Composer Spotlight #4 - Jasper Sullivan
We are back with another edition of composer spotlight, the blog series where we speak to emerging composers from around the globe about their musical inspirations, and perspectives on the industry. Today we are pleased to bring you an interview with UK based composer Jasper Sullivan. Jaspers credits include the 2-part fan film Marvel Adventures – Spiderman, and the short horror film Unseeing Evil, for which he received the ward for best original score at the WRPN.TV Film festival.
How did you get into writing music for film? My journey as a film composer started when I was in my final year of school. I realised that sooner or later, I was going to have to make a choice as to what it was that I was going to be studying for the next 4 years of my life. At the time, I wanted to be an actor; eventually getting to be in film. But this meant that my skills as a musician would be left to dwindle as time continued.
However, throughout my career as an actor, there was a constant voice in the back of my head that always said: “This scene could be so much more powerful if it had some music”, and I would always be conceptualising the music, thinking about how it would sound and how it would amplify the scene. Eventually, we did decide to incorporate music for one of our exams at the time. However, the tone felt completely wrong to me and I felt it wasn’t as half as impactful as it could have been. This was then my light-bulb moment as I realised I could both be in film and a musician. I have since set out on a journey to be a film composer and did my first score for an animation student at the University of Surrey; which I’m also a current student at.
How would you describe your composition process? In a word, I would describe it as “instinctive”. As a former actor, I’ve always held the belief that I have this knack to be able to hear the music before it is written. I am able to analyse the scene in my head and know what I should be hearing before I write it; I know the instruments and how many to use, the dynamics, tempo, key etc. Even then, if the scene doesn’t use orchestral sounds, I know the type of synthetic sound I want - which often leads to hours scrolling through Komplete Kontrol!
However, this doesn’t make the process easy, as often the further I get into a project, the more difficult it becomes to tie it all together; film music is so much more than simply having a low brooding cello line to show a big scary character, brass fanfares for heroes and staccato clarinets and bassoons for comedy. It is so important that the intent of each character on screen is musically considered. In short, my process goes a bit like this: I watch the film a few times through, make notes and add markers in the project, play around with some ideas on the old keyboard and then flesh them out harmonically, repeat the process for each of the key turning points in the scene and then find an appropriate way to tie it all together.
Do you have a favourite instrument to write for? This is a really tricky question. When I was starting out my journey as a media composer, I was writing in the fashion that I mentioned earlier; brass fan-fares for heroes etc. However, the more I wrote for orchestra, the more I discovered the potential for each instrument. Particularly the capabilities of the brass section and their abilities to be gentle and sweet, just like strings. The piano has got to be my favourite, but I am born and bred a pianist so perhaps I’m slightly biased!
In regards to each of the orchestral sections, I couldn’t possibly choose one instrument. however If I chose one from each section, it would be the following. String section, it has to be the cellos. Brass section, French horns. Woodwind section, Bassoon and for percussion, marimba. I particularly like how the lower tessitura instruments are just as capable as carrying melodies as the high! This has been something that I’ve particularly focused on in some recent projects.
Have you found lockdown to be a help or hindrance to your creativity? As tough as it has been in the country, I made sure that I was going to take full advantage of the time that had now been made available, in order to further not only my skills as a composer, but get my name more widely known. These difficulties also presented opportunities and I was not going to let them pass by. In the first lockdown, I wrote the score to a short Horror film titled “Unseeing Evil” which I was incredibly fortunate to win “Best original film score 2020” at the WRPN.TV Global film festival. Similarly, I also wrote the music to the first episode to the Marvel Spiderman Fan series I mentioned earlier. I also wrote the music for some other university student films including Surrey such as the university of Nottingham and Staffordshire!
As a result, I also made my own website and was able to purchase a more professional set-up, which is always nice! In short; it has been of great help, despite not being able to go to the pub with fellow composers of course!
What is one thing that you would like to see more of in film music?
If there is one thing I’d like to see more of from film music, is that it be made a more widely celebrated part of music in the education sector. I notice how there are entire colleges and universities dedicated to the subject. However, any skills I’ve learned about film scoring are skills that I’ve developed purely from self-teaching and experiences I’ve been very fortunate to have. Similarly, it is only at university that I’ve really been given such opportunities. It is something that I wish was more focussed on in schools, allowing for younger students to learn about orchestration and synthesisers and using DAW’s; allowing for the industry to not seem like the giant that it is, with seemingly so many hurdles.
My philosophy is, that no matter what the composers who have made it say, if you genuinely believe you have something to offer, keep going. Keep networking, keep learning, and keep creating. People will eventually recognise you for it. If you would like to hear more from Jasper and follow his progress check out his website and via the link below: https://www.jaspersullivanfilmcomposer.com We hope you enjoyed this interview!
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