TAEM interview with Music Composer Pinar Toprak

TAEM- This month The Arts and Entertainment Magazine has been very fortunate to be able interview the most renowned people in the fields of Science, Literature, and Music. We ‘d like to present Television and Movie music composer Pinar Toprak to all of our readers. Music is one of the leading attractions of moviegoers and can either make or break a great film. Pinar has enhanced some of the great films today with her fine quality of music composition. Pinar, please tell the many students of the arts, who follow our publication, of your early education and training in music in your native country, Turkey.

PT- I started my music education studying violin at a very traditional conservatory at the age of 5 in Istanbul. Although I love writing for it now, I didn’t like playing it. πŸ™‚ I went on to classical guitar and got my degree in it. Throughout my studies there I also studied piano, voice, as well as composition.

TAEM- Tell our readers about your move to America, and what attracted you to our country.

PT- Ever since I can remember I was incredibly fascinated by films. I remember being in elementary school and being drawn to film scores and saving my allowance so I could buy soundtracks. Unfortunately, at the time film scoring wasn’t really a profession that one thought was possible in Turkey. During the last decade or so the film industry has improved tremendously there, but back then it was not exactly a profession. What I really wanted to do was to score American films. I loved the Hollywood sound and I loved the scope of the films that were done in here. I was told by so many people that it’s a very long shot for a Turkish girl to make a living writing music for films and I should direct my attention elsewhere… I just knew in my heart that I have to give it a real shot, try my best and live my life by my own choices, which led to my move here when I was 17. My English wasn’t great, to say the least, and I didn’t have money for college…but I managed to get a private loan (since I wasn’t American, I couldn’t quality for a federal loan) that would cover 2 years of my tuition. I got accepted to Berkeley College of Music and ended up finishing my Bachelor’s Degree in 2 years. I moved to Los Angeles and got my Master’s Degree in Composition at CSUN. I am a big planner, and part of my plan was to meet and work for Hans Zimmer, whose music was very influential to me. While I was working on my Master’s thesis, I got an internship at Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions (after calling and emailing them for about a month) and I eventually got hired by him. Since then I have been very fortunate to have worked on over 30 feature films on my own and it’s this country that is providing all of these opportunities for people who are ready and eager to do the work. At this point I have lived in the US nearly half of my life and I am very happy I moved here.

TAEM- The list of your accomplishment are long, and you composed over 31 titles for film and television productions. We first learned of you starting in 2004/5 when your music appeared in three short films: Hold the Rice, Headbreaker, and When All Else Fails. Please tell us about these films and the style of music that you designed for each of them.

PT- Those were the very first short films I had scored. Most of us start with short films as it’s a great way to learn the reality of the craft and get to know up and coming filmmakers. Headbreaker was directed by one of my dearest friends and favorite filmmakers, Alfonso Pineda Ulloa. We have stayed in touch all throughout the years. I have scored a feature film for him last year and I will score his next film in 2013. Similar story with When All Fails. It was written and directed by David Ellison who now owns Skydance Productions (True Grit, Mission Impossible 4, Jack Reacher). I scored a film for him last year called The Wind Gods and I also wrote the logo music for his company which was recorded with a 70 piece orchestra. Connections and loyalty are the most important things in this business and no matter what your field is I always tell everyone to nurture their relationships.

TAEM- The following year you composed the music for the video Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil and the video game Ninety-Nine Nights. These were entirely different types of projects from your earlier work. How did you compose your music for them , and what were they about?

PT- Ninety-Nine Nights came to me before Behind Enemy Lines II. In fact I got Behind Enemy Lines II mostly based on what I had done for Ninety-Nine Nights. πŸ™‚ When Xbox 360 was being released years ago, Ninety-Nine Nights was one of the big games they were releasing alongside Xbox 360. The producer of the game got a hold of my demo CD and asked me if I would be interested in writing the score for the video game, to which I replied β€œYES!!!” Although there was a lot of action, there were quite a bit of dramatic and epic moments in the score. It was a very different way of working than a film score but I had a lot of fun writing it. Soon after, the director of Behind Enemy Lines II, James Dodson, had heard my score for Ninety-Nine Nights and liked all the dramatic vocal parts I had in the score. He wasn’t sure if I could handle the testosterone heavy action parts and as it happens very often, he had several composers score a 2 minute demo scene. Fortunately, he liked what I did for that action scene and I got the film. The schedule was pretty intense (around 80 minutes of music in a little less than 3 weeks) but it was SO much writing a full action score.

