We are pleased to announce our next guest in the series of Northern Sounds "Meet the Artist" Interviews featuring:
An Interview with
Hummie Mann is a two-time Emmy Award Winning Film and TV composer. Mann's motion pictures have ranged from Mel Brooks' “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” to Peter Yates' “Year of the Comet” to the upcoming Capella Film’s “After the Rain” written and directed by Ross Kettle. On television, he has scored films for Simon Wincer (the miniseries “P.T. Barnum”), Jonathan Kaplan (the miniseries re-make of “In Cold Blood”), Norman Jewison (“Picture Windows”), Peter Bogdanovich (“The Rescuers: Tales of Courage- Two Women”), Joe Dante (“The Second Civil War”), Jim Abrahams (“First Do No Harm”), William Friedkin, John Milius and Ralph Bakshi (all part of the “Rebel Highway” series), among others.You can visit Hummie's website at: http://www.hummiemann.com.
Mann was honored with his second Emmy Award in 1996 for an episode of Showtime's Picture Windows entitled “Language of the Heart”, a love story about a street musician and an aspiring ballerina. Oscar-winning movie-music legend Jerry Goldsmith recommended Mann to director Jonathan Kaplan who hired him to write the music for CBS’s “In Cold Blood” starring Anthony Edwards and Eric Roberts. Says Kaplan: "It's very rare that you can find someone who is as gifted as Hummie is..."
Twice Mann has collaborated with legendary comedy director Mel Brooks. His first Brooks score was for “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”, which NBC-TV critic Gene Shalit singled out for praise, likening it to the legendary Erich Wolfgang Korngold's scores for the classic swashbucklers of the '30s and '40s. He also scored Brooks' next film “Dracula: Dead & Loving It”. The grand-scale symphonic music for Brooks' two films contrasts sharply with Mann's score for the Donald Sutherland-Amy Irving thriller “Benefit of the Doubt”, and the soaring, charming music for Peter Yates' “Year of the Comet”, which combined orchestral sounds with Scottish ethnic elements. Yates, the director of Bullitt and The Deep, found "a freshness and energy" in Mann's music for “Year of the Comet”.
Mann co-produced the Marc Shaiman scores for such hits as “Sleepless in Seattle”, “A Few Good Men” and “Mr. Saturday Night”, and both orchestrated and conducted the Shaiman scores for “City Slickers” and “The Addams Family”. His orchestrations can also heard in such films as “Speechless”, “Addams Family Values”, “Misery”, “Sister Act”, “Dying Young”, and “For the Boys” and he co-arranged the song “Places That Belong to You“ for Barbra Streisand's best-selling “Prince of Tides” soundtrack album. He also composed the Carl Stalling-style underscore for “Box Office Bunny”, the first theatrical Bugs Bunny cartoon released in 26 years, and millions of moviegoers at AMC Theaters nationwide hear his music for the celluloid character ‘Clyp’ (who appears in the pre-trailer and pre-feature sequences) every day.
Among Mann's most provocative projects have been two series for Showtime: “Picture Windows”, which Norman Jewison executive-produced and which enabled the composer to collaborate with Jewison, Kaplan, Dante and Bob Rafelson; and “Rebel Highway”, a series of drive-in-movie remakes by Kaplan, Friedkin, Milius, Dante, Ralph Bakshi, John McNaughton, Mary Lambert and Uli Edel. Mann also composed the main title theme music for both series.
In television, Mann composed the main title theme and underscore for Rob Reiner's cult series “Morton & Hayes”. He received two Emmy nominations for his arrangements on the popular “Moonlighting” series, and received an Emmy Award for arranging Billy Crystal's opening number for the “1992 Academy Awards” telecast.
In the world of Independent films, Mann scored “Goodnight, Joseph Parker” starring Paul Sorvino, Steve “Aerosmith” Tyler and Debi Mazur and also collaborated with first time director Paul Warner on “Falltime”, starring Mickey Rourke, Stephen Baldwin and Sheryl Lee. That film premiered in competition at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival. Mann has also scored films by two well-known screenwriters making their initial forays into directing. He composed a contemporary jazz-rock score for the coming-of-age story “Sticks & Stones” by Neil Tolkin, and also scored the short film “The Red Coat” for Little Women writer Robin Swicord.
