Date of publishing: 6th
Ben is agraduate of the Guildhall School of Music
& Drama where he studiedComposition and Conducting.
In 2001 Ben was awarded a BAFTA scholarship tostudy
for his MA in Film Composition at the National Film
& TelevisionSchool under Professor Francis Shaw
and Peter Howell. Work as acomposer includes over
30 scores for shorts for various European Film makers.
Recent highlights include Can’t Stop Breathing
(Best Short nomination 2005 BAFTAawards) and Gareth
Lewis’s Normal For Norfolk. For
Mcasso Music agency, Ben's TV credits include main
titles for LWT’s Love on a Saturday Night,
The Great British Test series for Granada,
and the current arrangement of BBC’s Question
Time. He has alsowritten music for a variety of advertising
campaigns including The Times, Ford SreetKa, Sprite
and Burger King. Credits as a Pop arranger include
five Top Ten hits as well as album tracks for a widevariety
of artists including S Club, Toploader, Boyzone and
others. Ben alsoworks in the classical crossover field
both as an arranger and conductor having recently
worked with Aled Jones (Universal Classics), Keedie
and the RPO (EMIClassics) and Hayley Westenra (Decca).
His CV asa film orchestrator includes work on The
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The
League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse, Alien
Autopsy and Death at a Funeral.
For the past two years Ben has worked with Murray
Gold, orchestrating series 2, 3 and 4 of Doctor
Who. Most recently, Ben has scored the second
series of the BBC drama Torchwood
(which he co-writes with Murray Gold), and was a judge
on the 2008 BBC Young Musician of the Year.
This interview has been done in collaboration with
the French website Beans
A French translation is available at this address:
Nuytens: Gilles Nuytens:
Firstly, how did you get
Ben Foster: Well, when I was very
young, I studied piano. So from a very early age,
about five or six, I started learning the piano. And
then quite early on I started writing, composing music.
Just about the age of six and just writing little
songs and stuff. I come from a very musical family
so it was always there when I was young. And then
I had got to my teens and took it quite seriously.
I did bits of rock and pop music and stuff, but I
was always studying classical music in the background.
I played various instruments, and I played the piano.
Eventually, I decided to study music college. So,
at the age of eighteen I came to London and study
at the Guildhall School of Music, which was great
and I had five years there and I studied composition.
Then I went to film school in London and did a masters
degree in how to write for film and television. So
that was really how I kind of studied. And after I
left film school, I started to get work and I started
to get into the industry.
Gilles Nuytens: So
you entered the "Who-niverse" by conducting
and orchestrating the Doctor Who soundtracks.
Ben Foster: That’s right! Yeah!
It was way back at the end of the first series that
Murray got in touch with me. I had worked with some
other composers that he knew. His manager recommended
me. And so we met up and we seemed to get on well.
Then I started work on the Christmas Invasion, which
was back in 2005, in November. Just two and a half
years now that I’ve been working on Doctor Who.
So I worked on everything from the Christmas Invasion
Gilles Nuytens: Were
you a Doctor Who fan? Were you fond of Doctor Who
and its universe and of Russell T. Davis and many
of the crew members?
Ben Foster: Yes, absolutely. I mean,
when I was a kid we’d used to go to see the
exhibition. I lived in the North of England and there
was an exhibition in Blackpool and so we’d used
to go there every Winter. And I’d watch it on
TV very avidly as a child from a young age. I didn’t
enjoy it towards the end on television because I was
a bit older then and I didn’t think it was a
good. My era was for Peter Davison’s years and
Colin Baker. That was my time. And then when it came
off the telly, I mean, I used to read Doctor Who magazine
and all these kind of things. I was very much involved
in it and I was a big fan of it. So when the opportunity
came up, it was a pretty easy one. I was delighted
to be part of it.
worked on many Scifi projects. Do you like this special
Ben Foster: Yes! I do. I’ve
always enjoyed Scifi and also mystery and detective
stuff. I used to watch a lot of what we call cult
TV now. You know, The Avengers, The Prisoner, things
like Thunderbirds, and the puppet shows from the 60s.
