The SUPERNATURAL Music of Christopher Lennertz (Mania.com)
By:Randall D. Larson
Date: Thursday, July 27, 2006
Film and television composer Christopher Lennertz received an Emmy nomination for "Outstanding Music Composition For A Series (Dramatic Underscore)" for scoring the pilot episode of the WB series SUPERNATURAL, which just completed its first season last May. The cult science fiction show, created by Eric Kripke, follows two brothers who repeatedly meet with the paranormal as they search for their missing father and the cause of their mother's mysterious death. Lennertz's eerie and rousing score for the pilot episode earned him his nomination for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series.
Lennertz began his musical education at the early age of nine and quickly developed what director Joshua Butler, his director on 2002's Clive Barker horrorshow, SAINT SINNER, calls "an incredible gift for melody." After learning to play the trumpet and guitar, he ventured out of performance to study composition, jazz arranging, and theory in high school. Soon, he made his way to the University of Southern California where he met SUPERNATURAL creator and executive producer Kripke. With Kripke directing and Lennertz composing, they collaborated on two short films, TRULY COMMITTED, which won the Audience Award at the Slamdance Film Festival, and BATTLE OF THE SEXES, starring Sasha Alexander, which was entered into competition at the Sundance Film Festival.
Lennertz has since expanded his repertoire as a composer for all types of media, from film to television and even to videogames. Among his film scores are several notable independent films, including the jazz-based gangster drama BABY FACE NELSON, featuring Academy Award winner F. Murry Abraham, the seductive thriller LURED INNOCENCE, starring Dennis Hopper, and the film festival favorite, ART HOUSE. His television credits include Fox's BRIMSTONE, the WB's THE STRIP, and the theme song for the MTV series TOUGH ENOUGH, which appeared on the show's album and put Lennertz on the Billboard top 100 charts for weeks. His powerful, full orchestral score for the Stephen Spielberg-created videogame MEDAL OF HONOR: RISING SUN earned an award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences and led him to score two more MEDAL OF HONOR games.
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Most recently, Lennertz scored the thriller THE DEAL, starring Christian Slater and Selma Blair, SLEDGE: THE UNTOLD STORY, a mockumentary featuring Angelina Jolie, and the Latin comedy TORTILLA HEAVEN, keeping him constantly genrefluctuating.
Lennertz composed the pilot episode of SUPERNATURAL and established the musical tone for the series; he scores the show's episodes in conjunction with composer Jay Gruska (LOIS AND CLARK, CHARMED), each composer scoring every other episode. The 58th Primetime Emmy Awards will air live on August 27th.
I spoke with Lennertz last Friday about his musical considerations on SUPERNATURAL and the process the score takes to provide its eloquent musical chills each week, and what we might have to look forward to in Season 2.
Q: First off, congrats on the Emmy nom for SUPERNATURAL!
Christopher Lennertz: Thanks. It was such a surprise, but I'm so happy, especially on a show that Eric was doing.
Q: How did you get involved with the show to begin with?
Christopher Lennertz: I got involved the way you're supposed to get involved, at least the way they tell you in film school, which is I did a bunch of projects for a good friend of mine named Eric Kripke, who I met in my junior year. I did two projects for him while we were in school, and even after school we did a bunch of short films, things like that. Eric's a great director, especially to work for as far as a composer, because he's very much in that world. At his wedding he had the RAIDERS march playing from the string quartet! He's that kind of guy.
Q: Coming into a show like this, what were your initial impressions as for the kind of music it needed, what did Eric say he wanted, and how did that change you went into the process?
Christopher Lennertz: The approach came from two realms. Eric wanted the scary stuff to be really, really ugly and intense, with sort of that super-atonal, early Goldsmith/Penderecki style really tight, ugly strings, the stuff that Jerry did on ALIEN and POLTERGEIST, those kinds of worlds. But then the music for the brothers and their relationship with their dad, Eric was very serious about wanting that to have a real depth and a real character to that, almost in a really dark, James Newton Howard-y kind of realm, where it's got the piano and makes the audience really connect with the boys and with their plight with their father and all this kind of stuff. So we wanted to make sure that the show had this big, dynamic range. When the boys were getting in touch with their fear and their sadness about losing their mother and the fact that everything was so unresolved with their dad, we used cello to bring a lot of emotion into it. That would lead you into this realm of being really emotionally involved, and then all of a sudden a huge scare would come out and then we'd go into 20th Century orchestral techniques, with huge whipping horns and nasty things like that. I use a lot of metals and sampled brake drums, to really try to bring in the clangy, hard-edged scares and things.
Q: I love the sonic texture you've got in that, it's really nice.
Christopher Lennertz: When it's with the boys, we're melodic. But when it's scary, we're full-on Elliot Goldenthal! It's that the mentality let's really beat people up a little bit and really make it scary. It gives you a yin-yang kind of thing.
