Date of publishing: 24th
Neal Acree is a film, television and game composer
whose music can be heard in the Sci-Fi Channel series
Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, the opening cinematic
for Blizzard Entertainment's World Of Warcraft: Wrath
Of The Lich King, Witchblade, as well as numerous
independent films. A fan of movies and their music
from a very early age, Neal's first records were soundtracks
by John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner and
others. Though originally planning a career in art,
his early experiments in instrumental electronic music
began to take over his life. After studying classical,
ethnic and electronic music, Neal began to see that
film scoring was the ideal outlet for his love of
movies and music.
Early in Neal's career he had the opportunity to
work in cartage, transporting and setting up music
equipment between major Hollywood scoring sessions.
This gave him
a unique "fly on the wall" perspective of
nearly all of the A-list Hollywood composers at work
including Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Hans Zimmer,
Thomas Newman, David
Newman, Randy Newman, John Barry, Shirley Walker,
Bill Conti, John Debney and James Newton Howard. This
proved to be an invaluable learning experience, as
well as an opportunity to meet and eventually apprentice
with such distinguished composers as Marc Shaiman
(Hairspray, City Slickers), Richard Marvin (The O.C.
, Six Feet Under), and Joel Goldsmith (Stargate SG-1,
Witchblade). Visit: www.nealacree.com
Nuytens: Could you
introduce yourself and speak about your background?
Neal Acree: Well, I'm a film, television
and game composer. I've worked with Joel Goldsmith
on the music for Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis
as well as the Witchblade series. I also scored the
opening cinematics for World Of Warcraft: Wrath Of
The Lich King and World Of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade.
I started out playing guitar and was planning on becoming
a graphic artist but at some point in college I decided
to go into music full time. Once I decided to become
a composer I did all kinds of things from music editing,
orchestrating, music preparation and being an assistant
to learn the business from all angles and support
myself while I scored student films. I also did cartage
for a while which involves delivering and setting
up music equipment for recording sessions. It was
a physically difficult job and one that a lot of people
looked down on, but I got to meet most of the composers
I had looked up to and watch them at work. I can't
think of a better way to have gotten immersed in the
Gilles Nuytens: You've
worked on film music as well as on video games music,
how different is it to work for each of these medias?
Neal Acree: The main difference between
the two is in their function. Both game music and
film music serve to help tell a story by (among other
things) establishing mood and pacing except that with
video games, the viewer/player is an active participant
in the drama and thus game music must be designed
to change in real time to follow the the actions of
the player. The music has to be created in a way that
can loop seamlessly and be layered in a way that will
allow the game engine to decide how long the music
plays, how intense it is, or what mood the music is
conveying at any given time. Music in film, while
less technically involved in its implementation, can
have a much more complex role dramatically. Its role
is influenced by the actors performances, the pacing
of the editing, both linear and non-linear storytelling,
sound, as well as all of the dramatic subtext that
exists in the story but isn't necessarily on the screen.
Film music must accompany all of these things in a
way that often leads the viewer's emotions more than
follows their actions.
Nuytens: How is
it to work with Joel Goldsmith?
Neal Acree: Working with Joel has
been great. I started out as his assistant and learned
a lot from him over the years. Even though I have
my own studio now and projects of my own, I still
enjoy working with him very much. We have developed
a very efficient workflow over the years and complement
each other's styles very well. Joel and Rick (Chaddock,
Joel's music editor) are like family really. We've
all been through a lot together.
Gilles Nuytens: We
have many Stargate fans here, could you explain your
participation to the Stargate music?
Neal Acree: I started out as Joel's
assistant right before Season 3 of SG-1 and that involved
everything from engineering to programming samplers
and even the occasional orchestrating. I eventually
started writing some of the music for SG-1 beginning
in season 8 and for Atlantis starting midway through
Season 3. With all of the music that the Stargate
series have there's just no way for one person to
write, orchestrate, perform, and record it all at
the level of quality we produce at the fast pace of
a weekly television schedule.
Gilles Nuytens: What
interest you in film music, why did you choose film
music instead of pop/rock, etc?
Neal Acree: I did actually start
out playing guitar and singing in a heavy metal band
when I was 14. We were never very good and the band
members usually consisted of friends I had coerced
into learning to play instruments. More often than
not I found myself writing instrumental music and
as I learned more and started experimenting with recording
and different instruments, my music started to sound
more and more like it could lend itself to a film.
It took me a while before it even occurred to me that
I could have a career as a composer. I had always
liked movie music though. My record collection when
I was 6 years old consisted of the soundtracks to
The Empire Strikes Back, Superman II, The Black Hole
and even Annie to name a few. I always knew subconsciously
that music was a big part of why I loved movies and
how I felt when watching them.
Nuytens: Which (music)
artists have influenced your works? And what are your
Neal Acree: I listen to a pretty
wide range of music. In terms of composers who have
directly influenced my music, there are a few and
I'm constantly hearing new things that intrigue me.
John Williams more than anyone was the one who first
got me excited about movie music as a kid with the
Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman and E.T. scores
to name a few. I've always believed in the importance
of thematic music in film and though he didn't invent
the idea, he certainly brought it to a new level.
