Pieter Schlosser knows how to be flexible and adaptive in his creative work. After all, he composes music and scores for television, feature films, and video games for all kinds of markets. He's worked on projects as diverse as Transformers (2007), Desperate Housewives (2004 - 2012), and The Sims. One of the most recent places to hear his work is the British-American miniseries You, Me and The Apocalypse (2015), which follows a group of people who learn that a comet is on a collision course with Earth.
Schlosser took a break from his studio to chat with ScreenPrism about You, Me And The Apocalypse, the differences between composing for TV in the U.K. and the U.S., and what he listens to when he’s not working.
ScreenPrism: Can you tell me about your creative process? Does it differ depending on what project or genre you're working on?
Pieter Schlosser: I feel like I’m still trying to figure that out, and I don’t know if there’s one single answer to it. I think it's all really project dependent. A lot of times if I’m writing [for a] picture I’ll usually watch the picture several times before I figure out what it is that it needs. Sometimes I don’t even pre-watch it. I will just watch and mess around on the piano. The first thing that I try to do is pick a tempo and figure out, 'Okay, I’m going from Point A to Point B. I’m going from here to there, and there are all of these waypoints in between.
SP: When composing for television, do you think about recurring themes and motifs that exist over several seasons?
PS: When you think about themes from the very beginning, it certainly helps tie everything together. It makes the writing process a lot easier from the start. What's interesting, though, is that I feel like we've moved away from themes and thematic material especially in TV, because there isn't really much time for that to develop. The themes are sometimes really short. It's not these really long, drawn out, beautiful melodies, although I do think that's changing a little bit with Amazon and Netflix. [When] you don't have commercial breaks you are able to do an arc throughout the entire episode. What I think replaced themes somewhat is certain sounds or a certain pallet they use for certain characters.
SP: Is it different working on a project for the U.K.?
PS: The creative process is slightly different. With You, Me And The Apocalypse, each director acted [in the role of] the showrunner. So with each director, there was a different style and different things that they were looking for. There was a point where we really shifted dramatically. We went from quirky acoustic music to electronic and synth based.
We had to almost abandon what we had done, but it worked well with what was happening in the show. I felt almost as confused as the characters in the show.
One of the other challenges came when the show shifted to the U.S. In the U.K. they don’t have commercials, so there weren’t any breaks that we had to score towards. That took some tweaking when the commercial breaks were added in.
SP: Can you tell me about some of your upcoming projects?
PS: I’m a bit of a space geek—I’ve even joined the Planetary Society—and I love listening to the Neil deGrasse Tyson’s podcast. I heard him mention a project, and then I tracked it down through Facebook. It’s called In Saturn’s Rings (2017). The director is putting pictures together from the Cassini Saturn orbiter into a gorgeous IMAX film. It is a really amazing project. I hounded him and hounded him to let me do music for the film. It should be out within the year.
I’m also working on the feature film What About Love (2017) starring Sharon Stone and Andy Garcia.
SP: Speaking of feature films, how long does it take to score a feature film?
PS: [Laughs] That’s like asking the famous question, “How long is a piece of string?” It depends.
SP: This is a question I like to ask composers here at ScreenPrism. When you’re stuck in traffic, what’s playing on your car radio?
PS: I listen to a lot of NPR. It’s generally a lot of stuff unrelated to what I do. I like a lot of different types of music. I spent a lot of time in South America growing up, so I like a lot of Latin music, salsa, Latin jazz. I sometimes think I was born 40 years too late. I also like to listen to country music. That is really the only type of music where I listen to the lyrics. I like to vary it up to get ideas. So, really lots of different things.
SP: For the film score fans among us, who do you recommend we should be listening to?
PS: John Powell. He’s incredibly musical. Also, Sean Callery. His work in Jessica Jones (2015 - ) has this cool, noir quality. It’s a darker version, if that’s possible, of the work he did for Homeland (2011 - ).
SP: Is there anything you wish people would listen for in your scores?
PS: If you didn’t notice the score, but you came out of it feeling something, then that’s a job well done. You're there and you know it's there, but it is more about the emotion at that moment than the score itself.