Jeff Toyne is a composer for film and television with quite a few titles in various genres under his belt including Now You See Me, Fast Five, District 9, Life on the Line, Thom Pain, 9/11, and the up-coming My Little Pony: The Movie.

I caught up with Jeff to chat about film scores, composition, what a composer's objective should be (that is, what constitutes a truly great score), and his new project on Audience Network titled Hit The Road. The discussion on the “collaborative art” of music in film was fascinating.

Hit The Road stars (and was created by) Jason Alexander, with Richard Dreyfuss in the other lead role. It follows a dysfunctional family band across the American landscape as they attempt to hit it big. It premieres October 17 on Audience Network and looks to be pretty damn funny. Check out the trailer below my chat with Jeff.

Hello Jeff! Welcome to The 405! Forgive me if any of these questions sound a bit… “stupid”, I've never interviewed a composer before.

Not at all, not only do very few people understand what we do, but when we do a really good job of it, people don't really perceive what we do.

A big part of my job is actually taking what film makers do know, and translating it into what I do, and it's not really important for them to know what I do either. [Laughs]


The first thing I'd like to ask, as I've never interviewed a composer before, how does your creative process work?

The creative process, those are about as constant as the film makers: every project has its own flow, its own raison d’être, its own kind of way of coming to a shorthand between the film makers and what I do, and what I do that works to make the sounds for the show.

So, there's no one way that I would work for a particular show.


What do you consider pivotal for a truly great score?

A really great score… I think there's two parts to that. There's an assumption that gets made that as a film composer you're already coming to a film already with the ability to write and produce terrific music. That's not always a fair assumption in every case, but that is the assumption that gets made.

So, once the composer is writing his music for a project, the success of the music in the film has to do with, in my opinion, its ability to support the narrative on screen, heighten the dramatic intention, and to allow the actors and set designers, the director, director of photography, and everybody, to really have their work come across to the audience, support it, and definitely not be distracted from it.

I always look at the music as a supportive role, as a collaborative art. For me, some scores that are quite talked about, sometimes even award winning, aren't the most successful film scores because, as I started off saying in this conversation, when we're really doing our job well, we are not noticed.

So, that's one part of it. As I said, when a score is really working well, it's completely integrated inside the film. That is one part of it. Now, that being said, it is really wonderful when the score that is being integrated into a film is comprised of really wonderful, really well-orchestrated, music.

As composers, we often come to the table with love of a great melody, striking harmony and wonderful, rich sound palette: those things don't always work well in service of my first point. Yet, it is wonderful when it is possible to have a really lovely, melodic score and a very energetic, and dramatic and exciting piece of music that is working with the film to really heighten all the other aspects of film-making.

One of the reasons I originally got into scoring for film, I studied pure music at school, university, things like that and Richard Wagner had an idea about his operas, that they were a total artwork, he called it “Gesamtkunstwerk”, which meant an art work in which all of the other arts were brought in to bear: dance, writing, acting, singing, theater, drama.

So, I saw film in the modern day as that expression, like I said, that “collaborative art,” that brought experts from many fields together to create this really, really intensely effecting artwork.

So, yeah, when it's all working together, that's for me a very exciting underscore: really great music, that's working really well in service of the film.


What are your favorite scores in film and TV? Whenever I think about the question, I always think of Bernard Herrmann's score for Psycho, where Hitchcock said the score was 33% of the film's final effect, and accordingly, paid Herrmann 33% more.

Right, that's a really arresting piece of music that goes a long way, in my mind, to create a sonic world that exists only for that film, and you hear it and “tha's Psycho”.

Scores that I like? Wow. Well, I am a big fan of Star Wars, John Williams' music, with the final one coming out in a couple months.

Believe it or not, one of my favorite films when I was in high school was The Blues Brothers. Which usually isn't something that a film composer would say is a “seminal film” because there's no underscore in it – it's just the band.

Let's see, I am a big fan of Alan Silvestri, the works of Jerry Goldsmith. I got into film music because I have a pretty eclectic musical taste. You know, how long do you have for the list of composers, scores that I like, we could go on and on [Laughs].


What do you consider your greatest triumphs and greatest challenges as a composer?

[Laughs] Geez. Triumphs? Well, one of the things that I chase as a film composer is the opportunity to write scores that bring to bear the full symphony orchestra. It's really, really rough to be in a recording studio with an orchestra and have 50 people or 80 people all focused on one thing at the same time. That's really kind of a drug you can get addicted to when you're working for film.

One of the reasons I got into film is because I saw that as an opportunity to work with orchestras. That's a really exciting sound, and so one of the things that I'm really happy to do is work on projects that allow me to work with orchestras.

That being said, I do do a lot of work that would be considered “electronic” or “minimalist”, or other types of things that aren't orchestras and there's a lot of fun to be had there as well.

Challenges? I'd say it's a blessing and a curse to work in film, one of the things that I knew going into film was that I was going to be writing a lot of music because I was going to have deadlines thrust upon me. For better or for worse: you're going to finish the music by such-and-such a day.

That's great. You know, concert music can languish in a drawer for years until it's just right but working on projects that have really definitive deadlines is great because you're kind of released from that tyranny, you just have to get it out there. Also, as a collaborative art, you have the opinions of others – approval or requests for revisions or another pass.

So, I like film. It's very generative – a lot of music is coming out – and often music that I wouldn't have just sit down and come up with. Rather, it's derived from the needs of whatever project were working on.

A lot of composers will tell you that one of the biggest challenges of our work is being able to keep to a deadline – to be creative on-demand. The schedules themselves are also very, very demanding. [Laughs] They really strike at the heart of how many hours there are in a day.


Are there more challenging genres of film/tv to write for than others?

It feels like whatever genre you are doing at the moment is the most challenging. [Laughs]

At the moment I am doing comedy, and that feels quite challenging. But, I'm not really sure how to answer that – I think people find their need and then settle into genre.

I like moving around a little bit: I'm not a very tight, pin-point specialist, I have a broader palette, a broader repertoire. I enjoy moving between the genres in film, and they all have their own particular kinds of things that you need to be able to do.

I wouldn't say that one is “more challenging than the other”: they all have their own specific idiosyncrasies.   

Let's talk about your new project, Audience Network's Hit the Road. How is it working with a comedic legend like Jason Alexander?

It's a thrill. It's a real thrill. It's a high bar to be and I hope he'll feel like I'm up to the task. I'm only two episodes in but I still feel like I've learned a lot: it's a joy to watch him on the screen as I work, he's very, very good at what he does.


That he is: most certainly. What has been your favorite part of Hit the Road so far?

My favorite part of Hit the Road? Hmmm…


In terms of a project: the work that you do with it.

Well, we had a fun search for the sound of the show. At the moment we decided that some of the sounds that work for the show are kind of fun to play

One of the sounds I'm using a lot is a “talk-box”, which is a sound for the guitar. Are you familiar with Peter Frampton?


I am.

You might be familiar with this effect where, the original device was like a tube that the performer had in his mouth while they play. It's possible to do that now with a microphone.

So yeah, that's a fun sound to fool around with [Laughs]!

That was kind of an interesting idea that seems to be working. So that was kind of fun.  


Cool! So, last question I have: What is next for you?

Well, there's a couple of films for Hallmark on the docket and eight more episodes of Hit The Road. So, that'll keep me busy in the mid to near future.


Thanks Jeff!

See the trailer for Hit The Road embedded below. Check the show out on Audience Network starting October 17.