By Christian Sellers on March 17, 2011

Spanish-born Marco Werba has enjoyed considerable acclaim over recent years as the composer of various Italian productions, most notably Dario Argento’s 2009 thriller Giallo. Born in Madrid and graduating from New York’s Mannes College of Music in 1982, Werba’s first break came seven years later with Zoo, in which he would receive the Colonna Sonora – Lifetime Achievement Award. Having collaborated with the Philharmonic Roman Academy and the Vatican choir, Werba has worked with such filmmakers as Maurizio Anania and Angelo Antonucci, whilst his next feature, Native, is set for release later this year.

Marco Werba talks about the role that the composer plays in the creation of a movie…

Do you have a specific routine that you go through when you are first hired to compose a score for a movie? How do you envision what kind of music belongs with the images on screen?

“It’s not really a routine. I try to understand the psychology of the characters and try to find a music theme that can be in harmony with the spirit of the movie. This theme somehow needs to capture the plot, the nature of the characters and the director’s style. What is time – consuming the most, is the synchrony with the images, in order to syntonize to perfection, music and images, underlining the most important synchronous moments. In Dario Argento’s Giallo, the music follows each detail of the action, becoming so an accomplice of the director in communicating statuses of emotive tension and accentuating twists. In my new work, that I’m about to complete for the thriller Native, I have composed a very sophisticated kind of music; going from a symphonic orchestra over an experimental Avant-garde electronic music up to a melodious song for the final credits, performed by the famous singer Franco Simone. I recorded the film score with the Radio Symphony Orchestra F.A.M.E. of Skopje (Macedonia).”

What was your background prior to working in the film industry? Had you already gained experience in other fields and how did you come to write the music for movies?

“My interest to the cinema came at the age of fourteen, when I started shooting short films on Super 8. So it was predictable that, after having studied composition at the Mannes College of Music of New York, I would have dedicated myself to the composition of music for films. But I did music in other areas, too: I have sung for twenty years in the choir of the Cappella Giulia of the Vatican and have composed concert music.”

So far, you have predominantly worked in the Italian industry. How collaborative are the filmmakers and do they usually have a clear idea of what kind of score they want?

“That is a good question. With some directors, one can manage to work in total harmony, intuiting the style of music they are looking for. With others, this gets more complicated. With Cristina Comencini, Aurelio Grimaldi, Dario Argento and John Real, the collaboration was very interesting and has led to great results.”

What kind of musicians do you work with when recording the music for a film and what is the largest ensemble you have collaborated with?

“I have recorded in Rome with musicians that are used to record film scores, but also in Sofia with the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra and in Macedonia with the Radio orchestra of Skopje. I have to say that the level of the musicians in Italy is not very high. The only orchestra to guarantee a high artistic level is the Orchestra dell Accademia Nazionale di S. Cecilia, but the costs are rather high and it’s therefore often convenient to go abroad to record the music of a film. It’s my dream to record one day in London with the London Symphony Orchestra. The biggest orchestra I have worked with until now has been the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra, with an instrumental ensemble of forty-five musicians that I used for the film Amore e libertà, Masaniello (Love of Freedom).”

Are you conscious of when a scene would work best without music and do have you had conflict with a director before over how dramatic a specific piece of music should be?

“This is a very interesting question. Usually, the directors are afraid of silence and therefore tend to use too much music in a film. I also had to convince Dario Argento not to use music in the beginning of a scene, just leaving the sound of the water of a shower that could be heard from distance. In a thriller, silence can cause more fear than music. In John Real’s new film, Native, I alternated sound effects and music with moments of silence. Just a few seconds of silence before a twist can be extremely effective.”

When composing, are you usually given the entire film to work from or do you receive the footage as it is being edited?

“The real work starts when you get the entirely edited version of the film. Before this, you can just create the main music themes that are aligned with the various scenes afterwards.”

Which of your scores to date are you most proud of and do you try to experiment and push boundaries with each project?

“Each project is a challenge. Composing the music of a film is very difficult and requires a lot of work, concentration and passion. The scores that I’m affectioned to the most are, surely, the first; Zoo by Cristina Comencini (I got the Award Colonna Sonora for it), the music of the costume drama Amore e libertà, Masaniello, the one for Giallo by Dario Argento (I received three awards for) and the last one, that I composed for John Real’s thriller, Native. I will soon work on the music of the action/thriller The Driver, produced by Connie Lamothe and directed by Todd Wolfe.”