News from the Locarno Festival

Brian Reitzell – The Music of Chance

Brian Reitzell


© Sigurd Fandango


You are in Locarno to hold a masterclass organised by Red Bull Music Academy about your work as a composer and music supervisor. And you have really a lot to tell: you’ve worked on many important scores, ranging from the comedy of Stranger Than Fiction to the drama of Lost in Translation, from horror (Red Riding Hood) to thriller (the TV-series Hannibal), to period pieces like Marie Antoinette. How do you choose the right tone for a film?

I like to go really deep and experiment: it’s the most challenging part of my job. It’s like designing a menu. The story, time and place suggest so much as do the characters. Once this is cracked then it’s all about execution, which is the easy part. I am above all, a music fan. I can appreciate all styles of music as long as it’s good, from Reggae to Raga to Symphonic to Punk to Opera and everything in between and beyond. Many of my favorite directors were adept at going from drama to horror to comedy…; for me it’s the same. I’m helping them to tell a story and create mood and atmosphere, except I do take them home with me. And sometimes horror takes a toll on my sleep!

What’s the challenge for a musician in tackling a score?

To find the sound, to create something that is special and unique to the project, because every project requires it’s own sonic identity. Everything flows from there. Once the voices and the instruments are in place, the composing begins.

Which director did you feel the most in synch with?

I have felt in synch with every director I have worked with, but I would say that Sofia Coppola, Gus Van Sant and David Slade have been the most natural collaborators for me.

Your collaboration with Coppola has given birth to many acclaimed soundtracks, like Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette. For this one you made an audacious choice: to adopt electronic and rock music for an historical drama. How do you decide if the music acts as a complement or as a counterpoint of the visuals?

It depends on the scene. Sometimes the music is at the forefront and others is more textural, tonal or rhythmic – guiding the story along. With Marie Antoinette, Sofia and I from the very beginning knew we wanted to get across the feeling of adolescence and to do so in a way that would translate to our audience. We just felt that Gang of Four, New Order, Bow Wow Wow and Adam Ant did that better than Boccherini, Vivaldi, Rameau... Though all of those composers are part of the soundtrack. Marie Antoinette get’s much attention for the 80’s New Romantic and post Punk music but it equally contains historically correct ‘period’ music and it’s this contrast that makes it all work.

Do you prefer to create the score before the scenes are shot or afterwards?

With Sofia I often start during the writing process so the music plays a larger role in the overall development. The actors, cinematographer, etc. can all be listening to some of the music as they prepare which creates a nice cohesive universe for all the players to live in. With something like Hannibal I prefer to have a locked picture so I can go straight in and begin scoring the first time I see the episode. So I can capture my first response, which I find to be the best way to score horror. I don’t want to over think anything, I want to get my first instincts and capture the same response that the audience would feel.

Sara Groisman

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