Interview with film and TV Composer Marc Jovani

Marc Jovani headshot - Courtesy of Defiant PR
Marc Jovani headshot - Courtesy of Defiant PR /

Accomplished international film and television composer, Marc Jovani, chatted with Hidden Remote about his work on recent projects and his technique.

Marc Jovani, a notable film and TV composer, chatted with us about his creative process, how he fell in love with composing and his technique!

You can hear Marc Jovani’s scores in numerous feature films from Lionsgate, Netflix, Syfy and Fox. Most recently, his scores have been heard in Netflix horror film Fatal Fashion and the Lifetime Original Movie, My Daughter’s Ransom.

Hidden Remote: What drew you to composing for film and television, specifically, as opposed to other musical avenues?

Marc Jovani: I think the first time I realized that music actually served a dramatic purpose was when I watched The Lion King for the first time! It got me hooked on film music.

I studied music composition in Spain. Traditionally, European conservatory’s composition teachers don’t love film music. In general, everything revolves around contemporary music, electroacoustic, 20th century, etc. I was the weird kid that loved Marco Beltrami, Giacchino, Desplat and Carter Burwell.

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One day that I was studying scores and I happened to have the scores for one of the cues of the Live Free or Die Hard soundtrack by Marco Beltrami. It was an active, high intensity, fast tempo, 7/8, thick orchestration, very dissonant, with lots of hits and percussion.

I saw all the contemporary techniques that I was studying at that time, put in such a simple way, yet it was so musically and dramatically effective! All of the sudden I saw the purpose that I was missing, and I said: “This is it! This is what I wanna do!”

HR: What is your process for composing on a project? Does it change based on the genre you’re composing for?

Marc Jovani: It changes slightly based on the genre, but the biggest difference depends on the type of client I work with. If it’s a director I haven’t worked with in the past, I’ll generally start composing a 20 minute suite. This sets the tone of the music for the movie, but it also gives the director options.

Most of the time, this happens before the spotting session. The schedule after the spotting session is usually very tight! But if they listened to the suite prior to that, then during the spotting session we can actually talk about themes for specific scenes. I use a Trello board to upload the music and the video clips for each cue so whoever has to review the music can do it in a friendly environment. That way, they can see the overall progress of the music.

The rest of the process is pretty standard. Once the mock-up is approved, we do prep for the recording session, then mixing, and finally deliver Pro Tools stems for dub session. No matter the budget, I always assemble a team for each project. It’s very hard to deliver on time when you’re working alone.

HR: What kind of compositions are you most fond of? Do you have a preference between thrillers and dramas?

MJ: In fact, the music that I feel more comfortable writing is the big orchestral, melodic, emotional type of music. Sort of like the old school thematic trailer music, supernatural/majestic type of sound. But I almost never get a chance to write in that style!

Most of what I do is thriller and drama, no preference really. I’ve done so many of these that it comes very naturally to me now.

HR: What was it like coming to Los Angeles from Spain and transitioning into the Hollywood lifestyle?

Marc Jovani: I was meant to be here. It’s been a struggle, but at the end of the day, it has brought so many good things to me and my family! The good things that moving to LA has brought to me actually came from my struggles in particular moments.

In 2010, I went back to Spain for family reasons. As a composer, it can be hard to keep working if you’re not physically in Los Angeles. Producers weren’t as keen to do Skype meetings. So slowly, I started losing some of my projects.

My wife and I decided to move back to LA, so we both started teaching in Spain to save extra money and I was also teaching at Berklee Online. When we returned to LA, things were very tough. I was still teaching at Berklee, but I had a few months where I just wasn’t getting composing projects. I had lost the momentum I had previously.

Meanwhile, I had developed a new course for Berklee but wasn’t immediately able to implement it. With the cost of living in LA, our savings wasn’t going to last forever. It seemed like everything was going wrong. It was in that moment that my wife and I decided to launch our own online course. We invested the very last of our savings into developing and launching the course, knowing that if we failed, we would have to go back to Spain.

We launched it and enrolled 32 students on day one. That’s how Cinematic Composing came to be, and we now have over 1,000 students learning and growing their careers with us. Being able to serve this amazing community of composers, while continuing to work on projects is the biggest gift I could ask for.

HR: How do you keep yourself motivated from one project to the next?

Marc Jovani: This is a great question and I’m getting this one more often lately. Especially coming from other composers.

Here’s what I tell them:

1. Stop setting goals (outcomes) and instead define who you truly are.
2. Stop chasing happiness, instead be in constant pursuit of joy.

You see, happiness is an emotional response to an outcome. If I get this project then I’m happy, if I don’t then I’m not. It’s an if/else standard that we cannot sustain because we immediately raise it every time we attain it. Happiness demands a certain outcome. You have to attain one specific outcome, which means that you’re going to get let down frequently.

Joy though is different. It’s not a response to a result. It’s a constant. Joy is the feeling that we have from doing what we are fashioned to do, no matter the outcome. Define who you truly are and understand what you’re fashioned to do. It’s very hard to stay motivated if you’re not doing what you’re meant to do.

HR: Since you specialize in creating hybrid scores, can you talk a little about how you’re able to integrate classical orchestral components with digitized sounds and harmonics?

Marc Jovani: Music production is all about space and dynamics. I don’t see the orchestra and the synths as two separate elements. I rather see synths as a fifth orchestral section -if the score is predominantly orchestral- or the orchestral elements as another set of timbres -if the score is predominantly synth.

You want to connect those elements serving the same musical purpose by logically placing them in the right space. Correctly placing the different musical elements -no matter if they are synth or orchestral- is what integrates both worlds.

HR: Do you have any advice for anyone considering becoming a film or television composer themselves?

Marc Jovani: As a film composer, there are a couple of paths people tend to take. One is to start by being an assistant that helps a composer who’s already ahead of you. At some point, if you’re lucky, they may give you an opportunity. If you go this route, I would recommend assisting someone who is miles ahead of you, not just a few steps. The kind of project you’ll hopefully get as a loyal assistant will be much better and worth the invested years of your time helping them grow their career.

The other path could be growing your own career from the beginning and taking smaller projects that will lead you to bigger projects. This is what I did. But with this path, you’ll have some ups and downs, so you’ll need to have an additional income stream (aside from composing) for 5–10 years. Be sure to secure your life and not to just make ends meet, but also save for the future. If something goes wrong, you don’t want to lose momentum in your career, so plan ahead and have some savings.

No matter which path you take, treat yourself as a real business from day one and put all the systems together. Not just your website and music, but your communication, branding, your elevator pitch, and how you present yourself.

Here are some suggestions:

First thing is that if you stop working for a while when you go back you’ll have to start from scratch. Be careful not to get burnt out and stop, because it will take twice the amount of effort to come back.

Second, start seeking opportunities as soon as possible — maybe before you feel ready! It’s going to exponentially increase your success because of the compounding effect. The first years can be slow, so the more projects you have, the more experience you’ll have to leverage.

The third thing would be: don’t be afraid to build new beliefs. My old belief used to be that I needed to be working all the time, and if I wasn’t, then other composers would get more projects than me. But if you take moments to think and be present, you’ll come up with better ideas. It may just be slowing down and getting inspired to reach out to someone that ultimately moves you ahead 10 times faster.

And last, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You know, sometimes we don’t think it’s polite to reach out to a friend and say, “Hey I want to work on xyz project — can you connect me with this person?” We don’t want to be too direct or intrusive. But this can help you and you just have to ask — before someone else does.

Next. Interview with Star vs Forces of Evil composer. dark

Thanks again to Marc Jovani for chatting with me! It was really cool to learn about the artistry that goes into film and television composing.