Interview with Brian Ralston

Brian Ralston

Brian Ralston Crooked Arrows and 9/Tenths

FSC:  What inspired you to compose film music?

BR:  When I was a teenager, there were 3 or 4 scores that I absolutely loved. Willow. Krull. The Rocketeer. Star Trek 2.  I was not enough of a film score enthusiast at the time to really notice that all of those scores were composed by the same person.  But one day…it clicked and I suddenly became obsessed with collecting anything and everything James Horner. I pretty much now own everything he has ever done.  But then of course my score CD collecting only expended from there.   At the time this was literally at the birth of the internet.  It was quite hard to collect rare scores back then.  I was buying CDs from individuals through the mail based on Listserv for sale lists, & sending cashiers checks to people with a total fear the CD would never arrive in return.  It was crazy.  I started writing my own music early in life and, re-scoring scenes in films on my own for fun.  I did this throughout college even though in my undergraduate studies I was majoring in Biochemistry.  (I was always a musician performing in ensembles from the age of about 6 or so playing the Piano and then the Trumpet…I just never officially majored in music in undergraduate college).   I had an epiphany one day at the University of Arizona that you have to follow your passion in life and while I enjoyed the science of medicine and I had worked for a Neurologist doing clinical research for 3 years, taken the MCATs and conducted my own Biochemistry thesis study contributing to a larger breast cancer study, I decided to give all of that up and pursue a career as a composer.  I essentially started over in college after that Biochemistry degree and pursued a second discipline.  Music.  That was my passion and that is what I NEEDED to make my career.  That led to studying at USC’s film scoring program as a grad student in 2001.  Ever since I have been on life’s journey working as a composer.

FSC:  What, would you say, is your greatest accomplishment to this point?

BR:  Personally or professionally? Personally…my wife and I just had our first daughter and she is truly our greatest collaboration and my greatest “symphony.”  We just love her so much.

Professionally…I have very fond memories and experiences working on Crooked Arrows, especially since we were fortunate enough to record the score with the Hollywood Studio Symphony here in Los Angeles.  Before the sessions, I was speaking with some of the brass about the parts, various cues and described the film like “Rudy” or “Hoosiers”, meets “The Bad News Bears” but for the Native American sport of Lacrosse.  The musicians instantly reacted, “Oh…we got this….we were all on Jerry’s Rudy sessions.”  It was truly a dream to stand in front of them and hear that score come to life with their talents.

FSC:  Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

BR:  Certainly building my film credit list and continuing to score bigger films.  I have been doing some preliminary work with director Bob Degus for his next film which is pretty ambitious.  Despite the film not yet being shot…we have already been working on music themes and ideas based on his script.  He has actually kept me pretty well involved in his development process and I feel very fortunate for that collaboration.  He values my input on things and our musical discussions sometimes influence story arcs and structure of certain scenes.  I have also read some other scripts of upcoming films with great casts that I am very interested in seeing them come to fruition, one of which is a very emotional drama, love story.  A genre that is probably right up my ally in terms of composing style.  I am excited at what the future holds on this journey.

FSC:  What director would you like to work with most?

BR:  There are many.  I would of course love to continue working with the directors I have already worked with.  But in terms of someone I have yet to collaborate with…I think Craig Gillespie is doing some interesting projects right now.  His film Million Dollar Arm was just great.  Also, producers Mark Ciardi and Gordon Grey are, in my opinion, doing some of the most interesting stories and quality films over at Meyham.  To get a chance to work with them over there on something would be pretty amazing.  I would do everything in my power to make them happy over there.

FSC:  What was your experience with both Joss Whedon and Kristen Bell?

BR:  When I was doing some additional music for “Angel” I never got a chance to meet Joss Whedon.  I was really working for Rob Kral at the time…so I was fairly removed from Joss then, but I love his work.  Both Joss and JJ Abrams are becoming legends with what they are doing in Hollywood.  To have played a (very) small part on Joss’ contribution with some of my music in “Angel” makes me very proud.