For musical theater, Mann arranged new material for Debbie Reynolds' tour of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”. He created new arrangements for Pia Zadora in the Long Beach Civic Light Opera's production of “Funny Girl”, and has arranged music for several other Southern California stage productions including “Babes in Toyland”, “Kiss Me Kate”, “The Merry Widow” and Cloris Leachman's “Perfectly Frank”.
Born in Montreal, Mann began studying music at the age of seven. He learned to play not only the piano, but also recorder, guitar, clarinet and oboe. He graduated magna cum laude in 1976 from Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music and moved in 1980 to Los Angeles, where he began orchestrating and composing for such top-rated series as “Fame”, “Moonlighting”, “Knots Landing”, “ALF” and “The Simpsons”. In early 1998 Mann was presented with Berklee’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Some of Mann’s more recent releases include the live action/animated feature “Thomas and the Magic Railroad” for director Britt Allcroft starring Alec Baldwin, Peter Fonda and Mara Wilson. The film was the big screen adaptation of the popular children’s television series “Shining Time Station” and also featured Thomas the Tank Engine and all his talking train friends. He also wrote the music for "Wooly Boys” starring Peter Fonda, Kris Kristofferson and Keith Carradine which features a bluegrass flavored score. In addition to composing the score, he collaborated with lyricists Don Black (“To Sir with Love”) and Sue Ennis (“Dog and Butterfly”) in writing songs for the film. Mann also composed the score to “Cyberworld”, the first ever computer-generated, 3-d IMAX film, which opened worldwide as the biggest pre-sold IMAX film of all time. Upcoming projects for Mann include Sinatraland for director Peter Bogdanovich, Mermaids Singing for first time director Robin Swicord (writer of the screenplays for “Matilda” and “Little Women” starring Jessica Lange and Neve Campbell; and Danger Zone starring Daryl Hannah.
Besides his busy composing career, he is also the principal instructor of the Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program, a board member and founding president of the Seattle Composers Alliance and serves as a govenor of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
I caught up with Hummie in Seattle recently to chat over several cups of coffee and ask him some of your questions. Some time ago members of the forum had the opportunity to ask questions for Hummie to answer. Because of time contraints, Hummie was not able to answer all the questions but most of them have been answered.
It is indeed an honor to have Hummie as our guest.
Q. How did you get started in the industry? What led to your big breaks? And most of all, what would you recommend to aspiring composers to focus on as they hone their craft? - Reid Lowery
I started playing instruments when I was four and once I started playing guitar at six, I started writing songs. After high school and one year of electrical engineering at McGill University in Montreal, I switched to studying music at Berklee College of Music in Boston. After graduating I lived in Toronto for several years where I was teaching one day a week and working with a booking/management agency that handled “show bands”. I was doing arrangements for them and working as a “show doctor” helping them with their acts. I then did a stint on the road as the musical director of a comedy act and once I realized that that was not going to take me where I wanted to go, my wife and I moved to LA. My big break came from cold calling folks whose names I had collected while on the road and luckily my timing was good. Although it didn’t happen immediately upon arriving to LA, within a few years I was working full time as an orchestrator and ghost writer on television. I first worked on a show called "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", and then went on to work on “Fame”, “Moonlighting” and “The Simpsons”, as well as some others. After about 7 years of working on television, I started to make my way in to feature film work where I orchestrated and conducted for Marc Shaiman. Through the people I met while working with Marc, I got the chance to score my first big budget film – which was really the Big break - "Year of the Comet.
Q: What would you say is the most important thing for an aspiring composer to remember? -SeanHannifin
Flexibility is probably the most important thing. Film scoring is a collaborative art and you have to be flexible with people you work with. If you’re involved in film scoring you need to be willing to listen to others and to bend.
I certainly think that studying orchestration, particularly of the masters will help you grow. You can never stop learning and you can never know too much. You need to know the classics as well as many different music styles and you must be familiar with new technology. Never stop learning and try to gain from the experience others have.