I grew up watching that. That was my favorite type
of thing. So I think I always wanted to be involved
in that type of film and to do the music that goes
with it. I think the good thing about Doctor Who is
that we can be unashamedly big. I think the John Williams’
Star Wars stuff that I grew up with was one of my
big moments when I said I want to do this for TV or
for film because you can see the way classical music
fits into that very futuristic environment and absolutely
work. And I think I do love the use of synthesizers
and stuff. There was a lot of that going on in the
sixties with Barry Gray and various composers and
that was always very interesting. I think what’s
happened in history is the involvement of classical
music and the symphony orchestra in Scifi has always
been there. And it somehow doesn’t date it.
I think it’s a very good thing.
Gilles Nuytens: Are
there any other TV shows or movies that you’d
like to be involved with?
Ben Foster: Well, I mean, there’s
not a lot on telly at the moment that I’d desperately
like to be involved with because I’ve been lucky
with Doctor Who and Torchwood and those are two of
my favorite shows--whether I was working on them or
not, I’d certainly spend time watching them.
So I’m quite happy with that, really. I do work
on films for different composers. I am working on
the film The Mummy 3, which is coming up in a couple
of weeks. So I do get to work on other film projects.
Although they don’t always happen to be Scifi.
They can be romantic comedies or whatever kind of
thing. But I do particularly love Scifi.
Gilles Nuytens: Do
you ever follow a particular composer or musician?
Ben Foster: Yeah, my favorite symphony
composer is a chap called William Walton. William
Walton was a British composer. And he was very big
in the thirties, forties, and fifties in this country.
And internationally. I think he’s one of John
Williams’ favorite composers. You can hear in
John Williams’ work—while it has a lot
of Americana—it also owes very much to composers
like Holst and William Walton. All the great British
composers. So I think we have a good heritage in Britain
of really good Classical composers. I think, although
I love Stravinsky, too, but I mean there are so many,
but William Walton is certainly my favorite.
Nuytens: You aided
in the Doctor Who celebration in 2006. What memories
do you keep from it? What was your favorite musical
Ben Foster: Well, I think my favorite
moment in the concert was the Daleks because I was
always looking forward to that moment performing that
bit of music from the Dalek episode 12 and 13 of the
first series. So when we did that with Daleks on stage,
it was just something else. It was brilliant. It all
came to life in the moment because the Daleks were
roaming on stage and it all became quite scary and
quite real. So that was my highlight. But it was an
incredible few months, actually, putting the concert
together. It really shouldn’t have happened
because there was so much we had to do in such a short
space of time. I still don’t know how we did
Gilles Nuytens: After
your work on Doctor Who, how did you join the Torchwood
Ben Foster: Well, Murray was asked
to do the music for Torchwood and he invited me to
work with him on Torchwood. And then it became clear
that he didn’t have the time, so I became the
full time composer for Torchwood. In fact, Murray
wrote the first episode of Torchwood and then episode
four came next and then he handed it to me and I just
ran with it and did the rest. So that has been very
fortunate to work and because it’s the same
type of people, the same people who do the sound mix,
a lot of the same directors, it’s kind of a
family thing, that you know all of the same people
that work on it. It was very easy to graduate from
working on Who, to working as a composer on Torchwood.
Gilles Nuytens: Have
you worked with Murray Gold on the main title?
Ben Foster: Yes, there are few different
versions of the main title, in fact. We did a version
with our orchestra in London and then it got edited,
I think. We did a thirty second version and the twenty,
and the final version with only a ten second version,
so, actually, there are few different versions knocking
around that are quite different, but the version we
use in the final mix, I think is the best of them.
It’s very short and very repetitive and just
does what it needs to do.
Gilles Nuytens: Have
you worked with Murray Gold on other TV or film projects?
Ben Foster: Yeah, on many, many different
projects. We’ve done a few films. Recently we
did I Want Candy, but that was last summer.
