A few weeks back this writer had the opportunity to chat with up-and-coming composer Jermaine Stegall while he was at the LA Screamfest Horror Film Festival supporting the two features he had scored that were selected entries: Rogue River and The Psycho Legacy.
After quickly realizing that a few moments on the red carpet wasn’t enough time to learn about this new rising genre talent, Dread Central recently caught up with Stegall again to talk about his work on scoring both The Psycho Legacy and Rogue River, what inspired him to become a composer, and how it felt to be working on a documentary about a film series that featured one of the most memorable scores not in only the horror genre but in the entire history of cinema as well.
Dread Central: Can you talk about how you got interested in scoring movies and how you started off in the industry?
Jermaine Stegall: Getting interested is probably all due to getting the opportunity to see a movie in theatres at least once to twice a week for about 10-15 years while growing up with family members (mainly my dad). Many of my family members also had extensive movie libraries on VHS, some of which included elaborately printed and organized lists of hundreds of movies. I later made my own but always noticed the music and specifically noticed themes to a lot of films I would grow to know as being classics, and during my 1980’s childhood, John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith were very prolific with memorable scores.
I decided after obtaining a degree in music and then a graduate degree in music composition that I would attend the USC Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program in the fall of 2003. After this time I had the great fortune of becoming an intern for composer Marco Beltrami, which later led to opportunities to meet others who were working in the industry, become an assistant to a few television composers, and do copy-work for films and orchestras as well. During this time I continued to compose music for independent feature films and short films, commercials, and anything else I could get my hands on.
DC: A lot of people who work in entertainment usually find inspiration in others working in their fields. Was there a composer (or a few) that inspire you or you as an artist?
JS: I’ll probably always cite my favorite composers as being (in no particular order) John Williams, Marco Beltrami, Buck Sanders, Jeral Gray, Michael Jackson, and Prince. These are who on a daily basis I listen to in the car almost exclusively. Some for great themes, some for the ability to create beautiful density and texture, some for arranging, but all of them for the ability to tell a story with sound.
DC: How did you get involved with making the score for The Psycho Legacy?
JS: I had sent Robert Galluzzo some demos in the style of Bernard Herrmann long before he even knew what he wanted musically for the documentary. Though it plays out like a normal interview-style documentary, it was decided that we would actually create underscore wall-to-wall for the whole thing and a series of homages and references for a lot of composers we both loved.
DC: Let’s talk about your approach to The Psycho Legacy as you’re working within the context of one of the most memorable scores in the horror genre. How do you create music that both incorporates the legendary score by Bernard Herrmann but still feels like a new musical experience for fans?
JS: My main thought was that I wanted to try not to incorporate actual pieces of Bernard Herman, as much as I wanted to evoke a nostalgic feeling of the kind of scores that you might have heard from him and the other composers involved in the Psycho films.
I was fortunate enough to be working on the main titles for The Psycho Legacy for a long time so that helped with the intro. Each of the four segments of the documentary referenced the scoring style of the film it was talking about. This gave me some parameters to create a scoring homage to the composers from each of the Psycho films since there was a different composer with all different styles. Starting with Bernard Herrmann, then an homage to Jerry Goldsmith, then on to Carter Burwell, and finally one for Graeme Revell.
DC: Now let’s talk about your second Screamfest entry, Rogue River. How did you get involved with that project, and what was your approach to scoring the film?
JS: I was contacted by the producers of Rogue River, who remembered some work I sent to them a few years prior. We had wanted to work together since then so they introduced me to the director by phone, and off we went from there.
For Rogue River it was really about creating a melodic piece of music that would open the film as well as bring it full circle. There is a melancholic piano theme stated during an early montage that is melodic, yet somewhat unsettling. After I had those elements, it became about creating tension and trying not to release that tension for most of the film. It’s a very claustrophobic film so the score became really tension-driven and claustrophobic.
DC: Considering the big differences in the content of features versus documentaries, does your approach differ when you’re doing the two different types of films?
JS: I would think most people would approach them differently, and I definitely thought I would initially. Most documentaries use licensed music and just place it in to fill space, but for this one Rob was really excited about scoring the whole thing as if it was a film to do something different. I wasn’t really supporting drama acting-wise in the Psycho documentary as I was in Rogue River so the two scores definitely had different functions.
DC: When you’re creating a score for a project, how long does it generally take from start to finish? Can you talk a little bit about your creative process and where you find your inspiration?
JS: I would happily say I would love to get two full months to compose music for a feature film and a few extra weeks if preparing music for an orchestra is involved. In my creative process I’ll probably do anything I can to get to the musical heart of what I’m working on. If it’s singing to myself, writing down ideas on staff paper, playing piano, creating a midi mock-up, or listening to something that inspires me, I’ll try it. I’m just a fan of new sounds as well so I sometimes spend time, days even, just making sounds from scratch and seeing if they fit with the project.
DC: Considering you’ve obviously had a very busy year, what’s up next for you?
JS: Right now I’m about to start a foreign thriller/action film called ‘Saluda al diablo de mi parte’ starring Edgar Ramirez. It’s directed by a talented upcoming filmmaker named Juan Felipe Orozco and will be in theatres in France as well as Colombia in the spring of 2011. The soundtrack to The Psycho Legacy has also been released on iTunes for anyone wanting to relive the nostalgia of the franchise.
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