And one last bit of advice: Only get into this business if you really love the work. Don't get into it for the glamour part. Film scoring is a career where you need to spend a lot of time by yourself. And you must be able to tolerate lots of pressure in a short period of time. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
Q. I really enjoyed your score to “Robin Hood: Men In Tights”. The Marion' song is very beautiful. Can you tell us which actors actually sang their own parts? There seemed be a lot dubbing...was there a reason for that? -esperlad
None of the actors actually sang their own parts. All of the singing was done by professional singers. The woman who played Marian told me right from the start that singing was not one of her strong talents and that she was happy to lip synch to a great singer. We decided that we would use pros throughout because was all dubbing because we wanted the best performances – or certain types of performances - for the film.
Q. Since Mel Brooks is planning to make more musicals from his films, are there any plans to transfer Robin Hood to the stage? If so, will your songs be used? -esperlad
I hope so to both answers.
By the way, there a box set collection of Mel Brooks films coming out in April on DVD.
This will include the first release of Robin Hood Men in Tights on DVD in the US.
Q. Your orchestrations for Marc Shaiman are very impressive. The Addams Family is a favorite score of mine. When I first saw the end credits, I noticed two orchestrators that I was not expecting: Ralph Burns and Steve Bartek. Can you tell us which songs/cues that they scored? I especially want to find information on Ralph Burns since he is no longer with us. ...As an orchestrator, what form was the music in before you scored it? -esperlad
I worked as the conductor and one of the main orchestrators for Addams Family. Mark McKenzie was the other main orchestrator and Steve Bartek did some of the underscoring cues as well. Ralph Burns would have done some of the jazzier cues, but I don’t recall the details.
In working with Marc Shaiman the music showed up as many multiple tracks of midi files. Marc liked to work with lots of tracks and the orchestrators were the ones having to figure out how to translate the score to the orchestra.
Q I really enjoyed your score for YEAR OF THE COMET. I must have played that that CD for several weeks when I first bought it. I hope to see more of your scores on CD. -esperlad
I think that there are a total of 5 or 6 of my scores available on CD. Mostly to be found on collector sites, and e-bay. As far as more scores being released on CD, it’s an issue of cost and the studios usually don’t want to incur the additional expense, so unless one finds a record company willing to take a chance on a score, it doesn’t get released.
Q. Will you release a compilation CD of your scores for the various films that you scored?
There is one compilation out there "Hummie Mann Music for Film" and I would like to do another. I'm glad people are interested and I'm certainly thinking of doing another. If more people request it then it’s something I will do.
Q. What your approach to writing a score is. I mean, do you write sequentially, scene by scene, or do you jump around? - Jonny Lost:
Before I score a film, I spend a significant amount of time creating and working out my themes. I make sure that the themes will be malleable enough to use throughout the score. After my themes are created and approved, I start at the beginning of the film and go straight through to the end. I like to work that way because I feel that that way I can be sure that the score is growing along with the film. For me working that way helps me to control the dramatic arc of the overall score to match the film.
Q. I just wanted to know how much do you let other people be involved in your music (orchestrators, producers, etc.) - Lulu
My sketches are pretty much complete when I write them. Orchestrators may add a few things things to enhance what I'm looking for but many times when there was not enough budget available, the music has been copied directly from my sketches.
Q. As an orchestrator, what form is the music in before you scored it? I.E. was it on two staves like a piano arrangement? -SeanHannifin
Although I am not doing much orchestration work these days, it really depended on the composer. Anything from a 2 line piano arrangement, to a detailed multi line sketch to even just a midi file and a tape – sometimes the midi files are just 2 line piano parts as well.
Q. What notation program do you use to produce your scores, and do you think it's more important to have "engraver quality" output or speed in creating the final cue sheet? - Houston Haynes
Oddly enough, I still work with pencil and paper. After scoring by hand, I then pass it to my assistant to enter into Finale. I do also have Sibelius and Notion on my computer so that I am compatible with all incoming file types. I did a project in Europe recently when I scanned my hand written scores in to PDF files and sent them to the USA to have them notated in Finale. The scores were then rendered and printed for performance by the London Philharmonic. For me, it is still is much easier and quicker to get ideas down with pencil and paper.
