Bloody-Disgusting is really excited to bring you this exclusive interview with film and video game composer Kevin Riepl. Kevin has worked on several short horror films and has composed for such blockbuster video games as ‘Gears of War’, ‘Unreal Tournament’, the upcoming Bethesda title ‘Hunted: The Demons Forge’ and the upcoming ‘Aliens: Colonial Marines’. Part one of the interview goes over Kevin’s history and approach to composing for films. Check out part two of the interview!
Let’s start off by having you tell us a bit about how you got to where you are today: Composing soundtracks to hit games as well as big movies.
Well before we even do that, I wanted to thank you & Bloody Disgusting for showing an interest in my work and career as a composer. So…Thanks! Ok, I would say I’m more notable for video games than any big movies. I may have helped on a few big ones, but I’ve yet to have a satisfied grip on the film side of my career. As for getting to where I am now, it began about ten years ago when i was brought on as assistant and co-writing partner with Kevin Manthei Productions here in Los Angeles. Prior to this I lived on the East Coast of the US in New Jersey, where I studied jazz and classical music teaching piano to students throughout central New Jersey. After studying and working with Manthei, in 2006 I moved on to a short stint with Michael Giacchino, workin with him on one of his TV series. Since then, I’ve been working & hustling like every other composer out there.
How do you get into the mindset for composing?
Even though every project I work on is different, getting into the mindset to write is, for the most part, the same each time. I usually request visuals and story and/or script. For video games, its concept art, some game play footage, the story. Whether it be a script or a story outline. With films, the first thing I ever want to do is have an in depth conversation with the director. I need to tap into his passion for this story and bringing it to life. Locking in with their vision is essential for me as a starting point. Then after that is requesting footage if principle photography has even started.
You’ve done a lot of work with horror and thriller films, both feature and short length. What differences arise when scoring for a feature length film rather than a short length? Also, what difficulties arise as a result?
Personally I approach both the same. The only obvious differences at first is scheduling to fit the gig in. If I’m lucky enough at that time to be so busy as to need to “fit” it in.
Well with every film there is a story ark that presents itself in three acts, usually. With short films a composer has considerably less time in the story to introduce and develop thematic material. Sometimes with short films I can catch myself over scoring, writing too much music. This happens a lot with composers who do short films. Because we approach the scenes and human element of the story the same as if it was a feature. So you’re writing along and before you know it you’re in act 2. As a result, there ends up being too much music in scenes. I see it happen all the time. So, one of the difficulties that arises is knowing when to pull back and take the ‘less is more’ approach when writing.
The more one works on short films the more it becomes second nature to hold back and not see the film as a showcase for your music.
Having listened to the soundtrack to ‘Clemency’, I noticed a very effective mixture of both digital and analog instruments. What do you think are the pros and cons in today’s age, where one person with a keyboard, and the right set of samples, can record full scores?
Here’s my theory. Which isn’t anything ground breaking by the way. Just because one has the same set of tools as another does not make them both successful or even good at the same craft. Yes, in this day and age with all the new tech, it does on some levels create more of a crowded field of working and non-working composers. One has to hope and I mean REALLY hope, that the people hiring said composers have the knowledge of what they want for the project and hire the right guy. Not just…”oh we can get a great sounding score in the style of John Williams or my favorite request to date, Hans Zimmer from this or that guy and we don’t even need to shell out the dough for any live players.” I’m not putting down people and their passion for any style of music. Heck this technology helps me do my job and faster. Yes at times budgets are not there to hire live players for a game or film. So with this advancement in samples and computers it helps me as a composer to get my clients what they need within restrictions on budget and time.
What are some of your favorite movie scores?
Oh boy this might be a long list. I’ll try to keep it my utmost favorites. In no specific order:
John Williams – STAR WARS
Jerry Goldsmith – ALIEN
James Horner – ALIENS
Christopher Young – HELLRAISER
Randy Miller – HELLRAISER 3
Charlie Clouser – SAW
James Newton Howard – DINOSAUR
How about some of your favorite horror movies?
Nightmare on Elm Street
does Invasion of the Body Snatchers(1978) count as horror? if not, it should, it freaked me the hell out when I was young.
Check out Kevin’s Official Website
where you can hear pieces of his work, as well as download FREE albums of his work!