ELIA CMIRAL (2009)

October 20, 2010 | By

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Elia Cmiral’s latest work includes music for the indie horror film Forget Me Not (2009), directed by newcomer Tyler Oliver, as well as the historical film Habermann (2010), directed by veteran filmmaker Juraj Herz, the latter addressing the conflicts between Germans and Czechs in the Sudetendland border region during WWII.

The variety of subject matter among these films is a clear indication of Cmiral’s gift for scoring any genre, be it an arresting, aggressive thriller, or an historical work dramatizing anti-Semitism, furious nationalism, and brutal revenge.

Forget Me Not recently screened at Screamfest: the Los Angeles International Horror Film Festival in late October, and Habermann will receive a release in 2010, beginning in Europe (and hopefully making its way to North American soon afterwards).

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Mark R. Hasan: One of the flaws in a teen horror film is the disposable nature of the characters, and I wonder if there are specific tools that you used to deepen characters in Forget Me Not (2009)?

Elia Cmiral: Not really. I mean, every movie is different, and every score is different. I tried to find a new way to approach it, to understand it, so I don’t think, for me at least there is some recipe. This movie is actually interesting because it kind of goes backwards in the story, so I liked the whole plot of the movie.

MRH:  I guess there are specific relationships we have with certain instruments, because as a composer you can convey fear in all kinds of ways. Solo piano, keyboards, or guitar, for example, are reliable in conveying intimacy, vulnerabilities, etc. Why do you think those instruments affect us so strongly?

EC: I wish I knew, but you know the piano is a great melodic instrument. I think the piano works a lot with intimate themes because it might have very tiny sounds – you might have one single melody – and it can stay in the minds of an audience. It’s easy to play, easy to remember, easy under the dialogue. I think there is some explanation, but….
I just used whatever instrument I think is right for the movie and for the scene.

MRH: What’s unique about the piano (even the keyboard) is that it’s the kind of instrument where you’ve got the quality of the player that can affect the way the notes come out, and there’s also just the instrument itself which is incredibly flexible.

EC: Exactly. I think it’s very important to the mind… The sound of a piano is relatively short; you can create an emotional touch without staying too long. With flutes and woodwinds, the notes stay too long.

MRH: The piano then is economical in the way it delivers those sounds.

EC: Right.

MRH: Something has happened in the past 20-30 years where we now accept and enjoy treated sound effects in music and scores as though they’re another group of instruments. Years ago, in rock, rap or electronica, for example, using record surface noise was a novel sound ingredient, but it’s gone far broader today, and I wonder if you have any thoughts on why what used to be experimental music or what used to be classified as music concrete are now acceptable ingredients in popular music?

EC: I think there are many aspects and ways to deal with this subject… All the libraries meant for composers are accessible to sound designers, and visa versa, and I think in many soundtracks we’re actually using both, and it’s very difficult to say what part of the score was sound design, and which one was score.

MRH: I’ve noticed that we’ve become more accepting of this marriage in any genre. If it’s a dramatic score, let’s say a simple character study, and you as a composer feel that you’d like to hear primal animal sounds, you can treat them in such a way that it’s like adding another layer of strings.

EC: Right, as part of the score. I do it many times. I used in the score for Tooth and Nail (2007) a lot of metallic sounds with animals – sound of mice, ax, metallic sounds that I recorded myself.

MRH: I wonder if we could talk a bit about surround sound. Since everything is at least in Dolby Digital 5.1, do you think of a specific sound scheme when your composing, or do you wait after you’ve written the themes and dramatic skeleton, and then start deciding how, if at all, to sonically broaden your score?

EC:  That’s an interesting question. I know some of my colleagues have been working in a studio with a 5.1 setup. In my studio I use stereo and a subwoofer. For me it doesn’t really matter… I don’t want to be bothered with technical aspects.

MRH: I guess the benefit is that what you’re writing has a kind of purity, and when you’re at the mixing stage with sounds playing against picture, you can then see whether or not it works, and you have the option of changing the directions of certain instruments and effects.

