News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by
Arts & Entertainment

Odd Hollywood Jobs: Music composer

Music composer Theodore Shapiro works on the music for
Music composer Theodore Shapiro works on the music for "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."
Music composer Theodore Shapiro works on the music for
Music composer Theodore Shapiro hard at work synching up his score to a rough draft of the film "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

Listen to story

Download this story 0MB

Christmas is typically one of the biggest periods for movie premieres. One of this holiday season's film is the film "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", a story of an introverted and shy New Yorker who has an active fantasy life.  

But did you ever wonder what goes into making a story of this kind? And how other elements besides the visual ones play a part? In our occasional series Hollywood Jobs we take a look at the role music plays.

Take Two recently sat down with Theodore Shapiro, the music composer for "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", who talked about how he first approaches a new project.

Interview Highlights:

On how he comes up with ideas for film music:
"I try to work in two ways. First is I try to think conceptually as much as possible and really boil the concept down and just let my imagination go where it wants to go, but every film is different. Sometimes you're brought in at the end. Ideally, you're brought in at the beginning. For example, in the case of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", I actually started working on it before they finished shooting the film, then [Ben] Stiller brought me to New York where he was editing to look at some scenes and one of them really ended up being the foundation for the whole score. Sometimes, even with limited information you're able to tap into something that unlocks the key for the score."

Oh how he works:
"It's really a process and sometimes you don't know where you're going in the beginning. I think that with Ben, he is so disciplined about returning to the theme and staying focused on what the kernel of the movie is. It was just a thing where we kept bringing it back to what the core ideas of the score were and it just started getting more and more cohesive as we went on."

On the first step of creating a score:
"I'm in my studio, I'm creating an electronic mockup of what the score is going to sound like and at this point in time, those mockups are pretty realistic. Realistic enough that you could put them into, for example, a preview screening of the movie and they are sonically good enough that they can fool most audience members. So that's really nice. At this point, we are able to really have a good sense of what the music is going to be in its final form." 

On how tricky is it to compose music for a film with varying moods:
"It's delicate and especially in a movie like this, which has a lot of scenes that are very realistic and then the daydreams have a very different kind of approach. With this daydream, for example, the music is supposed to evoke this. I think Ben always thought about it as a Portuguese mountain climber, so I needed to somehow come up with Portuguese mountain climbing music."

On composing the live music:
"That happens at the very end and before you get to that stage, you need to show the director and the director has to give notes and it would not be prudent, particularly, to start out by being on the scoring stage with 90 musicians so this is a great tool for allowing for a creative collaborative process and you can explore what the scene is as you go over a long stretch of time."

His favorite part of the job:
"In the beginning of the process after I've landed on something that the director is excited about and I'm excited about, I just know I'm headed in a good direction and then the end, where you have been living with samples for months and however good the samples get, the live orchestra is just so much better. It has a depth and it has a soul that just provides the movie something that is really magical so it's kind of a thrill to get to stand up there in front of musicians and share that experience and communicate with them and craft the music to be what you want it to be."