On Monday Highlight Hollywood spoke with acclaimed and renowned composer and musician Max Richter from his Berlin, Germany studio, and he’s as fascinating and charismatic as he is talented and handsome. A man who has worked with many of the cinema’s greatest directors is now headed into his second season as composer for the series created by award-winning filmmaker Damon Lindelof, who is showrunner of “The Leftovers” starring Justin Theroux, a story created from the acclaimed novelist Tom Perrotta, and based on Perrotta’s bestselling novel of the same name. But Max was so understanding that Ma-Bell decided she’s give me circuit problems while trying to reach him from our Beverly Hills, Calif. offices, in the Golden Triangle.
He’s very soft spoken, but that’s the sign of greatness actor Charlton Heston once told me. Without ego, he spoke warmly of his collaboration musically with Damon Lindelof, who is one of the 21ST Century’s most sought after filmmakers. Perhaps that’s why “The Leftovers” seems like an epic film, made specifically for the premium cable network HBO. Richter didn’t mind answering our questions, and first up I had to know how he landed the gig of the decade, composing sounds and music for “The Leftovers?” Further explaining his background, ” My background is in classical music, contemporary music, and I also make my own records. Damon and Peter were both fans of the records, and Damon contacted me, I read the script and knew immediately I wanted to be a part of this production. Then I saw the pilot, and I knew it was going to be special.”
When asked if any input Damon and his producers had in the scores, that fans and critics both raved about last season? “No, they were great to work with. Rather than micromanage the score, they really wanted me to do my thing, which is great. So the score in THE LEFTOVERS very much shares the DNA of my own releases. It has that sort of emotional texture and grammar, rather than being a TV score in the traditional sense. I think that’s unusual both in terms of our process, and in the way that the score functions in the show.”
Richter is not only one of the most prolific composers and writers of music today, but his style is unique, eclectic yet elegant, smooth yet dramatic. I’ve been a fan of his for years, and rarely am I star struck, having Telly Savalas as a godfather and mentors like Bette Davis and Jane Wyman, Barbara Stanwyck and others, I recognize true talent when I see or hear it. Max Richter is the world’s most talented composer today.
The British composer’s inclusive and undemanding approach to composition is always respected and talked about by everyone who works with him. Our HBO insiders tell us, that the network feels beyond grateful for his work, and believe he had a great deal of influence in making the show a hit last season, and are looking forward to this season’s scores.
“The Leftovers” was the icon’s debut in television music scores and composition. But he admits that it is different, but you feel as though he’s not only risen to the occasion, but he also has great concepts and analytical planning in his work, which makes all that he does seem naturally with ease. “This is the first TV show I’ve ever done. And I would add, the main difference is that we have so much more time with the characters. We don’t have to try to reveal everything in one hit, or tell the whole story in one go. We have a lot of opportunities to revisit the characters and look at other aspects of them. It’s like walking around a sculpture – it’s not a flat object. You can walk around it and see all its dimensions over time. That’s wonderful for a composer, because it means we can have that piece of music be refracted through new situations or make transformations in the piece to reflect the new landscape around it.”
His scores do more than set mood for a certain scene in the series. Richter is also partly responsible for building of characters and he enjoys this series as much as we all do. But he isn’t daunted by any of the tasks he’s associated with or given the responsibility to accomplish as a musician. “Composing for me is a bit like an obsessive compulsive disorder in that I do it all the time. The main challenge would simply be remaining true to the material and following it wherever it wants to go, something like an archeological process of discovery. I always try and remain open to what the material can do,” the world renowned composer explains.
“We have themes that accompany certain bits of the story or certain characters [in THE LEFTOVERS],” said Max. “We’ve created a family of themes, which make up the architecture of the score. As the emotional texture of the theme changes, the instrumentation may change, or the tempo, the way it’s used, or the dynamics may change. The themes are the raw material that we form in a sculptural way to illuminate what’s going on in the show.”
Calling Lindelof’s series “impressive and compelling,” Richter was also quick to share the challenges of working on this award-winning series. “The biggest challenge is trying to elevate what we’re doing all the time, trying to do the best version of every idea and get to the heart of it. On a production and music level, it’s been great fun, but the challenge, with anything like this, is that the production schedule can be very fast, that took some getting used to.”
When speaking with Max Richter, you realize he’s not overly chatty, but very classy, very accomplished and extremely gracious. So, before I ended the conversation I had to ask him a question that is on all of his fans’ minds. What does he base his work on, how does a genius like Richter accomplish what he does, so effortlessly? “Music for me is story telling, so I usually start with an intention or something I want to say. From there I kind of struggle around in the dark, trying to find ways to say that. Sometimes it’s a linear thing where I have an idea and then go about trying to find ways to express it. Other times I will discover things along the way and the idea ends up turning into something else altogether. It’s a mixture between intention and chance.”
Adding, “I think the reason I write music is because I’m trying to say things that I find difficult to encapsulate verbally. Music is its own kind of language and it’s very good at saying things that words struggle with, so that’s often the impulse for me.
When we concluded, he raved as much about the producers and HBO as much as they raved earlier to me about Max and his organic and tremendous talent as a composer and writer. “The amount of freedom I’ve been given – it’s unusual. There’s also great enthusiasm for trying different ideas, and that’s exciting,” said Max Richter.
He also confirmed to us, that he’s working on a new CD. I will be in line when it’s released. So will millions of Max’s fans.
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Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy: HBO; Mike Terry Photography
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