Ryan Shore talks with ADTV about his path to scoring such a wide variety of films and TV shows
Ryan Shore is an Emmy and Grammy-nominated composer. His uncle, Howard Shore, gave him his first keyboard at the age of 13, and he hasn’t looked back. I recently sat down to talk to Ryan about his influences, his work, and scoring Penn Zero Part-Time Hero for Disney.
Ryan Shore: I am primarily a composer for film, television, games and theater, and also a songwriter. So far, I’ve scored 30 feature films. I mostly do features, but lately I’ve been doing a lot of TV. Currently I’m scoring an animated TV series for Disney XD called, Penn Zero Part-Time Hero. It’s so much fun scoring the show.
I just finished scoring season one, and it was about 7 1/2 hours of music that I wrote, plus about 40 songs. Now I’m about to start on season two this week.
ADTV: So, going back. Do you remember the very first soundtrack that you listened to and how that affected you?
RS: That’s a good question. I remember one of the first CD’s that I ever bought. It was a collection of themes from movies, and that may have been one of the first times that I really had a chance to listen to music that was in movies. One theme I remember was the score for Fletch. Did you ever see that movie?
ADTV: I did.
RS: Harold Faltermeyer wrote the score. I remember hearing that, but I already knew the music because I knew the movie so well. It was cool to hear it on its own. Maybe some scores like that, but I think when I first really started paying attention to scores were ones my uncle had composed, Howard Shore.
ADTV: I actually spoke to him recently.
RS: Did you talk to Howard?
ADTV: Yes for Spotlight. He’s a lovely guy.
RS: Fantastic. You’re talking to my whole family. I love it. [laughs] Have you talked to my mom?
ADTV: No. I haven’t, but I’d be happy to. [laughs].
RS: Howard was a big influence and has been a big influence for me. We play all the same instruments; saxophone, clarinet, flute and piano. He recommended Berklee College of Music which is where he went, then I went there. He gave me my first keyboard for my 13th birthday, and that started my piano playing, and beginning of composing. It was the first time I’d ever had a keyboard in my house was that keyboard he gave me.
When I graduated from Berklee, Howard offered me my first employment, and so I worked for him for four years on probably about 12 of his movies. I started out doing music copywork, then orchestrations and some music producing. So, Howard was a huge influence in how I’ve developed.
I was definitely influenced by him, and I started paying attention to film scoring by really paying attention to his scores. I feel like the first scores of his that I really paid attention to were probably Silence of the Lambs and, for some reason, I really remember the score to Prelude To A Kiss. I went to see that in the theater, and he had scored that.
ADTV: He’s a very talented man, his catalog of work is so impressive, and you’re right, his scores stick with you.
RS: I agree. One thing I love about Howard’s writing is that it is distinctly his own voice which is beautiful, for example his dramatic use of music in picture and how he applies the music, where he makes shifts in the music, or uses different beats within the music and how that marries with picture. When I worked with him, I paid attention to that a lot because I was so involved in all the music, and I’d watch it closely and I thought it was so cool. I learned a lot about dramatic storytelling with music by observation from him.
ADTV: You’ve also worked on horror and the comedy genres, but what attracted you to working on horror?
RS: I first got into scoring for horror because a friend of mine was making a horror film. Andrew van den Houten was making his first feature film called Headspace and it was a horror film. It might have been the first one I scored, and what brought me into it was really just a personal relationship with the film maker. It wasn’t like I sought out the genre, I was just looking to write music, and he was making a movie that was a horror movie, so we did it.
Prior to that, there were certainly some horror movies that I was aware of, and some of my favorites were Poltergeist and Psycho. I wouldn’t say that I was really I was a huge fan or even checking them all out. So, when I did Headspace I wasn’t really thinking of horror scores and what had and hadn’t been done. I just thought about that movie and what would be an appropriate score for that movie.
I did what I would do. Since then, I’ve probably done ten or twelve horror films, and after having done them, you do a movie, it plays in a film festival, you go to the film festival, you go to the screenings, you read the magazines that are commenting on the movie .You know like Fangoria and Rue Morgue, you see what people are writing about them, and I’ve become much more familiar with the genre, and also talking to the films and film-makers you get to be familiar with it. I’ve grown a great appreciation for that genre because there’s such a loyal fan base for it.
