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Patrick Doyle: A Lifetime of Achievement

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Continuing on from my interview with the great Alan Silvestri, I had another exciting opportunity to interview another great of the Film Music world; Scottish Composer Patrick Doyle. As with Silvestri, it was all because of the 2015 World Soundtrack Awards and Concert, as part of Film Fest Gent in Belgium, where Doyle was receiving the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award,’ and also where Composers, film music professionals and enthusiasts were gathered to celebrate Film Music as a whole.

Patrick Doyle is known and respected throughout the business as someone who is really enthusiastic about his craft. He exudes fun and enjoyment with every film he scores and he is one of the most warm, happy and entertaining human beings you could ever hope to meet. With a varied career spanning thirty years, and a collaboration with friend and director Kenneth Branagh for over twenty-five years, we had a lot of fascinating subjects to talk about.

Awards and Concerts: It’s nice to have your work appreciated

I began with asking what it was like to find out he was going to be receiving the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ at the ceremony that night, and whether he sees it as an end-of-career award, as it can sometimes be perceived.

I don’t think it’s like that. I’m still doing it after thirty years, and so you do amass a body of work and if it gets a very good response and people have enjoyed watching the films you’ve been involved in, then I suppose it’s people saying thank you very much for being part of the film community. It’s never anything that you would imagine you would get. You work to pay the rent and primarily to enjoy yourself. So this is a by-product of that and I’m very grateful and honoured, but by no means do you think about these things. You’re thrilled of course, and I take it as sort of an encouragement. Its nice to have your work appreciated.

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Patrick Doyle with Alan Silvestri at the 2015 World Soundtrack Awards and Concert.

With the awards and concert performing a few pieces of his, and more concerts of film music being done worldwide as we speak, I wanted to know how he feels about his music being showcased in this way, and whether it is something that interests him personally.

It’s certainly becoming far more prevalent, and there’s a great interest in film music now. It’s much more interesting than it was when I started all those years ago. There wasn’t the same interest then. Now these festivals and concerts are becoming more and more popular. Any opportunity for a composer to have his or her music performed is always a delight. My music serves the picture, but at some point becomes suitable for the concert platform, so I’m lucky that I have a body of work that is readily available for concerts. It’s nice to have the opportunity to hear your music live.

With that in mind, I expressed my desire to attend a full concert of his work one day. To sit for a couple of hours and hear a collection of such brilliant and differing music from someone as talented as Doyle would be a glorious thing, and as a lifelong fan of his, I was keen to find out about specific concerts he is doing in the future, or anything he would like to do as an idea.

We have done a number of concerts, like the Royal Albert Hall, with Ken [Kenneth Branagh] and Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi. So we have done this many years ago, almost 10 years ago in fact.

I was quite shocked, because I search regularly for film music concerts and I didn’t remember seeing that particular concert anywhere. But of course some can fall through the cracks of searching. He jokingly told me You’re just young Lee, you’re just young. How old are you?” and I told him twenty-six, to which he replied “you were only a child then when it was happening.” And his infectious laugh made me realise that I can’t see every concert I wish to, and there’s always time in the future to do so. He continued; “I’ve recently done a Shakespeare concert in Prague this summer, and next year we’re doing one in Germany. So keep your eye out for that.” And I definitely will of course.

From Planet of the Apes to Harry Potter: Honouring the history while starting from scratch

Before I got into the specifics of his approach to scoring a prequel or a sequel, I wanted to go off-kilter and really explore his sense of humour more. With Rise of the Planet of the Apes, he showed just how fun his music can be, especially in one specific scene. Before I go into any more detail, you can see a behind the scenes video of it below.

As you can see, his sense of humour is fantastic and really creates a welcoming environment that looks very amusing to work in. He told me more about the creative process behind it:

I had a rewrite to do and couldn’t quite come up with music for this scene, and I saw the apes were getting cookies to eat, and I thought, I’ve got a cookie for ya, I’ve got a cookie for ya. Baba baba baba-ba. The rhythm of that inspired the back-beat. I thought, Oh let’s make this fun, and I gave it a fun sort of percussive, Bossa Nova, slightly Latin-America, African, cross-fertilisation of music that led to just really making me laugh. I very often put crazy words to things and come up with rhythms based on the drama. You subconsciously think of certain rhythms of dialogue which can inform motifs and themes. It’s all part of the artistic barrage you get from a film. You pick up lines and rhythms subconsciously. That one was fairly a one-off though, but the director loved it, they all loved it actually, and it just gave it a sense of fun, and also this sense of danger as well.

After that entertaining interlude, I wanted to then swing into the intricacies of Harry-Potter-and-the-Goblet-of-Firescoring something like Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Harry Potter, which before he took over, were touched by such legends as Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. How did he move on from what they had done before, and what stamp did he put on those iconic film series.

