For nearly two decades, David Wingo has been quietly building the foundations of a major film composing career. First announcing himself to the independent cinema community with his acclaimed score for 2000's George Washington, he has since worked with that film's director and his old school friend David Gordon Green on seven more films.

His other major recurring cinematic collaboration has been with the Arkansas auteur Jeff Nichols. First recommended to Nichols via their mutual friend Gordon Green, Wingo's first contribution was his haunting, spectral score for Nichols' second feature, Take Shelter. Since then, the two have been in lockstep, with Wingo's light touch adding depth and dimension to all of Nichol's subsequent films, from the earthy, organic guitars of Mud to the keys and synth-led drama of Midnight Special.

Their fourth project together is Loving, in theatres now. It tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple in 1960s Virginia who challenge the miscegenation laws in a battle that led to the Supreme Court. The film, and its music, are an exercise in restraint and dignity, in the image of its two central figures. We spoke to Wingo about the movie, his working relationship with Jeff Nichols, and whether there are writers and directors that he is desperate to work with.

Loving is quite an unusual movie, restrained and understated, and that goes for the score as well. What were the first conversations you had with [director] Jeff Nichols, and did he talk about wanting something quite stripped back?

Yeah, he had me watch the documentary (2011's The Loving Story), and he was always talking about how he didn't want the music to sound like the music from the documentary, but he did like the sense of restraint in it. There was some choral stuff, so obviously we didn't do that. But he thought the documentary score was really playing up the love story aspect of it, which is exactly what he ended up wanting to do.

We talked about it in terms of being more of a classic film score than we'd done before - no guitars, no sampling or drones. Before, we've mixed strings with various contemporary and experimental elements, but we wanted this one to be orchestral but lush and beautiful. Jeff wanted it to be simple - at the end of the day it was about the simplicity of these two people wanting to be with each other, and yet not being able to live their life.

It resists triumphalism, where a lot of movies would build to a big, swelling finale. That doesn't really come with the score or the movie - was that deliberate?

Yeah, we knew that we had the elements that come in a triumph - we liked the idea of having a brass fanfare. For example, when she gets a phone call and it cuts to the pair of them, we bring in some brass that you haven't really been hearing. The same thing in the Supreme Court - you've been hearing that main theme throughout the film a couple of times, but when the couple's attorney is up there reading his statement, you hear the brass again. We liked the idea of there being a brass fanfare, but just keeping it understated with its tone. So yeah, we did use the kind of instrumentation that would be used for a triumphant mood, but we just didn't use it in that way.

When you start out working on a film like this, are you working with a script initially, or just a set of themes?

With Jeff, and David Gordon Green as well, it's different because I have an ongoing working relationship with them. So I'm hearing about these movies sometimes two years in advance, which gives us a lot of time to talk about the projects. I'm actually going to lunch with Jeff today and we'll be talking about his next movie, but it probably won't be filming until 2018. We're just so far ahead of the game.

I'll read a script as soon as they have one, but just like today, we'll be talking about it long before there's a script. And then when Jeff or David is shooting, I'll usually go visit the set. And before that, I'll have already worked on some demos, which are just based on what we talked about. So for Loving and Midnight Special, I was working on the main themes while they were shooting, before I'd received any scenes. And then it all gets sent to the editor, Julie Monroe for Jeff's films, and it's a completely organic process.

And does Jeff use temp music whilst you compose?

Yes, but it's less and less so the longer we work together, because I'm getting my demos to him earlier now. It's definitely a luxury to work with someone over a long period of time.

You've done four movies with Jeff, and you say you're working on the fifth one now. They're all different in tone and mood. Do you see a through-line through them?

Oh certainly, the same way with my music - whether the style's different, it's still always abiding by the "less is more" approach. Paring it down as much as we can to still have the emotion that he wants to come out of it. It's the same way that he directs his actors. So yeah, the main through-line I see is with the sparse dialogue and a lot of the emotion of the characters being told by their lack or dialogue, and the looks that they give. I think that's what's really distinctive about him - he pares it down as much as he can, but it's always highly emotional, which is a hard thing to pull off.

Do you ever watch the movies that you've scored back, and have any opinions on what you've done?

I don't usually watch them because I've seen them so many times whilst working on them. Not just the scenes I'm working on, but I'll go to screenings with the core creatives, and then I'll go to the premiere at a festival. So it's not often that I watch them again, no. The interesting thing is with a movie like Midnight Special which was released so long after we finished, which I've had happen before. A movie like Snow Angels, the David Gordon Green movie, screened at Sundance seven months after he wrapped, and then didn't get a release until eight months after that. So when I saw Midnight Special, which was released more than a year after we finished, that was fascinating, because it did take up such a long time working on it. It took on so much of my headspace, and then to see it for the first time after a year with other people was so strange. So that gave me another perspective.

As you've said, you work closely with Jeff Nichols and David Gordon Green. You must get offers from other directors too, are you turning people down?

I have done, I'm just working on something now by a first-time narrative director, Meredith Danluck (State Like Sleep), with Michael Shannon and Katherine Waterston. I met [Danluck] whilst in LA once, and I really liked her and her ideas and her script. And there's another movie, Brigsby Bear, which just played at Sundance, and that was with people I was already a fan of - including Kyle Mooney from SNL - and when I got a call from them, it was the first time that someone I was already a big fan of had approached me, so that was exciting. And I've worked on others, including several documentaries, but yeah there's work that I've had to turn down because of schedule. So I don't to just cordon myself off and only work with those two, but they are both so damn busy and they work so consistently that it certainly is enough of a job just working with the two of them.

Is there a director or writer that you would approach yourself?

I think it becomes more about individual projects. I mean, I have an agent, and I've given him lists of directors that I would like to work with, and rather than set up general meetings, it's more about seeing what individual projects end up coming down the pike. Like, I'm a huge Kenneth Lonergan fan, and I got a script for Manchester By The Sea early on and was up for doing that, but like most directors, he's got Lesley Barber who he works with regularly. So it's hard to crack into getting to work with the great directors. But I've got two, so that's not bad!

You can find out more about David Wingo by visiting his official website.