzard score was truly a highlight and one of the best experiences of my career. His amazing talent combined with unerring instincts as a composer and remarkable flexibility as a collaborator, made him this director's dream. Peace: Levar" See what I mean about Levar?

BS: You have some concert works like "the lion and the mouse" and "sunrise on lake pepin". What's your procedure to create a music that has nothing to do with the cinema?
MM: I was commissioned to compose the works you mentioned. For these works I allow myself the luxury of large blocks of time to get everything just the way I want it. No quick decisions were needed. The LION AND THE MOUSE is a children's piece written to introduce kids to the symphony orchestra while at the same time telling the fun story of Asoep's fable THE LION AND THE MOUSE. SUNRISE ON LAKE PEPIN still has not been properly recorded but it is a piece you can hear a synthesizer version on my website I'm hoping a publisher will publish this band and choir piece or that at least I'll get a good recording of it sometime while I'm in Europe.

BS: And at last... when are we gonna have a concert in Spain?
MM: I hope it will be soon. A couple years ago the Mostra: INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS OF MUSIC CINEMA contacted me about doing a concert with the Orquesta de Valencia. I was sorry that the timing didn't work out and in the end the concert was cancelled. I'd love to perform THE DISAPEARANCE OF GARCIA LORCA and MY FAMILY / MI FAMILIA, DURANGO, and others. Till then, I invite you again to hear some of my music at I wish for you peace and blessings on your health, family, friends and work place.


Interview by David Doncel and translation by Rubén Sánchez.

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