Back in March I mentioned on this blog that one of my favourite films in recent years, How to Train Your Dragon, had been spun-off into a TV version, Dragons: Riders of Berk. Airing on the UK’s Cartoon Network, the series has proved to be a fine addition to the Dragon universe and I was keen to find out more about one its most important aspects, the score by composer John Paseano.
Here, Paseano explains his musical background and inspirations before going on to discuss his work on Riders of Berk, which will soon have a sequel series in Defenders of Berk.
Jonathan Melville: Over the last few years you’ve worked on a number of TV and ﬁlm projects. How did you come to work in this area?
John Paseano: I really love it all. I have wanted to be a ﬁlm composer as far back as I can remember. It really hit me about the age of 10 after seeing Steven Spielberg’s Empire Of the Sun. I was so drawn to that ﬁlm, and of course to John Williams amazing score. There was just something very magical about that ﬁlm, which sounds strange considering the content of the story. A young English boy who struggles to survive after being separated from his parents during Japanese occupation during World War II.
The main character in that ﬁlm, Jim Graham (young Christian Bale), had a fantastic imagination, and had uncanny ability to always ﬁnd adventure in whatever task or circumstance he was put too or up against. I was so amazed how John Williams was able to use his music to show the viewer how a 10-year-old boy would view the events of that war say vs. an adult.
I was amazed how the music functioned in that ﬁlm, and how integral it was in order to help the viewer see this story through Jim’s eyes. The score really grabbed me and I remember having a conversation with myself and said “that’s what I want to try to do when I get older!”, and I stress the word TRY.
So private music lessons started around the age of 12-13 (Piano), music school after formal school (Berklee College Of Music), and then out to Los Angeles to start the long road to become a ﬁlm composer. So it was a very premeditated music journey, it was never about anything else besides scoring ﬁlm. People always say “oh you are in the music business”, and always have to correct them and say “actually, I consider myself more a part of the ﬁlm business”.
Do you have a preference for live action or animation?
Live action, animation, video games, commercials, trailers…anything where you write music to moving pictures, I love.
Which one is more difﬁcult?
Sometimes doing a 20 second advertisement can be more challenging than doing a 10 minute action sequence. I think that is the beauty of this job. It’s never about the complexity of the music, or elaborate counterpoint and harmony. It’s about what ﬁts the picture. Sometimes intricate counterpoint, harmony, rhythm, orchestration works great in a scene, other times three piano notes work much better.
How did you get involved with Dragons: Riders of Berk? Were you approached or did you audition?
I have always been a huge John Powell fan going pretty far back as well. When I heard that they were doing a TV series based on How To Train Your Dragon I called my agent and said “let’s try to go after this”. I had worked on another Powell property prior to this, an Ice Age short called Ice Age: Mammoth Christmas, so it just seemed like Dragons might be a pretty good ﬁt.
So, we started working the channels to try to get music in front of the right folks at DreamWorks. They interviewed a couple of composers that they were interested in. I am sure from that point they developed a “short list” of composers that they liked, based off music reels and interviews, then we all had to demo a couple of scenes for show, and by some miracle I ended up with the show.
Had you seen How to Train Your Dragon before you discussed working on Riders of Berk?
Let’s see…about 1,000 times.
John Powell’s original score for the ﬁlm is one of the ﬁnest in recent years, winning various awards and being nominated for an Oscar.
Was it daunting knowing you would be effectively “inheriting” the score?
I remember when I booked the Ice Age short. I said to myself “sweet i get to try to be like John Powell” and then almost immediately after that thought i said “Oh shit, I have to try to be like John Powell”. Nothing makes you feel smaller than listening to John’s Ice Age scores, How To Train Your Dragon and some of John’s other scores.
He is one of the best in the business live action or animation, and when it comes to animation, in my eyes, he is the best.