October 20, 2010 | By

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Although Elia Cmiral continues to score a diverse mix of films – his recent work include Bluebeard for director Kevin Connor, and While the Children Sleep for Russell Mulcahy – the composer has been very busy writing distinctive, chilling music for several horror films.

Alongside career highpoints such as Wrong Turn and Stigmata, Cmiral adds two new potent fusions of orchestral and hard rock sounds for a pair of shockers picked up and distributed as part of the After Dark Horrorfest series, which tours theatrically before making its way onto home video.



Mark R. Hasan: Dario Piana (The Deaths of Ian Stone) comes from a very different background compared to Mark Young (Tooth & Nail), and with Dario’s film, I wonder if you find there’s specific stylistic preferences towards a score when you’re working with a European director.

Elia Cmiral: Since I’m European myself, I found it very easy to work with Dario…We have very similar historic backgrounds – he’s Italian and I’m Czech – and music is so well connected in Europe. Dario is also himself a musician (he played rock guitar), so he was very easy [to work with]… He was very supportive as well as Brian Gilbert, the producer with whom I work on Wrong Turn.

MRH: And I guess in the case of Tooth & Nail, Mark Young was a much younger director, because this is his third film.

EC: He did a couple of movies in North Carolina , but this was his first big movie. I had to show him how I work… but he was very supportive, very enthusiastic, and extremely well prepared. I think he was one of the few directors who came with pages and pages of verbal descriptions of the score. He already had a structure of the score – what kind of themes, what kind of music he expects for certain groups of themes – and my job was to fill all these requests with notes.

MRH: That’s unusual for a new director, but I guess because of technology you have directors that have done their own scores for their early films, whether it’s a feature length or short film, and I guess the technology’s makes it easier for them to simply draw from sound samples and compile the score, but when it comes to dealing with an established composer, it’s a very different relationship, not just because you’re dealing with another person, but with someone from a totally different and specialized professional background.

EC: What’s interesting with both directors – Dario and Mark – is they didn’t use any temp track. There was no music at all. You just mentioned that nowadays directors can manipulate sound, they can go to different libraries, and they can relatively successfully score the movie themselves, but a written score tailored directly for a movie is a different thing, and neither of these movies had temp tracks to show me where to go

MRH: I guess that must have been refreshing for you… There were no music references. It was basically a discussion of ideas and concepts, and then you were allowed to go and create your own work.

EC: Right.

MRH: I guess what temp tracks allow directors to do is, if they’re unable to articulate specific emotions, even in a musical way, they can say ‘Here’s a piece of music I like,’ and I guess that allows you to ask ‘Okay. What qualities of this cue appeal to you,’ which, for example, helps you understand whether a director likes strings, or long melodies, etc.

EC: Exactly. It’s very helpful. I did one project this year with a friend of mine. He’s a music editor and was temping the whole movie. [Because] he spent so much time with the director, when the time came and I started work on the movie, he could tell me all the details of why the director liked this piece of music, why the producers didn’t like this piece of music… so he was laying out everything so easily for me.

MRH: For the two films you scored for the After Dark Horrorfest, were they offered to you simultaneously, or did one sort of happen to follow the other?

ECThe Deaths of Ian Stone I did at the beginning of this year… and Tooth & Nail I finished just before the festival, so they were not connected at all.

MRH: Even though some films in the After Dark series weren’t specifically made for the festival, they had modest budgets, and I wonder if it’s sometimes difficult to meet a director’s demands, or has technology helped augment a score that’s supposed to have a large scope within tight budgetary confines?

EC: Well, yes and no. I would say technology definitely gives me more tools, but I wouldn’t say technology makes it easier; I think it slows the process down because I think it’s much easier to write for the orchestra, knowing that I have a small amount of electronica, rather then the other way around.

MRH: You raise an interesting point. Because of your experience in writing for orchestra, you’ve a better idea of how things will sound; it’s very instinctive: you write it, you group the instruments, you rehearse the musicians, and you record it. With electronics, it seems to require a lot of searching and finding and testing and refining, and you keep fiddling around until you get something that sounds close.

EC: That’s absolutely correct. When I’m writing, I’m writing directly to computer using my orchestra samples to imitate the orchestra sounds, so in the end, I’m basically close as to how it’s going to sound with an orchestra. Even if I can hear it in my head, for the purpose of demo-ing for producers and for the director… I can present pretty close to the orchestra’s sound, so they have an idea how it will be.

With electronica, you’re fiddling and fiddling and changing and processing and editing, and it takes forever to get something original. I’m either developing completely original sounds, or if it’s existing in a library I heavily process the sounds – mangle them beyond recognition.

MRH: Directors tend to spend months editing and refining their films, and when they’re at the mixing stage and they get to watch their film with original music for the first time, their movie suddenly comes to life again.

EC: In my experience, all directors are really surprised and thankful for what I brought – the emotional part of the movie …Even after it was previewed and demoed so many times in my studio together with picture, when they see it mixed on the stage with a real orchestra, they say ‘Wow, that’s fantastic,’ and of course that’s part of my reward: to see my work supporting the movie and the director’s ideas.



For more information on the After Dark Horrorfest, click HERE.

The soundtrack for Tooth & Nail is available online and on CD from Lakeshore Records


Additional interviews with Elia Cmiral include his work on Habermann & Forget Me Not, and Pulse.

All images remain the property of their copyright holders.

This interview © 2007 by Mark R. Hasan


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