[Interview - Larry Groupé]

Composer Larry Groupé, who in the past had worked with John Ottman on The Usual Suspects and other films, recently scored the highly anticipated film The Contender.  I had a chance to talk with Larry at his Los Angeles studio just before he left for the Toronto Film Festival, where The Contender had its "gala" premiere.

When did you start working with Director Rod Lurie?

I first started working with Rod Lurie on his 22-minute short film called "4 Second Delay", that went to the festivals to get recognized.  It won some awards in France and other various places - which gave it enough recognition to finally beget a budget for Deterrence.  Paramount Classics did a Landmark Theater run during the summer, and it just came out on video.  During the scope of its release, it was relatively successful.  That project was very well received, and that in turn got The Contender rolling.  So it's been one of those stepping stone things for Rod, and I've scored every one of his films so far and hopefully will continue to do so!

The music in The Contender is very "Americana" - tell me a bit about your approach to scoring the film.

One of the interesting struggles for me was that Rod wanted to make the film somewhat documentary in style.  Because of the content, he wanted as much realism as you could get - so he wanted to use music sparingly.  He really liked what I was writing, but every time I would write music for a scene he would say something like, "That's really great, I just don't know if I should have music in here since you can't have music in the Senate Hearing Rooms!"  So I wrote a lot of music for the picture, which he had liked but ultimately simply chose not to have the music in the final dub due to his stylistic approach.  I convinced him to allow me to record various cues, and get them to the dubbing stage - they could always be taken out later.  He agreed and we went up and recorded in Seattle, and when we got to the dub stage, he still removed even more music!  It was crushing for me in that regard, but I understood what he was trying to do with the picture as a whole, and my job was to help him realize that.

The music was very Americana - I wrote dark themes for the dark aspects of the story, which he very promptly wanted to remove.  He didn't want those "color with music" periods.  He liked the pieces, but just didn't want the music there, except for those "payoff" Americana events.  What little music remained in the picture is, at least, featured very strongly, but for me it's an unbalanced score, since I'm missing the darker themes.  But be sure to stay for the end credits - they are around 7 and a half minutes, and it really gets to show off the score, including those darker themes.  As a theatrical experience the movie is very effective, and so all of Rod's goals, I hope, are realized the way he likes them!

Will The Contender get a score release?

Yes - I believe it will be coming out on Citadel records.  We'll try to take Deterrence and put combine the two scores onto one CD.  A few of those darker cues that aren't in The Contender will be on the album.  Hopefully then people will go back and see Deterrence if they like the music enough.

How did you get started in film music?

I went to college at the University of the Pacific's Conservatory of Music, and then went down to UC San Diego for my composition masters.  After that, I didn't want to continue in academia, I just wanted to write music!  The best way to do that was through film scoring.  So I started working for studios arranging and orchestrating jingles and production library pieces, etc.  Then I connected with John Ottman and orchestrated and conducted The Usual Suspects.  I continued to do things for him, as well as picking up my own smaller pictures, and they started to build.  Then the Rod Lurie connection happened - luckily those got noticed and things are starting to build!

I am school trained, and I still enjoy commissions from various orchestras to write for them, so I still have one foot on the concert stage.  I had a premiere last year with the San Diego Symphony of a commissioned work they had me write which was a fantastic experience.  I also have an upcoming (repeat) premiere of an organ solo piece for the Spreckels Organ Society.  San Diego has an enormous outdoor organ pavilion. The instrument is quite unique - it was built in 1906.  I was asked to write a suite of five movements for the San Diego Civic Organist, Robert Plimpton.  (San Diego is one of the few cities to employ a Civic Organist).  So I continue a concert-hall career and get these commissions when I can, and enjoy writing the art music I want to do while I pursue the big film career.

Many composers who also write compositions on the side might take projects they know are risky just because it allows them to release their music.  Have you done the same thing?

I Woke Up The Day I Died is a good example of that.  It was Ed Woods last script, which made it interesting enough - but the fact it was a silent film made it paramount of importance.  It's only playing in festivals right now - the production company had some business difficulties, so it hasn't been officially released yet.  But I did that because I wanted the chance to write for a silent film, and in this case, the music was comprised of the expected 1950's B-movie Sci-Fi theremin stuff complete with over the top scoring, as well as more modern drum and bass grooves.  It spans all kinds of time periods.  It's a very unusual score.

Do you have a particular dream project?

That's hard to say.  When I look at film scores I've really admired, The Shawshank Redemption would be the type of project I would love to do.  Or something epic like Papillon - something that spans a huge amount of time like that.  The Lord of the Rings would have been a great project - it's organic, and spans every genre.  Maybe for another time! 

What upcoming projects can you tell me about?

I have a movie called Scotland PA that I might be working on, and I have a few other projects that I can't mention at this moment since they haven't been locked down.  But I hope The Contender will be the big breakout film.

How do you manage to work in San Diego County and deal with the film industry in Los Angeles?

Well, I work in Oceanside, which I like to think of as Extremely Southern Los Angeles. It's 90 minutes away.  It takes that long for some people to commute who live in the Valley!  My main studio is down in Oceanside, and my "presentation" studio is up here in Los Angeles - where I can make changes and show the work to directors and producers, etc.  It seems to be a big deal to people in LA - it's convenient for them.  I would rather have them come over here to my West LA office now to look at my work instead of how I used to do it.  I would go up to their office and pop in a videotape - which would sound just terrible.  But here I can play it off the musical equipment, and the quality is much better.  So this is really for presentation reasons, or crunching deadlines, or any other reason where I would need to be in LA.  Directors don't tend to work with composers on a daily basis - so I can work down at the main studio, and just come up when I have a meeting. 

Deterrence should be airing on Showtime later this month.  The soundtrack album to The Contender and Deterrence will be out on Citadel Records later this fall.

Special thanks to Ray Costa for getting this interview set up.