Kristen Bell is the real deal. Seriously.  I have been fortunate to work with her on a few different projects.  She can do just about anything and do it well.   She sings.  She acts (very well).  She is great at comedy timing which is the hardest thing to do.  She is smart and she is a true Hollywood star.   I first me Kristen back in 2003 when she was the lead on a musical that I was doing music on called Sneaux! The SINsational Gothic Horror Figure Skating Musical.  We did some cast recordings at my place at the time.  I remember the day she was in recording her lines and she got a call from her agent.  We all took a break so she could take the call.  It was THE call that told her she got cast in the David Mamet film Spartan.  We were in the other room hearing her one-sided conversation over the mic and she let out this big scream that almost blew the speaker monitors.  It was a big role for her at the time.  Her career only took off from there, especially once she got cast in Veronica Mars.  She came back for us during her Veronica Mars shooting schedule to be in a little short film I produced (and scored) called The Rece!pt. Which was very successful on the festival circuit and won best comedy short at the LA International Short Film Festival.  It is truly great to see her now as a Disney princess from Frozen.  I hope we will get the opportunity to work with each other again in the future.

FSC:  In 2012 you composed the music for Crooked Arrows.  How was that different from your earlier film 9/Tenths?

BR:  Crooked Arrows was a much bigger production all around.  9/Tenths was my first feature after my USC days.  It was a little indie film starring Gabrielle Anwar, Henry Ian Cusick (before his casting as Desmond in Lost) and Dave Baez. It was also the first feature film working with Bob Degus.  Bob is a long time veteran of the industry, having produced Pleasantville for Gary Ross, a lot of F. Gary grey’s first features and he was an executive at New Line Cinema overseeing films like Austin Powers.  With 9/Tenths, Bob was transitioning from “long time producer Bob” to “first time director Bob.”  It was a dream job for me in that Bob is the kind of director that does not micromanage his department heads.  The score I wrote for that film was pretty much the first concept of the score I pitched to Bob before he even officially offered me the gig.  And there were very few cues in that score that I re-wrote.  Bob honestly loved it and gave me a lot of freedom.  I was spoiled with that experience because that is not usually how the process goes.   I built a score around 3 solo instruments (Solo Female Soprano Voice, Viola, Flamenco Guitar) to complement the 3 main characters in the film (a British husband and wife and a Mexican caretaker of their property).  Whenever the characters were on screen…these solo instruments were weaving in and out of the score at those moments.  All solos were sitting over a string orchestra foundation. With the limited budget I had to think differently and build the score around soloists instead of larger ensembles so I put together people I knew I could work with well.  The vocalist was a good friend of mine from my undergraduate “science” days at the University of Arizona, Karen Hogle Brown.  She is a full time soprano for the LA Master Chorale but was not in SAG at the time so we got her into SAG to do the film.  She has gone on to big things in the choral world herself.  For example, she was James Horner’s soprano soloists on the Avatar score.

Flash forward to Crooked Arrows in comparison…it was a much bigger production.  9/Tenths was pretty much Bob and I working closely together on a little indie film.  On Crooked Arrows, while Steve Rash and I worked very close, there was also a larger team of producers and dept heads that were all essentially giving input into the score throughout the process. It was a lot more like a studio film.  (It eventually did get purchased by 20th Century Fox).   My “show-and-tell” meetings of newly written music were much bigger with many people in the room. And of course knowing that we were recording with the LA studio musicians, there was a lot more pressure to produce and manage that score.  But all in a good way.  I felt my team did an impeccable job.  From my score recordist/engineer Adam Schmidt, Lisa Fowle mixing, Marc Perlman music editing and my assistant Ryan Humphrey doing a great job on pretty much any task I threw at him, and of course the amazing staff and facilities at The Bridge in Glendale, I could not have felt more blessed in how it all turned out. It really is a great family film with a very accurate and “officially blessed” depiction of the Native American people that leaves you cheering for the lacrosse team at the end.   Folks should check it out. Now that its theatrical run is done, it lives on Blu-Ray and all the streaming services like Netflix, iTunes, etc…

FSC:  If you could compose the music for any major television show, what would it be?

BR:  I would love to get back to doing some TV.  I think some of the best entertainment being done today is in television.  I would love to get the opportunity to work on some of the new shows Netflix is doing following the House of Cards model.  What Jeff Beal has done on that show is truly great.  Also shows by the upcoming Amazon Studios.  Any of the super hero shows coming out of the WB would be quite fun to work on in my opinion.  In my opinion, those creative characters and stories have so many great opportunities for memorable & unique music that catches the audience by surprise.  To work on something like The Flash or the new Gotham show would be amazing.

FSC:  Thank you for your time.

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