That was a while ago now. Murray’s been so busy
doing Doctor Who that he hasn’t had too many
films at the moment. But we did Frank Oz’s Death
at a Funeral, which was great fun. And there’s
been a few other TV projects we’ve done. But
yeah, we’re very close collaborators. It’s
been a very busy few years.
Nuytens: How do
you compose episodes and series? Do you hold meetings
with the script writers and directors?
Ben Foster: Well, with the last series
of Torchwood, there were meetings that had tone meetings
up at Cardiff, and there are initial discussions and
read-throughs of the scripts. I went to them initially
in series two because as you start there is nothing
to do for a few months and then suddenly it becomes
very busy. So I was involved in an early stage, but
it’s less useful for a composer. I think it’s
good to get the scripts and read through the scripts,
but the scripts change and then of course when it’s
shot it’s very different. And then I have a
meeting with the director, which is literally an hour
with the director, watching the episode, and talking
through it pretty much in real time. And then I go
away, write the music, record the music in London,
and then send it up via the Internet to Cardiff. The
first time they’ll hear it is in the final mix.
It’s a very efficient and swift process, which
is good. And it’s nice to be working on your
own because it’s such a huge thing. The deadlines
can be so terrifying because you have one episode
to do and another one to start the next day after
you finish the first. So it’s good to just be
in your own world and get it done.
Gilles Nuytens: Have
you been on the set during script shootings? Was it
as crazy as it is in the show?
Ben Foster: I’ve been a couple
of times when I had meetings in Cardiff and they’ve
been shooting so I’ve sit up in the sidelines
and have watched. They have a lot of fun, I think.
The characters are great fun. I think John Barrowman
has a lot of laughs with the crew. It’s lovely
to be on the set because suddenly you see so much.
To actually stand in the middle of the Torchwood Hub
is really incredible. And of course it’s next
to the TARDIS set as well, so it’s a really
nice time to hang around the set. You see all of these
things. And I’m still a fan. Although I’m
involved in the show, I still want to see the TARDIS.
I still kind of get excited.
Gilles Nuytens: Which
are your favorite episodes of Torchwood?
Ben Foster: I think my two favorite
episodes in series two are episode eight, “A
Day in the Death,” and episode eleven, which
is “Adrift.” The first one is the episode
where Owen talks to Maggie on the roof and we hear
all about Owen after he’s been shot and brought
back to life. So there’s some really good music
there. I’m proud of the music there for Owen.
I think that worked really well. And then episode
eleven, which is the one about the boy Jonah who goes
missing and comes back. I’m very pleased of
the music. The music turned out very well for that.
They are two very different episodes. I really like
Torchwood because of its style. That episode eleven
was incredibly moving. And when you compare that to
something like episode one or episode ten, the cinema
one, they’re kind of quite different, but they
all work together. And that’s the thing of it
as a composer: it’s a great challenge. You have
to make different music, but it all has to sound like
it’s for the same show. So it’s good fun.
Nuytens: Did you
choose all the pop songs in series two? Or did you
write the final captain song in the final episode
of series two?
Ben Foster: The thing is, most of
the pop songs that go in come from the producers or
the directors. So actually I have nothing to do with
that. All that I have to do is score the music. There
were a few incidences in episode one and episode three
that used a few pop and rock tracks. I think they
work well, but I think, as a composer, you probably
would rather write music for it. It’s not a
problem when they use songs, but I prefer it when
they don’t, to be honest. I think it breaks
the barriers down. It becomes a show that maybe it
isn’t. It kind of Americanizes it a bit too
much, as well. I think it has a different effect,
putting a pop song on it. It becomes more like a montage
and less powerful. So, no, I don’t used those.
Gilles Nuytens: Now
about John Barrowman and James Marsters. One’s
a musician and a fantastic singer. And Gareth David-Lloyd
is also a singer. In series three, if you make them
sing, what would you think of it?
Ben Foster: Do you think they could
do a song together? It could work. I’m not sure.
