October 20, 2010 | By

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Nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series for his work in 2005-2006 on the cult show Supernatural, Christopher Lennertz may be the perfect example of the hard-working composer and talent many film music fans may not be familiar with, because so little of his work exists on CD.

Aside from Saint Sinner – his best-known work, and a perfect calling card sampler for any composer – little else has been commercially released, although that may change as the first season of Supernatural is slated for a September 5th release on DVD from Warner Home Video.

There was a period when, to paraphrase Elmer Bernstein, ‘the town was littered with people that could really write music,’ and while he was expressing regret at the paucity of skilled composition in 2000, his personal involvement in university film scoring programs helped foster a work-styled education in which young composers could learn their craft with hands-on experience.

That’s what helped transform aspiring composers into working professionals, and develop their ability to craft beautifully orchestrated music with fine nuances for a market that’s no longer restricted to feature films and TV.

While our interview focuses on specific projects, those interested in Lennertz’ work should check out his work in the video game realm, as his scores have fully developed dramatic and action cues, written for large orchestra in a diversity of styles.

Gun (for Xbox) is perhaps the best score never written for a feature film, and Lennertz’ comfortably moves between massive percussive action cues to refreshing western-styled mood pieces for the game’s characters. This is elegant, grand writing that belongs to a solidly crafted, big-budget western, and some of the colourful instruments – slide guitar and rustic violin – get their own complete cues, giving the overall score an extraordinary emotional depth.

Just as fun is the buoyant action music in From Russia With Love (PS2), which smoothly integrates the 007 theme with FRWL’s title song into various cues, and starts the game with a great instrumental rendition that’s more than faithful to a vintage sixties spy flick, with lots of jazzy brass and smooth, flowing strings.

Like Michael Giacchino, Lennertz also scored entries in the Medal of Honor Series. Pacific Assault (PC) offers a nice mixture of regal themes, subdued suspense music, while Rising Sun(PS2) has an amusing evocation of Jerry Goldsmith’s famous Patton triplets. The action cues are bereft of the bombast typical of the genre, and while some tracks are designed for extended play during a game sequence, Lennertz’ writing shifts between various instrumentation, so it rarely sounds like the same series of bars repeated ad infinitum.

Supernatural has its own distinct tone, with delicate moments of emotional sadness, sudden bursts of sharp orchestral nastiness, and lots of creepy underscore where Lennertz plays with ambiences, percussive textures, and fuses electronic and traditional instruments into some creepy and surprisingly tender cues.



Mark R. Hasan : I understand you went to film school to study scoring.

Christopher Lennertz : I went to USC, and I went to Southern Cal, and graduated in ’94. I studied with Elmer Bernstein – I’m sure you know who he is – and with Christopher Young, who’s another big dark horror guy. I studied conducting, orchestration, and then composition at USC for four years, and then film scoring. I met Eric Kripke, the creator of Supernatural, when I began working on student films.

MRH : Some major names and veteran composers have assisted either as mentors or as full time professors in film schools. Are their contributions mostly philosophical – theoretical discussions and such – or do they actually get into the fine details and practical aspects of orchestrating and composition?

CL : They actually get into the finer details…. What you usually have to do is to re-score scenes to movies the professors have actually done; you re-score a scene from Hellraiser or Age of Innocence or something like that, and then they’ll give you some directions and you’ll score it. They’ll give you some comments and critique, and you slowly move along in that direction; that’s how we did it when I was there in the course.

MRH : And was Saint Sinner your biggest break at the time?

CL : It seemed like it at the time. I think it was, because of [Clive Barker’s] involvement; it got a lot of response because he has such a loyal following.

MRH : And what brought you to the project? On the DVD’s commentary track, the director described the music as being deliberately melodic, and I was really surprise at how rich the orchestrations were, how dense the writing was, and how it’s basically a lush, sophisticated score that’s rather atypical for the genre.

CL : I had worked with the director before – Joshua Butler, who also went to USC – and we had done a movie previous to that called Beer Money, which was actually a comedy, but we scored the comedy very much as over the top orchestral – the way that Elmer Bernstein would have done it.

