Michael Price composed the music for BBC4’s adaptation of The First Men in the Moon. He studied on the Tonmeister course at Surrey University and went on to write a number of scores for contemporary dance. He moved into film in 1996, when he was invited by Michael Kamen to orchestrate and program electronic sounds for the Paramount movie Event Horizon. His credits include the BBC’s Sherlock and the film Wild Target. Price has worked with large orchestras on his own scores, but when budgets are smaller, he creates scores by himself, in his studio at home, using pre-recorded sounds he has built up over the years. This was the case for The First Men in the Moon.
How did you become involved with The First Men in the Moon?
I met Mark Gatiss on Crooked House and we met up again on Sherlock. So when Mark started thinking about who should score The First Men in the Moon, I was on his speed dial at that point. It’s a pretty ambitious project. To make a movie that looks like that on the budget I imagine they had is quite impressive.
What kind of sound did you want for The First Men in the Moon?
Damon Thomas, the director, would talk about the sounds and colours he wanted from the start - he wanted everything to be done with a twist. If a piano was used, then he wanted that with a hint of something off-kilter in the background, or where a flute was used, it had to be doubled with some unearthly pipe sound behind it. Damon’s brief was classic storytelling, but with something unsettling behind it.
How did you want the music when the actors are on the Earth to stand out from that used when they are on the moon?
When it’s on Earth, it was nice to have the music feel a bit more real. For the moon scenes, I used recordings of instruments made out of glass, which gives a haunting, spooky sound.
How long did it take to compose the music for the drama?
I wrote it in about three weeks, which is quick. In a perfect world, you would get six to eight weeks. With this, Damon knew what he wanted and I knew how to do it. It just came out quickly and fluently, but it’s not always like that.
What was it like going from writing music for contemporary dance to working with Michael Kamen on films such as Event Horizon?
It was this astonishing transition from being an arts council-funded contemporary dance musician to seeing what it is like to tell stories on a really big scale. For ages and ages, if I wanted to get musicians together for a score, it involved months of pleading on the phone and buying curries for people.
Then, on my first day with Michael, he asked if we could get an orchestra booked that Thursday because he had just bought a theatre in Notting Hill and wanted to try it out. We had 75 players just to try out the sound of that venue and make noises for Event Horizon. There was more money in that one day than I spent in five years of contemporary dance.
How important is music to an audience’s enjoyment of a film or TV drama?
If you get the tone of it wrong or if you push the audience too far, people will step back and reject it. They don’t want to be told what to think. But on the other hand, if you are with them, experiencing the story with the music, providing a framework, then everything all of a sudden starts to hang together. I don’t mind if people say they didn’t notice the music, so long as they enjoyed the show.
What advice would you give to aspiring film composers?
Learn about the business from the inside out - by finding someone you can be an apprentice to, for example. Give yourself ten years and at the end of that, you will begin to get it. It took me ten years. Now I think I just about get it on a good day.