I think they all have fun on set, don’t they?
I think James has his guitar and he plays and I’m
sure Gareth would sing with him, but I don’t
know. John’s quite a showman, isn’t he?
He’s more of the kind of West End style. He’s
less of a rocker. I think Gareth and James could have
a good band together. They’re more in the same
place of the world musically. But whether or not,
I don’t think it would work so well on the show.
But I think maybe that’s something they could
do separately, as a sideline.
Gilles Nuytens: In
series one, the soundtrack is very low in the background.
In series two, the music is more prominent. You can
hear it more than in series one. Is there a reason?
Ben Foster: Well, I don’t know
if that’s true. I think the music at times in
series two is incredibly quiet, actually. I don’t
know whether you’re talking about a mixing or
a sound. What we did for series two was work with
an orchestra, we worked with BBC National Orchestra
of Wales, but we also, every episode, we recorded
bits in London with the London Television Orchestra.
And that’s what we did in series one, actually.
Series one was all done with the small orchestra in
London. But just in series two we did some early recordings
with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. And I recorded
a lot of themes: Owens’s theme, the death scene
at the end, and bits and pieces like Captain Jack’s
theme. It’s useful when you’re doing such
a bit show to have a lot of set pieces that you can
use. It’s similar to what we do with Doctor
Who: we record a whole library of music that relates
to the characters and then can be edited and used
in certain places. So that’s what we did for
this time around. I don’t know if it was intended
to mix, or if it was louder, but I think it might
have a bit more punch to it. Because there is so much
music in Torchwood—there’s up to forty-five
minutes—I think the most we ever heard in one
episode was forty-six minutes in a fifty minute episode.
So that’s an awful lot of music. But it doesn’t
have to be so prominent. I think at times it fits
into the background very well.
Nuytens: Your compositions
in series two give a strong musical identity to the
show. Which are your favorite themes?
Ben Foster: Well, I think the nice
thing about series two is the way we have the constant
references to Owen and we have references to Owen
and Tosh and their relationship. Also, we have Gray’s
theme—Jack’s brother’s theme. Those
are the three big themes for me: Owen’s theme,
Tosh and Owen’s theme and Tosh’s theme,
and the theme for Gray. Because they recur and you
can bring them back here and there. Part of my job
as a composer is to subtlety put little bits of the
theme here and there. And at certain times if you
listen through the whole of series two, there are
a lot of moments where you hear Owen’s theme
and you hear Tosh’s theme together, so it was
always hinting at this moment at the end of this series
when they die together. So, yes, this series in terms
of themes has been stronger because it had been written
that way. There’s been an arc to it, as it were.
There were a lot of themes that I set up in series
one, like Captain Jack’s theme, that I continued
with, and Gwen and Rhys’ theme. That was in
series one. And I brought that back and used that
in the wedding and all that kind of stuff. I think
my most favorite is Owen’s theme. That’s
probably my favorite. And I’m so sad he’s
gone as well because it means I can’t really
use it again, unless they talk about him and then
I can use it, I suppose. Maybe he’ll come back
from the dead. They always do.
Gilles Nuytens: Owen’s
theme gives a great intensity to series two. Why give
such a strong theme to a character who is going to
die? Did you know what was going to happen to him?
Is this theme going to be in series three, maybe?
Ben Foster: I liked Owen’s
character very much and I thought he deserved a really
big theme. And it was a simple theme. It’s just
five or six notes that goes ‘round and ‘round,
so it’s easy to spot, it’s easy to recognize.
It wasn’t clear from the beginning, actually.
