The King’s Man Interview: Composers Dominic Lewis & Matthew Margeson

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Matthew Vaughn’s The King’s Man is currently playing in theaters and ComingSoon had the opportunity to sit down with the film’s composers, Dominic Lewis and Matthew Margeson, who discuss their classical approach to the score.

Jeff Ames: So, last I heard, the story goes you two had always wanted to score a film together. What made you choose this one? And did the experience live up to the hype?

Matthew Margeson: Oh, that’s a loaded question. Can I answer this without Dom? [Laughs] Well, our tenure in the city had a lot of parallels. We both came up through the Henry Jackman/Hans Zimmer camp and for a while we were both Henry’s lieutenants when he needed help crossing the finish line. We’d always talked about doing a film by ourselves when the time and movie was right, mostly because our strengths and — for lack of a better word — weaknesses complement each other, if that makes sense.

I was about to start Rocketman and had co-written the first two Kingsman with Henry Jackman. Dom had peripherally been a part of some really key scenes in the first one – in the wings as it were – and when the time came, Henry wasn’t able to do the third one. So, Matthew Vaughn approached me and said, “Look, you basically need to be able to do Rocketman and The King’s Man at the same time, so we’re going to need a partner to help you with this and co-write this score.” So, the stars just aligned, and Dom met Matthew and we all hit it off. We all flew out to London and spent some time just jamming and talking.

The experience was fantastic. It was long, mainly because of the whole COVID thing when the movie was supposed to come out, which It didn’t and they kept pushing it depending on whether the theaters were going to open up. So, that was a bit frustrating. We finished the film about a year and a half ago, I think, right Dom?

Dominic Lewis: Yeah, I don’t know. I just remember it was long. [Laughs]

Matthew: [Laughs] So, Matthew was pretty insistent that we move over to London, Dom and I both being based in LA. So, to move over there for a good part of the year and ship the families over a couple months at a time and come back over here a couple of months at a time to pay attention to our domestic life. Yeah, it was difficult, but it was a lot of fun. And the beautiful part of the workload was Dom and I were set up in this editorial post house right in the middle of London. Our two writing rooms were about twenty feet from each other, so the ability to banter and share ideas and go back and forth and get a second set of ears on something from someone you trust was really valuable.

I listened to the score earlier this week and found it refreshingly old-fashioned – a classic score with grand, noble themes and traditional orchestra. What prompted you guys to push the score in that direction?

Dominic: The first two movies had an emphasis on being cool and modernizing the spy genre, as it were. And that would have totally worked with this prequel. A lot of period pieces are doing that now, they’re kind of going the cool soundtracks to the period pieces. But we all landed on this idea of getting back to the basics and doing this sort of throwback score to give it the grandeur it deserved. We just wanted to do something a little different than the other two movies and settled on this more traditional score, which I don’t think Matthew has ever done. It’s always been very cool noises with guitars and synths, so it was nice to be able to get back to the old school ways and work with an orchestra and produce an homage to some of the old school scores.

Were there any classic scores you leaned on for inspiration?

Matthew: That’s interesting.

Dominic: I don’t think so. We have such a huge library of the history of film music being in this job, so we have this huge library in our head to pull from. So, there was nothing specific, but there was just a stress of not using guitars and synths and knuckle down to using the orchestra the way we remember it in the films we watched as kids that our parents loved.

Matthew: I’m trying to remember. The only thing I can vaguely remember is Matthew talking about shots. Not necessarily music, but he mentioned at one point — and maybe I’m making this up — but he mentioned the opening shot of Lawrence of Arabia, and just the wide, epic, sweeping nature of the scene. Not to go and rip off that music or anything, but what was it about that shot that evoked that timeless behavior, that was one of the conversations we had early on to say that this was the kind of vibe we wanted to procure at least at the beginning of the film.

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So, you already mentioned the lengthy scoring process on The King’s Man. Is it true you worked on this for twenty-two months? And if so, what were some of the changes made during the production?

Matthew: Well, if you’re going to count the time, I was working on Rocketman, Dom — poor Dom, man. He got shipped out to the actual set. They set up a writing room on location. It was a studio out in the middle of nowhere. It was Pinewood or Long Cross?

Dominic: It was Long Cross. Pinewood would have been a dream. Long Cross was horrendous.

Matthew: Right, it was in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of the sticks in the UK and Dom was out there crunching up themes and experimenting without footage. So, if we’re going to count those three or four months, then yeah —

Dominic: It wasn’t twenty-two, it was probably more like eighteen. We did we finish?

Matthew: We finished last May.

Dominic: So, I want to say we started January 2019, but you were with Matthew in his house in December, right?

Matthew: Yeah, that’s right.

Dominic: So, eighteen months that felt like twenty-two. [Laughs]

Do you guys get tired of the process or tweaking the scenes so many times?

Matthew: There has to be a little bit of relativity in the answer to that question. If we both had come from a world with a normal situation — which doesn’t exist, there is no normal situation — but let’s say we normally work on a film for three or four months and you sort of get used to that time allocated to the process; and then someone says, “Hey, you gotta work on this one for eighteen months.” It can be a bit of a slog, but you just kind of pinch yourself and say this is better than waiting tables. I’m still working on something really cool.

