Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

An Interview with Nicholas Hooper

Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

An Interview with Nicholas Hooper

Article excerpt

Nicholas Hooper is a British film and television composer. He has scored the award-winning BBC productions Land of the Tiger (1985) and Andes to Amazon (2000), as well as the movies The Tichborne Claimant (1998), The Heart of Me (2002), and The Girl in the Café (2005), among many others. Hooper won a BAFTA Award for Original Score for The Young Visiters in 2004, and a BAFTA for Best Original Television Music for Prime Suspect: the Final Act in 2007.

We discussed his highest profile score to date, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), but also touched upon Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which Hooper had just finished scoring and which is due for release in July 2009. Both Potter scores were completed under the guidance of long-time collaborator, director David Yates.

M.M. You have done quite a range of work: TV drama, nature documentary, and film including blockbuster films. What do you think the differences are between these kinds of projects, or are they similar from a musical perspective?

N.H. I think I actually approach the different kinds of work in a very similar way. Musically, it's about engaging with the feeling of the story, whether it's about plot, character or place. The difference is a matter of scale; in a small-scale drama or nature documentary the music is used more sparsely, and often it is a matter of a couple of themes that are worked and used to their full effectiveness. In The Order of the Phoenix there had to be a wide spectrum of musical ideas and themes. Sometimes it felt like David [Yates] and I were holding a hundred-yard-long sheet between us which we tried to fold without really being able to see it all at once, it's just on such a huge scale that I couldn't keep it all in my head at one time - for me, that's the big challenge of that sort of work. Obviously much bigger forces are needed in a big film, which is very exciting - around a hundred musicians, as opposed to often one or two in an intimate drama. Having said that, the experience of writing for smaller forces is just as important for the big-scale films because the Harry Potter stories are about relationship and character development, and there are quite a few opportunities to write for solo instruments for those crucial intimate moments. With the big films, the main practical difference is that I'm working in a big team with programmers and orchestrators in order to get things done in time. The picture might not be locked until quite late in the day, there's two hours of music to write, and lots of people have to be involved in the decision-making. Land of the Tiger, which I did ten years ago, was still at the point where I did all the orchestration myself and conducted the orchestra. It was a nature documentary series and there was much more time overall to write and record. Adjusting to having less control has been a personal challenge for me.

M.M. So it is more about managing your team, rather than completing all the orchestration or conducting yourself?

N.H. Yes, it is all a matter of fighting against time to get things done, so I would not always have been in the control room when things were being recorded, because I was still composing. The necessity for an orchestrating team is absolute because there is no time to get things ready for the orchestra. I do completely detailed demos, so the director is hearing the orchestration on my samples in the first place. So that is set there and the job of the orchestrator is to try and get as close as possible to that while also improving it. I did some conducting this time in The Half-Blood Prince, but in The Order of the Phoenix I conducted only one piece. We found that sometimes it is good for me to conduct because we get a quicker path to the feeling of something. Sometimes it is better for me to be in the control room and let Alastair King conduct because of his expertise and experience, and because it is easier to hear what is going on when you are in the control room. …

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