Josh and I got along really well, and when he got the opportunity to do Clive’s movie, he called Clive and said he wanted to use me. I sent Clive a bunch of material that I had done, and then he apparently got a good recommendation from Chris Young, who had scored Hellraiser 1 and 2 for Clive… and at that point I got the job.

Clive went above and beyond the call of duty for the movie because it was a film for the Sci-Fi Channel, which had a pretty small budget in being for television, and he really fought to get more money for the score because we had hoped to go overseas and record choir and orchestra, and really make it an almost tragic, operatic score in certain places… It was really thanks to him that the scope of the score became what it was for what was supposed to be sort of an ambient television type of score.

MRH : And prior to Saint Sinner, had you also done some television work? I think Brimstone is one of your early credits.

CL : Yeah, Brimstone is one of my earlier credits, and that was a great show that unfortunately just didn’t catch on with viewers, and I did a show called The Strip that Joel Silver also produced, and that one was only on for half a year.

MRH : And now with Supernatural, I take it the first season is completed and aired?

CL : Yeah. This is the first season, and we got picked up, so we’re coming back in September on the new CW network, which is the new merger between UPN and WB, and we’ll be on, afterSmallville, on Thursday nights.

MRH : Have you found that there’s been a significant change in scoring for television in the intervening years?

CL : I think there’s been a bit of a change. It’s gotten even faster – where you have to turn episodes around quicker – but I think one of the really great things is that it’s moved in the direction of more cinematic styled scoring.

You see a lot of TV shows that Jerry Bruckheimer is producing, and now you’ve got J.J. Abrams going from Lost and Alias jumping over and doing movies and going back, and so I think there’s a lot of cross-pollination, and our particular show, Supernatural, is executive produced by McG, who did the Charlie’s Angels movies. He comes from a movies background, as does my friend Eric who runs the show; it was Eric’s creation, and he’s a huge horror movie fan, and he jumped on that idea in trying to make a horror movie every week.

MRH : I was stunned at the quality of the music written for Abram’s Lost and Alias, because it was so rich and so multi-thematic, which is not something that you normally get in TV. Usually after the pilot is done, they engage the composer, and I wonder if that’s often the one occasion where you really have the time and the luxury to develop the themes and the sounds for the show, because whatever is done there will become the music library for the rest of the series.

CL : It’ll definitely create the tone of the series, but I think you’re totally right. Some of the way series are being developed will allow for a little more distance between the sounds every week, and allow for more expression. On Supernatural, specifically, every week is new – whether it be fable or a new legend or a new supernatural part that is sort of the nemesis for that week’s episode. [The characters are] also running all around the country- so one week they’re in New Orleans, and one week they’re on a native American reservation or something, and by having characters that travel and don’t stay in the same place, you can explore different elements of the music that way.

They were in the South at one point, and there was a Baptist minister, and the idea of early, early religion and tarot. We brought in a lot of instruments – the Armenian duduk, and some of the early religious instruments from the south that they would have played in beat up, old Baptist churches – just for that one episode.

The lead character, Dean, is a classic rock fan, so some episodes are more urban, while others will have more elements of rock guitars. Other episodes will be really, really creepy and religiously inspired, and that allows us to really stretch our limb and bring the music into different spots throughout the show while still retaining a voice.

MRH : In many ways it kind of echoes what the Twilight Zone was doing, because you’d literally have any kind of story in a different time period, and the show’s producers also drew from the resources of various composers and different styles, so what you end up with, when you examine the music that was written for that one series, if not just one season, is this incredible diversity from using all kinds of instruments – chamber, primal electronics, or a modest orchestra – and I get the impression that Supernatural is similarly unique because you’re actually able to go out and get ethnic instruments and write distinct material just for one episode.

CL : It’s funny you mention Twilight Zone, because I think the only other thing that could really expand our show is the idea of different time periods. There are flashbacks, but it’s all sort of present day. We definitely pulled from locale, we pulled form characters that have new entrances, new nemeses, arrivals, and things like that, and we do get to do something a little different. I would absolutely say that I don’t think there’s any TV show that has been more amazing, as far as showcasing different composers, than Twilight Zone was. I certainly hope that any comparison like that continues, because it’s really been great.