Q: You've done a couple other series before this, right?
Christopher Lennertz: Yes, I've done two other ones, but unfortunately they didn't make it past the first season. I did a show called BRIMSTONE that was on Fox, and that went under relatively quickly, and then I did a show called THE STRIP, which was about two cops in Vegas that Joel Silver produced that was on UPN about three years ago and that one also went under in less than a half a year. This is the first one that I've gotten that people have really connected to, so I'm glad it gets to be the show that I get to work with Eric on.
Q: How did the score, then, develop over the course of the first season?
Christopher Lennertz: I think the thing that's really interesting, as far as I can tell, is that every week the boys have another obstacle to overcome. One week we had a faith healer, one week had the young kid who'd been abused, and one week we had a shadow ghost, that kind of thing. What Eric wanted to do was to explore musical textures relating to whichever legend or monster or spirit haunts that particular episode. That's where we'd bring in our changes and bring in something that is interesting.
For example, on the episode, "Faith," there was a blind faith healer and his wife who had sort of made a deal with the devil or the grim reaper to keep him alive. They had all these scenes where he was healing people in his traveling tent, and there was this beat up piano in the back. So we actually got an old beat-up piano, it wasn't even full size, but only had 73 keys. It was just an old, old piano. I forgot which band it was but I think it might have been Jefferson Airplane that used in on tour in the '70s. We took the front off the piano and I hung all kinds of paper clips and tacks on the strings, I put a nail between two of the strings, I put a piece of paper down near the bottom end so the bass notes would rattle, and really sort of messed with the insides. So, after a lot of preparation, I wrote these pieces of bluesy gospel music and played them on this piano that was now slightly out of tune and had all these rattling pieces of metal in it, so every time he was giving a sermon and taking the life force out of one person and transferring it to the next, you had this really warped, echoey, metallic, out of tune piano playing religious music. We'd do things like that, and that's what was really fun because every week you have new things to latch on to. It's really been great.
Q: It's like each episode has a whole new score, and it like a new movie, as opposed to utilizing the same themes over and over for the same characters?
Christopher Lennertz: Yeah. I score the show with another composer who was brought in by the other producer and who scores every other episode, Jay Gruska. Jay's great, and we decided at the beginning that we're going to have the same sonic quality of the orchestra and the textures of the scary music as well as the stuff for the boys, so we've been using the same electric cellist to keep our sound together and using the same kind of piano stuff that Eric really likes, to play off the emotions. So in that sense, a third of the score is completely new every week. Whatever that particular week has, as far as a main adversary, that gets a brand new treatment, but then a lot of the stuff with the boys and the father has a similarity. It's not exactly the same, but it's like different cues from the same movie. It's almost like a miniseries kind of arc. It's really cool.
Q: How much music do you write for each episode?
Christopher Lennertz: It's usually around 30 or 32-ish minutes per episode. They're 40-41 minute shows. A good three quarters of the show is music. A lot of music.
Q: To what extent is each score synthesized and to what extent do you use acoustic instruments?
Christopher Lennertz: Basically, all of the main orchestral instruments are all synthesized, and all the percussion and everything like that are synthed and sampled. I'll play some guitar and do the guitar effects myself, since I'm a guitarist, and then we have a wonderful cellist who plays both on my scores and on Jay's scores named Cameron Stone, and Cameron is spectacular. A lot of times he is the voice of the Winchester family, and he'll come in and play the real, heartfelt melodies. On different episodes, I'll bring in specific instruments, like I mentioned that old piano. One episode had a bit of a tarot card thing going, so I used the Armenian duduk in that particular episode, which is a great instrument. There was an episode where Sam fell in love, and I used traditional woodwinds on that one to actually bring a little bit more of a traditional, romantic sound.
Q: By leap-frogging episodes with Jay, does that give you enough time to compose and record each episode?
Christopher Lennertz: That's actually one of the things that helps so much. We weren't sure how that was going to work out, but Jay and I had met before we took on the show. Bob Singer is the other exec on the show, and both he and Eric wanted to bring in their guys, so they said "why don't we have them meet and see if they want to work it out that way?" Jay and I really liked each other and it's really worked out wonderfully, because it's not a day-in, day-out chore to compose. We overlap our episodes, and so we get an extra two or three days to write each episode, compared to a normal TV series, since we're switching episodes. So that gives us a little more time to be creative. I think the scores are better for it.
Q: In the pilot, you obviously came up with the main title and the main themes. Do you and Jay share any of your themes between episodes?
