[Interview - Elia Cmiral]
Elia Cmiral received a lot of notice this fall with his critically acclaimed score for the thriller Ronin. Previously, Cmiral worked on the CBS television show "Nash Bridges". I recently had an opportunity to talk with Cmiral about his experiences on Ronin and breaking into the Hollywood Film Music scene.

How did you get the job for Ronin?

Simple - based on my music! It sounds like a fairy tale in Hollywood, because it simply doesn't happen this way every day. Usually you need connections: a friend from high school, an old girlfriend, agents, or studio politics. When you have a list of credits to your name, it's much easier. But in the beginning, it's very difficult.

My ex-agent sent a demo CD for a small project at MGM over to the MGM Music Department. The Executive Vice President of MGM music, Michael Sandoval, loved the CD and at the same time, Jerry Goldsmith left Ronin. The picture was already locked into a date for scoring, and they were without a composer. The larger agents provided their replacement ideas, and eventually the list was reduced down to three choices. Sandoval believed in me and put me on the list, for this Iíll be thankful to him for the rest of my life! I was than invited to a screening of the film. I loved the picture and asked Frankenheimer to let me do a demo for the opening sequence. Frankenheimer agreed and I went back to my studio thinking about the theme described by him as "sadness, loneliness, and heroism". I wanted to write something really special - something new. I also knew I wanted to avoid any regional references. So even though the whole movie is set in Paris and Nice I used an Armenian instrument called a duduk, which is similar to an oboe, but very primitive. It has a haunting sound quality and is very difficult to play well. For me it has the quality of honesty and warmth of a human being's soul and I put it against very sophisticated large symphonic orchestra and huge electronica - the biggest possible contrast!

Everyone loved the demo and I got the job - simply based on my music. The final version of the opening music in the film is basically the same music that I wrote for the demo - just performed with an orchestra.

Since you were replacing Goldsmith, how long did you have to write the score?

I had seven weeks to write the score and one week to spot the film. Instead of writing, the first week was spent updating my studio to be capable of mocking-up a complete score for Frankenheimer. So I actually had less then six weeks to write 75 minutes of music, produce demos and present them, organize orchestrating in London and do all electronica myself. I worked with a conductor/orchestrator in London by the name of Nick Ingman, and would send him the MIDI files and he would work with them and send scores back to me. We recorded with the orchestra in London - I had 90 musicians for four days, two days with 75 musicians, one day was with a choir, and one day was with percussion and additional electronic effects.

When I came to London, I brought my music editor Mike Flicker and recording/mix engineer John Whynot. They were both terrific. We mixed the music later in Sherman Oaks, CA. Director Frankenheimer asked me to attend the dubbing sessions of the film to supervise the music mix. It was another great experience to hear my music finally mixed with dialog and sound effects in a large dub stage and to see how it worked!

Most people are under the impression that Ronin is your first American feature film, but you have done others. What can you tell me about Apartment Zero?

I first came to the United States in 1987 to study at the well-known USC Scoring Program. After I finished USC, I secured a record deal in Sweden. Before I left, I was hanging around LA, and I got Apartment Zero. The movie was shot in Argentina, and they wanted an Argentinean tango. The Argentinean Tango King (Astor Piazzola) was hired to do the film, and wrote part of the score. The director and producer went to Buenos Aires to listen to it and didnít like it. They called the movie's sound-designer (who is friend of mine) to tell him that the music didn't work. What could they do? So my friend called me next day and screened the moviefor me. It was an interesting film, but I didn't know anything about Argentinean tangos! So the director and producer came that afternoon, and asked me if I could write an Argentinean tango. "Of course! No problem!" They wanted to know if I could write it in 10 days - "Of course, No problem!" <laughs> So I had 45 minutes of music to write in 10 days in a musical style I had no experience with! 20 minutes for a small orchestra was all I could write in that time. Remember - I was young, fresh, and just finished USC Scoring. I had no idea about musicians, orchestrators, nothing! I didn't know who to call, so I called a composer I knew from USC seminar, a real composer. He came over to my house, listened to the music, gave his advice, and put me in contact with his contractor, and helped me get to the point where we could record in studio. The remaining 25 minutes of the score I improvised with rented synthesizers, piano and percussions directly in studio.

During the dayime I was in Hollywood assisting on dubbing the film, and during the nights I scored the music for the next day's dub reel - it was insane! This continued for one whole week, but I made it and it turned out great. The score was very well received, but I went to Sweden, and did my albums. That was the end of 1988. From 1989-1991 I worked in Sweden and thought I would come back to Los Angeles. 1991 came and went, and I kept working in Sweden on various film projects and my records, but I felt I needed to come back to LA. To be able to write for big movies was a dream for me - so I moved back to LA in November of 1993.

When I came back, I thought the work would be flying at me, because of Apartment Zero - but no one remembered it! I worked on some Showtime projects, AFI films, music libraries, scored one feature in Prague and one short movie in Sweden, and then in 1996 I got to work on the opening season of "Nash Bridges". In a situation very similar to that with John Frankenheimer, Don Johnson heard my music, and hired me on that basis alone. It was my first experience with an American television series. Then came a feature Somebody is Waiting with Nastassja Kinski and Gabriel Byrne and the same director as Apartment Zero. I also scored five documentary films.

Then along came Ronin!

What are you working on now?

In this moment I am sorting out different offers with my new agent, meeting people from industry and spending time with my wife and my son.

What would your dream project be?

My dream project is to work with a director of Frankenheimer's caliber with a great inspiring cast in a dramatic movie where music once again plays an important roll.

Ronin is available on Varese Sarabande Records, and is still in most second-run theaters.