Science Fiction Filme.) First of all, I would like to thank you for your time doing this Interview. I think you´re work have got a huge fan base here in Germany. Especially because for films like STARFIGHT, REMO WILLIAMS and CHEERS of course. A lot of movie maniacs know the films you´re involved. Could you please tell us what you did before you come into film business. Why have you choose the way of being into film music?
Craig Safan) I started playing piano and improvising when I was 6 years old. I began writing songs at 11 years. Before I became a film composer I was a songwriter, arranger, and performer. I sang with my brother as “The Safan Brothers“. I never planned to become a film composer. A friend called me and was looking for someone to compose the music for her husband’s low-budget film. I said I would do it and that began my career!
SFF.) Your compositions always seem like variations of jazz. This is especially evident in the music for the television series CHEERS, which accompanied you for 11 years. How did you go about composing the episodes of the series? Did you compose in advance or only after viewing the individual episodes?
C.S.) In CHEERS I wrote a library of music for the music editor to use and also specifically composed music for around half of the episodes every year. I don’t think of this music as jazz, rather it’s a combination of ragtime and stride piano with a very lazy clarinetist.
SFF.) Do you have any personal idols or role models in your business? Is there a movie or an event which make you think: “I want to do the same thing.”? Do you have any collaboration which was the most influential in your career and why?
C.S.) I had three amazing mentors. Elmer Bernstein invited me to his recording sessions and helped me get hired for an early film. Ernest Gold gave me composition lessons. And, most importantly, Fred Steiner showed me how music worked in film. These three composers were my role models.
SFF.) You composed not only for many films and television series. Also documentaries belonged to your repertoire. You even started out as film composers with a documentary called THE CALIFORNIA REICH. How does the composition of a non-fictional film differ from a fictional one?
C.S.) The biggest difference in scoring a documentary is that you have to assume there will be lots of voiceover covering your music. Therefore, your music shouldn’t be overly loud or dramatic as it will just get in the way of the narrator. In writing for a film you know exactly where dialogue is… in a documentary you don’t know until it’s too late.
SFF.) You also composed the music for the fourth part of the NIGHTMARE ON ELMSTREET series. How do you proceed when composing a sequel? Do you take over many of the themes of the previous parts or are you quite free in your development?
C.S.) In Elm Street IV I just decided to make it mine. I had my own sound of layers and layers of synthesizers in mind. I did use the theme once at the beginning, but never after.
SFF.) What is easier to compose: Music for cinema or television?
C.S.) I think there’s no huge difference in writing for cinema or tv. The big difference is that in tv the budgets are often smaller and the time frame may be shorter. But the process of composition is the same.
SFF.) What tips do you have for prospective composers who would like to work on feature films?
C.S.) I would recommend working on as many low-budget films and small documentaries as possible. A composer usually comes up with directors, editors, etc. his or her own age. You have to be social and useful and get to know everyone in your generation who is trying to make it in film.
SFF.) You don't have to answer this question, but I would be interested to know why you were replaced for the movie WOLFEN with James Horner.
C.S.) No problem! The original director, Michael Wadleigh, was taken off the picture during post production. The producers let me record my score and then it was thrown out a few days later by the new director who wanted to put his stamp on the film. No an unusual occurrence!
SFF.) We all have our favorite movies. Mine is PHASE IV for example. But which movies do you really don´t like and why?
C.S.) Do you mean which film I really like? I’m very proud of “Stand and Deliver”. I love all the South American instruments and also all the percussion I invented and sampled myself.
SFF.) Do you know which movie is my Guilty Pleasure? LIVE WIRE to which you also contributed the music. When you look at your work, you can see that you have also set music to a lot of genre films. Do you have a weakness for genre films?
C.S.) I don’t really have a weakness for any films. These were just the films I was being hired to do. At that point in my career I couldn’t pick and choose films. I had a family to support! I like LIVE WIRE, too. I should listen to it again after so many years.
SFF.) I am really into science fiction (or fantasymovies in general) because I think, that those kind of movies are the best way to show actual political and social events. For example SOYLENT GREEN or SILENT RUNNING. Do you believe that these genres can transfer something to the people? Would it make sense to return to this tradition in today's difficult socio-political times? The transport of overcoming social problems through entertainment films?
C.S.) I think there are always filmmakers who are commenting on social issues in their films. This has never gone away. In the horror genre there was Jordan Peele’s GET OUT just a few years ago which spoke to racial issues.
SFF.) Do you have a project you always wanted to do or are there something in progress we can enjoy in the future?
C.S.) Yes!! I’ve just finished recording my latest album, LA-EX. It’s my musical impressions of growing up in Los Angeles. I will be released on the label Notefornote Music later this year.
SFF.) Hand on heart: Which film would you have liked to be involved in?
C.S.) A sequel to THE LAST STARFIGHTER… maybe one day.
SFF.) I held up with the most important question to the end: What was the most difficult project you were working on and why?
C.S.) There are many different kinds of “difficult”. Politically difficult it would have to be WOLFEN and MR. WRONG. Musically it was REMO WILLIAMS in which I loved writing the music but it was very complicated to perform and record and mix. A combination of 24 tracks of synthesizers, full symphony orchestra, and a small Korean orchestra.
SFF.) Dear Mr. Safan. I thank you immensely for taking time doing this interview and wish you all the best for your future movie making.