Exit 6 is delighted to talk to LA-based composer, René G. Boscio. René was a steady part of the DC Universe from 2014-2016 writing additional music on Blake Neely's team for the TV series Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow. He has also worked on Blindspot, and Netflix hit, Riverdale, as well as many films, documentaries, commercials, and web series.
Hi René, thanks for talking to us. Let’s start at the beginning – how did you get involved with composing for the screen?
Thank you for having me! I initially fell into writing music for visual media as somewhat part of a quest for finding my voice as a composer. I grew up with a background in pop and rock music, playing in bands and writing songs since I was about 11 years old. It wasn’t until my late teens, when I decided to pursue a formal career in music, that I started a bachelor’s in classical composition. Mind you, I had never studied music theory or even seen a full orchestra perform in a concert hall until then. As to be expected, I was having a hard time getting away from my pop influences, which was all I had known, and adequately composing classical music as part of my assignments.
While studying at the Music Conservatory of Puerto Rico, I started paying attention to the music in the films I used to watch. I’d usually only notice the songs in films, never really catching the score, but somehow they finally crept into me. With scores like Hans Zimmer’s The Holiday  and Jon Brion’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind  I realised that I didn’t necessarily have to shove away my pop influences in order to become a proper composer. There was this entire middle ground that was exactly what I had been unknowingly searching for. This new (to me) world accepted the freedom of writing music without boundaries of genres or styles; all the music had to do was serve the story being told in the films.
After realizing this, I reached out to a couple of film students through a Facebook event page they had created for casting their short film. Very casually, I sent them a message asking if they had a composer and expressing my interest in getting into writing music for films. They seemed intrigued, so I sent them a demo of an ambient electronic EP I had released several years before, and they agreed to let me score it. After that, I pursued another short film, and then another, and here we are.
Can you explain a little bit of the process involved in creating a score for TV and film?
The great thing about creating scores for film and television is that there is no single way to do it. Every composer, and every project has its unique approach on how the score comes to be. Some scores can be composed away from picture and then tried against the images, while others are very meticulously calculated frame by frame.
In my experience it usually begins with a conversation about the story being told and the director’s vision of how to tell it. If I’m brought in earlier in the process I’ll be given a script to read, so that I can start getting a sense of the story and possibly start composing some ideas away from picture. Once the film has been edited, we’ll have a spotting session where I’ll sit down with the director, editor, or anyone else in charge of creative direction, and we’ll discuss where there should or shouldn’t be music, whose perspective we’ll be scoring, amongst other things. After that, it’s time to get cranking. Especially with network TV, turnarounds are insanely quick, usually around 7-10 days per episode. For some feature films, I’ve had the luxury of having a generous 6-8 week turn around; although it’s not unheard of for features to have a 3-4 week turnaround time as well
During the process of actually scoring, there are many things involved such as creating unique sounds for each particular project, finding the rhythm in scenes, really studying and understanding the characters and the choices they make, composing and developing themes or motifs based on story arcs, amongst many other details. I find that the most challenging, yet also most rewarding part, is usually figuring out the sound of the film at the beginning of a project. I tend to spend as much time as I can afford in scoring those first couple of scenes for a project, whether it’s an opening sequence, or pivotal scenes somewhere down the line, in order to figure out the overall sound and direction of the score. Once that has been figured out, the rest of the score seems to come about rather organically.
One of my favourite things about film scoring is the collaborative aspect of the process. As a composer for visual media, one of the most important things to understand is that you are part of a larger team, serving a higher purpose other than your own music. Often times you’ll compose a beautiful piece that can be totally wrong for the picture. That is why understanding the overall vision of the film is crucial. You have to be open to adapting and learning to translate into music what a director is trying to communicate with pictures, words, and other non-musical terms. It is there where I believe some of my most creative choices have come from, learning to let go of my initial ideas, and adapting a director’s or producer’s vision.
You’ve also done work in a more classic area of composing – is writing music for dance wildly different than TV or films?
At first, I was inclined to say “yes, absolutely”, and in a way, it is. But the more I think about it, the more similarities come to mind. Writing concert/classical music I would say is definitely different than film or TV because you don’t have moving images or a story for the music to support, but writing music for dance, at least in my experience, has had a somewhat similar approach to that of certain films.
The few experiences I had in writing for dance would usually start with a conversation between the choreographer and myself about what we were hoping to communicate with the piece. We’d talk about the story we intended to tell, discuss musical ideas, as well as visual movements and how they would relate to each other. I would then go off to write the piece of music and return to them with an almost complete composition. If they were happy with it, they would build the choreography around the recording and ask me to make changes to the music, if any were required, along the way. So, if you think about it, it’s not all that different from films that have taken a scoring-away-from-picture approach, which has music written on its own and is then tried against the film.
You’ve done additional music for the DC superhero TV shows and thrillers like Blindspot – is there a particular genre you like to compose for?
