Film composer Chris Hajian was born with music in his veins. Growing up in Queens,NY with a father who was a professional musician, Hajian began to not only appreciate but also learn to play music at a very early age. By the age of five his father had already begun teaching him to play the trumpet – which would lead Hajian down a path of becoming proficient in playing multiple instruments throughout his life. He eventually began to join his love of playing music with his talent for writing his own songs. This was just the beginning of what would eventually lead Chris Hajian into a long, successful career as a film composer.
Chris Hajian’s roots in the film music industry can be found back in the nineties during the indie film movement. It was during this time that he began scoring music for films such as Ten Benny and Mr.Vincent – both of which received positive reviews from both fans and critics alike. Hajian has since gone on to score music for an impressive amount of projects spanning television, documentaries, and feature films. Due to his vast and varied collection of work it comes as no surprise that Chris Hajian has become one of the most sought after composers in the film music industry. He has proven time and again what it takes to be a film composer with each new project that has been brought before him.
Hajian’s latest work has been much anticipated by many. He recently scored the music for Brad Furman’s feature film, The Infiltrator, which is set to be released in theaters on July 13th. This drug kingpin drama stars Bryan Cranston as federal agent Robert Mazur who goes undercover as Bob Musella to infiltrate the drug trafficking network of famed kingpin Pablo Escobar. With the story being set in the eighties, Hajian has created a crisp, fresh soundtrack steeped in eighties synth that is the perfect accompaniment for this dark, edge of your seat crime thriller. You only have to listen to the theme song to know that this film will be a rollercoaster of a journey through the lives of Mazur and Escobar. If it’s true that a film is only as good as the music that drives the story along then The Infiltrator is already set to be a hit.
I recently spoke with Chris Hajian to find out more about what lead him in to scoring music for film, how he has grown as a composer over time, and what his experience was like scoring the music for The Infiltrator.
Chris Hajian Interview
TAMMY: I saw that you began playing the trumpet at the age of five while studying under your father. Music has obviously been an important part of your life for quite some time. When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career in the music industry and what lead you to scoring music for film?
CHRIS HAJIAN: I played trumpet for 20 plus years. I studied at Performing Arts High School in NYC and then attended The Manhattan School of Music first as a performance major on Trumpet. I always composed music but never had any formal compositional training. I was playing in orchestras and always found myself more interested in how the music sounded the way it did then just executing my part! It was then that I realized that composing was close to my heart and what I wanted to pursue. I tried out for the composition department at MSM and got accepted. I received my degree in classical composition. I always loved film Scores and was captivated by what they did to enhance the story. I never studied film scoring. When I got out of school I got involved with all the new technology and got into writing commercials. I did that very successfully for a few years, and all the while I was working on my programing and producing skills. Soon after I got hired for my first feature and slowly built my career scoring films and working in long form.
TAMMY: It is evident from some of your very first film scores such as Ten Benny and Mr. Vincent that you came in to this business with so much to offer from the start. How do you feel that you have matured as an artist since your early days of film scoring?
CHRIS HAJIAN: Thank you, Tammy. I’m very proud of those early scores and both of those films got accepted to the Sundance Film Festival! It was great for me to be a part of both of them. I learn and get better from every project and every director I work with. It’s a never ending process of developing my craft. But if I had to pinpoint one thing in particular it’s the confidence in trusting my core instincts and embracing those very first ideas. That comes with doing enough films and experience.
TAMMY: You have a broad collection of work spanning theatrical releases, documentary films, and television. What is your method or mindset when you are approaching a new project? And does how you approach working on music for a theatrical release or documentary differ from how you approach working on music for television?
CHRIS HAJIAN: I like to talk to director’s in a broad way at first. Ask them about the tone and feeling they want from the score. Even have them tell me what other scores they feel they connect to or feel are relevant musically for their film. Always talk story, emotion and the tone of the film. All three types are similar in that at the core it’s storytelling. Each have more specific musical parameters. I prefer a more nuanced style to what I create in general, but especially in documentaries a composer must be careful and delicate in their approach. You never want to tell an audience how to feel but rather work to enhance the story and narrative. Television has some of the same challenges but there are some more practical skills a composer needs to master to write good TV cues. For instance, how to write act out cues that feel organically right and not trite. Also TV has many shorter cues that are difficult in certain ways. For film there is usually a much broader scope and frequently many more ways to approach scenes and the entire score as a whole.
TAMMY: You’ve recently scored the music for Bryan Cranston’s latest film The Infiltrator which I’m very excited to see. Tell me a little about the film and what the creators were looking for in regards to the music?
