So last year I had the pleasure of being invited to an exclusive evening with the music composer George Fenton.
I have always been fascinated by and in awe of music composers. What would Jaws have been without those few spine chilling bass notes? When we think of powerhouse films like Star Wars or Indiana Jones we immediately think of the epic rousing score. Films that make us emote – Forrest Gump when he is at Jenny’s graveside – it’s the score that gets the lump in our throats.
I was invited to this prestigious event by a director that I worked with on the short film, Etiquette, Andrew Carslaw. Carslaw is an upcoming filmmaker from Oxford who has close ties with Oxford University and their creative sectors, having worked at the university for quite some time.
You could say that George’s music is eclectic. He has scored a diverse selection of films from Ghandi to You’ve Got Mail. His style of music is versatile and refreshing. He doesn’t have the universal recognisability of a John Williams or a James Horner, however I think this definitely works for him.
I always lament the fact that I didn’t learn to play a musical instrument. I told George about this. He gave some wonderfully encouraging advice. ‘It’s never too late to learn to play an instrument. Truly. Learn to play something – you won’t regret it.’ I have been thinking about taking up the piano. I genuinely thought this was something you had to start when you were 5. After all, hadn’t Beethoven scored his first symphony at 5? (This blows my mind by the way.)
Advice from George for film composers in the making;
Learn to play an usual musical instrument. This makes you indispensible. If they want someone to play the Aeolian Wind Harp and you are the only one that can – they’ll hire you. George was a relative unknown when they hired him for Ghandi – however he was one of only a handful of people who knew how to play the Persian Setar. This essentially got him the job.
Never take rejection personally. It is nearly always politics at play. George told us that he had composed two thirds of the film ‘Interview with a Vampire’ starring Tom Cruise. Some of the producers felt edged out of the project so to assert their authority they fired George and hired someone else. He was collateral damage. I asked George how that made him feel. ‘Not very good, but it wasn’t about me. It happens in the business more than you think.’ We urged him to tell us on what other films but he remained discreet, if revelling in the mystery.
I asked George if he ever watched a movie and listened to the score and thought ‘I could do a better job than that.’ George laughed and commented that this was a very good question.
‘Not ever actually. The thing is I know how much work, sweat and tears has gone into that score. Above all else, I feel huge admiration.’ What an amazing guy.
To join in on the events, check out Film oxford http://www.filmoxford.org.