[Interview - Shirley Walker]
Composer Shirley Walker was one of the first female composers to write a feature film score for a major studio. She has worked on the award winning "Batman: The Animated Series" and its spin-offs, and has composed scores for Escape from LA, Turbulence, and most recently, Final Destination. SoundtrackNet had a chance to catch up with Shirley Walker recently and chat with her about her work.
You were one of the first female composers to record a film score for a major studio. What are your thoughts on the way that the film industry has changed to allow more women to become accepted as film composers?

I am encouraged to see the film-scoring door open to women. There are so few women composers; we have a visibility that men have to work harder to achieve. Any successful career is based on whom you know. I don't think changes in the industry have brought this about. I think women now place more emphasis on building a solid relationship base. As my director friends' careers evolve, mine goes along with them.

Your work on the all of the different Batman animated series and "The Flash" has given you plenty of experience writing action-hero scores. Do you find that you are being corralled into a specific genre (action/horror)? Do you have another direction that you would like to explore?

I certainly have plenty of action/horror to support any submission I might wish to make on films of that nature. I would enjoy doing a romance.

Your work on Final Destination fit the mood of the film perfectly with the right blend of suspense, action, and horror. What sort of approach did you take to scoring the film, and what did you do to try and make this film different (musically) from other films of its kind?

Although I use plenty of orchestral effects, Final Destination is very theme-driven. It's quite conservative in this regard. I know Jim Wong and Glen Morgan like music that covers the range from bizarre animal noises with stronger visceral impact to stirring emotional music with well-defined melodies that evolve through the storytelling.

Earlier this spring you were working on some episodes for the NBC television show "The Others". How do you manage to take on so many projects at once, and still put out consistently high quality amounts of music?

Unfortunately, I find that "consistently high quality" is the part that suffers a bit, the busier I am.

Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell me about?

I recently accepted and finished a commission from the UCSB Symphony to write a concert piece. What a wonderful change of pace it turned out to be. Writing music where the ideas create the structure of the piece without external imposition of any kind was quite refreshing.

This commissioned work, "Oncogenic Quietude", was inspired by your husband's tragic diagnosis with lung cancer and his wonderful and inspiring recovery. Did you find it difficult to write this piece given that it was so personal to you?

Composing the concert piece was a wonderful opportunity for me to express with music the depth of emotion I was feeling about Don's situation.

Was this commission written after he had fully recovered, or was it a "work in progress" throughout his recovery?

Don is still in recovery. I wrote in a burst of intensity during a 1-week break in my schedule on "The Others".

Although "The Others" has sadly been cancelled for next season, you are still heavily involved in the WB animated television shows. Do you feel that your television shows are your "bread and butter", and the films you do are the "icing on the cake"?

I will take the opportunity to compose wherever it comes from. I am not so much sought after in the industry that I feel a need to specialize and do only film.

Would you prefer to focus on films, or focus on television, if it had to be one way or the other?

I would prefer to focus on films, when that evolves in my career. I like spending the amount of time with a project that is afforded by film schedules. I found that when I was writing 25 - 30 minutes of music a week, week after week, I frequently was just "getting" the nuances of the story as I was finishing the writing. There was never time to go back and improve anything with a second thought or two.

You provided "additional music" on Mystery Men - yet it is rumored that you were able to (musically) save the film. Is there anything you can tell me about that?

The most fun thing for me about the rescue job on Mystery Men was that there wasn't enough time for it to be a collaborative effort with the filmmakers involved. I just did my best and they used what they liked of what I had done. Because of the short amount of time to turn things around, there wasn't the prolonged quibbling that comes with a normal negotiation surrounding doing a score.

Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

Nothing new but I am excited that New Line will be providing a score only audio track on their DVD release of Final Destination.

The "Oncogenic Quietude" will be performed by the UC Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra on June 7th at 8:00pm. The Batman / Superman Adventures air on a regular basis on the WB during the daytime.

Special thanks to Alison Freebairn Smith for her help in arranging this interview.

Images courtesy of New Line Cinema, Warner Brothers, and Dana Ross Photography.