EC: The mixer and sound designer move things around anyways. I don’t spend extra time knowing it’s going to be changed or enhanced or mixed… I rather concentrate on delivering a high quality score than thinking about left or right or back [panning effects].

MRH: Your latest project is an historical war film called Habermann (2010), and I wonder if you could describe your score, since it’s probably quite different from your horror scores?

EC: Yes, we just finished mixing today. I had almost a seventy-piece orchestra and two soloists (violin and cello). It’s very traditional. Very little electronics; maybe two, three or four drones, that’s it; there’s no sound design in the score.

MRH: Because the story takes place between 1938-1945, did you have to do any research for folk music, the orchestral style of the era, or perhaps mimic some kind of propaganda music?

EC: Not really. I’m European, and I’m well familiar with the music from this era, [as well as] before and after. Melodically and thematically it was not really difficult for me because with Czechs and Germans, we traded both food culture and music culture.

There is a piece [for the sequence] when Czechoslovakia is invaded by Germans in 1938-1939. Instead of using original German marching bands, I kind of wrote music in that direction. I had to listen to a couple of pieces on the internet, and how they used flutes and piccolos and drums.

MRH: I’ve seen some of the Nazi propaganda films, and the music is quite different from what you hear today; there were specific sounds the Nazi regime liked, as well a bizarre obsession with marching music.

EC: Right. There were a lot of choirs; usually songs sung by mixed choir.

MRH: Had you worked with director Juraj Herz before?

EC: No, this was the first time. He was one of my childhood heroes. He’s a 75 or 76 year old director, so it was very interesting for me to work with a different generation director.

I know his movies, so for me it was really an honor to work with him, especially on this movie. His life is also very rich because he was interned in a concentration camp for his experience with Germany; after 1958, he wasn’t allowed to work [because of the communists] in Czechoslovakia.

MRH: Is the film autobiographical from his side?

EC: No, not at all. It’s based actually on two stories. Just shortly when the German army moved out in 1945, there were a lot of settlers on the border between Czechoslovakia and Germany, and the bank of land which [the Sudetenland] was always mixed Czechs and Germans, [including] mixed marriages. When the Germans moved out, Czechs took revenge on the settlers and beat them; many people disappeared, they were actually chased out from their houses, and Czechs confiscated property.

The Czechs [in the film] are not turning out so nice. I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how people in the Czech Republic react to this part. As a matter of fact, because it’s based on a true story, descendents of the people from the town where this tragic thing happened came out to the media when the director started to shoot the movie, and in Prague, one asked my mom, ‘I hear your son will shoot a movie based on lies.’ So they’re already reactions.

MRH: I guess this film must be one of the first to address the conflicts between Germans and Czechs during that lengthy period.

EC: Exactly. I don’t remember any movie that touched this. It’s very dark. Who wants to hear about it?

MRH: Essentially it’s a statement on an historical event that probably very few people know about, certainly outside of Europe, so it’s definitely a worthwhile endeavor.

EC: Absolutely. I was very excited about the project when I heard about it, when I read about it, and when I got the offer from the producer I was like ‘Yeah! A drama on this kind of subject? Absolutely!

MRH: Will there be score albums for Forget me Not and Habermann?

EC: I definitely hope so. Habermann is going to be mixed in the end of December, but the score is going to be ready in two weeks.

MRH: Hopefully Habermann will get a Canadian and American release. I think Werner Herzog’s company is involved in the production (it’s listed as one of the four participating companies).

EC: I know that it’s a German-Czech co-production. I hope it will be released here in the U.S. and Canada. It’s an interesting art movie and WWII drama, and I think it’s really, really well done

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KQEK.com would like to thank Elia Cmiral for speaking about his latest film scores, and Kate Mayer at Costa Communication for facilitating this interview.

For more information on Habermann, click HERE.

For further infomation on Forget Me Not, click HERE.

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Prior interviews with Elia Cmiral include his work on The Deaths of Ian Stone & Tooth and Nail, and Pulse.

All images remain the property of their copyright holders.

This interview © 2009 by Mark R. Hasan

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