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FYIG recently had the chance to talk to composer Matt Novack about his work on Childrens Hospital and his new movie, How to be a Latin Lover. Read more about Matt here!
1) How did you get your start composing music?
For as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with film scores. Soundtracks were always my go-to music purchase growing up. I love film in general, so I was attracted to how great music can enhance a great story. I started writing in high school and then I studied composition and percussion performance in college, but I didn’t really get involved in film composing until I went through USC’s Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program. From there I got my first gig working as a composer’s assistant for Steven Stern who I worked for about three years or so, then as an assistant for Craig Wedren before working on my own.
2) Do you have a specific process when you start a project or do you approach each opportunity differently?
There are always little differences to be sure, but I always try to start by watching the film, show, or whatever down dry to try to get a sense of the story and get my own musical ideas. No temp, if I can help it. Then I’ll meet with the filmmakers to discuss the story, any ideas they have on music and watch the temp; then I try to weave all those different ideas into one. I’ll tinker with some ideas on themes, sounds, and orchestration, but I try to get the score in my head as much as I can before I really sit down in the studio to start writing.
3) You’ve done music for everything from Role Models to Childrens Hospital. How have you evolved since you first started out?
I try to learn and grow as a composer on every project. Whether that’s trying new things, writing for instruments that I haven’t used yet or as much, or trying different styles; I try to not get too repetitive from score to score so it forces me to keep evolving. I’ve also learned so much from other composers I’ve worked with. When I worked for Craig Wedren on Role Models, that was really my first time working on a comedy score as well as a quirky pop/rock/orchestral hybrid score, which helped tremendously when I scored A Better You.
4) What were the challenges of writing music for Childrens Hospital? I feel like a parody show would pose different challenges than other projects.
The goal with the score for a parody show is to emulate as close as possible to the original. Whether it’s a whole genre, like a hospital procedural score, or a specific film or tv show score. So in some senses, scoring a parody show is just like scoring the non-parody equivalent, but Childrens Hospital was a unique parody show in that it was frequently changing what it was parodying, especially later seasons. Whenever we would do a parody episode it frequently wouldn’t make much sense to reuse themes and concepts from a “regular” episode, so I had to scrap everything and start over from scratch. New palette, themes, concepts, etc., and all this while still trying to hit my deadlines.
But that was frequently the best part about scoring Childrens Hospital. I was able to keep trying new things, genres of score I hadn’t had the chance to score yet. It kept the score from getting stale and allowed me to grow as a composer while scoring genres I really love, like sci-fi and suspense/thrillers.
5) What are some of the similarities and differences in composing music for TV versus movies?
I generally approach film and television the same way. It’s always about helping to tell the story and emotional beats. The longer the project is, the more mindful I become of where the cues occur in the broader story arc. With a 15 or 30 minute episode, each cue tends to be impactful on its own and focus on moments, whereas a one-hour show, film or season-long arc would need some more evolution of the themes, and care not to tip my hand too early or too late.
However, the biggest difference is time. With a film, a composer typically has a couple months to work on the score which leaves plenty of time to experiment and try out different ideas and concepts and collaborate with the filmmakers on the tone of the music before committing and writing the full score. Whereas television is almost always on an episode-per-week schedule, and sometimes even tighter than that. One might get a little extra time on the pilot to experiment, or if you’re lucky enough to work on a show that lasts multiple seasons, but usually it all comes down to my ability to quickly have a good idea, write it down, and move on.
6) Do you prefer doing the score for a specific genre of movies/tv shows?
I love comedies, and it seems like that’s where I’ve found my niche, but I’m also a big sci-fi fan. My favorite episodes of Children’s Hospital to score were in that style, such as the series finale, and I’d love to do more of it!
7) Your next project is doing the score for How to Be a Latin Lover starring Rob Lowe and Salma Hayek. What can we expect from this movie?
I can’t say too much, you’ll just have to see it! I will say that it’s a really funny, sweet, family comedy. Craig Wedren brought me on to help with the orchestral parts of the score and it was just so much fun to work with him again and develop a big Hollywood sound for the score.
8) People probably will be expecting this movie to have a Latin influence in the score, but I was reading that it wasn’t really an emphasis. What was the thought process behind that?
There is some Latin influence still sprinkled in, to be sure, especially with the non-orchestral parts of the score, and there are some really really fantastic songs in the movie that I think people are really going to love. But with the orchestral side of the score, we wanted to keep it more of a traditional Hollywood-style sound with some latin accents. The core of the story is very universal, so we wanted the score to emphasize that.
9) What’s your dream project and dream person to work with?
I mentioned that I’m a huge sci-fi fan, and it’s my biggest artistic/career goal to score an epic sci-fi adventure. But lately, I’ve been blown away at what’s being done in the genre with independent films with compelling, thought-provoking and more personal character-focused stories. Especially Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, I’d love to work with him and help push the genre into interesting directions.
In comedy, I also love the work of Dan Harmon and Edgar Wright, they’re both insanely brilliant. I’ll watch anything those guys make, and I’d love to work with them too.
10) What can we expect to see from you in the near-future that we haven’t talked about already?
I’m currently working with Craig again on the new season of Wet Hot American Summer for Netflix. I’m not sure when it’s going to be released, but we’re just about done with the score and it’s so much fun. Expect even more of the same craziness.
11) Tell the audience where they can find you online.
I’m @MattNovack on Twitter, Instagram, and Soundcloud, I also post blogs and other things from time to time on my website: mattnovack.com