Q. Do you sequence, then create the score or do you work by hand at the piano (or a combination of both)? -Jonny Lost
I only work at the sequencer when creating a score that will ultimately be performed by the sequencer – not copied and performed by a live ensemble. Otherwise I work stricktly pencil and paper.
Q. Just how much you have to orchestrate in terms of assigning instruments, distributing the melody, etc. For example, I've heard stories of composers writing pieces with basic harmony, to full blown orchestrations, to them singing a melody to their orchestrator! I guess I’m curious as to how much work is involved on your part to really bring a composers cue to life. - Scott Cairns
When I am composing something I create an 11 line sketch that basically has 98% of the orchestration as I conceive the music orchestrally when I am composing it. After I sketch it it goes to an orchestrator who translates the shorthand I can use to help me move fast (film deadlines can be brutal) and also I have him check for any dumb mistakes – yes, I do mess up on occasion.
There are composers who just give their orchestrators a melody line and chord changes and some instructions (“make it sound like Star Wars”). I feel that gives the orchestrator more of the composer’s job.
Q. How much work do you do each day? -ThomasJ
When I 'm working on a project it's usually 12 - 14 hour days. If I complete 3 finished minutes of music I feel it’s been productive day. I aim for that amount and some days I get more done, some days less. But when I start a project I schedule my time planning on 3 minutes a day – after the themes are completed and approved (which usually takes a few days to a week).
Q. What are your views on technology and scoring? Do things like MusicXML or new features in computer-based notation grab your attention - or do you consider it a distraction -- or even a necessary evil? -Houston Haynes
I think that all of these things are tools and so as long as your priority is the music, then any tools you use are fine. If you start using technology as a crutch and not a tool then you are probably not creating the best music. You still need understand composition, orchestration, etc.
Q: Since there are so many composers out there who are debating the Gigastudio vs. Kontakt issue, I was curious on which, if any, you use and why. While we are at it, what are your favorite sample libs (if any)? -James W.G. Smith
Currently my set up is a Mac G5 dual processor running Digital Performer with multiple plug ins. I use DP as my main sequencer tool connected via midi to a pc which runs Gigastudio. I use Giga as my main sound source because it was the first really powerful software sampler and I own a bunch of libraries for it. Also, I know how to run it and it just works well. I do have to say, though, that this is all changing. As Macs become more and more powerful I'm starting to do more of my work exclusively in my Mac using all the plug ins – including GPO, and all of Gary’s amazing products. My plug ins include GPO, Jazz and Big Band, NI Komplete, Sampletank, Ease-West Gold, Trilogy, Atmosphere, Mach 5. There are still a few libraries/plug-ins I may at some point add, but since I am usually fortunate enough to use live musicians in all my orchestral scores – I can’t see spending the money on some of the really big orchestral sets available.
Personal Orchestra is one of the first places I look for sounds. It’s in my main setup. I often use it as a sketch pad sequencing something for a director that will eventually be recorded with a real orchestra. One of the gifts Gary has given us is to allow people to score quickly and easily. I also use GPO in an educational manner and its an amazing tool for my film scoring students. Also, still to this day the Garritan Orchestral Strings is my main string library for demos and in some of my projects. The other great thing about GPO, is that I have it installed on my laptop!!
Q. If you do compose electronically, what are the programs, software, and libraries that you tend to use? - Jonny Lost
See above. I'm a pencil and paper guy. Most of what I write is for live orchestras so I use libraries to sketch and test out ideas. I rarely use libraries as an orchestral replacement. If I do work on a score that is going to be produced electronically I use DP and Logic.
Q. Do you approach the production of a film cue sheet differently from scores geared toward live performance/recital/publication - Houston Haynes
Writing for live performance vs. studio recording orchestras are different animals. There are things you can take advantage of with a studio orchestra that you cannot with a live environment.
There are things possible in a studio that would not be possible in a live venue. For instance, in a studio you can alter the natural acoustic balances of the instruments. You can create colors by boosting volume levels of various instruments that are playing in registers where they could never balance with other instruments. For instance - low flutes and strings is a very rich sound but wouldn't work in a live situation because you would never hear the bass and alto flutes with the strings. This type of texture is difficult to recreate in a live performance situation and easy to do in a studio.