It wasn’t clear when I started to write that
he was going to die because they keep everything very
secret, but I think that’s actually because
they haven’t written it. So when they start
the series, they haven’t finished the end. I
have two different scripts for episode thirteen, so
it did change. There were slight changes there. But
I recorded early on in August of last year a lot of
music with the orchestra in Cardiff and Owen’s
theme was one of them. The arrangement that I did
in episode eight, when he’s going up the stairs,
the rock version, that came as a surprise really because
it was never really going to go that far, but then
when I saw episode seven and episode eight, I realized
just how tough he had become in episode seven in the
way that he’s brought back from the dead and
he’s just fine. I just thought it suited him
really well. So, I suppose as an arranger it’s
nice to have the opportunity to take a theme that
can be quite tranquil and quite beautiful and make
it something very angry and angular and tough. I think
that’s what I really like about Owen’s
theme: it was very good value. It was able to be transformed
in lots of different ways. And also with a simple
theme like that you can play that over a lot of other
piece’s of music. And, in fact in episode thirteen,
I just put it over lots of different pieces of music
and also Tosh’s theme, so it was really good
value. It was quite efficient writing, I think. But
I have to say: it’s a shame he’s gone
because I was pleased with it. But we’ll write
another one, I’m sure. I’m sure we’ll
come up with something better.
Nuytens: In Scifi,
everybody can come back from the dead.
Ben Foster: Exactly. And I’m
sure he will. I hope he will.
Gilles Nuytens: So
we saw you singing for Voyage of the Damned in the
Doctor Who Confidential. Were you in the Torchwood
Ben Foster: Well, we don’t
really have a Torchwood chorus. You mean in the opening?
That’s just Murray whispering in his studio,
doing Torchwood. I’m not the world’s greatest
Gilles Nuytens: You
used a chorus for Gray’s theme in episode five
of series two. How did you compose this theme?
Ben Foster: It was just one singer.
It was a girl called Analise that I used to go to
college with and she came around the studio and she
sang. I worked with her before. She’d recorded
pieces I had written in the past, so I knew that her
voice would be perfect for Gray’s theme. And
I talked very early on about doing a choral thing,
for Gray. I just thought it would work. I just thought
it would really work because it’s that kind
of thing when you’re trying to do something
in the fifty-first century, it’s hard to use
electronics because are they futuristic? They’re
not really. It didn’t really seem like they
had electricity, so I wanted to make it very organic
and very real. But I thought the human voice is something
that never changes so that had to be what it was.
So, yes, that was a big part of the identity for Gray:
that voice. I thought it worked very well. But that
was just one person. We recorded it in various different
ways. She was singing, and she was humming, and she
was doing all sorts. It’s quite a few different
takes put together.
Gilles Nuytens: The
Weevils theme sounds Oriental at the finale of series
two. How did you make this choice?
Ben Foster: Well, it was something
I wanted to sound surreal, something that sounded
of another world. And so it was something I did in
series one, actually. The first time we see the Weevils
in episode three or four, and I used it through “Fight
Club” and then toward the end of episode twelve
and thirteen in series one, so you think that’s
another theme I can bring back, but that was played
on the viola. And it was played on an old viola which
is called a viola d’amore, which is an old baroque
instrument. It was played in a very kind of Eastern
style. The player, a chap called Peter Lale, is a
viola player. He plays a lot for composers like Hans
Zimmer. I think he played on the Da Vinici Code, maybe.
He plays a lot of solo stuff and he’s very good
at that kind of thing, so that it sounds a bit otherworldly.
That was good for the Weevils because nobody knows
where they come from. They got that very barbaric
and very animal, very earthy, look to them. I thought
it would work.
Nuytens: The Cardiff's
destruction theme is freaky and noisy. How does it
feel to compose a demolition?
Ben Foster: It’s a bit sad
to see Cardiff go again. It’s funny because
they did that at the end of thirteen last time with
Abaddon stomping his way around the car park of St.
David’s hotel. It’s a bit of a shame,
really. They will always put it back together. It
is sad that the end of the world always seems to come
to Cardiff, but there we go. That’s what happens
when you have a rift running through, I suppose.
Gilles Nuytens: Can
we look for a CD release of Torchwood series one and
Ben Foster: Yes! But nobody knows
it yet. So this is an exclusive, actually, which is
nice. We are releasing a CD of Torchwood. And it should
be out in August, I think, in the UK. I’m just
putting it together now. I got nearly the final place.
