Geoff Zanelli interview: composer talks Disney’s “The Odd Life Of Timothy Green”
July 17, 2012 by Dana Feldman
by Dana Feldman
Emmy Award-winning composer, Geoff Zanelli, masterfully created the score for Disney’s upcoming fantasy drama directed by Peter Hedges, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” starring Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton, out in theaters August 15th. “Because this movie, in the words of Peter, is about what children can teach you if you let them, it would’ve been hard for me to get in touch with the film if I wasn’t a father.” Zanelli further explains how important being a father of a two year-old daughter was to writing a score for a film about parenthood. “It’s like method acting, or method composing,” he adds. “And this is the first thing of mine that my daughter has really responded to.” He explains how fatherhood has changed him, “Had you asked me five years ago if I could’ve written the score for this film, I would’ve said yes without really knowing that I actually couldn’t have. The fact that I’m a father has had a huge impact on the score that I wrote. Fatherhood has made me much more in tune.”
With music being what Zanelli refers to as a huge character unto itself in this film, he adds, “This film is a fantasy super natural drama, this is crafty filmmaking. I suppose you could say that this is an earthier version of Big or Edward Scissorhands.”
Though this particular film doesn’t line up with his prior film credits, this one was a standout. “I’m better for being a part of Timothy Green.” Determined to get the attention of Hedges, Zanelli calls this project a labor of love. “I got the script from Disney and wrote some initial music based solely on the script. These were early, abstract pieces composed before I’d actually seen any picture. I focused on various character arcs and plot points. I wrote the main theme song just from my gut and it’s the first music heard in the film. I think this is what got me the job.”
It was after hearing this piece that Hedges started to get excited and wanted to meet with Zanelli. “Peter is a very open collaborator. It was a long process getting the job. He met with many composers to find the right voice for the film. I tried to make the decision easy for him,” he adds with a chuckle. “This is really a beautiful movie and music plays a crucial role in the film, it makes a big impact.” Embracing the art of writing a theme for someone and then developing that theme once it’s written is his passion. “The process becomes something that just starts to resonate more and more.” This is why, he explains, he felt the need to write something so very different from anything that he’d ever done before. “I would love it if this would open doors for more movies like this and I really want to work with Peter again.”
Zanelli’s finely tuned touch in the world of music has made him high in demand in the field of film and television scoring. After a plethora of collaborations with the legendary Academy Award-winning Hans Zimmer, Zanelli went solo. Accolades and recognition followed soon thereafter. “I don’t think that I’d be where I am without working with Hans as well as John Powell. I had a unique upbringing in this business. It was calculated in that when I was young I wanted to be in the room when Jerry Bruckheimer or Jeffrey Katzenberg would give a cue to a composer. I’d rather have a small role on a big movie with a brilliant team. That’s the best education a composer can get, it separates the great composers from the good.” Wanting to learn his trade from the cream of the crop, he adds, “It’s important to get involved with good people and I wanted to be around the best of the best.”
His plan worked as he’s collaborated with film directors Gore Verbinski, Ridley Scott, David Koepp, as well as producers Katzenberg and Bruckheimer, and actor/producer Tom Hanks. The list of feature films of which he has contributed music to includes Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the Golden Globe-nominated scores for Warner Bros.’ The Last Samurai and Touchstone Pictures’ Pearl Harbor, Paramount Pictures’ Rango, MGM’s Hannibal, Columbia Pictures’ Angels & Demons, DreamWorks’ Antz, Chicken Run, Shark Tale and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa where he worked alongside composers Zimmer, Powell, Harry Gregson-Williams and Steve Jablonsky.
A native of sunny Southern California, he began his career in music as a songwriter and guitar player. The local musician caught the ear of Zimmer in 1994 and began working at Remote Control Productions. Under such tutelage, he gained the knowledge and experience necessary to become a versatile composer that’s known for combining music from various cultures and genres to create a sound uniquely his own. The process for this film included Zanelli and his assistant in a room at two in the morning with his assistant recording take after take. “Peter and I talked about the score and we wanted to hear the human element in all of the music. This translates into everything in the score. It was all recorded very specifically. We moved microphones around so you’d really hear everything enhancing each and every sound.” With two thirds of the score orchestra, he used just eight string players. “This was done deliberately so you’d hear the individuals.” To give a clearer picture of just how small a group he used, on the Pirates films he had sixty. “This was calculated. We used this music in the scenes that we wanted to have a more intimate and human feel. I wanted to hear the hand of the artists, not just the notes that I’d written. It’s rare but every single note is live and acoustic with just a small amount synthetic.”
He earned his first Emmy in 2006 for his original score on Steven Spielberg’s miniseries Into The West. His second Emmy nomination came just a few years later when Spielberg came calling once again this time for HBO’s The Pacific. As the old adage goes, work begets work, and his list of scoring credits quickly grew including the projects Disturbia for DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures, Hitman for 20th Century Fox, Outlander for The Weinstein Company, and Lionsgate’s Gamer.
Zanelli is currently working on the string arrangements on four songs on an album with Steve Martin on banjo and Edie Brickell singing with Peter Asher producing. He’s also working on a film with director David Rodriguez entitled LAST I HEARD starring Paul Sorvino, Michael Rapaport and Chazz Palminteri.
The album for The Odd Life Of Timothy Green will be available on iTunes August 14th.
photo by Jordan von Netzer