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Interview: Composer Max Richter Talks Scoring HBO's 'The Leftovers,' Writing For Television & More

Interviews
by Kevin Jagernauth
June 30, 2014 1:41 PM
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Yulia Mahr

If there is one defining characteristic about composer Max Richter, is that he refuses to stay within any preconceived boundaries. Classically trained at Edinburgh University and finishing his studies under the tutelage of avant-garde composer Luciano Berio in Florence, from there Richter’s career went in a variety of directions. He did traditional compositional work, collaborated with acts as varied as The Future Sound Of London, Roni Size and Vashti Bunyan, and issued his own complex and acclaimed solo work.

So it was only a matter of time until the movies came calling for Richter’s unique, soulful and avant work, and the last decade has seen him contribute to films such as the animated “Waltz With Bashir,” the WWI drama “Lore,” the sci-fi “Last Days On Mars,” the intimate “Wadjda” and many more. But always looking for a further challenge, Richter has now tackled his first TV gig with HBO’s highly anticipated “The Leftovers,” which premiered over the weekend.

Once again, Richter has delivered some haunting, evocative music which promises a full season of his immediately identifiable sound helping to shape the strange, surreal and emotional world of Damon Lindelof’s show. Last week, we chatted with Richter over the phone from New York City about working on “The Leftovers,” and his approach to the layered series about loss and what we do to move on.

How did "The Leftovers" first come to you?
Well I got a call from Damon, the producer of the show, and he knew my records from years ago. And he had talked to Peter Berg, the director of the first show, and the executive producer on the project, about me. Pete had by chance gone to see “Macbeth,” which was on Broadway and had music by me in it, so they kind of went, “Oh, we're talking about the same guy.” So it was kind of a happy accident really. Then they called me up and I had a good chat with Damon and read the script and I thought the script was really, really strong and really interesting. Then when I saw the pilot, it was so powerful and affecting. But I thought, this will be a fun, interesting project to be involved with. I've never done any TV before, so it was a whole new landscape for me to get involved with. And I'm pretty excited about it actually.

When Damon Lindelof came to you with the project, did he know what kind of music he was looking for at the time?
Yes. The thing about about this—and this is why I got into it in the first place—is that he really just wants me to write what I normally write. He's not looking for [traditional] TV music, which for me is brilliant because I don't think I could do TV music, even if I tried to. So they just wanted me to kind of do my thing which is a perfect scenario.

You mentioned that you were able to read the script, is that usual for you when you work on a film or TV project?
Yes and no. It just depends on what stage they come to the composer, because oftentimes they come to me and are quite late on. In this case there was nothing else at the time when they were talking to me, there was only the script, they hadn't yet made the pilot. I read it and it read fantastically. It was just brilliant writing, a real page turner.

Getting the script, do you find it any more or less beneficial than seeing dailies or footage or anything like that?
Everything is useful, just to get a sense of the world and the story and how things are handled and the storytelling language, but the script is great obviously and anything you can see at other times, is really, really useful. Seeing the pilot, the rough cut of the pilot, and the way that they're using music in the pilot, it was quite smart, it was a fascinating story.

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