It’s very hard because there’s so much
music. There’s eighteen or nineteen hours of
music in the two series, so to choose the best is
nearly impossible. It takes a lot of restraint because
you kind of want to put everything on, but you can
only put eighty minutes or something on it. So it’s
very hard work. I think there will be a lot of music
from series two and less from series one at the moment.
I think partly because when you write something that
was a long time ago, it was eighteen months ago, so
I think you’ll want the latest stuff to be out.
And I think series two was much more successful in
terms of audience. It got a lot more people, it became
bigger, and more people are watching it. So I think
it’s nice to celebrate the recent stuff, the
last series. And also, it’s nice to see the
arc of the developments of the characters from series
one. It’s also not quite clear yet exactly which
because there are certain scenes I do like from series
one, but we’ll have to see. It’ll definitely
be coming out in August in this country, and I’m
sure it’ll be on iTunes and all that. But it
should be really good, it’s very exciting.
Gilles Nuytens: Will
you work on series three?
Ben Foster: Yeah! I mean, it’s
not one hundred percent confirmed yet when it is and
what it’s going to be, but certainly yeah. I’m
very much looking forward to getting going again because
it’s something that takes six or seven months
of your life up. So when it stops, I mean, it’s
very busy now with Doctor Who, but you kind of miss
working on it. And you miss the characters. It’s
funny, you know. And you kind of miss their kind of
company and their adventures. I’ve been looking
forward to starting again.
Nuytens: What are
your other projects?
Ben Foster: At the moment, it’s
Doctor Who. We’re working on the finale. We’ve
been recording here in London individual episodes.
We did episode ten a couple of weeks ago and now we’re
working toward a recording on Tuesday and we’ll
be doing that in Cardiff with the orchestra. We’ll
be recording episodes eight and nine, which will be
the Steven Moffat episodes, “The Library,”
and we’ll also be recording music for the finale,
which, I think it’s no secret: features the
Daleks. So that’s what I’m working on
right now. I’m also working on a couple of pieces
that reprises character themes because there are characters
that return, as you probably know, toward the end.
So we’re going to be rerecording various themes
for Rose and also for Donna. So we’re having
a lot to do next Tuesday. So I’m nearly finished.
And I’m doing a film called The Mummy in the
next couple of weeks for a composer called Randy Edelman
who’s a Hollywood composer. I did another film,
British film last week, and just lots and lots of
stuff. Of course there’s a Doctor Who concert
coming up in July, which is going to be in the Albert
Hall, in London. So I’m going to be working
on that as soon as I can over the next month because
we have got to put a whole lot of music together for
that. And that will be tremendously exciting, but
will be a lot of work again. But that’s what
I’m kind of up to, really.
Gilles Nuytens: Now
I’d like to ask you if you would be interested
in coming to the first French "Who-niverse"
Ben Foster: Oh yeah! When’s
Gilles Nuytens: It’s
on August 30th.
Ben Foster: Where is it?
Gilles Nuytens: It's
Ben Foster: In France? I’d
love to. Any trip to France would be great. I love
the South of France, particularly. I go there quite
a lot. Give David a call! I’d love to do that.
I’m definitely in London at that point.
Gilles Nuytens: My
partners will be very glad to hear that.
Ben Foster: That’s great! That
Gilles Nuytens: That’s
all the questions I have.
Ben Foster: Good! Thank you!
Gilles Nuytens: Thank
you very much for your time.
Ben Foster: You’re welcome.
Gilles Nuytens: Is
it holiday, a day off today in Great Britain (May
Ben Foster: No, there’s a bank
holiday on Monday, but I don’t think I’ll
be having a bank holiday. I got to work. Recording
on Tuesday, so I’ll be traveling to Cardiff
on probably Monday or Sunday. So now I’ll be
in Cardiff on Monday having a meeting with Murray
about the concert. So it’s pretty non-stop until
August. I think the first of August is my next day
off. And then I get a couple of weeks and then we’re
about this interview on the forum