Michael Wandmacher has been a longtime fan of the horror and comic book genres. When asked about the score for My Bloody Valentine 3-D, he says, “It's about as big and brazen as a horror score can get. No mercy.” Michael Wandmacher began his musical career as a commercial composer in Minneapolis. Since his move to Los Angeles in 1998, he has lent his talent to a diverse range of projects, including feature films, TV series and videogames. His film credits include Train, Never Back Down, The Killing Floor and Cry Wolf. In addition, he scored the videogames Over the Hedge and Madagascar. Wandmacher also records, produces and remixes electronic music under the name Khursor and wrote and mixed music for Kelly Clarkson for the film From Justin to Kelly. He most recently wrote the score for Punisher: War Zone. ScoreTrack's Viviana Ferreira had this nice chat with Michael. Hope you'll enjoy it!
Viviana Ferreira - Hello Michael, first I would like to say it is a pleasure to be interviewing you. Well, I will start with the beginning: when did you discover you wanted to be a composer?
Michael Wandmacher - Thanks! Glad to be here. I guess my real interest in composing spawned from songwriting. Prior to composing music full-time I had spent many years playing and singing in a variety of pop, rock and metal bands. The shift to composing happened during college when I started to write music for small infomercials and industrial videos and found that I enjoyed the work. It also was a way to get paid for writing music! That was a big incentive after years of struggling in various groups and as a singer/songwriter. My interest in soundtracks and scores goes back much farther, though. My home life as a child wasn’t musically rich, so I got a lot of my musical influences early on from what I heard in TV shows and movies. I also listened to a lot of radio drama like “The Shadow”. Even while I was pursing the “rock star” thing, I still managed to continue collecting soundtracks and scores.
VF - In 2001 you created music for 'The Hire: Ambush' by John Frankenheimer. What was it like working with this great director in his latest movie?
MW - That was an interesting situation because I was part of a team of composers hired by the ad agency producing the entire “The Hire” campaign for BMW. Upon submitting demos along with every other composer involved, the agency and music house I was contracting for decided that the “Ambush” spots were the best fit for me. While I’ve always been a huge fan of Frankenheimer’s films and have met him since, during that particular project I was actually working with direction from the ad agency. It’s very common in commercial and even series television to never get actual face time with the director. That experience is still reserved very much for film work. It the TV and ad world directors are sub-contractors for hire much like everyone else involved with the production.
VF - The score of 'Cry Wolf' is extremely intelligent ... how were you inspired to create it?
MW - Thanks. Jeff Wadlow, the director, had a very clear idea about wanting the score to be focused on the internal workings of the characters: what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling, the emotional context of any given scene…not so much on external circumstances. This led to creating a score with subdued rhythms, pulses and clear, recognizable melodies. It was as if the music was a representation of a character’s state of being at any given time, be it scared, tense, sad, under duress, etc. Many people have described the score as unsettling, claustrophobic and even a little sexy. Those are accurate words because they highlight the flirtatious/dangerous relationship between the two main characters as well as ramping up the panic and dread that Owen, the protagonist, is feeling as the story progresses. It was a very challenging and fun score to do.
VF - Tell us about his recent score for 'Punisher: War Zone'...
MW - First, I have to clarify that I am a lifelong fan of The Punisher, for real, so this job was very important to me to get right. I knew it had to be symphonic in nature and had to clearly express both sides of the Frank Castle/Punisher character, one being the amoral vigilante “hero” and the other being the deeply tormented father mourning the loss of his family. It also needed an iconic theme. I set out to come up with something that, depending on how it was voiced and orchestrated, could cover ground as both a strong, forceful musical statement and also flow seamlessly into quieter, more poignant moments. I reserved a very dissonant, disturbed palette for screen time featuring The Punisher’s enemies, Jigsaw and Looney Bin Jim, both of whom are completely insane and ruthless.
VF - Michael, in the world of scores who are your favorite composers? And what are your favorite scores?
MW - This is very tough question to answer because I’ve listened to a lot of score music in my life and what I’m drawn to has changed as my life and approach to composing has changed. I love old school scores by Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrmann, Max Steiner, Dominic Frontiere, John Barry, and so many others. My biggest influences, though, have been Danny Elfman, Alan Silvestri, and James Newton Howard. "Edward Scissorhands" is still probably my favorite score to just sit and listen to. I get lost in those melodies. It is a masterwork. As for contemporary composers, I think John Powell is bloody brilliant. I also find myself listening to Marco Beltrami and Clint Mansell a lot. It’s pretty wide open as far as I’m concerned. Heck, I was listening to Debney’s "Elf" today. That’s a fun bunch of cues! I like hybrid scores, too. Well-programmed samples and electronics are as fascinating to me as well-written orchestral music.
VF - I love the instrument I play - violin. What is your favorite musical instrument?
MW - That’s a tough one because there are so many contextual variables involved. I’ve played guitar for 30 years so I have a soft spot for that, but I especially love primitive or very traditional instruments in any culture. For example, I find the sound of the Chinese erhu to be fascinating and beautiful. Played well, it sounds like a human voice. Finding instruments like that is part of the fun of the job! I did a score last year where I used hurdy gurdy quite a bit. That is a truly interesting and very mechanical sort of instrument.
VF - You've had worked on the 'Madagascar' and 'Over the Hedge' videogames scores. How did you develop the tracks for videogames?
MW - In my case, it’s a little different than most game composers because I’ve only worked on what are called “ports” within the industry. These are games that are direct tie-ins to a movie or TV property. Often, their development schedules are similar to a film in that they may last around 18 months. I usually come in about the time the game is going to “Alpha”, which is basically the first playable rendering of the game. Much of it is unfinished, but I’m given direction to come up with loops of music for specific levels or objectives in the game. These requests come in spurts so I could be working furiously for a week and then have nothing to do for a couple weeks while they implement and test the music in the game. The trick is coming up with short pieces of music that augment the vibe and pace of the game without getting too distracting or annoying. It’s a fine line to walk because you want to write memorable motifs and melodies, but at the same time, in a game, hearing that same melody over and over and over could drive a player nuts. Whereas in a film, a great melody or motif could drive an entire score, in a game it may actually be an obstacle to getting the best final product. So, there’s a lot of trial and error (and game playing!) that takes place that you wouldn’t normally engage in on a movie score.
VF - Following 'Punisher: War Zone' your next project is the score for 'My Bloody Valentine 3-D', a remake of the '80s cult slasher. What can you tell us about it?
MW - I would describe MBV3D as a classic horror score on steroids. It’s big, aggressive, relentless and a lot of fun! Plus, I was able to build in some principal themes that reappear in different guises throughout the movie. I intended that score to be a hybrid of orchestra, extensively designed samples and rock and roll from the start. It was tremendous fun to do. We didn’t want to break new ground with the approach as much as we wanted to throttle up the entertainment value of the movie. The whole piece very much harkens back to classic straight-ahead slasher films of the early '80s.
VF - Michael your film scores are more suspense, horror and action related. Would you like to explore other fields like comedy or romance?
MW - Absolutely! I’ve done some comedies and the work can be a lot of fun, getting to write really vibrant, lyrical music. A serious drama that begs for a strong thematic and sweeping score would also be a wonderful challenge. I like good stories in any realm, so the opportunity to provide music for a project, regardless of genre, is something I look forward to.
VF - Well Michael, thanks for your availability. We wish you a lot of success in the future.
MW - Thank you very much!
Special thanks to Michael Wandmacher and Liz Ferraris for make this interview possible.