05 June 2007

Prison Break: entretien avec Ramin Djawadi par Christine Blanc

Michael Scofield s’engage dans une véritable course contre la montre : son frère Lincoln est dans le couloir de la mort, en attente de son exécution pour le meurtre du frère de la Vice-Présidente des Etats-Unis. Persuadé de son innocence mais à court de solutions, Michael décide de se faire incarcérer à son tour dans le pénitencier d'état de Fox River pour organiser leur évasion...

Please Mister Djawadi, for the new readers of inter-activities, how would you personally introduce yourself? When and how did you come to work in film music?

Ramin Djawadi - I started playing piano at age 4 and then switched to guitar at age 13. After a couple of years I realized that I wanted to do music professionally. I always this plan to play in bands first and then later switch to film composing. I attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and played in a variety of bands. After I finished college I worked as a composer at a video game company in Boston while still gigging with bands at night. A year after that I coincidently had a “hook up” at Media Ventures, now Remote Control, and I packed my bags and moved to LA.

Do you have any mentor?
Klaus Badelt was my mentor for many years. His movies were my first projects that I worked on and certainly learned a lot from him. Another one is Hans Zimmer, of course. His entire approach about our profession is so amazing. It goes way beyond just writing music for film. I feel fortunate to get ongoing advice from him.

Are you still in contact with Hans Zimmer ? Do you talk about your latest work? I still see Hans at the time, I have my studio in his Remote Control complex. In fact, he let me move into his old room after he built himself a new one down the hall. We hang out and talk about our projects all the time. It’s nice to be able to share the progress and experience on a movie. He has been doing it for such a long time, it’s a good feeling to know to have that kind of support.

The first time we met was some time ago about Blade Trinity. How have you been since then? How did you evolve musically? I have been fortunate to work on many projects since then and in a variety of styles. I think the variety is something that makes you grow as a composer, the challenge to write in different styles of music and creating a unique sound for the project. Musically I’m certainly trying to find my own voice. One of the few disadvantages of being at Remote Control is that a lot of people will categorize you into a certain corner. I hope that that won’t happen to me.

How do you choose a project to work on? I love to switch styles a lot, so I always try to reflect that in the projects. Of course that’s not always possible, but ideally, I like to do a drama after an animation movie or a comedy after an action film. The hard thing also is that once you do one certain genre well, you will be asked to do the same style again. It’s hard to keep the variety.

When you're working on a film, what is your main source of inspiration: the pictures, the subject, the art direction? Most of the time inspiration comes from the subject of the film. It usually already gives you a direction. On a movie like BEAT THE DRUM I started using all this african instruments. So the sounds of these instruments can inspire you to write a certain way. I always try to do a good amount of research about the country’s culture and music. I always want to know what instruments are available as flavors to write for.

How do you compose? Do you have a method of working? If the time allows I prefer to start writing themes without picture. It starts you out with a freedom without being influenced by picture changes. From there I start plugging it into the scene. I like to watch the scene before I go home at night and then sleep over it and think about it in the car. Then I try to write it when I come back the next day. It’s the feeling of letting the scene settle with you before you jump on it. Another thing I like to do is to have several different cues in progress at the same time. I will start one cue and once I have a rough map, I will move on to the next. Once I have two or three I will start with the first and finish it.

Did your way of working change along the years or according to each film? Not really. The last time I actually composed with paper and pencil was in college. It’s all on the computer now. I write on a piano or string patch. On certain projects I will use the guitar. A lot of cues on Open Season or Beat the Drum were written on the guitar.

How would you describe or characterize your own musical style? That’s always the embarrassing question. I’m not sure if there is enough of my music out there so that people would say that it sounds like a typical Ramin score. One thing I can say though is that my music is melodic. I always try to have a theme or motif in a piece of music. Otherwise it gets boring.

What do you feel when you’re composing and what do you like in this process? I try to draw myself into the movie. When I feel that the emotion or comedy gets enhanced through my music in a scene, then hopefully I’m doing the right thing.

