Q + A with Composer Dinesh Wicks
It’s been a while since my last post (Sorry!!) but I’m coming back strong. This week I have an interview with my friend and jiu jitsu brother, Dinesh Wicks. I’d like to say Dinesh and I bonded over movies and TV, but that’s not true. Dinesh and I gossiped over food, food critics, the food scene in LA and my struggling attempt to stay vegan. Dinesh might be an award winning screen composer and a kick ass musician with his group, Cali Satellites, but in an alternate spiderverse, I’m pretty sure he’s a restauranteur.
But this isn’t a food blog. We don’t talk things fried and flambéd . This is a film/tv blog. We talk things framed, color corrected, and in this convo with Dinesh, we talk things scored. There’s so many different talents at work to make a show come alive. In today’s interview, we’re highlighting the job of a screen composer. Tension and drama doesn’t just come from the action or dialogue. A lot of the time, it comes from the score. If you've watched shows like Masterchef or Shark Tank, you’ve probably already heard Dinesh’s work and didn’t even realize it.
Before you started composing, you worked in music. How did you crossover from music production to composing?
I was a music producer and songwriter working with established acts. The interesting thing there is that the creative process was driven by a brief of some kind, either the record company or the artist. So it wasn’t like, let’s sit down and see what comes out. It was more of like ‘we want to achieve certain things, how do we do that’.
When you’re a composer, you’re not serving yourself. You’re serving someone else’s vision and working to a brief. So I didn’t find the transition difficult.
I was thrown into the deep end. I didn’t start composing on a short film. I had an idea about a television show and went to a production company to pitch the show. The show was based on music, so I provided them examples of how the music of the show would work. They liked it so much, they turned around and said would you provide music for this 25 part series and I said sure. My first composing job was a 25 part series for the Discovery Channel. Discovery Channel was so happy with it, I suddenly had 8 more series over the next 6 months.
What’s the difference between screen composing and sound design.
Sound design is all of the sounds that are not musical. So effects and that sort of stuff.
How’s the process of composing music? What’s the turn around time like?
It varies from project to project. I might get vision, I might not. Sometimes I just get the brief of a show and I have to write music without actually seeing anything and the editors put the music in. Other times I get vision and I have to score to the vision. The timeline can change completely from project to project.
When you don’t get footage, do they just ask you for 20 or 30 mins worth of music? How does that work?
In shows like strip shows, so shows that are on every night and run like a strip across the TV guide. The Biggest Loser and Master Chef are strip shows. With these shows, generally they’ll go ‘heres the idea of the show’, we’ll say ‘this is what we think the music should sound like.’
Once they’ve got their creative direction, we then start making music.
If you’ve got a show that’s 30 episodes long, you might need 400 tracks over the season. This is for unscripted shows where every second has music, like Masterchef. There’s no moment of the show that doesn’t have music. We’ll deliver 500 tracks over 3 months or something like that. It won’t just be me composing, it’ll be a team of us.
If we’re doing a scripted series, what usually happens is we’ll go in with the director and the producers and we’ll watch an episode and spot the episode. We’ll get about a week to deliver the music for that episode. From the time we get the pick lock to the time we deliver the music edit as one stream is usually a week. Then we’ll do a viewing with the network and they’ll tell us if they want us to make changes. Then we have 2-3 days to hand in the final.
When you send in a few hundred tracks for unscripted shows? Who decides where the songs are placed?
When you deliver a music library, the editors usually edit to the music. So they decide where to place the songs and how to cut them.
What’s the goal in mind when you compose music?
My goal as a composer is always to be a good storyteller musically and make the audience feel what the director wants the audience to feel. I want to make sure that the music works with the picture to tell the story. Those are the big things.
Secondary to that is that we like to make a score that’s unique and doesn’t sound like anything currently in existence. Then you get to do the things that make you happy as an artist.
What are some of your favorite movie scores?
Composers that have been instrumental in shaping the way that I write music are Jan Hammer did the original Miami Vice, it’s an unbelievable use of music.
Of late, Jóhann Jóhannsson, who sadly passed away. He composed the music for Sicario. His stuff is incredible. Vangelis’ score for the original Blade Runner is outstanding. And Hans Zimmer just does amazing stuff. What I love about him is that he makes something unique for each film, it’s never the same. He really works for the character of the film. If you didn’t know it was his work, you wouldn’t listen to Thelma & Louise, Inception and Gladiator and think it was all by the same composer.
WHAT ARE YOU WATCHING?
Favorite Movie of 2018? Sicario: Day of Soldado
Last Movie You Watched In Theatres? Isle of Dogs
Last Show You Binged? Banshee
This is Us or Game of Thrones? Game of Thrones
Insecure or Outlander? I haven’t watched either
Score from Jaws or SVU Theme Song? Definitely Jaws. I think that little musical device from SVU is so clever. And Mike Post is a genius. But Jaws is so iconic and so visceral.
Favorite Musical? I don’t like musicals. I can’t suspend my disbelief that much.