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Interview with Ryan Amon

INTERVIEW WITH RYAN AMON A few days ago I had the incredible opportunity to get in touch with the very talented and promising American composer: Ryan Amon, who is mostly known for his score for the sci-fi spectacle Elysium, casting Jodie Foster and Matt Damon. For the gamers among us, he also wrote the music for Bloodborne and Assassin’s Creed Unity. He also composed some concert works in neo-classical style, like Immortality, Consciousness, Pandora and The Sketchbook. After having a introduced myself briefly, Ryan Amon agreed to have an interview with me for

Mr. Amon, first of all thank you for your time. My first question to you is: What do you prefer to do? Scoring movies or writing neo-classical music like you already did on albums like Pandora, Immortality or The Sketchbook?

I definitely prefer scoring movies, as I’m probably a movie fan first and then a music fan second. The emotional impact of a film score and getting to be part of something much bigger than the music itself is very rewarding. When I write music to serve itself, I feel it is more of a therapy or journal, if you will. This is also important for me. I feel sometimes it can be a bit selfish though. There aren’t any restrictions on writing personal music, which can be very liberating, but being able to serve the vision of a director and team of artists brings a lot of fulfillment, and at this stage of my life I enjoy it a bit more despite the relational “difficulties” and political nature of filmmaking. I hope my rambling makes some kind of sense!

No worries, it absolutely makes sense. Athough some composers prefer having the freedom to write music as they feel to, with no restrictions like you say. On the other hand, a composer can also feel too restricted and can get frustrated. A great collaboration is when both get along well and stimulate each other positively to push boundaries and getting out the best of each other.

So, knowing you prefer scoring movies… What kind of movie do you love to write for? I mean, which genre. Horror, drama, fantasy, sci-fi… And do you have a favourite director you may already have worked with of definitely want to work with in the future?

My favorite movies tend to be period dramas, Braveheart, Dances with Wolves, Cinderella Man, The Last of the Mohicans, The Mission, The Lord of the Rings (I guess that would be fantasy too). I miss the epic landscapes of some of these films and how it is romanticized. Although I do love The Matrix as well, so sometimes sci-fi works its way in there if it is really thought-provoking. Jurassic Park is probably my alltime favorite film (I consider that a sci-fi). Horror is an area I don’t have a huge interest in, because I just can’t see those images. The Exorcist messed me up for life. I would really enjoy an epic fantasy movie because it gives you a huge canvas of colors to write with and you can romanticize the music. I think I just want to write melodies and keep bringing the orchestra back. I miss the sound of sweeping orchestral themes in films, and the kinds of films that beg for them.

As far as directors go, I think I would really enjoy working with James Cameron because of how much he loves to immerse the audience in the worlds he creates. And music plays a huge part in his films – it doesn’t sit in the background. I think Ron Howard has made some wonderful films as well – I would enjoy a collaboration with him. Mel Gibson – his films are really painted with emotion as well and I always thought that if I was a director I would be closest to his style in how I approached the material. And I would love to work with Michael Mann again. His sensibilities are matched by his knowledge of the medium – every aspect of it. He is one of the smartest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

It is indeed a fact that themes in film music become very rare these days and if there are some, they are not as elaborated as back in the old days. The movies themselves are very different in style too. In the past it wasn’t uncommon to have the composer involved from the very beginning. Now it’s mostly the other way around. The composer gets an almost inhumane deadline. There are few esceptions like for example that famous story about the Nolan/Zimmer collaboration on Interstellar.

Do you think it’s a way to go for making a better movie? Would it help the creativity or give the music that something special that some people are missing now? Or is a short deadline not a problem but a blessing? Is it maybe better to stay with the very first ideas you get?

Yes, there a quite a few directors now who are taking what I call the “suite” approach, where the composer will write ideas before they see the film in a long suite, with many ideas before they see the film in a long suite, with many ideas and maybe a few themes. The director, editor, and music editor then cut and paste and try parts of the music in different scenes to see how effective it is. I personally think that this is a very difficult way to get a film score that has a story arc and helps to tell you what is not already being shown on screen. A lot of more current film music is placed in a scene as filler. Morricone always approached the music with great intent. It should say something important to the story. Of course, as you have mentioned, it is often the newer films are going for a different style and aesthetic – almost an ultra-realism that is void of romanticism. I happen to like films that make me feel like a kid again – that magical element, which music plays a massive part in. Maybe in the future it will shift again and society will need a bit of that childhood wonder an magic again. Short deadlines can be a problem, although some composers write out ideas very quickly. It is the process of the constant picture editing that takes all the time up now, as the scen an timings change from day to day up until the very last minute. It seems very rare that a composer will get a locked picture the can write to. Also, a problem has become the mockups. In my opinion, too much time is spent on trying to produce or posich the idea or mock phase, and besides wasting time, it also puts th focus on the trees instead of the forest. A short deadline can help a composer go with their gut feelings, which usually brings out the most honest work. When I have too much time, I have way too many ideas floating qaroun competing for my attention, and I lose the instinct a bit. It does help to have time to work a melody out though, as that is a very important element that will really bug me down the road if I don’t get it right (in my own mind). Sometimes having time to experiment leads to great things too, so it really depends on what type of film it is I think (sci-fi films might benefit more from greater experimentation). I do belive what is missing in a lot of film music is the soul of it – which I guess is the search for the “truth” of the film.

How would you feel if a director would ask you to collaborate with another fellow composer? And if you could chose, who would it be?

To be honest, it’s a bit tricky for me. I was actually asked to do this not too long ago, and as composers (there were 3 of us) we had completely different styles, opinions of what the music should be, and ways of storytelling. Writing music is such a personal thing for me – I often relate the process of it as writing in a journal. If I could choose a collaborator though, I think it would someone who “finishes my sentences”, or I finish theirs. Where we are simply on the same wavelength. This is probably hard to fing. It would have been an honor to collaborate with James Horner, as I might connect with his music the most. Also collaborating with Thomas Newman would be fun – the experimentation that still remains timeless.

Nice choices!

Final question now: Where do you see yourself in the near future? What is your absolute dream come true, your achievement?

Hm, I used to think of where I wanted to be in a certain number of years but I’ve let all of that go lately and just try to enjoy each day as it comes and be in the moment. I feel so blessed to have such a great family and time to spend with them, that I wouldn’t want to overload myself with many projects at the same time. I think my musical dream to be proud of a score that I’ve done, feeling like it is something I personally would want to listen to over and over again, and also in a concert setting. I think a score like this would most likely come from an epic drama. If I was able to be part of a wonderful classic epic, I would feel very fulfilled. Something like The Lord of the Rings trilogy comes to mind – it would be a monumental personal achievement, simply because these types of movies are dear to my heart – their message transcends generations and they have universal themes that bring out something very deep within us. As far as music goes, it is always nice to hear when other people like my music and are moved by it, but I’m really only happy if I like my own music, objectively. My absolute ultimate achievement in my life though, would be learning how to truly love and serve people – to soak up all life offers. To see my children grow up to do wonderful and powerful things that can change the world for good. That would be my dream come true.

Wise words and once more thank you so much for your time and kindness. It was a pleasure to have talked to you. I wish you the best of luck with your career and life.