As I mentioned earlier, one of the main reasons why I got into film scoring was because of the limitless possibilities for composing music in all sorts of styles and genres. However, thrillers, especially psychological thrillers, and dramas are probably some of my favourite genres of film/TV to compose for because they provide unexplored canvases with a vast array of electronic tools and sound design techniques that are now possible to implement into film scoring. While I thoroughly enjoy having the opportunity to write crazy ostinatos with big drums and sweeping melodies for superheroes, as well as fun and upbeat scores for romance and comedy films, there is a darkness that I love getting to explore in thrillers and dramas that I can’t seem to get enough of.
Exit 6 is a short film festival and I know you’ve done some work on shorts – do you think this is a good starting point for people wanting to start a career in composing for the screen?
Definitely! I got my start scoring student shorts, and then independent shorts, and it wasn’t until years later of having many short films under my belt that I was given the opportunity to write additional music on television shows, and trusted to take on feature-length films. Not only do short films provide you with the opportunity to start composing music for the screen, they provide you with hands on experience working with directors, producers, and the entire filmmaking team. That collaborative experience is crucial because it teaches you how to work with others, and however much we may enjoy working by ourselves, the film industry is built on collaboration. If you’re able to maintain those relationships, you’ll establish good rapport with talented filmmakers who’ll want to keep having you score their films, as well as lifelong friendships. To this day, I still enjoy doing short films whenever the schedule allows for it, as they tend to provide new connections with talented people I haven’t had the chance to work with before, and more often than not, canvases for exploring new music, which I may not have had the chance to explore before.
Following on from that, what advice would you suggest to people wanting to start a career composing?
Start. Whatever fears or limitations you may have, set them aside and get started. The only way to get better at your craft is by doing it over and over again. Whether you want to write music for films, or any other type of visual media, there are always opportunities to get in somewhere. When I was starting, I would scour nearby film schools for upcoming student projects and say yes to everything I could get my hands on. Nowadays, with the current and ever evolving technology, it doesn’t matter if there aren’t any film schools where you live, a quick search on crowd funding websites like Indiegogo or Kickstarter can yield hundreds of results for potential opportunities that will most likely be open to having a new passionate and enthusiastic composer join their team, even if you’re on opposite sides of the world.
I should also stress the importance of knowing your craft, and the hunger for knowledge. There are so many tools available to get you started nowadays, and all you really need to get your feet wet is a laptop and a MIDI keyboard. However, having the bare tools doesn’t mean you’ll automatically know how to make the most of them. Read books on film scoring, watch tutorials on programming, learn how synthesizers work, study orchestration and different compositional techniques. You don’t need an expensive education to access all of this information, but you do need to have a hunger for growth.
Lastly, as long as we’re talking about a career, I would say be ready to invest. A career composing music is like any other career that requires both personal and financial investment. Especially since most composing careers will fall under the freelance category, keep in mind that you will be developing a business which you will need to take as serious as if you were opening a restaurant. Learn the ins and outs of your field, meet filmmakers as well as other composers, connect, cultivate and maintain relationships that will help you advance, and the easiest way to guarantee that is by being willing to help others advance in their own lanes as well.
Who are your favourite composers - screen and otherwise?
I feel like my choice of favourite composers tends to vary from time to time, but there are several which have steadily influenced my music and whom I look up to very much. Some of those are Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Mac Quayle (Mr. Robot, Scream Queens), Cliff Martinez (Drive, Contagion), Alexandre Desplat (The Imitation Game, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), Thomas Newman (American Beauty, Side Effects), and the list can go on and on.
Are you allowed to tell us about any projects that you are currently working on, or have coming out soon?
I’m currently finishing the score for a feature film titled Killing Animals, which is based on an adaptation of James Franco’s novel Palo Alto, from Elysium Bandini Studios. After that, I’m scheduled to start on a second Elysium Bandini Studios feature film titled The Stand In, which is adapted from another of James Franco’s novels Actors Anonymous. Both these films were developed with James Franco (127 Hours, Spider-Man) as executive producer and his students in the MFA classes he teaches. Later in the summer, I’m scheduled to start another two feature films, one called Custody which is a contemporary western thriller from director John Lacy (Zodiac, Sons of Anarchy), and the other, a Puerto Rican film titled Amor en 266 millas directed by Benji López (Mi Verano con Amanda, ¿Quién paga la cuenta?).
As for projects that are coming out soon, there is a Puerto Rican mini-series titled Mundo Breve 2 which will be coming out in the next couple of months, as well as another mini-series from Puerto Rico for which I composed the main title that is already airing through DirecTV called Ismael Cala en Puerto Rico. There are also several short films I scored earlier in the year, which are currently getting ready for festival submissions, such as Mammoth directed by Ariel Heller, Diamond Dayze directed by Alexandra Adomaitis, and Something Stolen directed by Ralph Rascon.
For more information about René or his work please visit his website.