FIVE QUESTIONS FOR DAVID BUCKLEY
Widely known as one of the most exciting composers in Hollywood today, David Buckley’s has forged a prolific career, scoring some of the most successful blockbusters such as Greenland, The Town, Blood Creek, The Nice Guys, Papillon, Parker and The Forbidden Kingdom. Starting as a choirboy on Peter Gabriel’s The Last Temptation Of The Christ, David has worked in almost every part of the film music industry, and we were incredibly excited to sit down to have a chat with him about his experiences.
How did you start out in the industry and how did you land your first major project?
DB: I had been exposed to film music as a child, when as a chorister at Wells Cathedral, England, I performed on Peter Gabriel’s score to The Last Temptation of Christ. I think I got a taste for it at this point; I loved seeing how music could be a part of a bigger emotional picture. Also during this time I was very fortunate to get to know two composers, Richard Harvey and Harry Gregson-Williams, both of whom helped me get where I am today. In fact, in 2006 I moved to Los Angeles to work with Harry, and a year after I arrived he became a ‘guarantor’ for the first solo feature film I scored, The Forbidden Kingdom. His job was basically to make sure I didn’t fuck it up! I was extremely lucky and surprised to get that job. I was very content at the time helping other people on their scores and wasn’t craving my own credits. But I guess I was in the right place at the right time, and the job went well, and the phone hasn’t stopped ringing yet!
You have worked both as a lead composer and as an additional composer on countless major motion pictures. What would you say are the main differences between the two when working on a project of that magnitude?
DB: I do very little additional music these days, mainly because I have enough going on with my own stuff, but also, as you rightly say, it is a very different skill-set to writing under ones own steam. The usual reason additional music is required is that the main composer is under time-constraints, and needs some help getting over the finishing line. Given that, your job as an additional music composer is to blend into the musical environment already created by the composer. Your contribution should feel seamless and not distinguish itself as having a completely different sonic identity. Having done a bit of this for some extremely talented composers like Harry, Hans & Danny, yes, I am fortunate to have played in some truly impressive sandpits, but ultimately, it’s their sandpit, their work, their sound and their identity, and I'm just an extra set of hands to help get things done. Of course, it’s impossible not to bring some of ‘you’ into whatever you write, but you have to marshal your idiosyncrasies in order to blend. There is no time or space for ego in the additional music world.
As your career gained traction, did you find that it is more important to develop your own distinctive sound, or to be able to adapt to whatever comes your way?
DB: When I first started getting calls from my agent, seldom was anyone asking for me to do ‘my thing’. I think it was more that I was seen as reliable and able to produce competent music on time and on budget, and that I was a collaborator who would work with the film makers to realize their musical vision. As the years have passed, it’s nice to occasionally be singled out by a director because he liked what I did on x or y. That suggests to me that there is something that resonants at some level with some people, and that’s encouraging. I don’t think one ever truly discovers ones voice in any conclusive form, as it’s a long journey without an arrival, and unfortunately, that journey can be halted by risk-averse entities. The real gift in this industry is when you can build up trust and respect with film makers who give you the confidence to try and be yourself, musically speaking. But it requires collaboration. I was working on something recently where I was told, with apparent generosity, to just 'do my thing'. But that wasn’t really enough for me to know how to do my job, and ultimately we parted ways as there was just no synergy between us. It is interesting to consider why we write what we write, when given the freedom. I’ve always seen it as us being collectors of little musical fragments: some things we actively leaned in and listened to, and others we didn’t even know we heard. Every composer will have their own set of sonic particles, and every day that collection will develop. And when all those bits pass through your own emotional filters, an identity is born.
Your music has played a big part in many successful television series. Tell us about your approach when you start writing music for a series, and how you maintain both musical consistency and interest across multiple episodes?
DB: While I was surprised to get my fist solo credit as a film composer, I was utterly shocked to find myself as the composer of the tv show, The Good Wife. I scored 140 odd episodes and am soon to start the 5th season of the its spin-off, The Good Fight. Mercifully, the show-runners are invested in every creative part of this show, and they support me as we go from episode to episode and season to season. Of course, there is a large body of work to fall back on should we need to, but the overall goal is to keep pushing and not give into the temp (even though it is by me). Yes, tv schedules are gruelling, but I think one needs to put oneself into a frame of mind where we can still enjoy the process and feel one is writing something meaningful. Getting into that frame of mind is not always easy, but I think it’s vital.
What was the last piece of music that you heard that you think everyone reading this should hear?
BW: God, that’s a tricky one, as I wouldn’t have the arrogance to say that to anyone! Alright, I think people should check out Danny Elfman’s Piano Quartet. I love the way Danny, as composer, pushes himself from rock musician to film composer and now classical artist. There’s some influence from Shostakovich, Glass and even Herrmann, but ultimately it's his own loud, clear, and inimitable voice you can hear. And it’s just bloody good music too!
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