You worked for films, animation and TV series. What format do you prefer to work on. May you tell me why? It’s hard for me to pick a favorite. I’m really into animation movies right now as it’s ok to go so over the top with the music. It can take you anywhere from big band to techno.

Prison Break

How did you come on the PrisonBreak project? It all came together pretty fast. I had a really great meeting with the production team three weeks before the airing date and by the time I was on the show I only had about two weeks to score the double episode pilot.

How would you describe your score for the serie? It’s definitely very rhythmic and intense. A note that I would constantly get from the network was to keep supporting the plot with rhythms. The interesting thing about this show is that compared to other shows, that they move very fast with the plot per episode. It just doesn’t get dragged out. We tried to do the same with the music. Always be on the move and have constant tension.

What do you think about the subject of the series? It’s different and that what attracted me to the show. It certainly also raises the question about how many people out there are convicted innocent?

TV series seem to be more creative storywise than theatrical movies. Do you agree? Does this dynamic artistic frame exercise or challenge your own creativity? I think what makes TV challenging is that you sometimes don’t know where you are heading. When we started with Season 1 I had no idea that we would end up in Panama in Season 2. All of sudden I needed to make my themes work in an ethnic way that I had not anticipated before. It is also possible that the plot changes or a new character shows up. You need to somehow make sure that your score keeps up with the story turns.

How did you work, and with what request from the crew? The task was to create a cinematic score like a movie. The producers wanted themes and the sound to be big and orchestral. They also wanted to have some modern elements with it. I just look at this show as if I was scoring a movie. There are themes for characters and plots.

Can you describe the main titles you created for the film, how you conceived it, and how you used it throughout the film? The hard thing about main titles are that you only have 30-60 to make a big statement. The theme on the piano at the end is our mystery theme. It gets used in the show when our characters are trying to uncover the whole conspiracy about Lincoln’s inprisonment. So I wanted to leave the main title with a big question mark. The rest of the main title is it’s own piece that I never use in the show except in the last cue at the end of Season 1 and it’s also hidden in the last cue at the end of Season 2.

How much time did you have to compose your score for each episode? I had two weeks to write themes and score the entire double episode pilot. After that I have anywhere from 3-5 days to score each episode. There is usually 35-40 minutes in each episode, which makes the schedule very tight.

What's about the budget? There is no budget for a live orchestra. We recorded live vocals for the main title, but the score itself is all samples or me recording guitars or other single instruments in my studio.

What, and what size did you choose? Did you use some electronic sounds in your score or was it all live? Unfortunatley, there is no live orchestra. There is so much music in the show and the cues are so big that I’m not sure how it would be possible to record and mix it all in time. So everything you hear comes straight out of my room.

Do you know how many seasons are scheduled? For how long have you signed? Season 3 just was announced and I will definitely stay on the show. I’m not sure if they are already planning beyond 3.

How did you treat the specific atmosphere of the world of Prison Break? There are so many charactes and I tried to give them all their own sound when possible. Scofield has this constant “thinker ticker”, Bellick has this distortion bass, Mahone has an investigation synth sound, etc. I tried to give each scene cut it’s own atmosphere. It’s not always that easy as they all overlap at some point.

To you, what is the most interesting, the most successful or the most complex scene you had to score for this film? May you tell me how you did it? May you analyze for us the relation you created between picture and music? I will summarize the season finale of season 1 as that scene. The whole breakout was the payoff viewers had been waiting for for 20 episodes. I wanted to make sure music wasn’t getting boring as we had 40 minutes of constant action and tension. It was basically one cue with the highlight being the very last cue of the season where I reprised the theme from the main title for the first and only time in the entire season.

Can you tell me about the scene where the doctor shoots herself in season 1 ? It’s very strong and very lyrical. Can you describe your music for it, analyze it? This scene takes us back to episode 15 where we see flashback about our different characters and we learn that Sarah used to be a heroin addict. When she overdoses at the end of Season 1, she has a relapse as she feels she that she failed. Musically, I’m going back to the past with her. It’s her theme sung by a female voice, a similar arrangement that was used during her flashback.