TAEM- In 2007 the production pace picked up for you and it seems that you became very highly considered by the film and television industry. Your work that year included Day Dreamer, Fall Down Dead, Sinner, Say It In Russian, and In The Name of the Son ( a short film). How were you able to keep up with this work and what were the various themes that the films dealt with ?

PT- I love staying busy so I was very happy that I was actually able to make a living writing music. Daydreamer was a very unique film starring Breaking Bad‘s Aaron Paul. I had a chance to do some unusual things with sound design with that score. Say It In Russian was the first score that I was able to get a real full orchestra, which was a blast. Sinner is a lovely drama feature that I was very happy to work on and In The Name Of The Son introduced me to a great filmmaker and friend Harun Mehmedinovic. I keep hoping that he will make a feature version of that short film. It was very powerful and beautifully shot.

TAEM- During the next year your work extended to television and was seen in the productions Beyond Loch Ness, Ocean of Pearls, Ogre, Light of Olympia, Ba’al, and the documentary Pregnant in America. How thrilled were you to be able to cover so many projects, and what recognition did you gain from them ?

PT- Very thrilled, to say the least. I had the opportunity to write in different genres and I met with some wonderful filmmakers. Most of the TV films came from Si-Fi channel. My first film with them was Beyond Loch Ness. After completing that film I scored a few more of their features. They were fun to work on. Light of Olympia is still not released yet. The last update I heard is that they are working on making it 3D. It is a wonderful animated film featuring the voices of Debbie Reynolds and the late Phyllis Diller. We had a 60 piece orchestra and I absolutely loved working on that score. Working on an animated film can be challenging as the music is pretty much wall to wall but I had a blast writing it.

TAEM- In 2009 and 2010 your work continued to flourish and was heard in a slate of projects. These included Wyvern, The Crimson Mask, Breaking Point, and The Lightkeepers. Also on the list were Last Will, and the television movies Mongolian Death Worm, and Medium Raw: Night of the Wolf. This was an impressive accomplishment. Please tell us about each of these films and the style of music that you gave to them.

PT – Wyvern was another Si-Fi feature. The Crimson Mask was a very unique Film Noir Crime Thriller directed by the wonderful Elias Plagianos. Breaking Point was another crime/drama that was starring Busta Rhymes and Tom Berenger. What I loved the most about working on that score was that had some really intense and dark moments but also a lot of heart, emotion and hope. The Lightkeepers was completely different than most of the things I had done to that date. It was a period comedy/drama taking place in 1912 Cape Cod. Most of the score was very light and there were a lot of comedic moments which were a lot of fun to write. I had an orchestra with strings, woodwinds and a fiddle. Lots of fun. I was very fortunate to receive an IFMCA award for that score as well as to be on the short list for the Oscars that year. Mongolian Death Worm was another Si-Fi feature, similar to the others in tone and Medium Raw was also a horror/thriller.

TAEM- These past two years we saw your work appear in Girls! Girls! Girls!, The River Murders, and the short How to have a Happy Marriage. What were these productions about and what theme of music did you apply to each of them ?

PT- How To Have A Happy Marriage is actually part of Girls! Girls! Girls! which is a collection of short films completely done by women. It was so great working with some very talented and smart ladies. The River Murders is a thriller starring Ray Liotta and Christian Slater. I loved the story as soon as I read the script and it was wonderful getting to work with the director Rich Cowan. The score also features the wonderful cellist Tina Guo and the voice of Liz Constantine. It was such a pleasure getting to work with them.

TAEM- You have racked up a slate of music for the upcoming productions of Restos, Resilient 3D, and C.B. DeMille Biopic . Can you tell us about these projects and of your work in them, and when will they are going to be seen?

PT- Restos is already completed. Resilient 3D is a great sci-fi genre film that I will be scoring early next Summer. They just sent me some new VFX shots and it looks fantastic! C.B. DeMille is a project that I am very excited about and it’s currently in development. These days, I just started working on The Challenger, which was the last film that the late Michael Clarke Duncan was in. It’s a wonderful film written and directed by Kent Moran.

TAEM- Pinar, I am highly honored to be able to have you appear in our publication and simply awed by all of your accomplishments. I want to thank you for your time with us and ask that you keep us, our readers, and your fans informed about all you do in the years to come.

TAEM

My pleasure! Thank you!