ADTV: Is Fangoria even still around?
RS: I haven’t checked recently, but I remember it being around a few years ago.
ADTV: We should look into that. [laughs] So, is one medium harder than the other?
RS: You know, most composers will say that comedy scoring is the hardest because it’s all about timing, and I do agree that for sure with comedy there’s absolutely an element of timing that has to be very precise for jokes to feel right. You’re never pushing the humor, but you’re also supporting it. I would agree that comedy can be a challenging medium.
When I think about it, there aren’t any genres that stick out to me as being any more inherently more difficult or challenging than another. It usually comes down to the individual film and the film-makers you’re working with. That affects how challenging a project may be.
ADTV: You’ve done so much work, but is there one piece that you’re particularly proud of?
RS: Many. It’s a difficult question to answer because every piece of music in a way, is like a child, this thing that I’ve given birth to. Every single piece of music that I’ve written, I remember every thing about it. I remember the decisions that I made when I was writing it, and how it was recorded and mixed, and what I’d do different. Every piece becomes personal.
I would say there are definitely a few milestones along the way that have stood out to me. One of them was a movie that I scored, Cadaverous. It played at the Woodstock Film Festival. Elmer Bernstein was giving the award for Best Score at the festival. I remember we applied to that festival because Elmer had that award. We went to go see a masterclass that he was giving. It was awesome to see and hear him. Then myself and the director of the movie went up to talk to him after the masterclass and Elmer didn’t let on that he knew our names or the movie. He was “nice to meet you.”
Michael, the director, and I went out to lunch after and figured we would never win anything because he didn’t even know who we were. [laughs] We went to the awards ceremony, and Elmer said, “And the person who receives this award will know that I know how to keep a secret.” Then he announced my name, and I was shocked because we had met him earlier and we had no idea.
That was a really important moment for me to have that score recognized because when you’re starting your career, often things can be slow between projects, you don’t get a lot of recognition, you don’t get a lot of money. You need some nice “attaboys” to keep you going. That was a big one for me to be recognized by someone I have so much respect for.
There are a few other occasions, like when I wrote the score to a film called Rex Steele Nazi Smasher. It was the first time I’d ever gotten to write for a full orchestra and record it live. I recorded it with a 110 piece orchestra, with the Czech Philharmonic and choir. It was an action-adventure score, and that gave me a lot of confidence because that was the first time I’d ever done that, and it came out the way I thought it would.
The last project I’ll mention is the movie Prime. That was the first time I’d ever scored a feature with a major studio and major stars in wide release. That was a tremendous experience for me to be able to see my movie in a theater, the advertising campaign, to see the poster on a bus stop. That was an amazing experience.
ADTV: That was a great score. It totally worked because I laughed a lot.
RS: I loved scoring that movie. Coming up with the sound, I wanted it to have a classic sound to it. I remembered listening to The Beatles when I was working on that score. I was thinking whether I could write anything that could remotely resonate in the way I listen to these classic songs.
Ben Younger, the director, liked the approach and that’s what we went with. I loved scoring that movie. It was surreal to be looking at these quick time movies with Meryl Streep in them. I was thinking, “Don’t mess this up there’s amazing talent in this.”
ADTV: Do you use digital libraries? Which ones?
RS: In my studio, I’ve built out a facility. I have all the major sample libraries. There are other custom libraries that I’ve built over the years. Whenever I’m writing a score, I always mock everything up with all the sample libraries. I work really hard to make sure everything sounds as real as possible. Even if I’m going to record everything live, I’ll still mock everything up so hopefully the mock ups sound world class and leave no room for misinterpretation.
I use Cinesample library for woodwinds, brass and percussion. I use cinematic strings, Hollywood strings. I still use sonic strings. I use omnisphere and trillion, a whole bunch of libraries.
For more on Ryan Shore visit http://ryanshore.com/. Disney’s Penn Zero Part-Time Hero returns later this year.