Q. How is writing for film different than writing for other types of music?
The most basic difference is that in film you are required to have your music follow the dramatic needs and timings of the film, so you do not always have the luxury of 8 bar phrases. The form of the music can be rather weird and the job of the film composer is to make these things sound good and seamless.
I also think that no matter what writing you’re doing, you have to write for the instrumentation that you have at hand. I know that when I am scoring something that’s supposed to sound orchestral and I’m using electronic emulations instruments as opposed to live players, I write differently because I am aware of the limitations of the samples and what things they are capable of doing. Some things that blend great acoustically don’t quite have the same effect when done with samples.
Although there may be musicians that can wallpaper a film with atmosphere, there are fewer who can create truly great music for film. It takes a great deal of knowledge and experience to do this. There are certain very specialized techniques for writing for film.
For instance, you may have heard of the term “getting a Hollywood type sound” and that is all about techniques that orchestrators know and understand. To make things sound bigger comes down to really understanding voicings and how you combine instruments. Triadic music is much more forgiving and a lot of classical music was based on triad voicings which you can’t really mess up too much. With more contemporary film music there are more complex harmonic structures and how you do your voicings is very important to the overall sound.
Q. What is your take on modern technology available to composers? Do you sequence, then create the score or do you work by hand at the piano (or a combination of both)? - Jonny Lost
If I know the score will be performed by live musicians I always work by pencil and paper. If I am working on a score that will be produced electronically and is not an orchestral emulation then I work in a sequencer.
Q. Do you have any thoughts about cues leading or lagging the emotional content on the screen? - JonFairhurst
It depends very much on the individual cue and the “policy" the director wants the music to have in his/her film. I believe a well written score supports the emotions and changes in emotion moment by moment rather than lagging or leading.
Q. How does the established composer/orchestrator deal with stress, expectations, producers who want everything, preferably yesterday? -ThomasJ
At this point I'm just used to it. There are people who are difficult to work with in every field –everyone can find themselves under a lot of stress and so sometimes they become difficult because they are not handling their stress well. I try to see it from where they are standing and not take it personally.
Q. How do you manage your breaks?
Q. Do you feel that at this time in your career that you still have to aggressively pursue work, or does your experience and reputation grant a sufficient pipeline of material in order to stay busy? -Houston Haynes
There is enough of a pipeline to keep me busy, but at this point of my career, because I always want to try and work on higher level projects, I pursue those higher level jobs. The challenge for me is to work on better and higher level projects. Maybe at no point do you reach what you consider is the ultimate level. As an artist I always want to do better.
Q. Do you consider yourself to be an independent/free-lance orchestrator (considering any project that comes to your door), or have you gravitated toward a particular team (or set of teams) for taking on new work? -Houston Haynes
These days I'm not doing much orchestration for other people. So, as a composer, there are people I hire who I consider to be my orchestration team. Composers hire orchestrators based on trust. A composer wants an orchestrator who can get the job done in the right way at a high professional level. When I think about hiring an orchestrator, I always want someone I know I can depend on since the schedules are always tight. But, as I mentioned, at this time I am working almost exclusively as a composer rather than as an orchestrator.
Q. You seem to attach yourself to a core group of film makers. Was this a conscious decision or did your affinity with these people just develop over time. In that respect, do you feel that limiting yourself to working with certain individuals has put a damper on your career at all? - Jonny Lost
The reason a particular composer and filmmaker will work together often is has much to do that with the fact that they share a common vision about film and also work well together. Once you find someone who is your match you tend to stick with that person.
Q. Have you ever been called in to "orchestrate" at the last minute - only to find out that you're really there to doctor the score? How did you handle that - I'm curious about how you might have dealt with creative issues as well as the political side -whether there's been any fallout from the original composer hearing wholesale changes in their work? Have you ever rejected an orchestration assignment because the producers were really looking for a whole new score? -Houston Haynes
There are always last minute situations in Hollywood. It's so unpredictable. Some of these situations happen to friends of mine who are active orchestrators.
