Alfonso G Aguilar is a great composer that is just now getting notoriety with his brilliant score for Netflix’s Klaus. I had the great opportunity to interview him over Skype. He currently resides in Spain.
D: How did you get into the film scoring business?
A: I’ve been studying music since I remember. Since I was a kid. My first memories are about music of playing with music. Not playing music, but playing with music like drawing characters and drawing notes and that stuff. I learned piano and then came the opportunity to write a score for a movie. I ended up writing a concert and one person came and told me he liked my music so much and that my music sounded like a soundtrack and wanted me to score a movie for them. So I said yes and then got my first movie.
D: Very nice! Did you go to school for music at all?
A: I went to music school here in Spain and then when I had five or six movies I went to Berkeley just to see what’s going on there.
D: Wow. Do they have a good film scoring program there at Berkeley?
A: Yeah it’s very good. When I was doing a movie everyone was asking if I had been to Berkeley and I hadn’t so I decided to go there cause a lot of people that are in the business right now went there. They’ve got an amazing film scoring program. That’s why it’s very demanding when you study there. The people who go there to that program are very professional. On my team right now I have a lot of people from Berkeley.
D: I see that you have several producer credits, lots of them on the same movie. How does a composer also act as a producer as well?
A: I think it’s because I love the movies and I know a lot of people in the business. Sometimes when I’m not doing the music for a movie they ask me to help with some of the production stuff like creating content and such. Actually I produced a music video for Carlos Rivera cause I am the producer of one of this albums. It’s always good to do the full 360, the music video and the music as well. It’s fun. I love the industry.
D: What’s an example of a thing you produced that wasn’t music related?
A: Well my friend was acting in a movie called Vulnerable, a psychological thriller. It came out in 2012.
D: Who do you consider to be your greatest inspiration as a film composer?
A: I’ve got 3-4. I love Alan Silvestri, he’s so, so good. I also love Alexander Desplatt. To me his melodies and the way he writes the music are great. I also like A LOT is Gustavo Santaolella. He did Narcos: Mexico and Babel. He writes a different kind of music with a lot of silence and ambiance and atmospheres. I also love Hans Zimmer. Gladiator is what made me want to do the music for the movies.
D: When I heard your demo reel I actually thought that it sounded like Hans Zimmer. I thought “This guy could do a Batman movie.”
A: He reinvented all the music for the movies and the way we use it. But I also deal with many other composers. In Los Angeles. For example. Brian Tyler who is a great, great musician.
D: I adored Brian Tyler’s score for Crazy Rich Asians.
A: It’s wonderful.
D: Do you have a piece of work that you’ve done that is your favorite or you’re particularly proud of?
A: For me it’s Klaus. It’s been huge. It’s been the most complicated movie in terms of emotions and harmonies that I’ve ever done. I spent like 5 years into the project and then working really hard the last year. It took 326 people to make it happen. I’ve enjoyed so, so much the experience of doing animation, which is very different. For me this my favorite of my works. It’s the biggest one.
D: To me it was a very unique film and score.
A: That was the idea. The animation is very different from what we are used to with the colors and techniques and the music had to match that. It was very difficult, but so much fun.
D: I read you wrote the theme for the movie 6 years ago?
A: Yeah. I didn’t write the theme but I did the main melody. I was so inspired after our initial meeting that I went out and wrote the lines of the main melody.
D: At that initial meeting, were you presented with drawings or storyboards or was it just a chat?
A: At that moment it was just a chat with the director, Sergio Pablos. He told me that he had an idea about Klaus but he didn’t have the money. We spent two hours talking about the movie because it was amazing. That was the moment when I wrote the melody. Then, like two or three years later when I had a few more ideas and then I got the animatic, which was incredible. The animatic alone brought me to tears.
D: And when you say ‘animatic’ you mean just storyboards with dialogue, right?
A: Yeah. With sound, sometimes with temp tracks. At the beginning it had no temp tracks, but then they added them.
D: I’ve spoken to many composers about how much they loathe temp tracks. Are you in the same boat?
