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Film Composer Howard Shore Talks 'Spotlight' Soundtrack Score & More [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

by Jon Niles   Dec 31, 2015 13:57 PM EST

Composer Howard Shore created the epic, soaring scores for the Lord of the Rings trilogy movies, but in 2015 he scaled down to a 10-piece orchestra for director Tom McCarthy's Spotlight. Music Times was lucky enough to speak with Shore recently about the awards seasons buzzing film, his approach to the score's themes and his advice for aspiring composers out there.

You can check out more buzzing news coverage from Music Times right here!

What attracted you to Spotlight?

It's a fantastic script! I met Tom McCarthy and we started talking about the story and really talked about the narrative in terms of the theme and motif that were of interest to me. We talked about ideas like the pressure of the church, legacy journalism, which is an interesting topic on its own, deference and complicity, which was really what was going on in Boston at the time, and that really got the conversation going. I worked a lot, really with the script, with the ideas in the script. Worked out ideas for themes of the children, the victims. Music that reflected the culture of Boston at the time, of the city on the hill. The anguish, the pain, the tragic consequences of the story.

Was there a specific reason why you focused on the script more than the characters?

Well we did focus on the characters with music for legacy journalism; it's all about the reporting. And investigative reporting, also there was a theme for that. Those pieces were really very much a part of the characters; you know the ensemble characters on the screen.

How involved was Tom McCarthy with the music? Did you have full range creative freedom on this?

We worked together well. It's always great to have good collaborations on film. On this film there was a lot of good filmmakers that worked on the film. And I'm responsive really to all of them. Really, I can look at the film in a view through the cinematographer's eyes, through the editor's, production designer...I really like to soak in all of the ideas that I'm seeing and feeling. And I tried to respond to that emotionally as an audience member would and how I feel about those scenes. And then I work with Tom because he's so insightful, and Tom and Josh Singer, the two screenwriters, spent so much time in the world of the film so you can really draw a lot of information from them about the characters, about the stories, how the investigation unfolds and where the parts of the story are relevant and what needs to be left alone, what might need a bit of emphasis. All of that is really helpful when creating the score.

Was there a specific reason why you choose the piano as the main voice for the score?

It's actually scored for a 10-piece chamber orchestra. The piano's focus was really on truthfulness. The film's about a search for honesty. The piano has a certain gracefulness to it. To me it always feels like it's a very honest instrument. There's a black and white quality to the piano. It's also reflected the black and white quality of newspaper business.

Do you have other projects you are working on?

I'm writing a concerto for guitar, an orchestra for the great classical guitarist Milos.

When are we going to be able to hear this?

Coming soon!

Do you have any advice for aspiring film composers?

Just to find your contemporary. Film composers should look for the young director or young editor or young cinematographer. Look for the people that you are interested in working with. Go and see their films. And if you are interested in their work, then approach them. You only really need to find one person to work with and you can add to that. 

For more on Howard Shore and his music, make sure to check out his official website!

Jon Niles is an Associate Editor for Music Times. He is a contributing features writer for MStars News as well. Follow Jon on Twitter right here! 

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