Rob Simonsen has been one of the hottest names among composers you don't know by name...yet. He scored last year's acclaimed Foxcatcher, created the theme song for Apple's iPhone 5 campaign and was named by The Hollywood Reporter as among the "next" film composers to join the A-list. He's recently wrapped up work on the scores for both The Age of Adaline (due in theaters this Friday) as well as Roland Emmerich's forthcoming Stonewall, and he took a few minutes to chat with Music Times about his processes on both.
Music Times: Just for context, when were you brought into the fold for this film, The Age of Adaline?
Rob Simonsen: Let's see, I think it was November?
Okay, so relatively recently. I understand that the project has been going on for a long time and there have been quite a few changes of director. You didn't have to deal with any of that but I'm curious if a film changes director and you as a composer are already onboard, how much of a difference does that make?
I'm not aware of any director change... (The Age of Adaline had three directors onboard before production began...Lee Toland Krieger has been connected to the film since 2013 however). I don't think they switched director once they went into production.
Okay, well that's just me using the wrong terminology. More a music than film guy.
Yeah, it's not uncommon. Producers are often the ones that will shop scripts around and they'll look for directors to attach. I'm sure there were other directors that were up for it but once Lee came onboard, the film came together. There was never any change after that. That all happened well before I came onboard. I think I actually came onboard around August but at that point they had shot the film and Lee had been working on it for years. Maybe only a year at that point. And nearing the finish line, that's when I got brought on.
Just for reference, again for a music guy, how much interaction do you have with the director when it comes to scoring the film?
Most of the time, that's the main person I'm working with. So it's kind of me and the director...we sit in a room and work on the score...figure out what it is...talk a lot about it, and once we're happy, we'll present stuff to producers. Then hopefully the producers are happy. That's usually the chain of command.
I understand that with Age of Adaline we're looking at a plot that takes place over a century. Going into a project like that, do you look for historical reference? What's your thought process on reflecting the change in times?
It was basically trying to find an instrument or a sound that could carry through all of those eras instead of trying to match musical styles with the era. That's why we all felt that that orchestra is a pretty timeless sound. The orchestra hasn't really changed much in the last hundred years or so. I think everyone can relate to it, whether it's a modern orchestral sound or a more classic orchestral sound. I think we all felt like treating this with a certain class or elegance and an orchestra was the thing. I think it turned out well and I'm glad we didn't try to chase each specific era because that would make the sound feel a little disjointed.
Would you be willing to go out on a limb and describe this as either modern or quote-end-quote classic?
Yeahhh...I think so. It's definitely...we tried to be classy about it. I can't say that it's a classic bt we tried to embrace a classical film score sensibility while being a little more modern and understated.
When you say "classic," are you referring to Golden Age of Cinema or...obviously classical music listeners are gonna read this and that could mean anything over a period of 300 years.
Exactly. I think it's definitely not "classical" music. Modern in the sense of maybe a little ambient.
It's easy for me to think of synthesizers and say "oh, ambience" but how does one go about creating ambience with an orchestra?
You float instead of using a real strong paint brush. Lots of slow moving-tapestries using the strings. Also, I made some sampled ambiences, processed recordings of a viola that I made with some friends. It's not synthesized but it is a processed element. Using electronics to try to achieve an organic-sounding texture.
Looking forward, you're also working with Roland Emmerich on Stonewall?
Yeah, we actually wrapped that up last month.
Most people stereotype him for his Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow-type fare versus...well, this is a much more terrestrial plot. Does that make for a less epic score?
Absolutely. We used guitar and piano, bass and drums. The film takes place in the late '60s and orchestra didn't feel right. A lot of piano and acoustic guitar. Again, we used some ambiences and tried to make them feel organic. Contrary to Adaline, that was a film where I felt it was appropriate to embrace the sound of the late '60s. That felt for the right clothes for the film.
When you get contacted by Roland Emmerich and he's asking you to score a movie about true-life events and riots, that take place in the late'60s...versus a colossal squid attacking Los Angeles...is there any degree of disappointment in that?
(Laughs) I'm happy to get a call from a director that I love and respect regardless of what story they're telling.
Do you have any other projects in the works now that you wrapped up work on Stonewall?
I'm doing a film called Nerve with Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the directors of Catfish. That's a thriller for Lionsgate. It's a pretty exciting film that's very modern and young. We're gonna have some fun doing that.
Does that suggest a "thriller"-type soundtrack as well?
Yeah but hopefully we'll be able to do something fresh.
Hopefully some room for ambience too.
Yes. There's always room for that.