Red Stewart chats with Rob Simonsen about The Front Runner….
Rob Simonsen is an American composer who has been working in the film and television industries since the early-2000s. He is best known for his compositions for movies like The Way Way Back, Foxcatcher, and The Age of Adaline. Flickering Myth had the privilege to interview him, and I in turn had the honor to conduct it.
Mr. Simonsen, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. You’ve written the scores for some of my favorite movies like The Way Way Back and Foxcatcher.
Oh wow, that’s great. Happy to oblige!
One of the things that happens when I read over someone’s IMDB page is that I learn about new positions, and one of those is the “score producer,” which you have been credited for, for a few films, including The Front Runner. What’s that role entail?
That’s kind of overseeing the whole production of everything. It’s a little bit of an amorphous title. Sometimes it means that, if there’s other people involved, if it’s a team effort, or a collaboration, it refers to a more traditional producer credit. The term producer can mean so many different things in any area really, and I think it’s the same in a scoring work. So I don’t know if that helps clarify or makes it more confusing.
No, it helps. I know that head composers have to deal with a lot of bureaucracy in the industry. I was surprised to learn that from another composer, so it makes sense that there has to be a ringleader to manage everything.
Before we get into The Front Runner, I have to say one thing I’ve noticed is that, for your major cinematic compositions, you’ve really stuck to the indie scene, like with Foxcatcher and The Spectacular Now. Is there a particular reason you prefer to be in this area of Hollywood?
Interesting question. Partially it’s just the films that have come to me. I haven’t turned down any Marvel movies to my knowledge [laughs], so I think that it’s half the opportunities and half the filmmakers who are working in those areas who approach me. Certainly I have no qualms about jumping on board a big budget film if it’s the right fit.
Also, there is a lot of great creative opportunities that are afforded to me on smaller films. A lot of times there are less cooks in the kitchen, and the director might have a bit more control. So sometimes it can be more of a direct experience of scoring where the composer and director are a little more insulated.
So yeah, it’s a combination of those three things, but certainly, like I said, if someone came to me with a big budget film, and it felt like the right opportunity, then I would have no reservation….I think [laughs].
That’s true, and your point about there being less cooks in the kitchen, it’s something I’ve heard from other people I’ve spoken to in the industry. It’s why the indie scene remains so prominent in this age of massive blockbusters. So, let’s talk about The Front Runner. This is a biographical picture by Jason Reitman about disgraced presidential candidate Gary Hart. First, I’ll just ask- I know you were a kid when this happened, but do you remember anything about the Hart scandal growing up? And if so, did you bring those experiences into the scoring process?
I didn’t actually. I didn’t really know anything about the story until Jason told me about it. I was 10 I think when this happened and I wasn’t paying attention to politics much, and I don’t remember hearing about it from my family or anyone else.
Yeah, it’s not like it was Watergate, though it was prominent among Democratic circles. Now, the press release stressed that you looked to the ’70s to create a classic jazz feel for the score. But when I think of the 70s, you know I think of Queen and Led Zeppelin and AC/DC and all these hard rock bands. How big was the jazz scene in the 1970s? I know you studied the genre in college.
You know, the rule we had was more about not having anything sound like it was past the 70s, not necessarily that we were trying to make it sound like the 70s. We didn’t want anything to feel too modern, we didn’t really want to use electronics, even though electronic music has been around a lot earlier than the 70s. But we just wanted to give it a bit of a vintage feel because I believe that Jason was going for that, shooting it on film and having things feel more naturalistic.
So that was a rule that he had for himself as he was making the movie. Even though you do see some costumes and whatnot that are kind of 80s referential, in general it feels more 70s. You don’t see a lot of neon colors and other things that might have been around in ’88. That was just a tonal choice that Jason wanted to stick to, so we stuck to that for the score.
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