[Interview - Carlo Siliotto]

Italian composer Carlo Siliotto recently drew attention in the United States with his work on the TNT Miniseries "Caesar" last year.  This year, he scored the Lion's Gate comic-book adaptation of The Punisher.  SoundtrackNet had a chance to talk with Carlo during his recent visit to Los Angeles.

Let's start by talking about The Punisher.  How did you first get involved with the film?

I got involved because my agent, Tammy Krutchkoff at Air-Edel, sent some of my music to Marvel and to the music supervisor, Dave Jordan.  He then sent it on to the director, Jonathan Hensleigh.  And ultimately, he picked me!  Jonathan then called up Marvel - and they already knew me because they had loved some projects I had done in the past, like Flight of the Innocents and Caesar, specifically.  I have to say that Jonathan was really daring on this film. It's unusual - if you shoot an American action movie, it's a weird choice to pick an Italian composer.  But he really loved my music, and the entire process was stress-free because Jonathan told me he just wanted my music for his movie.  He already knew my music, had heard a bunch of stuff, and wanted to have the flavor of my music in his film.

So you weren't given too much direction for your score?

Well, I got an email from Tammy asking where I was, since there was a director who wanted to meet me as soon as possible.  I had already scheduled a flight to LA for other reasons, so I came out here and we went to editorial and saw the movie for the first time.  After that, I met with Jonathan, and then we spotted the film and figured out where the music would go.

Why do you think Jonathan picked you for an action movie like The Punisher.  Do you know why your music works?

I think I know why, because I did it!  The reason is likely that The Punisher - even though it's coming from a comic book character, and might have some cliché American action movie moments - beneath it all has Jonathan's intelligence and smartness.  Because he really loved the feelings of the characters.  This man, Frank Castle, is somebody who has a slaughtered family.  He comes through that slaughter, and becomes a punisher.  But he's a sad man - he drinks, and has bad memories always coming to him.  There's a lot in the film, and at times it is like a modern version of a classic tragedy - like Othello. So you have all of these elements, and I think Jonathan wanted me to think of the emotional sentiments and feelings of the characters.  The music needed to be very emotional in the film, and he wanted me to be myself, and follow my own emotions.

The music I wrote for the massacre is far from clichéd action music, and it's because I try to keep the point of view of Maria, Castle's wife, and the pain and upcoming pain of Frank Castle. I'm trying to establish a "memory" of them, even before the event succeeds, so that you can associate with it, step by step.  Jonathan asked me to write a very flexible theme.  Frank Castle is smart and powerful, but sad - he's unable to establish a love relationship with Rebecca Romijn-Stamos!  I'm very glad with how it all turned out - at a press conference, Tom Jane said he'd love to have had the music while he was shooting the movie because it was so emotional it would have been helpful for his acting!

Was there any temp music in the film that you were asked to stay close to?

I had my first screening of the film without any temp music - I always ask for that, because I am unable to get my own idea of what the music will be like in the movie if there is other music already placed.  But sometimes temp music is the only tool a director has to show you his idea of the music, and what is fitting for the movie.  Temp music is a delicate matter.  Some people fall in love with the temp, and want you to repeat something they have in there.  But here's the difference between good composers and bad composers, I think.  If you are a good composer and understand that a piece of music that wasn't written for the film works, it's because of the adjectives.  It works because it's sad - there is only one instrument, and maybe it's a little dark.  So you have to keep those "adjectives", and write your own music using them - but without copying the music.  And your music will definitely be more effective than the temp track because it's written for the movie! 

So your music probably already has a "memory" of the movie itself - or something established earlier in the film.  That's why it's effective.  I was very lucky because Phillip Tallman was the music editor for The Punisher, and assembled the temp music.  He did a marvelous job.  His work was not intruding or influencing - but it underlined the specific music points.  One of the qualities of the music in the film is that as the scene progressed, the music builds and then pauses, just before an event. This almost became a "language" of the music in the movie - it happens almost 14 times in the film.  Because Tallman's reading of the film was so close to my own and because Jonathan told me he wanted me to write my own type of music for the film, I was completely free to write music!  I didn't feel like I had to emulate anyone else.  Jonathan picked me because of my differences from the Hollywood stuff.  But it's fitting - it fits the film, and I think we did a good job.

Do you orchestrate your own music?

I do all of my own orchestration.  I have one assistant to help me with the electronic part of the score, and I build sounds within that.  Sometimes I use orchestral samples, to show my full score mockups to someone, but that's usually the only reason.  In the past few years, I've built up my own library of sounds that I created, from project to project.  And for every new film I work on, I create new sounds, and add to the library.  Ludovico Fulci is my assistant at the sessions - I need someone in the control room behind the glass to check things for me while I conduct the score. I love to conduct my music, and have a very good relationship with the orchestra.

Do you compose music the "old-fashioned" way, with a score pad and pencil?

Exactly!  I used computers for the electronic sounds, and programs like Cubase, Logic and Pro Tools, so we can get the best possible synchronization with the picture.  When all of the electronic stuff started being used in the industry, I was working with a publishing company in Italy that owned a music studio.  They had all of this new stuff - the DX7 by Yamaha, Fairlight, Synclavier, etc.  So I spent a bunch of time studying these machines, and can use them perfectly.  But, I decided at that time that I didn't want to focus my writing with them.  I didn't want to depend on presets - because they're already so fast.  Every month there's a new preset coming out, and you have to update your equipment.  I decided that my path was to write music, and invent sounds - and I prefer it this way rather than using something I bought in a store.

