Today we have the great experience of talking to composer Dominic Lewis. He has made a name for himself writing music for television shows like the recent DuckTales reboot and for films ranging everything from Peter Rabbit to the upcoming The King’s Man.
What inspired you to become a composer and to get into your field?
I’ve always been in music since I was a kid, and both my parents are musicians, so the goal was always to be a musician of some sort. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a rock star, I think like most kids do, and then that developed into songs of… Song writing.
And then I actually was at school with Rupert Gregson-Williams’ stepdaughter. Got introduced to Rupert, and at the same time my dad started recording film scores. He’s a cellist, so he started playing on a lot of film scores. So I’d just started falling in love with film music and, yeah, so it was just a natural progression from failing and failing as a singer-songwriter and wanting to write for bigger ensembles. And my love of film and my love of music together, this was the perfect job for me
You’ve done compositions for animation and live action. Do you feel like there’s any difference in your approach for each?
Maybe subconsciously there’s a difference, but I try to approach animation the same way I would a live action. I think there’s a tendency to think… To gear your music towards children when you’re writing animation, and that’s not something I like to fall into. Obviously, you’ve gotta be weary, especially when you’re doing scary things or the more darker elements of the music, you have to be careful not to push it too far. But I think it starts getting dangerous when you’re approaching it, just in the eyes of, for kids.
I try to have the approach of, it’s an animated movie, not a kid’s movie. So it’s still… The adults are watching it, and there are obviously themes within the movie that deserve a more mature approach. So obviously the styles are very different. And that’s where the approach differs, More often than not, you’re gonna lean on the orchestra a little bit more in an animated movie than you would, say, in a live action these days.
So you tend to be a little more traditional, would you say, with animated films versus being more edgy with live action?
I think so. It depends. With something like Peter Rabbit, I did try to… Will Gluck, the director, is a guy that in the past has not liked… Not liked score at all, traditional score at all, and to the point where he makes a joke about it in Friends With Benefits, that film music is cheesy and it’s just… It’s pointless and manipulates the audience in a way that is not good. So he’s been a very needle drop guy. And then Peter Rabbit was an exploration for both of us, and I took a more song approach to that,
There’s a comedic energy in Peter… In the Peter Rabbit movies, and so how do you translate that into your score?
With that one, I started with the band. I wanted to get influences of famous English rock pop bands, whether it be The Beatles or The Stones or The Kinks, and build upon that. And there’s this very quintessentially English posh or orchestra that’s slammed on top of it, which gives it the more epic scope.
You can’t… With fluffy rabbits running around, you can’t be too cerebral and mature in the way that you approach the writing. So I’m very much governed by what I’m seeing and the emotions and what needs to happen. And if you’ve got rabbits running around, throwing tomatoes at Mr. McGregor, you’re not going for some very mature, cerebral sound. The element of fun needs to be there.
Whereas if you’ve got Ralph Fiennes running around with a sword and there’s explosions and lots of violence and blood and stuff, you’re not gonna be having harpsichord runs and lots of floral orchestra, it needs to be grittier and more driving and more powerful. So I think it’s very much of what the images and what the story arc is portraying.
With DuckTales, the show has such an iconic theme, the original show. So is that challenging to build on top of that theme?
It’s very daunting when you work on such a beloved property. And fortunately, I came in when everything was… Everything was smelling of roses, and all the hard work had been done by their wonderful producer. And then when I got introduced to the project, they played the theme to me and the chords and the bridge had changed. And I was like, “Wait, why have you changed to chords and the bridge?” And I caught myself and went, “Woah, this is not my place, why am I saying this? Why am I saying this?” But the words came out.
And I think because they saw such a passion for this real estate, they brought me on as a secondary producer to do the string arrangements and make it more cinematic and epic…
But with the score, I very purposefully didn’t revisit the original, just because, when I first had the meeting with Matt and Frank… Matt’s the show runner and Frank is the writer, they told me that they were trying to create the best version of DuckTales that you think you remember. Because actually, when you go back and watch it, as a young kid watching it on Disney Afternoon or whatever it’s called, you’re just completely besotted with the story arcs and the characters, and you go back and watch it now, and you go, “It’s good, but it’s not as good as I remember”
That’s so true.
And they did such a wonderful job of creating the show, the updated show, that is just… It’s everything you think you remember and more. It’s just wonderful. So not that I’m saying that my score is that, I just wanted to have that memory of Ron’s score and then just go with what I do, and they brought me on to do what I do, and so it has one foot in the nostalgia and the swash buckle and the Amblin Lucas world of adventure films. But then bringing in more synthy elements and more band elements, and more of a hybrid than the original one.
How does the collaboration work? Do they send you the story cards and tell you, “This is what we need for this episode,”?
Well, depending on what it is, if it’s a song that I’ve been asked to write, I’ll get a script, probably almost a season in advance, with the lyrics, sometimes with the lyrics, and sometimes like, “We need a song that sounds a bit like this, or is in this genre,” and either I’ll write the lyrics or Frank has written them in the script.
With the score, with scoring the episodes, I got pretty much finished, a locked picture. So I was scoring to the episode, unless it was a very specific scene that they wanted to cut to music, for example, the big rocket ship battle at the end of season 2. They sent me an animatic of that somewhere in season 1, when we were doing season 1, and said, “We wanna use the moon theme when there’s this big… The epic shootout battle in space. Can you do this very ’80s adventure, John Williams-esque hybrid version of the moon theme?” So I wrote roughly to the animatic, and then they took that. And when they eventually had the finished animation, they cut to the music, which is always great to hear that.
You have collaborated with composers like Hans Zimmer and John Powell. What’s that like, when you are working with somebody and collaborating?
It’s pretty amazing. It’s been an insane journey from turning up as a very green, fresh-faced, young composer in 2010, nine, 10, or whenever it was, and sitting in a room with Hans… I worked on Kung Fu Panda 2, so I was sitting in a room with Hans and John, going, “Wait a minute… What? How did I get here? This is insane, I need to pinch myself.” To being just a very awesome collaborative process, where I’m basically making myself into a big a sponge as possible, and learning as much as I can from these insanely talented, genius film composers.
Well, this has been very, interesting. Thank you so much for talking with us.