There is nothing I can say about him that hasn't already
been said by every composer ever to try their hand
in this craft. He's the standard by which we are all
judged. In addition to the amazingly bold music and
dramatic sense of Jerry Goldsmith, he also had a very
practical approach to the craft that I've always aspired
to. I was fortunate to have known him through Joel
and often remember his frank observations which always
give me comfort in this crazy business we're in. I
really enjoy and am influenced by the work of so many
composers for so many different reasons and it's hard
to narrow them down. James Horner, James Newton Howard,
Thomas Newman, Howard Shore, Elliot Goldenthal, Philip
Glass, Christopher Young, Hans Zimmer, Tchaikovsky,
Stravinski, etc. Beyond even orchestral composers
I find influence in ethnic, electronic, industrial,
rock and pop music. It often amazes me how something
completely unrelated can spark an idea for me but
that's where inspiration comes from; our experiences
and the world around us.
Nuytens: Could you
describe your working methods, the creative process
until the finished product?
Neal Acree: Well, the first thing
I do is watch the film (or show) in a rough form often
without sound effects or visual effects as those are
being done concurrently with the music. Sometimes
there is temporary music that has been added in by
the editor and director (though not in the case of
Stargate). This initial reaction to watching the film
for the first time is the most important because it
allows me to experience it as the audience will and
usually sparks a lot of ideas which I begin to compile
immediately. This is where I begin to write themes
and assemble a palette of sounds that will define
the tone of the score. The difference with Stargate
is that Joel generally takes the lead with this stuff
and I work with the themes he comes up with. After
watching it a couple more times and meeting with the
director to spot the film or discuss where music should
go in the film and what it should try to accomplish,
I make a list of all the music (or cues as we call
them). In the case of Stargate we usually only have
time to watch the show once and then we're off to
scoring it. Once I have developed the thematic ideas
I begin going down the list (usually chronologically)
and writing the cues, one after another. The writing
process for me involves playing back each scene on
a television in front of me and playing along with
sounds that are generated from my computer. I then
record these sounds into the computer which allows
me to record multiple tracks on top of one another
to create the layered effect of a full orchestra.
That's the simple explanation of it. The process changes
a little if there will eventually be a live orchestra
playing the music but even in that case, the music
first gets written with orchestral sounds from the
computer. Next, there is a review process where the
director (or producer in television) listens to the
music and either asks for revisions or approves it.
Then, once the music is mixed, it is taken to a dub
stage where re-recording engineers combine it and
balance it with the sound effects and dialogue to
create the final mix you hear in the theater or on
tv. That's the whole process in a nutshell.
Nuytens: Will you
participate to the score of Stargate Universe?
Neal Acree: Yes. Joel is already
at work on establishing the musical identity of SGU
and as soon as the shows move into post production
I hope to be helping Joel out in the same capacity
as I did on SG-1 and Atlantis. I'm very excited about
the show and am looking forward to being involved.
Gilles Nuytens: On
what are you working for the moment and what's next?
Neal Acree: I'm working on a couple
of things at the moment which I will hopefully be
able to announce soon including some more work in
the game world. The rest of the year is looking pretty
busy with Universe among other things.
Gilles Nuytens: "You've
been nominated for Game Audio Network Guild Award
for your work on the cinematic of "World of Warcraft:
Wrath of the Lich King", what can you say about
your work on that? Was is very challenging?"
Neal Acree: Wrath Of The Lich King
was the second cinematic I did for Blizzard Entertainment,
the first being for World Of Warcraft: The Burning
Crusade. Both were challenging in the sense that the
size and scope of the cinematics, the level of detail
in the animation and the depth of the lore are so
great that it was a little intimidating. Not to mention
the reputation Blizzard has with their cinematics
and the popularity they have with the fans. At the
same time there is a lot of material to draw from
in terms of previously established musical themes
and even languages. Not many people are aware but
on both of the cinematics the choir is singing specific
lyrics in languages from within the game as well as
augmented by latin where necessary. That was a lot
of fun to do because I love the idea of a piece of
music being able to function on multiple levels, even
if it's on a deeper level than most people will see.
Working with Blizzard is always a great experience.
They put so much pride and mastery into every minute
detail of their projects and being a perfectionist
myself I feel very much at home in that environment.
is the most challenging part of your work, and what
has been the most challenging project you did so far"?
Neal Acree: I think the hardest thing
for me and probably for most composers is trying to
come up with something fresh. Even though everything
has been done to a certain degree, every once in a
while I still hear something in a film score that
makes me say "Why didn't I think of that?".
I'm referring to those interesting juxtapositions
of styles or ethnic instruments that find their way
into film scores for the first time that really make
everyone stop and listen. That's the challenge for
me. To be able to move people emotionally while at
the same time challenging their expectations. As far
as most challenging project that's almost impossible
for me to decide. I put a lot of myself into my work.
Every project I do consumes me completely and takes
years for me to see objectively. The ones that are
the most challenging are probably the ones make the
biggest effort to break new ground with. The films
that I've done with director James Seale (Throttle,
Juncture) always inspire me to top myself and that's
always a personal challenge. It's always worth it
in the end though.