You start from scratch because what you’re dealing with is a brand new picture. Okay maybe they’re the same characters, but in the case of Harry Potter, they’re older and more mature. The story was darker, far darker, and of course these kids are becoming teenagers. They’ve got romance suddenly there. So all of those things inform the picture and the story so you have to bring your own voice to it. Because I’ve got quite a strong voice, you will automatically impose your sound there as well as serve the picture.

Sticking with films based on previous material; one of my favourite scores of Doyle’s is Thor. It has such richly melodic themes and balances perfectly the huge superhero sound required for a film like that, with the soft beauty and heart that Doyle always produces. Even though Brian Tyler’s Score for Thor: The Dark World was terrific, I was still disappointed that Doyle didn’t return, and so was curious to know why he didn’t, and maybe whether he would consider returning to the Superhero world in the future.

Usually you work with a director and he or she has their own composer, and that seems to be the way it works. With Kenneth [Branagh], he didn’t do the second one, so the franchise then goes a different direction. That’s just the nature of the business, like when a new company manager comes and brings his own staff. It just changes so it’s healthy, but I loved doing it. It was great fun, and I’ve been talking to director Rupert Wyatt about another project, so hopefully that will be something good.

Kenneth Branagh: Each film demands a brand new fresh pallet

Speaking of collaborating with Kenneth Branagh, it was now time to find out a little more about his incredible quarter-of-a-century-long creative partnership with the great actor and director. I began by asking something that I like to know from many composers who are in lengthy working partnerships with directors; is it easier now that they have been working together for such a long period of time, or is it how the great James Newton Howard puts it; in that M. Night Shyamalan now knows most of his tricks, so he has to work even harder?

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Patrick Doyle with Kenneth Branagh at the Cinderella Premiere.

There’s no tricks in the sense that each film demands a brand new fresh pallet, and so we start from scratch. I get there very early with Ken, in the very early stages, after the discussions with the writer obviously to make sure the script’s right. And then we discuss how it’s going to look; the costumes, the designs, the sets, and then the music comes along. Before I talk to Ken properly about the music, he has spent a long time working with the picture, the storyboards, designers, all the other elements, and then we have a discussion about how the film has evolved in terms of its preparation. He talks about the tone of the picture. That’s very important. The film has to have a consistent tone in order for the audience to know where they are and how they’re taking in this story and the whole concept. So it’s always based on the script and the characters. But of course the discussions with Ken are fundamentally all based on the narrative.

Their most recent film together was Cinderella, which in my opinion is one of Doyle’s all-time best scores. It is truly breathtaking to listen to. Filled with Waltzes and Polkas, with melody and textures. It really is a pure delight from start to finish, and really does show how Branagh brings out the best in Doyle consistently. I wanted to know more about Cinderella and his beautiful Waltzes.

With Cinderella, there were great performances; very real and very non-patronising performances, so it was a pleasure really. You know it’s such an iconic tale from years ago, but you don’t know the size of the score yet; whether it will be big or not too thematic or dramatic. It’s like that with every film we work on together; we discuss what kind of orchestra we need in certain places. Is it going to be small, a chamber, or a medium or big orchestra?

He’s very concise and to the point, and very clear in how he perceives it. He’s not saying “I want you to write this.” He never imposes his will on you. But for example, he said about the Waltzes for Cinderella that everything leads up to and after the ballroom, so the Waltzes are crucial. So please can he have a Waltz that’s simple and direct, yet powerful. Not frivolous. So once I’d written the Waltz and he loved it instantly, everything after that I was on my way really. I knew there’d have to be a Waltz immediately afterwards, because the script says suddenly the atmosphere’s broken, so I knew it had to be an up-tempo Waltz, that’s quite different from the slow, romantic first Waltz. So I imagined how he would shoot it and I wrote the second one, just imagining where he would put it from the strong script, because if it’s in the script it will be on the screen. And if it’s on the screen, it’ll be in the score. So the writing is crucial.

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So that was the end of my enthralling and entertaining time with Patrick Doyle. He was so generous with his answers and very funny as well which is wonderfully refreshing. I’d like to thank the man himself for his time, and of course Clothilde Lebrun of Trailer Music News for accompanying me to the interview.

I hope you enjoyed this interview and if you would like to read my other interview with Alan Silvestri as I mentioned in the beginning, you can do so here. Look out for another interview coming soon, where I spoke with Jazz Drummer and Birdman composer Antonio Sanchez.

If you wish to read more about Patrick Doyle, you can do so here on IMDB. You can also purchase any of his music on his Amazon page, and iTunes page.

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Film and Television Score enthusiast. Podcast Host at Bombad Radio. World traveller.

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