MRH : Will there be a Supernatural CD coming out?

CL : The plan is to definitely get out a CD. I know I’ve been approached… and a medium-sized label has already expressed an interest. I think if the fans want it, the label will be willing to do it. It probably will have something to do with the DVD that’s coming out in September. If a lot of people pick up the first season and it’s a really big audience, I think they might put out the CD this year.

MRH : In many ways the DVD market sort of helps that, because it adds extra awareness to a TV series, and people get a second chance to catch up on a show that everybody has been talking about but is now halfway through its repeat run, or is entirely absent from the small screen until the new season begins.

CL : Absolutely, and as a composer, we have a very self-serving view of DVD releases [for TV shows]. If you’ve got a really great home theatre system, you pop in the DVD, and it’s going to shake the room with this great surround sound mix… It’s very different from watching it on a little TV and mono speakers, so I would say for the musicians, composer, and the cinematographer, we love it when the DVD comes out because people will really feel and hear and see the project the way we were intending it to come out. I try not to actually watch it on TV; I usually wait until I get a DVD copy, and then I can watch it and feel really great about it.

MRH : My last question is if you could give a few details about a pair of upcoming projects –Tortilla Heaven, and Shark Bait.

CL : I am actually done with both scores. I’ve been done with Tortilla Heaven for a quite a while, and it’s been one of those movies that was an indie film, so it’s been having a little trouble for a while getting completely finished. They did a lot of work on part of the film because I think at one point there was a problem where some chemicals got involved, and they had to do a process to get some of the film re-transferred, but that one is supposedly coming out right at the beginning of 2007.

It’s really a great movie, and is about what happens to a little town when the face of Jesus appears on a tortilla in a restaurant, and everyone gets greedy. It’s really a sort of poignant, funny skewering of religious greed, and very clever. George Lopez is in it, and Miguel Sandoval plays the Devil in the movie and he’s just spectacular. The other great thing about that film is that we got such amazing players. We got Alex Acuña on percussion and other phenomenal players [and the score has a] fantastic sort of Latino/Southwest Ennio Morricone kind of vibe to it, to skewer the comedy.

MRH : There have been many instances where people see a religious figure on, for example, a donut shop window, a potato chip, or other weird objects and surfaces, and the film sounds like someone’s had a little bit of fun, but in a good-natured way, since these things pop up in the news every few years.

CL : And the great thing about it is it’s completely good-natured. It’s absolutely irreverent in how it skewers some of the silliness of the way people react and the way people deal with organized religion, but at the same time, it’s such an uplifting feel-good movie at the end, and it shows good things happening to good people, and somebody doing the right thing. It’s very much a fable, and it’s one of those movies where I think it could be a hit in theatres; if people start talking about it, it could end up being one of those movies that just gets bigger and bigger.

Shark Bait is supposed to be coming out also this fall; it’s already been released in the far East [as Pi’s Story] because it was co-produced by a Korean company who did the animation, but it’s really funny. It’s got Rob Schneider and Andy Dick and Fran Drescher, and it’s very much along the lines of A Shark’s Tale and Finding Nemo, but it’s a little bit different story-wise… It’s really clever, and because it was a lower-budgeted film, we did a mixture of Calypso, some acoustic guitars, and unusual percussion. There’s one point where the main character was born in Boston Harbor, and it’s dirty with all kind of junkyard under the sea, so we actually got to record junk percussion and sampled old rusty pieces of metal and things like that to put into the score and create some of the rhythmic textures.


. would like to thank Christopher Lennertz for speaking about his latest work, and Liz Ferraris at Costa Communications for facilitating this interview.

For more information on Supernatural, levitate your mouse HERE.

To visit the Korean Shark Bait / Pi’s Story website, snorkel HERE.

For more information on Tortilla Heaven, ascend HERE.

All images remain the property of their copyright holders.

This interview © 2006 by Mark R. Hasan


Related  links:

CD Review:  Supernatural, Seasons 1-5 (2005-2010)


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