Prisoners are from many ethnic and cultural origins. How did you approach musically this diversity? By stressing the differences? Using different instruments? Yes, wherever it was possible without being too over analytical. As there are so many important characters I tried to give them each their sound and theme. Sucre has a nylon string acoustic guitar, but for Abruzzi it’s the more the combination of the all sounds together. His theme is mostly played on a French Horn with some synths around it. It’s the combination that gives him that sleezy dangerous mafia vibe.

How did you approach percussion (what ones did you use on it?) in this series? As the network requested so much percussion I needed to find a way to have a lot of rhythm even under dialogue scenes. I’m using a wide range from Tom Toms to little wood sticks. Many times you will just hear a heart beat bass drum pumping underneath.

You appealed sometime to some vocalist. Can you tell me about the role you assigned to voice? I use vocals very minimal in the show other than the main title. It was an instrument that I didn’t hear to be part of the sound as much. The first I used it during the show was in episode 15 during one of Sarah’s flashback as it added a more sureal feel. The producers liked it so much that we continued using Sarah’s theme on vocals again when appropriate.

Among all your scores your made for the series what are the ones you like the most? And why? It’s probably whenever Scofield is pursuing his plan to escape. He is so focused when he is in the tunnels of the prison. It was a lot of fun to support all of his progress musically.

In 2006, you were nominated for the Emmy Awards for your work on the series. How do you feel about that? It was certainly a big honor to receive such recognition. I was really surprised when I received the news.

Do you have any anecdotes ? A lot of my friends and some people I work with are big fans of the show. I always have to quickly turn the screen off when they enter the studio so that they don’t see anything before it’s on air.

Will there be a cd of your score for the series ? if yes, when? And about what seasons? If not, why?
Yes, the release will be around the same time as the return of PB with Season 3. It will contain music from Season 1 and 2. It was hard to make an album cut of the show. I have written so much material that there were hours and hours to choose from.

What if you were a prisoner?... I wouldn’t last 2 seconds. Some of the things you see in the show are scary. A real life prison is probably worse. I like to keep my toes.

Would you prefer to be a warden ? I would prefer that over being a prisoner, but would probably fail at all the responsibilities that come with that job.

For a new project, if you could choose you a genre, a kind of story and a filmmaker, what would they be?I would love to do a romantic comedy or a really sad drama. Something that would make me cry while working on it.

Are you working on another project? If yes, may you tell me about it?
I just finished another animation movie called “Fly me to the moon”. It’s a wonderful movie in 3-D only and is about the three flies that sneak onto the Apollo 11 to experience the first moonlanding. Release is scheduled for later this year of 2008. Another movie is a Kevin Costner thriller called “Mr Brooks” scheduled to release June 1st in the US. This is mostly an electronic score and quite different from the orchestral animation stuff I have been doing recently. There are some other projects in the works that I usually don’t mention until closer to completion.

Do you have any specific message to add for our readers?
I would like to thank all the readers that are reading this interview and I appreciate their interest in my work. I hope that I will come up with more music in the future that is worth talking about.


1. Main Titles
2. Strings of Prisonners
3. Inking The Plan
4. Save A Brother's Life
5. Int The Yard
6. T-Bag's Coming For Dinner
7. Sucre's Dilemna
8. Sarah & Michael
9. Tale Of D.B Cooper
10. Abruzzi is the Ticket
11. In The Tunnels
12. Unconditional
13. Conspiracy
14. Sarah
15. C-Note
16. An In Be Tweener
17. Prison Break
18. The Manhunt Begins
19. Special Agent Mahone
20. AMerica's Most Wanted
21. Veronica is Murdered
22. And The There Were Six
23. A Stash of Cash
24. Linc & LJ
25. Stand-Off
26. Cat & Mouse
27. (Classified)
28. Remorse
29. Origami
30.Escape is just the Beginning

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