For The Punisher, recording the orchestra took five days, with 10 3-hour sessions.  But the electronic recording took about 15 days, before we did the orchestral sessions.  It took that long because we created all of the specific sounds you hear in the movie, and we also had to emulate the orchestra in order to understand the relationship between these new sounds and the orchestral sounds. I love this new kind of freedom - you have room to experiment and to try something new.  You're always working inside your own limits, but you're constantly trying to break up those limits and go even farther.  It's exciting if you can do it by scoring a movie, because you are working and meanwhile you are looking for something new that you can put into this film, and probably others.

When did you start working on The Punisher, and how long did it take for you to write it?

I came to Los Angeles in the beginning of December - met with Jonathan around December 4, and we had the screening after that.  It took about 3 or 4 days to sign the deal with the agents, studio, etc.  About a week later, I was almost ready with the main themes of the film. I showed them to Jonathan over Christmas, then went back to Europe.  I wrote for about 25 days or so, and then I started working on the electronics.  So really I only worked about 3 months on the film.

In the past, I have written scores in 5 days!  Once an Italian director really wanted me to score his film, and I told him I didn't have the time.  He said he preferred me over anyone else, and it was such an honor, so I worked 24 hours a day, and completed it in 5 days.  Sometimes you have more time, but basically you're always in a hurry in this business.

Do you think it would be easier to start on a film earlier in the process?

When I first started with this type of work, I would go on location and visit the set. I would do that to experience and feel the effort of hundred of people working on a movie, in order to make myself feel responsible - because I work alone.  I would go to editorial to see the editing process of the film.  And then I did my first thriller film, and discovered that to already know what the story is like, and all of the tricks, it didn't surprise me anymore once I finally saw the first cut.  So, sometimes if I know the director well enough, I prefer not to even read the script.  The composer is the most privileged guy in the process.  A director works 3 or 4 years to get the funding for a film.  He knocks on every door, and then gets it going.  He wants a ship, but they give him a little boat. He wants a train, but they give him a motorcycle.  He wants a particular actress, but they give him another one.  He wants rain, but it's sunny.  At the end of the process, after hundreds of people work on the film, after the editors have cut the movie, and every little detail has been worked out, along comes a man.  And they ask this one man for his feelings on the film, and if he can give back his feelings through music.  So a composer is really the most privileged ring of the chain. 

Now I can wait until I see the first cut of the film, because of the feelings the movie gives you when you see it put together.  Ennio Morricone told me once that he is able to write music in the dark - without a lighting pencil.  He invented a system to write notes, even if you can't see what you're doing.  And he taught me how to do it.  Sometimes the first feeling you have is the right one for the film.  For The Punisher, I was in the car with my friends Paula and Carlo, and the themes just came to me.  So I told them to stop chatting for a moment, and wrote the notes down.  I got home, and started working with the piano - it was my first idea, actually.

Do you play the piano? What instruments do you know how to play?

I play guitar first, and violin second.  I never studied the piano; I just use it when writing music and checking myself.  I show people my ideas on it, but I don't consider myself a piano player at all.  I used to play violin, but I don't play anymore because all of my time is dedicated to composing - and you have to practice violin every day.

Where did you record the score to The Punisher?

We recorded the electronic portion in Rome at Forum Music Village, and the Bulgairan Symphony Orchestra in Bulgaria.   This is a very good orchestra.  The first time I went there was because it was very convenient and cheap.  Well, it used to be cheap!  Now I'm going there because I love the orchestra, and have done over 30 films with them.  I can call on almost all of the players by name, and have a good friendly relationship with them.  I respect them, and they respect me.  It's a large room and has a great sound.  We mix the music down back in Rome, and then we bring it back to Los Angeles.

What projects do you have coming up?

I have an Italian movie now, and some upcoming projects here in the States, but I have to cross fingers and prefer not to say too much about the, since you know how it works.  But there are a couple of projects, and Jonathan wants me to score his next movie, whatever he's going to do, and I have something else coming up, so hopefully I'll be around here and there for a while!

How do you find it working in both Rome and Los Angeles?

The first time I came here was in 1992, and the Hollywood movie industry was quite different then.  Only major studios were around, and everyone was trying to get in with them.  Now it's completely different.  After 10 years or more, we have the Internet working for it - we all see the same movies, globally.  It used to be that we would see everything in Italy - Hollywood movies, European movies, Asian movies.... but you were only seeing the American movies, for the most part.  But now, there's a bit of osmosis between the two coasts of the ocean.  While I'm here in Los Angeles, I have 3 or 4 American friends who are filmmakers and are working in Italy!  Last time I came out here, I met Monica Belluci on the plane, and this time I met Valeria Golina...

What airline do you fly?!

Hahaha... I also have some Italian friends working here - costume designers, etc.  There's a lot of swapping going on.  If you watch the end titles to Kill Bill, you see a lot of Japanese names.  If you watch the end of a Roland Emmerich movie, you will see a lot of German names.  So you have these filmmakers moving around here and there, and I think it really helps our work, because you are never bound into only one dimension.  For example, my son is 23 years old, and he grew up in both Milan and Rome - and it's been so effective for him to know even two different dimensions.  Now I have music, thankfully, and I have movies here and there, and ever single project is a new journey.  You meet different people, the crew, actors, etc.  You go from a comedy to a drama, from a mafia movie to The Punisher.  It's great!

The Punisher is being released by La-La Land Records. Special thanks to Tammy Krutchkoff at Air-Edel, and Michael Gerhard at La-La Land Records for their help in arranging this interview.