CHRIS HAJIAN: Well Brad Furman (Director) and I go way back and he trusts me creatively so with him we start in a very open and creative place. We talked more about the story and the characters and what he hoped to convey through this film, especially the emotional journey of the main character played by Bryan Cranston. We both wanted to create a core that had 80’s synth elements but for it to be combined with my writing esthetic. That was the start. Then I developed the sonic landscape of my score. It had those retro elements but with modern ambient textures and strong emotional string melodies. What he didn’t want was anything cliché’ or obvious. There is also almost NO use of drums or percussion in my entire score! That was by design, we both felt that sound has been played a lot and we wanted to try to create motion from synths and pulses and reverse effects. Brad didn’t want the score to feel strictly like an 80’s score. Also we looked at 80’s scores and there was a distinctly different style in how they approached the cues. First off there is less score in many of the films from that era. As well the cues tend be longer and more linear. They didn’t really make all the perspective shifts that we are accustomed to today. I tried to use that tactic whenever was appropriate.
TAMMY: What sort of research was involved in order to prepare yourself to take on this project?
CHRIS HAJIAN: I studied a lot of the landmark film composers that worked with early synths. Giorgio Moroder, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis. Films like Midnight Express, Bladerunner, To Live and Die in LA and many others. I also noted how scores of the 80’s and 90’s had far less music (score) in them. I feel now we are in a cycle of over spotting films. So many have wall to wall music and I don’t like that trend and approach. So when I noticed that the films of that era had less cues and allowed scenes to play dry, myself and Brad made it a priority to do that whenever possible. Because this film is so well acted and directed it was not necessary to over score it. This concept was eye opening and I believe very effective to the overall structure of the film.
TAMMY: I understand that given the time period of the film that much of the music was 80s synth-driven. What was your process like in creating an 80s sound while also making it new and fresh?
CHRIS HAJIAN: Great Question! Both Brad and I were insistent on creating a score that definitely had 80’s influences, but that would still be original and not a ‘parody’ of films from that era. So sonically I delved into the analog synth textures but also incorporated my sound into that world. The score is best described as a blend of 80’s synths and modern ambient textures with strong emotional string melodies.This combination of synths and strings is one that I believe captures the time and emotion of the story.I wanted to create a very captivating score, and one that puts an emotional depth into the film in a powerful yet nuanced way. I hope my music draws you into the world of the character Bob Musella and makes you feel like you’ve lived his life through this film.
TAMMY: This is of course not your first time working on a film with Brad Furman as you also worked together on The Take in 2007. Is there a certain camaraderie that develops when you are working alongside someone who you have worked with on films before? I would imagine that with each new project there are new challenges and that having someone there who you are already familiar with their work style, direction, etc. would make things somewhat easier.
CHRIS HAJIAN: Yes the friendship and trust gets stronger and with the trust a composer can reach and create great things. I know how his mind works and his musical temperament. It’s the greatest feeling to work with the same director multiple times. I always try to push myself to get to the emotional core of the film. Do whatever it takes for the director to see my dedication and ability to be a storyteller and invaluable collaborator. Get inside the directors head and always push to create something with unique qualities. Most importantly …Listen!
TAMMY: What were some of the challenges that you faced while working on the score for The Infiltrator? Was there anything new that you were excited to try with the music for this film that you hadn’t been given the opportunity to experiment with in the past?
CHRIS HAJIAN: The challenge was that I wanted to deliver above and beyond emotionally and I stopped at nothing to keep digging and finding the best way to achieve this through my score. It was a very long post production schedule so there were many cuts of the film and test screenings and on and on. So with that comes a lot and lot of revisions. Also with a film with so many great actors and performances I wanted to be extra sure that my game was elevated and up for the task.
TAMMY: You’ve really put together an incredible collection of work for this film. What, so far, has been a highlight for you in taking on this project?
CHRIS HAJIAN: Well it’s the biggest opportunity I’ve ever had in cinema and I owe it all to Brad Furman and his incredible loyalty and trust in me. I am very blessed to have a collaborator like him. He is an incredible storyteller and the performances he gets out of his actors are amazing, His vision and passion is inspiring. The highlight has definitely been working again with Brad and developing our collaboration further.
TAMMY: I’m sure that you’ve been keeping busy since finishing up the score for The Infiltrator. What are you currently working on?
CHRIS HAJIAN: I’m currently working on a terrific, edgy drama series for Sony/Crackle called Startup. Created and Directed by Ben Ketai, the series stars Martin Freeman and Adam Brody. It launches in August 2016.