A: Ha! It depends on the boat. Sometimes it’s good if it gives you orientation or some direction. But it’s not always good because sometimes they are using the temp tracks and they ask you to write something just the same. Actually, in this movie the director knew perfectly what he wanted. So, he said “this is the temp track but you can bring me something, anything as long as it works emotionally.” Sometimes I would write something different and he would say it worked much better and he loved it. It was a completely different. So I’ve been very pleased with this experience. Sometimes temp tracks are useful, but it can be like they are asking someone to write a script based on another movie and that’s not good.
D: Did that particular melody that you wrote at the beginning evolve over time?
A: Yeah. All along the movie it’s been evolving since the beginning because every time I got an update on the picture I had to change things. The characters started to move. The movie was alive so I had to change many things in the melodies and harmonies because everything was changing.
D: Do you have a favorite theme or cue in the film?
A: I would “Changes” cause it’s a moment when people start changing. They changed from being selfish to actually helping each other. But it was a very difficult one because I had to write 43 times until I got to the final version.
D: Well, it was a VERY moving scene in the movie. The music is very moving.
A: Thank you so much!
D: So this movie had two directors? Or was it just a co-director and director?
A: No it was just a co-director.
D: Did you ever work with the co-director at all?
A: Not really. I was in meetings with them but I always talked to Sergio. He may have been active in other areas of the movie, but not with the music. Actually, Sergio says he’s not musical but he knows exactly where he wants the music to go. He gave great direction on the score. He is quite immersed in the music. He knows how to put himself in the view of the audience and know what to do.
D: I know you both speak Spanish. Did you guys have all your meetings in Spanish?
A: No! It was a joke in production. Almost everyone in our meetings spoke Spanish but there was almost always one person who was an English speaker. It would be like 24 Spanish speakers and 1 English speaker. We had Netflix people in there. It was a running joke. We did ONE meeting in Spanish out of about sixty meetings.
D: When you would let him listen to your progress you were making would it be an electronic production or would you re-record the orchestra each time.
A: It was always electronic. Right now you cannot distinguish something done with a computer vs something recorded. The main difference for me is the energy that you can get. That’s why I always record a real orchestra. If there’s a project that comes up where I can’t use real musicians then I just don’t do the project. I can do electronics for some movies, like a movie I did called Lost which is a psychological thriller. It has lots of synths and electronics. But if you have a real instrument.
D: It’s really easy to spot a television show that uses a real orchestra versus doing it electronically. It has gotten better over time, though.
A: I can identify when something is being recorded versus manufactured electronically. You’re going to get that imperfection which creates perfection, like the noise from the instruments. If you’re playing the piano, the sounds of the pedals are going to be there and I don’t erase those out cause I love it. Same with the finger movements on string instruments. It sounds real.
D: I read that you have a couple more projects lined up after this?
A: Yeah. Today we are doing the final recording for El rey de tulo mundo which is translated to “King of the Whole World.” It’s a Mexican project. It’s director by Carlos Saura, who is the most successful director in Spain’s history. He has been nominated three times for the Oscars. It has the cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who did Apocalypse Now and The Last Emperor. It’s a huge project, like a piece of art. It’s not big in budget, but big as in a masterpiece. It’s like a freestyle movie, it’s a musical. It has 20 songs with Mexican rhythms. I’m also doing co-composing a TV show on Amazon for 2020.
D: Did you write the songs for that Mexican project?
A: Yeah. It’s a very special project for me. I wrote them with Carlos Rivera, who is the number 1 Mexican singer right now. He’s the person I did the music video for. He’s like a brother to me. When I was asked to do the project, he’s the first person I called.
D: I’m sure you will be a member of the Academy someday. But, if you were part of it right now, what score would you choose the best of 2019?
A: That’s a difficult one. Maybe Avengers: Endgame. I’m not sure, but that would probably be it.
D: I always feel Marvel gets short changed at the Oscars. They won last year with Black Panther, but I think that Avengers: Infinity War was a better score.
A: I think you are correct. I would love do a Marvel movie in the future. If the opportunity ever happens. When you’re writing music for a 3.5 hour movie, my respect goes up. 90 minutes is difficult, but doing a movie like Endgame it’s difficult not to be repetitive.
D: Have you ever met Alan Silvestri?
A: I have not. We do have the same agent now, so I look forward to meeting him someday.
D: He really is great. I think his Back to the Future score, the first one, is one of the finest scores ever. A masterpiece.
A: I completely agree.
D: It was a pleasure speaking to you today.
A: Thank you so much.