Q: What was your worst experience when playing a cue for a director, or if you prefer, what was the best? -James W.G. Smith
My worse experience...let me think. I was working with a director who was very nonverbal. When I sent him my first theme demo and he wasn't too happy. He said he was not going to talk to me because it was obvious I was not listening. Instead he decided that all future communications with me would be done by email so that there was a written record of what he wanted and there would be no room for misunderstanding. This was a pretty unusual reaction and it really caught me off guard. The happy ending is that I composed a second theme that the director loved. At the end of the day, I was able to make him happy – that is what mattered.
My best experience was working on a script where the music was an important key character (“Language of the Heart”) and I got to write almost a mini-violin concerto. [Editors note - Hummie won an Emmy award for this score]
Q. Many of us know that there are some production companies that try to take some or all of our performing rights royalties, and compensation for new composers is getting to be less and less (sometimes nothing at all). What are your thoughts on these issues and do you have any advice for composers dealing with these problems? -James W.G. Smith
The bottom line is that you should never give up your performing rights. Once you establish yourself as the guy who gives up his rights the word gets around in the industry. It is a small world and once you are labeled as the person willing to give up his/her royalties – it will be hard to go back on that. It is a small world and potential employers can and will find out what you've been paid and what kinds of deals you have made in the past. Once that information is known other employers will try to take advantage of having that knowledge. My royalties make up a significant part of my income because I didn't give up my performance rights.
Q: Do you think that film/TV composers often get bored or frustrated with only being allowed to write music that is accessible to the general masses? Basically, what I'm asking is this: Since film/TV music is generally heard by everyone, do composers often get frustrated with the fact that in order to be successful, they can only write "safe", "cliché", or "uninteresting" music because that is the only thing that is going to please the general audience? -Craig Reeves
Firstly, I think that a lot of mainstream film and television has to be accessible in order to survive. This does not mean that it necessarily bad, on the contrary, there are a lot of great accessible projects out there. That being said, I think that a good film composer is going to write the appropriate music for the particular project that he/she is working on. Cutting-edge scores require cutting edge films. If you compose a cutting-edge score for non cutting edge film, it may result in the composer just looking like he/she is showing off. One needs to write appropriately for the project one is working on. In response, I would say that the more cutting edge projects that there being made, the more composers will be at liberty to find a new voice.
Q: With all the software out there for composers now that allows them to hear what their music might sound like played live, have you found your orchestration projects to be a bit more limited than what they used to be? -James W.G. Smith
It’s an interesting question. It is a myth to think that what you write for your electronic instruments can just translate to a live orchestra. I’ve had to correct things on the podium where it was apparent that the writer did it electronically and didn’t understand how to translate it to an orchestra. Some don't understand there's a big difference. There’s a great book by Sonny Kompanek called "From Score to Screen" that has a chapter dealing just with this. Sampled sounds, although they can give a rough approximation of what the music will sound like, misses the mark on many of the subtle things. For instance, if you play an oboe and a clarinet in the same room it will sound different if you record them separately and combine them later. Yet sample libraries always record them separately as it's really not possible to sample every instrument combination, and even if you did, no two players would play the same note the same way every time. When I do mockups, sometimes I have to tweak the emulation to make its sound more like what I think the real thing would sound like.
Q. Tell us about your film scoring classes. Where are they given? - Melody
I've been teaching film scoring for seven years now. I think it’s important to pass on to people the art of film composition. Writing a film score is more that sitting on a keyboards and noodling out tunes. There's a lot to it. The music has to flow with the film. There is a lot of techniques and technology that one can learn to really do a film score properly. My definition of a great film score is great music that works with the film. All the technical issues (weird phrase lengths, etc.) should be completely transparent to the listener. It should just be great music that fits perfectly to the film.
Q. What projects are you involved with now?
I can't discuss upcoming film projects. But currently I am working in musical theatre a fair bit - I adapted and composed a new children’s musical based on the story and themes from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. That show played over 100 performances during it’s initial run in Seattle (sold out for the last 3 weeks) and is scheduled to be performed at other theatres across the county. I'm also developing a Master's degree program in Film Scoring for Napier university in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Q. Can you write a book please? -Scott Cairns
Already working on it.
Q: -What is your favorite Cookies? -James W.G. Smith
My first answer to this was Oreo’s and then I realized that I am unable to get my favorite cookie in the US. I grew up in Canada and love Dad’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies – YUM!!
Hummie being Interviewed