For film composer Reza Safinia, music sparked a fire in his heart at a young age which quickly grew into a lifelong passion and successful career. As a boy he knew that whatever he decided to do with his life he wanted it to be in music. When he was old enough he began interning at a music studio and soon became an assistant before eventually becoming an engineer. It wasn’t long after when Safinia began producing his own work. He would go on to work as a record producer/engineer for some of the biggest names in music today such as Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears.
Reza Safinia’s talent for music production is undeniable so it makes sense that he would branch out to begin scoring music for film. With music featured in several films such as Filly Brown and Mercy it has become evident with each new score that he was born to do this. His unmatched style and ability to create varied textures within his music that embody the whole essence of a film has made him a much sought after composer in the movie industry.
Recently Safinia provided the score for Alex and Benjamin Brewer’s heist thriller, The Trust (starring Elijah Wood, Nicolas Cage, and Jerry Lewis), which premiered at this year’s SXSW. The film follows a pair of cops who stumble upon a mysterious bank vault while investigating a drug invasion. Mixing elements of comedy, drama, and action it is clear why Safinia was the perfect composer to score this film. He was able to mix a varied collection of musical elements to provide a score which hit on every aspect of the storyline and character development needed to pull the whole project together. The film as well as the music provided by Safinia have received rave reviews from both fans and critics alike.
I recently spoke with Reza Safinia to find out more about his life as a record producer/film composer, what advice he has for upcoming composers, and what his overall experience was like with scoring the music for The Trust.
Reza Safinia Interview
TAMMY: I read a description of your sound today that described it as “influenced by Beethoven and Nine Inch Nails in equal parts”. Personally, I feel that it captures the essence of your work in that you have an amazing skill of being able to mix different types of music together to make something amazing. Do you agree with this assessment and also who were some of your earliest musical influences who continue to inspire you today with the work that you do?
REZA SAFINIA: Ah, thanks so much that is so kind of you to say! It’s not my place to agree with your assessment but it’s what I always hope for! My earliest musical influence was Barry White! I was obsessed with him when I was five, his voice, the intricate string arrangements, the awesome grooves, with thoughtful melancholic stories. Then throughout high school I was OBSESSED with Prince. I’ve had messages from people I went to school with who I haven’t spoken to in twenty years, like I had a death in the family! Then when I got older I became obsessed with Bowie, so it’s been a rough year!
Both Bowie and Prince experimented with genres and made their own from bending all the rules, and that spirit has always captivated me the most… so even in film scoring I try and think like that. As far as current inspirations, I adore Danny Elfman, Clint Mansell, Johann Johannson, and Abel Korzeniowski. Mostly I listen to classical music these days for inspiration, Beethoven, Liszt, Debussy are my faves.
TAMMY: You really do have a beautiful way of blending different types of music together and making it work. For instance, with your work in Filly Brown you were able to mix hip hop in with orchestral elements. And again in the film Mercy where you merged together Appalachian influenced arrangements with an electronic vibe. The textures and detail in your work are incredible. Is this something that more or less comes naturally to you as a composer or it is a lot of trial and error until you get the right mix going?
REZA SAFINIA: Ah, thanks again, it means so much to me to hear you say these things! It comes out of play and fantasy in my mind. I get lost in my mind thinking about how cool it would be to try various things, it’s usually curiosity that leads me down these paths!
TAMMY: Music has apparently been an important part of your life for a long time. I understand that you began working as an intern in a music studio when you were in your early twenties and things just sort of continued building for you from there. Is there anything specific, whether it be a skill that you’ve now mastered or a practical life lesson, that you learned while at that first internship that has continued on with you into your career today?
REZA SAFINIA: Oh absolutely, I feel like that was the time of my life I learnt the most! Working with top producers, engineers and artists, absorbing their methods, learning their tricks. I’ve mentally catalogued the types of samplers, compression, eq that Rza used for example… Or how the Neptunes got that killer sound, using the ASR10… geeky stuff that most people wouldn’t care about but a treasure chest for me, that’s kind of part of my musical DNA now. Being an engineer also changed the way I write music, because it made me consider frequencies and space in the sonic spectrum in my arrangements…
TAMMY: As someone who is not only a film composer but who has also worked as a songwriter and record producer you have had the opportunity to work with many talented artists such as Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears. What are some of the unique challenges that you face when working on music in this arena as opposed to when you are scoring music for a film?
REZA SAFINIA: Ooh, good question… The thing I said before about thinking sonically is critical when you’re writing pop music. The production has to be outstanding, because the sound of a song is central to what makes a song work. Also writing a hook that pays off in the first thirty seconds and sticks in your head forever. You have more time to develop ideas in a score. In a pop song, you gotta be all in right away, and then find a way to build up when you’re already at a 10!
TAMMY: When you are first presented with a new film scoring project what are some of the initial steps that you take in order to get a feel for the storyline, setting, and characters? And are you often able to see bits of the film beforehand to use as a template or no?
REZA SAFINIA: Sometimes I will have read the script before, but not always. What I usually do is watch the film down, with a timer but without stopping it. I’ll write notes on anything that occurs to me as I watch the first time, that way my notes relate to that visceral feeling you can only get the first time you watch something, and I follow those notes closely as I continue to work. The next thing I do is import the film into Logic, and cut up the corresponding audio track, color coding it according to what I think might be similar themes or emotions, and then I can get a birds eye look at the whole film thinking about how different parts of my score will interact with other parts.
TAMMY: I’m very excited about the music that you have scored for The Trust. What were some of the things that the creators were looking for specifically in regards to the soundtrack for this film?
REZA SAFINIA: Thanks! They wanted to be organic and intimate whilst being cinematic. They wanted humor, but also darkness. Lots of apparent paradoxes! – but that’s what made it fun!
TAMMY: What was the overall experience like for you while scoring music for The Trust? Were there any outstanding high points or challenges that arose?
REZA SAFINIA: It was a great experience ultimately. It was challenging because of the multiple and seemingly opposite requirements, but when I delved into it I realized that those things that seemed like paradoxes, could actually be complements. Finding how to make a funny moment play off a dark moment and vice versa was a cool process, that made me think about life as much as music! I didn’t have much time scoring this film, that also made it fun, because I had to trust my instincts to progress quickly.
TAMMY: What advice do you have for anyone who is thinking of starting a career as a film composer?
REZA SAFINIA: Yikes! I need someone to advise me! – You have to do it for love first and foremost.
TAMMY: What are you currently working on that you are excited to share with your fans?
REZA SAFINIA: I’m gonna start on a really awesome voodoo thriller/horror directed by Youssef Delara called “The Dark Loa”. I’m psyched about that, gonna experiment with some crazy drumming and chanting!
The soundtrack for The Trust will be released digitally by Lakeshore Records on May 6th. To learn more about Reza Safinia and to hear his music from various film and television projects you can visit his website at musicandtexture.com.