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Interview : Kevin Kliesch

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If one thing stands out about Dimension’s "Dracula 2 : Ascension", now available on DVD and VHS, it’s the effective, pulsating score by Kevin Kliesch. CLINT MORRIS catches up with the talented muso to discuss how such a score comes together, and what’s in the works.

Where does one start when scoring a film like "Dracula 2"?

It started with a meeting between director Patrick Lussier and myself, with Marco Beltrami ("Dracula 2000" score composer) in attendance as well. We sat down and watched the movie from beginning to end, deciding where music should go (and more importantly, where it should not go) and what tone each musical cue would take (a process we call the spotting session). Patrick would make comments on certain things he would want "hit" musically, and indicate certain areas of the film where he wanted to depart from the temp score (music cut into the picture from other movies to give a musical feel to the film before the composer scores it). Luckily for me, Patrick has a great musical sensibility, and was able to communicate very clearly about what he wanted and what he didn’t want. He cut the temp score into the movie himself, and when I first watched it, I was very surprised that the temp worked so well.

One other thing that was decided in the spotting session was that the score would be all electronic; that is, the budget for the film did not allow for me to hire an orchestra to perform the score. That was actually somewhat of a disappointment for me, but also somewhat of a challenge: I would have loved to have 80 musicians performing the score live, but instead I had to convince the viewers that what they were Hearing was an actual live orchestra instead of synthesizers and samplers. That’s not an easy task!

Did you look at the first film before deciding on the score?

I had seen the movie previously on DVD, but I went back and watched it again to re-familiarize myself with Marco’s fantastic work on Dracula 2000. Patrick mentioned that he wanted to keep some of Marco’s themes from Dracula 2000 and integrate them into the score for Dracula: Ascension, which I thought would be a great idea since the movie is a continuation of the storyline from Dracula 2000. So, I got a CD from Marco with the themes that Patrick had asked to be included in Dracula: Ascension and I adapted them for the current movie.

Do the scores of "Drac 2" and "3" differ?

Yes, in one key aspect: "Dracula 3" has a lot more ethnic instruments included in the score. Without giving too much away, the film is set in Bucharest (amongst other locations) and is more of a "travelling" type of picture, with beautiful shots of Romania throughout the film. Patrick wanted to infuse a different musical "flavor" into this Dracula installment to reflect the location. Otherwise, it’s still got a lot of "Dracula 2: Ascension" has – orchestra (fake, of course) and propulsive synths.

What’s the difference between an orchestrator and a composer?

It’s not uncommon today to have 3-4 weeks to score a film (sometimes, in extreme cases, even 1-2 weeks!), and with that tight of a deadline, the composer usually will write sketches of the music (usually done today on computers), which he/she will then hand to an orchestrator. These sketches will usually include things like melody, harmony, and rhythm tracks; sometimes more, sometimes less. The orchestrator’s job, then, is to take the composer’s ideas and put them on paper so that an orchestra can play them, all the while keeping things in mind such as if a certain instrument can play above or below a certain range. Also, Depending on how complete the composer’s sketches are, the orchestrator is expected to "fill in the gaps" that the composer didn’t have time to address. Some orchestrators are given a piano sketch and are expected to expand that for full orchestra, while other orchestrators may be given a complete sketch, which contains all of the instruments that the composer would like to have appear in a cue (leaving very little to the orchestrator’s imagination).

On a film like "Dracula: Ascension" I was pushing myself to write at least 3 minutes of music a day. The film itself is 85 minutes long; I wound up writing 75 minutes of score. Do the math and you can see it took me about 25 days to complete (without a break). Dracula 3 happened immediately after Dracula 2 (Patrick had filmed them back to back), so I jumped right into writing that score. Luckily, I had some help on Dracula 3, since I was given 6 weeks to write both movies, and there was no way I could see finishing Dracula 3 on time without having another composer come on to help.

I tend to write quickly, so I like to get up at a musician’s leisurely time of 9:00 and work until about 6:00 at night. I then try to decompress with some heavy Xbox playing (much to the chagrin of my wife).

What do you think of the new "Dracula" movies?

I think they’re a great continuation of the storyline from Dracula 2000, and I’m very impressed with what Patrick pulled off visually on these movies with such a limited budget. It’s too bad that they weren’t released theatrically, since in some respects they’re better movies than Dracula 2000 was. But hopefully, enough people will rent or buy them on DVD to warrant a "Dracula 4!"

Interview with Director Patrick Lussier

Interview with star Jason Scott Lee

Review of "Dracula 2 : Ascension"

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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