Ever wondered what inspires a film composer? How they use their craft to pull in the audience and make them laugh and cry at the right moments? At BAFTA Conversations with Screen Composers held at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall, we were lucky enough to spend time with one of the industry’s most acclaimed composers and Avid Sibelius customer, David Arnold. Listen here to the discussion.
With a body of work spanning over 20 years and covering all walks of the entertainment industry—from film and television to major global sporting events and theatre—it’s no surprise that David is a multi-award winning composer.
Best known for his work on blockbuster films including Independence Day (1996) and Stargate (1994), in 1997 he took over the mantle from John Barry to compose the music for five James Bond films (including Casino Royale, for which he was nominated for a BAFTA and a Grammy). His television credits are equally as impressive and include the BAFTA-nominated Sherlock (with Michael Price) and Little Britain.
Moving into the realm of large-scale live events, in 2012 David was appointed musical director for the London Olympics and Paralympics closing ceremonies, for which he curated, composed and produced almost all of the music. This year has seen him teaming up with Richard Thomas to write the music and lyrics for the new West End musical Made in Dagenham.
‘I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a composer.’
Using Avid Sibelius, the industry’s best-selling music notation software, as his composition tool of choice, David kicked off the evening joking: ‘I’ve even got Avid in my name!’ When asked the three films that inspired him, Oliver! the 1968 musical, The Jungle Book (1967) and of course a Bond film, You Only Live Twice (1967) sparked his passion for composing. ‘I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a composer,’ he recalled.
Forming a friendship at sixth-form college with director Danny Cannon led David to writing the music for the short films Cannon created. But it would be eight years before he got his first film credit, teaming up with Cannon in their respective major film debuts for The Young Americans, and the film’s song by Björk, Play Dead.
The Young Americans catapulted David into the limelight and work soon followed on some of the highest grossing films of the 1990s. End of the world sci-fi-style blockbusters became his calling card. And using music as a tool to draw in audiences during epic opening scenes and battles was one of his specialities. ‘On Independence Day, for the President’s final speech and the battle afterwards, it was all about tracing the intensity of the speed through music,’ commented David. ‘Emotionally, another explosion won’t get you anywhere, but music will.’
A Bond fan and also a fan of Bond composer John Barry from an early age, in 1997 David was recommended to Barbara Broccoli by Barry as the composer for the upcoming Tomorrow Never Dies. He was hired to score the film and scored the four subsequent films: The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. It was an honour David took very seriously. ‘With Bond films you’re inviting people into a world you’ve created with music,’ he said. To add to his Bond credits, David also co-wrote the main theme songs for The World Is Not Enough (The World Is Not Enough by Garbage) and Casino Royale (You Know My Name by Chris Cornell).
Team up with peers on filmmaking courses and use the power of YouTube as a way of getting your film scores heard.
After talking through his career, David had some sterling advice for today’s generation of upcoming composers. With many free media sharing platforms available, he recommends teaming up with peers on film-making courses and using the power of YouTube as a way of getting their film scores heard and noticed. This modern way is a far cry from David’s humble roots composing for Cannon’s films in a back street studio in Luton. But there’s no doubt that talent, combined with best-in-class technology, makes for compelling collaborations.
BAFTA is the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, an independent British charity that supports, develops and promotes the art forms of the moving image. As a leading charity in the UK, BAFTA ensures that the very best creative work can be accessed and appreciated by the public.