IFTN Interview

Here's an interview I did with the lovely people of IFTN about my 'Let Us Prey' score, MacGyver, deadlines, timezones and other stuff - 

With ‘Let Us Prey’ (starring Liam Cunningham) having its’ Irish premiere at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival later this month, IFTN caught up with the films’ composer Steve Lynch to talk about his work on the film.

Lynch has composed music for over 200 commercial campaigns all over the world and earned an IFTA nomination in 2013 for his work on Maurice Sweeney’s acclaimed docu-drama ‘Saving The Titanic’. Here, he talks to IFTN about the “dark bloody space” he had to enter to score Brian O’ Malley’s award-winning horror film ‘Let Us Prey’.

IFTN: Tell us about your work on ‘Let Us Prey’.

Steve Lynch:‘I've worked with the director Brian O'Malley on a lot of commercials over the years, I also scored his great short ‘Crossing Salween’. So that was my in. Brian is a musician himself so always has a very clear idea of what he wants the score to do. It's always great working with directors who really feel music is an important element in a film, rather than just a space to fill. I was also working with the great editor Tony C. Kearns on the film, he brought a lot to the table in terms of music feedback. All in all a good team.’

‘It was a pretty crazy process, there wasn't a whole lot of time, but there was a whole lot of music to write. The film relied heavily on music to emphasise the scares and nastiness. Brian is a big fan of John Carpenter, so the focus was on synth. I did manage to get some organic instruments in there too though, I wanted to make sure the music wasn’t too clinical, that there was an emotive pull towards certain characters. In all I guess I had 5/6 weeks to do about 70 minutes of music. In retrospect this was probably a good thing, it meant that I had to turn down nearly all other work and just focus on one space - a dark, bloody space.’

What training/education did you receive to become a composer?

‘I did a Masters in Music and Media Technologies in Trinity College, while there I had access to some great equipment, so scored a lot of short films, which was my first chance to connect with young directors. Apart from that I learned a lot on the job. I recorded bands for a number of years which gave me a good idea of how to record different kinds of instruments, and also how to mix. At the time I was working in a pretty awful rooms, with mostly cheap equipment, so had to become pretty good at fixing sounds, that comes in useful.’

What was your first job in the industry?

‘Apart from a bunch of student shorts, my first job was a Trócaire commercial in 2004. After that I was asked to go to Kenya to record a charity album, the production company Animo ended up making a documentary about it for RTE (‘5 Voices - Mr. Omondi's Choir’). While they were in post-production on the documentary I began harassing them to let me write the music, which was my start in that end of the business. Both ends built slowly, I guess a Ballygowan commercial (a cover of Bowie's ‘Let's Dance’ which went top five in the charts) was one that meant the phone kept ringing.’

What do you enjoy most about being a composer? And what do you consider the greatest challenges?

‘I love getting to play music all day. It’s that simple really. I also love getting a brief that’s a sort of head scratcher, something where the score is crucial to make the piece of film work, but there isn't an obvious answer. I enjoy that I get to work on all sorts of different styles of music too, when you’re in tv/film you tend to get asked to do a load of different genres, so it helps if you’ve a good ear for figuring out styles. The consequence of this is that I can no longer listen to music without deconstructing it to find out what’s going on.’

‘The greatest challenges are probably deadlines (though a tight deadline often does wonders for creativity), and also the occasional case of temp-love, where the director/producer gets so enamoured with the temporary music that nothing will shift them away from that.’

Describe your typical working day and the equipment you use.

‘I work a 9an-5pm day, but typically I also work a few nights a week from about 9am-1am - I find that nights are my best time creatively. I built a studio at the end of my garden, it's a small space but perfect for my needs. I have a recording booth for live instruments, a neat little parlour piano and many, many stringed instruments, synths and odd boxes and noisemakers. I like to have as many things to reach for as possible when I've writing.’

What filmmaker/composer has influenced you?

‘I always loved Morricone, Danny Elfman, Mark Mothersbaugh, Clint Mansell, generally people who could get some strange, non-orchestral sounds into their scores.’

What Irish film or TV show would you have loved to have worked on?

‘I'm pretty happy with the stuff I've gotten to work on so far, though I'd love to score a drama series.’

What films and TV shows did you enjoy growing up that may have encouraged you to work in the industry?

‘I honestly had no notion growing up that I could do this for a living, but I certainly enjoyed the music in all those great American TV shows like ‘MacGyver’. In fact, my first live performance was playing the ‘MacGyver’ theme tune at a piano recital when I was 11.’

What’s the difference between working on an Irish production and working on an international production for you?

‘Timezone! Honestly I think there isn’t a big difference between the Irish productions and international ones, I’ve been doing a lot of commercials in the States and in places like the Czech Republic lately, I can honestly say that the Irish are just as talented as anyone else.’

What advice would you give to anyone wishing to get into composing?

‘Try to learn, write, play and record as much as possible before you get started pitching on things, and try to trust your gut.’