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Composer Interview: Jim Dooley

posted Apr 11, 2011, 11:56 PM by Kaya Savas


Jim Dooley is an Emmy winning composer who has established an impressive career in film, television and video games. Jim started his career working with Hans Zimmer and still collaborates with Hans from time to time. He's worked on scores such as Pirates Of The Caribbean, The Simpsons Movie and is the man behind those crafty penguins in Madagascar. His solo works include his Emmy winning work on Pushing Daisies as well as composing for the hit reality show The Contender. His films include Obsessed, When A Stranger Calls, The Mars Underground and the recent Carmel-By-The-Sea among many others. If you play video games then you've heard Jim's work on SOCOM 3: U.S. Navy SEALs, Jax & Daxter: The Lost Frontier, Epic Mickey, Infamous and Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Jim also composes original trailer music featured most notably in the theatrical trailer for Spider-Man 3. I've been a huge fan of his since he started out and was excited when he agreed to answer a few questions about his background and methods.


Kaya:

Firstly thanks so much for taking the time to do this. I guess my first question would be at what point in your life did you decide music was the path you were going to take. At what point did you move towards music for visual mediums?


Jim:

I got into music rather early, had guitar lessons courtesy of the folks, who wanted to build discipline in their wild son. There was one moment I remember clearly in high school, it was a short film a friend of mine made, he was throwing a cue ball down the halls of our school to the music from Danny Elfman's score to Batman. And I was like, "This is the greatest music I've ever heard in my life, I've got to find out who this is", and obviously it was Elfman, and I was like "Film music, cool", so I went to the cd rack, saw Batman, and said "What else has this guy done?" Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, and I fell in love. From that day on, I knew it was what I wanted to do.  I got lucky enough to get in the door with Media Ventures, now Remote Control Productions, and started working on films after proving myself there.


Kaya:

Any specific composers you would consider inspirations to you?


Jim:

Sergey Prokofiev is a great inspiration to me right now.


Kaya:

What’s the most appealing aspect to you about composing for films?


Jim:

Working with people I trust and trust that I’m going to do a good job. I can make a few mistakes when finding the right tone without fear of expulsion.  It’s good to have a partner in crime.  On the last film I scored, Carmel by the Sea, I worked very closely with the editor and she really understood my vision, it was nice. 


Kaya:

When you compose for TV versus film it presents different challenges and of course requires a different approach. While on a series are you composing in the moment or do you try to keep the big picture in mind and foresee and end point with what you are doing every week.


Jim:

It’s like conducting an orchestra.  My job is to listen to the job as a whole while listening to the smaller parts at the same time. I have to see that all the sections are working together and that the string section itself is working as it should.  And then the violins and the violas are working together as they should.   Seeing the sum and the smaller parts at the same time is what makes the job difficult.


Kaya:

You composed the music for Pushing Daisies which had a very core group of dedicated fans, but unfortunately the show didn’t last. When that happened did you feel like you were cut short with what you wanted to accomplish?


Jim:

I don’t feel like I was cut short of what I wanted to accomplish because I feel like I accomplished a lot with Pushing Daisies.  I won an Emmy for my work on Daisies and met a lot of great people I am still friends with today.  Pushing Daisies has never died for me, my second season soundtrack was just released this week and I am now working on a score to go along with Bryan’s Pushing Daisies comic book.


Kaya:

What do you use to inspire ideas when you have to write music with no images, characters or story such as on the Position albums?


Jim:

It’s essentially emotional content not character content. I imagine in my head what it would go to and really explore that emotion such as heroism, adventure, etc.  


Kaya:

Have you ever been given a cut trailer and then composed original music to it, or is that something that never happens?


Jim:

It does happen occasionally.  I wrote something last month that didn’t stick in the trailer but did get picture. There were a lot more cases of this a few years ago but not so much now.  I was actually given picture for Man on Fire and King Arthur.  Now, the trailer houses are competing against each other so they don’t want to give out their footage, they just describe me the scenes, which is a lot more difficult.


Kaya:

I have to tell you that I absolutely loved Epic Mickey. That and Jak & Daxter I think are stupendous scores. Many composers who I’ve talked to say that composing for a video game is no different to them than composing for a film. Do you see it the same way?


Jim:

I think scoring for a video game is night and day different from film scoring because there is no fixed timeline. The music to Jak & Daxter and Epic Mickey for example are designed to simulate an actively scored experience. You have music that is contingent upon specific criteria that trigger it so that different levels of players will all enjoy the experience equally. For example, there are very short pieces that come in and out of the game that give a general mood for the level you are in. As you start reaching different parts of the levels new music will play. If you do nothing and are trying to figure out the controls, random music will still play to keep it interesting. This in tandem with the sound design playing in a similar fashion creates a custom 'film-ic' score for the player. In a film, everyone experiences the medium in a specific time line. This is not the case for video games. You are challenged to keep things interesting and exciting for everyone as they play the millions of different ways to conquer each part of the game.  


Kaya:

I love how Epic Mickey incorporates certain Disney elements yet is completely your style. Did you ever feel pressure to create a “Disney” sounding score or did you approach this as fresh as you could?


Jim:

I felt a little pressure in creating this score, in that I didn’t want to disappoint anyone.  I was already part of the Disney family, working on The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning and Pirates of the Caribbean, so I knew the sound they were looking for.  My main goal was to give these beloved classics a new spin.  The original “Steam Boat Willie” and “It’s A Small World” themes are present in the game, which I constructed into much darker, combative pieces.  One of the best parts of working on Epic Mickey was the research I got to do.  Disney gave me access to all its archives from the original Pinocchio to Mary Poppins.  I found a treasure trove of unpublished recordings, rehearsal charts and full orchestral charts, which was heaven for me. 


Kaya:

You also worked on Infamous, which is a completely different game. That project also had 4 other composers. With such a huge project how did you guys handle it? How was the workload distributed?


Jim:

Everyone had a specific role.  Like chefs in a kitchen, no one was doing the same duty. Galactic is a band and they did their band thing, I’m the orchestral guy, I did my orchestral thing.  We would sometimes cross pollinate, with Jonathan Mayer being at the center of it all and being the middle man to the directors/producers.  We were throwing things around based on our strengths.  They picked people who did different things because it’s what the project required.


Kaya:

And I guess to wrap things up I always like to ask this question. If you had the chance to re-score any film ever made with no disrespect to the original composer which one would you choose?


Jim:

The Birds because it never had an orchestral score.


Kaya

Thanks again, Jim for your time. I wish you all the best in 2011!




Special Thanks:

Jim Dooley

Jordan von Netzer


Read FMM's Reviews For-

Pushing Daisies: Season 2 Click Here

Epic Mickey Click Here


Pushing Daisies: Season 2 is on CD and digital from Varese Sarabande. Epic Mickey is available digitally and Carmel-By-The-Sea was just released on CD Baby (also available digitally). Click Here to order Carmel-By-The-Sea on CD!

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