The good thing is that, because there was so much time, and because Matthew in particular really likes to explore every avenue, which means a lot of scenes we’re writing over and over just to try different things. So, yeah, it’s a bit tumultuous and it can be a bit of a slog, but there’s also a feeling of joy when you finally crack on something Matthew likes.

Dominic: I think that’s why it also helped having the two of us. Just because of the length of it and all the changes, it got really demanding. I think with one person it would have gotten stale. But because there was two of us and because we were a great team, we were never too low and helped each other keep our eyes on the prize and that’s why we churned out such a great score.

Matthew: And also, to what you’re talking about, with eighteen months any reputable composer could write a number of scores. So, it’s not necessarily the workload but it’s more the psychological component that goes along with it. Like, this is the fourth time I’m writing this scene because the director wants to try one more idea! To have someone to go out to dinner with and just kind of banter and keep the levity going really helps.

What was the most difficult scene to score?

Dominic: Oh man, now I have to remember stuff. You should probably ask this to the opposite person because he can remember how many times it got thrown out before we landed on it. [Laughs]

Matthew: Let’s make a short list because I was thinking about this the other day, wondering how many scenes I started to score and eventually I threw in the towel and you ended up doing them and vice versa. I think it was one scene each, if I’m not mistaken. There’s the track we called “The Goat Climb,” which I tried a couple of different versions of, and finally we were just like, “We need something else. A fresh perspective.” So, you took that.

Dominic: Rasputin’s arrival.

Matthew: Rasputin’s arrival?

Dominic: Yeah, you know where he comes off the lift and he goes into the — what’s his name? I’ve forgotten it, I’ve even forgotten the name of the main bad guy. [Laughs]

Matthew: Oh, yeah! So, there’s actually two because you also ended up doing some sort of train ride, some sort of train behavior, and I ended up doing “Network of Domestics” cue or “Cracking the Code.”

Dominic: This is why our partnership was so great. There was no ego it was just trying to get what was best for the scene and what Matthew was going to like. It was like, “Well, I’ve tried this and clearly my vision is not working, so why don’t you have a crack at it?” and vice versa. We had been doing it for so long at Remote anyway. That’s what happens with an additional composer, if you can’t get it approved, normally you have a couple of go’s and another composer will take it over. So, we were used to that process.

Matthew: To go back to the initial question, the exposition scene for the shepherd went around – well, you had the cue approved for months! Probably for over a year.

Dominic: What happened was, it was one of the first things I wrote. It had the bad guy’s theme and what happened was Matthew had a change of heart in how he wanted the audience to view the bad guy, and wanted to shift perspective on what they thought of him. So, his theme needed to change, and the instrumentation needed to change. So, Matt swooped in and saved us on that once because that one went down the houses a lot.

Matthew: Yeah, we worked on versions and versions of that. You had also wrote multiple versions of the sky diving bit. That was a bit of a tedious one – and we didn’t switch on that.

Dominic: Well, that was classic me because I would do versions of the sky diving cue and I tend to get a bit carried away because I’m used to doing animation and making things a bit floral and not cool enough. I kept getting busted, Matthew would come in and say, “No, no, no, what is this? It sounds like animation! It needs to be cooler!” So, I have myself to blame on that one. But you know the spy room was tough because you had to make some changes on the stage …

Matthew: That’s right, well, that was more of a technical pain in the ass. It had nothing to do with the intent of the music. We had this wonderful piece of music, this big shiny moment for the hero tune, it was written and approved; and then the scene started getting shorter and then they started swapping shots, and then CGI changed things. So, then the score just started getting hacked up. So, that was more of a technical difficulty than anything.

What are you most excited for audiences to experience or hear with your score?

Matthew: Well, it’s tough to talk about too much without giving too much away. But doubling back to the beginning of the discussion, we did throw out the drum sets and guitars. They’re all in the bin for this one. To me it’s a bit refreshing to have a renaissance of something that’s a bit more organic and a bit more of a throwback. I’m hoping that serves the film well and hoping that serves audiences well and gives you more of that timeless quality. Not that I think there’s anything with contemporary film scores, I just think classic scores are few and far between these days.

Dominic: I agree one hundred percent. And just to add to that, at the same time as it’s a traditional throwback score, Matthew has a line of where his tolerance of orchestral score finishes. So, kind of going back to the whole sky diving thing with me going to animation, we still had to apply those more modern ways of film scoring with ostinato and not being so floral with the orchestra and not adding too many woodwinds and things. That kind of discipline of being within the parameters but still getting across that traditional throwback style, I think it was a really cool achievement. I’m excited for people to hear that because as well as getting the throwback, we’re still trying to modernize it in a way that fits The Kingsman world.

Matthew: It’s an interesting balance, isn’t it?

Dominic: Also, The Kingsman movies have terrific melodies, but just the fact this is a traditional orchestral score with what we think are strong melodies and strong hooks is cool for people to hear because the art of melody is not as present as it should be in film music. So, it’s exciting to kind of bring that back. Not to sound too cliché, but I’m hoping people will leave the theater humming our tunes.

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