Garrett: What was it like being a successful writer and performer in a rock band in Germany during the 70’s and 80’s? How did it feel to be at the forefront of a rapidly changing musical landscape?
I think I didn’t appreciate it enough at the time. Sometimes a city becomes the center for development in rock or pop music. Like Seattle did with grunge in the 90s with Nirvana and Berlin in the late 70s did because of Nina Hagen. Record executives would flock to Berlin to find talent and sometimes drag people out of there when they weren’t even ready for prime time. I thought at the time that the five of us could be anywhere in some small town and still come up with great music. But in actuality, what was going on in Berlin was hugely inspiring and influential. I didn’t ever feel I was at the forefront of something. Looking back, I just wasn’t aware that I was part of a special time in music history. I was very happy to have an amazing front person who was so pushy and irrational. He was an interesting counterbalance to my boring, nerdy self at the time. The band knew that we were special, but I didn’t care or think about it much. I was just in the moment. I was really challenged in those years because I never dropped out of music academy. I actually graduated a month or two after Nina left the band. I didn’t have that much time to be aware of what was going on because I was just trying to juggle being in a professional band with going to school.
Garrett: How did your experience as a performer and then behind the scenes as a producer influence your later work?
You learn from everyone you collaborate with. Hanging out with musicians that are better than you or filmmakers that have seen more than you is always good. It forces you to grow. People who have worked for me, everyone I observe, they make me grow. Everyone is bringing something to the table and you might think, “That’s cool, I want to try that in my workflow sometime.”
Aaron: As a composer, do you collaborate often with the cinematographer to ensure that the sound and image are synonymous? Or is this mostly coordinated through the director?
Not at all with the cinematographer, zero collaboration. In the case of director Tom , there was a crew that always worked together. So I knew the cinematographer on his team just because we would have beers together and watch soccer games. Most of the time, I don’t even know them. It’s like not knowing the actors. I don’t really meet them unless it’s at a premiere. It’s always during the challenging time where the showrunners are completely frenzied because they are still writing and are already shooting and editing the first few episodes. The showrunners are the heart where everything comes together. Picture editors are also the heart. We have a lot of interactions with picture editors and showrunners during music spotting sessions. I’m always happy when I see the director at the editorial facility, but that usually doesn’t happen. They shoot and then they move on because of time constraints.
Garrett: You’ve composed music for many films and television shows in various genres. For example, horror (The Cave), thrillers (The International), and science fiction (Cloud Atlas), among others. How does the genre of the project influence your work?
It depends how straight forward the genre is. In Cloud Atlas, it was like six different genres in one and that’s what made the movie so unique. Cloud Atlas was a great experience because we had to marry the different genres and sometimes find music that crossed over those genres. Helix is also interestingly multi-layered. It’s not a simple, straightforward sci-fi show. For Cloud Atlas we had to write classical and thriller music that was very emotional. It was a project where everything we learned in the past came together in one film. Whereas in a movie like Perfume, which was set in a particular time and place, it made sense to use a traditional orchestra. It’s always nice to have a few months to think about a project before you actually start on it. But even if you do have that kind of time, once you see a cut it dictates what you do moving forward. The movie accepts or repels certain ideas.
Aaron: How do you know when to restrain/elevate the score? Especially in key dramatic moments, do you go subtle, or ramp it up? How do you balance the emotions of the score to the emotions within the story? When is it important to turn the music off, and how much input do you have in terms of the when and how your score is used?
Hard to give an answer because sometimes using restraint is more powerful than beating a dead horse. So it completely depends. You have a certain emotional requirement. What type of emotion do you want to serve? You can serve it by loud strokes or restraining yourself and that depends on the aesthetics of the project. There are no blanket answers since there are so many ways to score a film successfully. You rely on the filmmaker’s aesthetic and their creative process and vision. Balance out your dynamic range and don’t shoot all your ammunition too early in the movie.
Garrett: Can you explain the differences involved in composing music for a television show, such as Helix, as compared to a feature length film? How do you create a score that has to sustain an entire series?
With a series there are more pitfalls. For instance, I didn’t even exactly know how Helix season 2 ends. So I called them and asked, “Where is this story going?” I know now where to go with the music. You have to get a bird’s eye perspective from the filmmakers and then act accordingly. A season of Helix is like a ten-hour movie, which is really cool. But I don’t know the whole movie at the beginning of my process, so I am kind of tiptoeing at first. It makes more sense to stick with consistent elements and use them when they are right. If someone binge watches the series, they have a more fulfilling experience because it’s like watching a full blown movie. I watched all of season one that way.
Aaron: What is your process? When you set out to compose what do you have on hand to feel out the project? Is it only the script or has shooting begun and you have more visual aid to work with?
On a series I usually only have just four or five episodes to start with. I’m glad when I can get an early cut since it helps me have a conceptual conversation with the filmmaker about the aesthetic, etc. The moment they send you their first cut is definitely an important one. That’s when you see which part of your work is sticking and what has to be dismissed.
Garrett: The first season in Helix took place in Antarctica. Did this setting influence your music?
It was actually in the Artic. But you be the judge of that. I’m not totally sure if the experiments I tried worked perfectly because the biggest challenge of Helix season one for me was the sound design. Even when we were inside the Arctic Circle facilities, there were constant creaking and generator noises. What I had in my head was a very electronic type of score but it clashed quite a bit with the noises. Whenever we left the building there was a storm. I would have loved to have done some icy polar music but sometimes the sound design wouldn’t allow for it. When there was a blizzard, it made sense for me to move away from being so literal and cover more of the emotional aspects of the story. At the end of the day, the score always has a point of view. The protagonist’s point of view is more important than the setting.
Aaron: How much influence do producers have on the music end? Are you typically under the same constraints as the director and other crew or are you allowed more freedom?
That depends on how powerful the directors are. In television the showrunner is always an executive producer and has other producers with him. Even with feature films there is a studio that takes a very close look at what is being done. With a first time director the studios influence will typically be much stronger than a person who has already made a lot of movies. Some executives at studios are more hands off than others. If the director is in good standing with the studio or network, it’s often smooth sailing. It’s different from project to project. In the case of Helix, Sony is involved but not in my realm. They are pretty hands off with the music after the beginning and let the filmmakers do what they do best.
Garrett: You have a lot of impressive accomplishments in your career. When you look back at everything you’ve accomplished so far, which projects did you enjoy the most? What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
I would like to be making more feature films. There are plenty of scenes that I’ve scored in my life from different genres. I’m always comfortable in a situation that requires experimentation. I don’t care about the genre, just as long as I’m doing something cool. I can’t say which project is my favorite because I’ve learned so much from each of them. I really enjoy working on Helix. The people are great and I love the show. Even when the work gets hard it never stops being fun.
Catch Season 2 of Helix playing tonight at 10/9c, and learn more about what he’s up to at http://reinholdheil.com/ or follow him on twitter @reinholdheil