James Michael Dooley (Composer)
'James Michael Dooley = EXCELLENTE!'
As a New York native, James Michael Dooley didn't need to think twice about his choice for higher learning when he was ready for college. He headed straight for New York University, majoring in Music Composition. Immediately after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to study film composition with such prolific composers as Christopher Young, Elmer Bernstein and Leonard Rosenman.
In 1999, he joined Media Ventures and collaborated with award-winning composer Hans Zimmer both as his Chief Technical Engineer and as a composer. Dooley applied his technical skills on films ranging from comedies such as Barry Levinson's 'An Everlasting Piece' and Penny Marshall's 'Riding in Cars With Boys' (starring Drew Barrymore) to blockbusters such as Ridley Scott's 'Gladiator,' John Woo's 'Mission: Impossible 2,' Michael Bay's 'Pearl Harbor,' and most recently to those wonderful 'Madagascar' penguins in 'A Christmas Caper.'
Dooley's music can also be heard on the small-screen as well. He has scored several TV documentaries for ESPN ("Citation", "Greatest Games", "Richard Flowers"), National Geographic ("Ascent", "Dean Kamen"), and The History Channel ("The Louisiana Purchase").
Chatting recently with James Dooley himself, I first wondered if upon leaving school and headed straight for New York University, if that had always been his first choice? "This was not my first choice. I wanted to go to USC to get into the business sooner, but I received a full scholarship from NYU and it made the most sense. I am very glad it worked out this way."
What was the very first soundtrack that you musically aided on ...? "The first score I wrote music for was 'Hannibal.' Hans Zimmer gave me a shot doing one cue and I did that for two weeks. It was a chance to get my feet wet and get a feel for his style of scoring and orchestration."
... and what was the feeling afterwards when you heard the finished product back? "The feeling of hearing your music in a feature film for the first time is incredible. It's not one of those things you only feel once, though. Every time I hear my music in the theater it's a rush. You're thinking about all the people that are going to hear this and it is pretty phenomenal."
You seem to be a freelancer of additional compositions and such, but is this the norm for composers? "A good way to start creating a circle of friends and clients is to write music and assistant composers that are doing excellent work. It's also a good way to get some experience and not be on the line so to speak. Film scoring is an art and it is something you get better at as you learn. It's not enough to write good music. I think it's become popular with upcoming composers as a way to keep the gas on and get experience at the same time."
Along the way, everyone always take some form of risk, so what has been the biggest risk that you have undertaken thus far? "After working for Hans Zimmer as he chief technical assistant for two year, I quit. I couldn't do it anymore. The over 100 hour weeks had taken it's toll. I didn't think that I would ever be asked back by anyone at the studio. Once someone leaves, it's not usual that anyone comes back. I just needed to get back to some music and I had to call it quits. I was scared that two years of hard work was being thrown out the window. Not that many people get to have a job where you learn so much and have a great chance of getting into a career in scoring. I was leaving and everyone thought I was insane. Thank God that Hans called me a couple days later to come back and write music for 'The Time Machine'."
Please tell us how different it is to score a film and to score a soundtrack to a Video Game, such as 'Socom 3'? "Scoring for a video game, specifically 'Socom 3', is night and day different from film scoring. The music for 'Socom' is designed to simulate an actively scored experience. You have music that is contingent upon specific criteria that trigger it so that different levels of players will all enjoy the experience equally. For example, there are very short pieces that come in and out of the game that give a general mood for the level you are in. As you start reach different parts of the levels new music will play. If you do nothing and are trying to figure out the controls, random music will still play to keep it interesting. This in tandem with the sound design playing in a similar fashion creates a custom 'film-ic' score for the player. In a film, everyone experiences the medium in a specific time line. This is not the case for video games, especially 'Socom 3.' You are challenged to keep things interesting and exciting for everyone as they play the millions of different ways to conquer each part of the game."
Tell me more about the score you composed for the wonderful 'A Christmas Caper'! "The score for 'A Christmas Caper' was written over a period of two months, partly in Los Angeles, and partly in London. The basic thematic material for the film I created for the film, 'Madagascar.' I knew the genre and what Jeffery Katzenberg liked, so I had a lot to go on. This didn't necessarily make this easy, however. In this film, it's Christmas time in New York, so we incorporated a lot of seasonal music in tandem with the sly crime jazz for the penguins."
What cheesy '80s song would you love to re-compose if asked ... and why?! "There are two, sorry. I think one of the greatest of all time, let alone the 80s, is AHA's, 'Take on Me.' Technically it has the widest range of any chorus in the history of pop music! 2 1/2 Octaves. Emotionally, it is just awesome. If I was denied this request, I would have to go with Bonnie Tyler's, 'Totally Eclipse of the Heart.' Now that's great song writing!"
If you were asked to compose a single for charity, and had to choose 3 other KNOWN musicians to aid you in the project (one being a singer!), who would they be, what instruments would they play, and what would the name of the NEW song be?! "This is a good question. No question, it would be Paul McCartney on lead vocals. He is the one person on the planet I want to meet and Hans Zimmer keeps promising he's going to introduce me sometime. I would ask David Gilmour to play guitar (and maybe do some backing vocals!) He still sounds and plays his ass off ... so amazing. I would probably get John Bonham to play drums because I am the hugest Zepplin fan. The song would be 'Los Penguinos es Diablo!'"
Finally, I truly LOVE Penguins, ... do you?! "I still laugh every time I see 'The Christmas Caper' when Skipper says, EXCELLENTE!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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