Interview with Pino Donaggio: Oorlogswinter (Winter in Wartime)

Pino Donaggio travelled to the Netherlands to be present at the gala film premiere of Oorlogswinter on the 17th of November 2008. I was honoured to be able to interview the composer the next day on the 18 November in the luxury Hotel De L'Europe. Be sure to check out the scoring process of Oorlogswinter as well.

MAIN TITLES: I saw Oorlogswinter this morning. I though it was a great film with beautiful music! It's probably one of your best.

PINO DONAGGIO: That's because I could study it so well and was able to re-polish the music very nicely. We had decided to not do a lot of thriller moments. When the pilot points a gun at the boy, we could have underscored this with thriller music, but we preferred not to. At first we did it, but then chose not too. It all concentrates on the emotions of the boy, the relation between father and son. And there is very little war in it, which naturally was Martin's choice.

MT: How did you experience the premiere yesterday?

PD: I hadn't even heard the mix, so that was the first time I heard the final score. I had seen all the images, but didn't see it after being mixed. But that doesn't matter, because we deliver on demand. I really liked seeing the end result.

MT: Did you change your compositions for the few different versions of the film?

PD: No, it was ok. We actually did change some things in post-production now and then, but it wasn't much. That is because we had a lot of time to look at the footage and work on the development. It went so well because during our meeting in Venice, we had a good chat about what had to be done and thus we were well prepared. Although you work from a far distance from each other, you can work very united on a film. You shouldn't forget it's internet that does the trick. You're constantly talking through the internet, sending and receiving messages. Well, it has become easier that way. There are some key points (in the film), which are: the innocence of the child, the relation between uncle and the boy, boy and father…. Another important moment is when (spoiler: select text to view) the boy has to kill the uncle(end spoiler) no music that was being used. You wonder if you should place music under certain dialogues, if you should underscore certain thriller moments with thriller music.... Sometimes you don't want to. Those were the choices we faced.

Pino Donaggio and Martin Koolhoven at the composer's house in Venice.

MT: I have helped Martin as some sort of film music advisor and got a good view of the production. I've got some questions that are a bit more in depth… After the score mix in Rome Martin and Els (Vandevorst, the producer) took the music back to the Netherlands and then some changes where made in terms of editing.

PD: Most of it stayed in place. I think it concerned the dialogues and Martin wanted to place music under them and I told him that he better not do that. Was that it? There were two or three of these moments where he nevertheless wanted that music. I wrote too much music, but that happens more often and it's easier. Don't forget that it's worse if you fall on short. You can better have too much, so that you can take something off. In the scene (spoiler: select text to view) Jack is save and Michiel turns around and sees that the uncle isn't sitting there anymore, with his hands tied together (end spoiler), there was no music that was being used. He didn't want music. And they (the editor) dragged some music from another scene to this scene, which was perfect. Yesterday, I saw this moment for the first time and told Martin that this was better. These moments show you how it all needs to be done.

MT: You have used a choir and boy soprano for the operatic moments…

PD: I selected a boy who was precisely the same age as the main character at the beginning of the film. This reflected the innocence of the boy. At the end of the film you can ask yourself if the boy is once again innocent or if he has been affected by the violence. He's again starting to play and smile a little.. So you get this kind of variation on the innocence theme in the music and the war theme. If you look at the film in its totality, there's more war music at the end of the film than in the entire film at all. It is actually not a war film.

MT: You didn't see the temp score version. Do you often have to deal with these?

PD: Martin didn't want it. Yes, a lot of people use them. The annoying thing is that you get very broad series of scores from famous films with enormous budgets. You're then working on a film that actually gets an a-typical score. They take the best parts of others films and you've got to find a way in between. When you have a completely different idea for the film, things can be extremely difficult. You never really know what's being asked and that's why I'm not very keen on hearing them. But everyone does them.The thing is you must show the producer not only know how it's going to look like, but also how it's going to sound. That's the annoying thing about it, which  also happens in America.

MT: You have done most of the orchestrations yourself, while Maurizio (Abeni) also did a few orchestrations. Do you prefer doing as much as you can on your own or do you also like to let someone else to do them for you?

PD: I do the music entirely on the computer using midi-files. So it is actually already arranged. In the past it was Natale Massare who helped me with it. You mustn't forget that I switched from singing to scores. I learned the process of arranging very slowly and from Dressed to Kill on I had mastered the skills. We studied together at the conservatory in Milan. He played the clarinet, I played the violin. And with some other guys we were in the same orchestras. What happens now is that he sends me something and asks if I can help (laughs) and then workd on it from behind my computer, which he then prints on his own. He also conducts, but I can't conduct because I'm much too nervous for it, and then something goes wrong with the orchestra. And I get mad. It's better if I just stick with writing the music.

MT: I heard that when Martin and Job (Ter Burg, the editor) first visited you, they were there with the idea of still having to persuade you…. While you already were determined to do the film….

PD: I like working with young directors. When I first told De Palma that I was going to score Joe Dante's film he said: ''if you feel like it, ashkksss''. Well, he made an unfriendly noise. Joe Dante first made Piranha and then The Howling, so he became a very big director. But Brian De Palma didn't like it even one bit. Unfortunately David Schmoeller never had any success; he made 4/5 films. I like working with new directors and I had never done a Dutch film. I was quite curious and I liked the story. So when he called me I was actually immediately interested. And he brought me down here, where I'm very happy. I liked being here in the Netherlands. I've never been here before.

MT: Have you ever seen a Dutch film before?

PD: De Lift by Dick Maas. Beautiful film. This film (Oorlogswinter) is one step ahead and that's why I liked doing it. I knew that something was set in motion. Let's hope that this isn't the only one in my career and also not my last (laughs).

MT: Are there existing film for which you would have loved doing the music?

PD: I should have done The Mission. The producer asked me. In the meantime Ce'ra Una Volta In Amerika was released and the producer fell for the music of Ennio Morricone and he got it. I talked to Italian producer Fernando Ghia and it was the English producer who decided this. There was a lot of space for music in the film and would have been lovely for me to do. And of course I would have liked to do all other films by Brian de Palma. He keeps on changing composers, but there is still something out there. He came to Venice to talk to me about The Toyer. After that meeting The Black Dahlia followed and another one. I don't know, I'll wait for it.

MT: In order to able to work on Oorlogswinter you had to sell no to a few big names….

PD: I'm always getting requests. But when I'm busy with something I reserve enough free time to able to do it. That's not abnormal. When I'm working with Brian de Palma, I reserve two weeks, two months. I don't like doing two films at the same time; that doesn't work with this mind.

MT: One last small question… What are your favourite films you worked on and do you consider Oorlogswinter as part of these?

PD: This one of the best. All films got something that I like. I could say those of De Palma, the political films by (Giuseppa) Ferrara… It is just like asking what I think are my dearest children (laughs). Blow Out, The Howling…. On all films I'm always able to find what I think is beautiful. If I had to redo the score of the first The Howling film, it wouldn't have been the same score. But I'm getting older and more mature. You're never happy with what you do. The next one is always better.

Joep de Bruijn (18 November)
Grazas to Mr. Donaggio.

Listen to 4 tracks at the official website.

The scoring process of Pino Donaggio's Oorlogswinter

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