Interview: Paul Oakenfold
Mon, 15 Dec 2008 14:44:10
John Leguizamo Videos
Paul Oakenfold is best-known for his thumping trance tracks and storied DJ-career, not crafting orchestral-driven pieces for holiday films. Oakenfold has traveled far from the shores of Ibiza, where he has spent a great deal of time getting island partygoers riled up, to land in Hollywood as a go-to composer. Having already contributed music cues to movies like The Bourne Identity and Collateral, Oakenfold stretches his legs—so to speak—with the work he provided to Nothing Like the Holidays, director Alfred de Villa’s family drama, out now. He spoke to ARTISTdirect about this creative shift and his past (and future) contributions to movies.
At what point do you enter the creative process as a composer? Is it always post-production?
[I] see dailies. Every day or every other day [the studio] sends [me] something. I like to get involved with the process even earlier by talking to the director, the producers, working on a tone and a vibe for the picture. I’ve been to test [screenings] with different audiences, so I’ve seen [Nothing Like the Holidays] a bunch of times.
Do you have carte blanche as a musician and composer with the projects you work on?
Not at all. I work in a pretty tight realm, actually, with the producers and the studio and the music supervisor. It was very much a tight realm in terms of creativity.
Where do the first threads of creativity for a score come from?
The first threads of creativity come from conversations with the director, the producer, and myself. [We] talk about music, they maybe play me ideas in terms of how they think it should [sound]. Bear in mind it’s their movie; it’s their vision, so they obviously have strong ideas in terms of music and they want to voice those opinions. As a composer, you sit there with them, listen to them, and try and build from where they’re coming from, add your own ingredients, and come up with something original.
This is a very niche and genre-based film. To what extent were you thinking about Christmas music and Puerto Rican music?
Very much. The “Parranda [Christmas Medley]” was something that I wrote in January of this year even before the movie was shot. I didn’t start, really, on the score until March. I had to write this piece of music in January, which [has] very much a Latino feel behind it.
“It's very different from anything I've ever done. It was with Alfredo's belief that I was brought the opportunity to do it.”
Did you draw from your past projects—though they differ from what you’ve created for this film—and make them more orchestral?
It’s very distant from anything I’ve ever done. I set out to do an out-and-out…pop record when I did “Starry-Eyed Surprise,” [and] this is my venture in film when I [attempted] mainstream pop in terms of [a score]. It was with Alfredo’s belief that I was brought the opportunity to do it. The studio certainly wouldn’t [have] and the music supervisor, even though he’s a friend, wouldn’t [have], because they [didn't] think that I can do this kind of stuff.
I know that I’ve delivered a number one pop record around the world and a number one pop remix around the world. There’s no difference for me in terms of doing a film, because I understand [the] mentality. This isn’t cutting-edge. This isn’t meant to be a cool, incredible situation in terms of music. This is an extremely focused, well-prepared, and professional job, in proving to a team of people and a studio, a music supervisor, that I can do it and do it well. Hopefully down the line they’ll come to me with a bigger budget movie and go, “Oh, guess what, he was really good at doing that and he did a really good job. Let’s use him again.”
Ennio Morricone once said something—and I’m paraphrasing—like, “Every film has a mood or tone that can be felt by the composer.” Did you find that was true for this project?
A couple of characters had a loose theme and sound that relat[ed] to them. This film has a lot of characters, and for me, every time one of them popped up to go, [mimics dramatic music]—their own signature theme—would become too predictable and too cheesy. It’s not that kind of film. Ennio Morricone is one of my heroes. I think he was talking about his early works with the Spaghetti Westerns. When you see those early Clint Eastwood films, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and so on, that sound works for that kind of film. He was one of the first people to do that. When you have 10 or 12 characters and there are cross-sections of them meeting and walking all over the place, coming into different frames, different shots, you can’t put their signature tune in every time. You have to choose your moments, and the moment has to be quite a dramatic moment to get that across.
It was just a case of, “How can I enhance the picture? How can I enhance the scene, make people feel good, and make the characters flourish in terms of whatever they’re doing on the screen, whether it’s sad or happy?” The music syncs very comfortably within the film, and it works with the picture. That was the process and that was the direction I took. I wasn’t trying to do something cutting-edge, too exciting. This is a family film, and it needs to be approached in terms of music in that way.
What do you think some of your standouts are in your film scoring career?
In terms of scores, I’d start with Swordwish, then I’d look at cues of films I’ve worked on, from The Bourne Identity—there was a big piece of music I had in that. I’d say The Planet of the Apes, which was the Danny Elfman-remake [score]. I’d say The Matrix Reloaded, Collateral. Then I’d touch on the comedic side. The remake of The Pink Panther—I did four cues for that film. [On] Shrek 2 I worked on a cue for Harry Gregson-Williams. In terms of scoring, I’ve scored two games: the James Bond game and the Bourne game, which was brilliant because I had carte blanche. They were just like, “Make it dangerous, exciting, and cutting-edge.” That was music to my ears.
Another movie [that I scored] comes out on December 5th called Nobel Son, and that’s a completely different kind of film. It’s exactly what you would expect from me. It’s action, it’s dark in places, there are a lot of twists and turns, a lot of electronic music with a traditional underscore. Very out there, very edgy; it brings a lot to the picture. What I’m trying to do as a young composer in a market is bring something new to the table. What I am doing is combining electronic [music] with a traditional score, but then taking it a step further and writing [some] songs.