Christopher Lennertz: Jay writes themes for his episodes, for the specific characters that come into play, just as I do. We don't necessarily use the same themes, but if there's a recurring character or anything like that, we'll check with each other. Meg for example, has a sort of theme that has recurred a couple of times. Jay did the first episode with her in it, and so I called Jay and I found out what was going on with that and how we could connect those episodes. So a lot of times we'll call each other and talk back and forth about what we did on certain shows when something is coming back that the other has to work with. So we've definitely shared some sonic approaches throughout this season, and I think that works well. Everyone at Warner Bros has felt like it's been a really fluid thing. I've seen shows in the past where people flip flop and leapfrog episodes and usually you can tell the difference. While I wouldn't say that my style and Jay's are identical, I think we're both coming from the same place, and because we spent so much time coming up with the sound, I think it's very effective. It feels more like when they used to do AMAZING STORIES or THE TWILIGHT ZONE or one of those kinds of things where, yes it was a different composer but the show had a sound that you had to respect. That's what we did. We really tried to create the sound first and then the two of us would stay within that realm of sound.
Q: What's most challenging for you about scoring the show?
Christopher Lennertz: I think the most challenging thing, for me, is trying to actually not overscore. That's something Eric was very serious about, because there's this tendency, especially in TV, to make sure every single time there's something going on, it's constantly scored. Eric is a really big believer in silence, as am I, and his scary movie instincts are much more along the likes of Kubrick and what Spielberg did with POLTERGEIST and things like that. He really loves these cues that lead up to a certain scare, but instead of bashing you over the head at the very end of it, will actually fade out and will go to silence five seconds before the scare or, they'll be no music when you enter a house, and any other producer or director will go, "Whoa! It's a scary house, you've got to score it!" Eric might say something like, "I don't want to hear music here, I want to hear the creaking of the floorboards, and weight, and then when you cut to the character's face, five or ten seconds after he enters the house, then you start your cue. That kind of instinct is very, very Hitchcockian. It's sort of a cerebral approach to scares and I think because of that it keeps people on the edge of their seats more. The challenge is that you're fighting the tendency that exists nowadays with scores for other shows where there's almost no silence. What we wanted to do was have more of a multi-dimensional arc to it. You have silence and you have emotional music and you have scary music, and then you have all the rock songs that they pick for it, which are great and you have a rollercoaster ride for that keeps the show moving along very well.
Q: What's next for this show? Where do you think it's going to go next, musically, as it develops more, especially with the Emmy nod?
Christopher Lennertz: Since we had a big cliffhanger at the end of last year with the father and the boys being really in danger, my guess is there'll be a lot more emotion relating to what happened to their mother, in which case I think the music is going to go in a real nice, complex emotional route. There may be a little more in terms of their relationship with their mom and flashbacks to their childhood, so I wouldn't be surprised if you heard things like celesta and harps and things that are a little bit more along those lines. Beyond that, at least from what I've heard, we're going to have some really great scary characters that pop up in the next season, so I think we'll be able to go into some other textures such as ethnic music and perhaps some folk influence. The one thing that I think really plays well is the religious aspect of where the demons are coming from, and so I think you may hear some sort of creepy, affected-style Middle Eastern elements popping their heads up every once in a while, because I think that's really going to lead us down that road of religious lore and folk lore. It gives it a nice flavor.
Q: Any changes of a soundtrack album in the offing?
Christopher Lennertz: There are chances, although nothing's set in stone yet. We've had a couple labels mention it, and I think they're going to start talking to Warner Bros about possibly putting out a soundtrack for Season 1. The DVD of Season 1 is coming out in September, and I think at that point of it's received really well they may go for a soundtrack, or they may wait until we get into Season 2 and put out a compilation of the best from both seasons.
Q: Now, while you've been committed to this series, you've also had your hand in other projects in a variety of genres and musical styles. How have you been able to schedule all this around what's clearly been a busy agenda on SUPERNATURAL?
Christopher Lennertz: First of all, I haven't slept much! Second of all, I've done a jot of juggling, and luckily some of the big projects have actually sat right perfectly in between right where they were big spans of repeats, which really worked out well. For example, DR. DOLITTLE 3 came up right at the end of the Fall where we had all of our Christmas repeats going through September. I had five weeks off from the show and I had exactly four weeks of work to do on DOLITTLE, so that worked out great. And than the day I wrapped my last episode of the show I went right into a big Sony game that I just finished mixing, so I just kind of squeeze them in between everything. It really works out, which is nice but honestly I love doing this too much to say no to something that I find interesting. If I like the project I always seem to be able to find a way to be able to do that.
Former editor/publisher of CinemaScore magazine, Randall Larson was for many years senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine and a film music columnist for Cinefantastique magazine. He is the author of Musique Fantastique: A Survey of Film Music in the Fantastic Cinema (Scarecrow, 1984) and Music from the House of Hammer (Scarecrow, 1995). In addition to Soundtrax and Music News for Cinescape.com, Randall reviews soundtracks Music from the Movies, writes for Film Music Magazine, and in many other fields.
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