Two-time Emmy Award-Winning Composer (or, to hear it from him, a three-time Emmy loser): Trevor Morris
BY PAKSY PLACKIS-CHENG
How did you get involved with the Dutch movie Michiel de Ruyter?
A close friend of mine [film director Roel Reiné] who’s Dutch said, “I’m doing a movie about the most famous naval commander in the history of the Netherlands.”
It was one of those, “okay.”
Roel encouraged me to immerse myself in the culture. He said, “You need to go to the Rijksmuseum’s Golden Age of Holland exhibit and see the painting the movie is based on.” It is the only historical record from that time. The more I sort of dug into it, the deeper I went.
How much world history and how much [Michiel de Ruyter] impacted the world. By the time I finished the movie — this was three months of research and writing the score — Michiel de Ruyter and I became like friends. I read his book and researching who he was and what he meant to the Dutch culture and his impact on the world.
How do you get a feel for a foreign culture, especially in a different time setting?
There’s two different parts of it. One is the music, obviously. Depending on what time period it’s from, there may be recorded music; there may be not. Beyond that it’s more about the culture and the art and the world politics of the time.
That impacts more of what I’m going to do. My job is to write a film score from the point of view of a 2015 audience to evoke the feeling of what it was like to be there.
Most of my focus goes into art, culture, paintings, and architecture. And going to Amsterdam, walking around, and looking at all of Holland. How much land and water there is. How much man-made land there is. That becomes intrinsic, becomes a feeling. You absorb it, and it comes out of you later.
Do you feel you’re typecast now? Because with The Borgias and Tudors…
Yeah, I get that all the time. My typecast is the period composer guy. It’s a great problem to have. I’m a musical storyteller. The better the story, the better chance I have to write music.
You also compose electronic music for games. How common is it for composers to write for different formats?
It’s very common now, but it’s only the last 10 or maybe 15 years. You used to be a film composer or a TV composer. Now, you are a multimedia composer. Growing up, Jerry Goldsmith was my idol. He was a film composer. He did a few episodes of television, but he was a film guy. Now, that’s just not the case anymore. I do one or two movies a year. I do one or two televisions shows a year. I do a game all at the same time.
I actually embrace it. I think it’s kind of cool. TV is fast and furious and turned around once a week. A movie took me three months probably between research, writing it, executing it, and recording it in Brussels.
What would a passion project be?
It would be outer space or science fiction. It’s my favorite genre. I saw Star Wars in the movie theater. I was very young, but I remember. And anyone who’s in my profession, at my age, will probably tell you that we’re all chasing Star Wars in some ways. I love the Aliens movies, with Sigourney Weaver. I just love outer space; there’s something about it. It’s real, but it’s also fantasy. If you do a fantasy project, like I’d say a fantasy video game, you can do anything you want, musically, because there’s no reference. It’s all out there, just whatever your brain can come up with. It’s on the bucket list for sure.
What are the opportunities for the next composers?
The challenge is that now, more so than ever, a lot of people want to do what I do for a living, so we have schools like UCSB and UCLA and Berklee in Boston, and all over the world, pumping out 30 students a year who want to be film and T.V. composers. The market has become much more saturated.
But on the upside, with the Internet, we have shows like Netflix that’s changed the game. Amazon is making television shows. There are web series. So as the influx of people come in, the opportunities have expanded, as well.
I think that if you want to be a composer, there’s more opportunity today. Maybe getting to the top might be a bit harder, but at least there are projects out there.
What was the difference between winning the first Emmy and the second Emmy?
A lot, actually. I got nominated for the first Emmy. I felt like I already had won. That sounds cliché, but it’s absolutely true. The Academy does not have a history of rewarding first timers very often, so I went into this whole thing with the red carpet, and I had the tux, and my wife had a beautiful dress. We’re just going along for the ride because we figure there’s no way I’m going to win. We just enjoyed the journey. Then I won, which is awesome, but then the next time you go in for the Emmys there’s more pressure because there’s an expectation because you won last time you were there.
I’ve been nominated five times and won twice, so I’m three times an Emmy loser. [Laughs.]
The first one was very special because it was so unexpected. It really came out of left field. I have a special place in my heart for it, The Tudors, the show that kind of put me on the map.
What is the process of creating a piece?
Basically, I have a computer system that is the entire palette of the orchestra at my fingertips. Whether it is woodwinds, brass, strings, or a piano, it’s all preloaded in a set of computers that renders these sounds for me as closely as possible to whatever is real.
If I have an idea, instead of writing it down, I actually get to hear the sound. I’ll watch the picture, and I’ll compose linearly as a picture goes by with the melodic idea first. I sit down and watch the opening sequence and write the tune. From that becomes the whole movie score, as it hangs off that one melody. So it’s usually melodically driven first, and then orchestration follows.
I just finished another big movie called London Has Fallen, which is a big action movie. And I’m onto my fourth season of my favorite television show, called Vikings, which is, again, not unlike Michiel de Ruyter. It’s looking into the window of a completely new culture that I know nothing about, exploring what the Vikings were and our preconceived notions of what they were and what they actually were and how they changed the world. That’s a really cool television show.
Are you the Canadian living the American dream?
I’m a British-Canadian dual citizen living in America, living the dream. I moved to the States to pursue my dream of writing music for TV and film. My dreams really had an opportunity to come true. I’m pretty lucky in that away.