Justin: How did you get started in composing?
Safan: When I was 14 years old I was sent to a sleep-away camp for Spring Break. I was already a very accomplished pianist and could improvise and play just about anything. When my counselor heard me playing jazz and ragtime, she said "Why don?t you write a song?" ... So I did and never stopped. I just immediately loved composing.
Justin: Have any film composers been of personal influence?
Safan: I've always loved Max Steiner... he was so straightforward and strong. Also Elmer Bernstein (who helped me in my early career)... He understood the craft of using music to make the geometry of a scene understandable. Also, of course, he wrote great themes. Also Nino Rota's humor always impressed me.
Justin: Do you have any favorite scores? (Any of yours?)
Safan: My own favorites are "Fade to Black", "The Last Starfighter", "Son of the Morning Star", and "Stand And Deliver". Favorites of other composers: "Edward Scissorhands", "Touch Of Evil", anything by Nino Rota or Morricone. Also "To Kill A Mockingbird".
Justin: By your IMDB filmography I see you did your first film score in 1975 to, "The California Reich", correct?
Safan: That was my first score to a film that was actually released. It was a documentary about the Nazi Party in California and was nominated for an Academy Award. Before that I scored a small horror film called "The Demon's Daughter" that was directed by an AFI student named John McTiernan(!)... it never got released. But it was those two films that made me get excited about writing for film.
Justin: Scoring back then was a little more easily done, right? Longer periods (usually) to work, no forced CGI-based movies and so forth...
Safan: The time frame could be just as demanding as now. I remember some Jerry Goldsmith film where he had orchestrators waiting in his driveway for charts. Also, "The Last Starfighter" was pretty quick and I was scoring to little computer pencil lines that I had to imagine were gigantic starships? Really early CGI. Also, before electronics and pro-tools became so prevalent, producers and directors had to imagine what the score would sound like? there were no mock-ups. They'd have to listen to a theme on a piano and imagine what it would sound like with 100 pieces. Now films are so completely temp-tracked that it's hard for a composer to do anything different than some sideways version of what the music editor has already put into the film.
Justin: Recently, as you're likely aware, Intrada Records has been releasing anthologies of scores from the TV series "Amazing Stories". My question is two-fold: How did you get involved in this cult Steven Spielberg series? And do you have any fond memories of working on the show?
Safan: I had worked on several films with the director Matthew Robbins and he asked me to score his segment. Later, Danny Devito asked me to score "The Wedding Ring". It was a pretty straight-forward job, quick TV, but fun as I always find it fun to write for quirky films. Danny Devito, coming from TV sit-coms where very little music is used, wanted almost no music in his segment. Later, Spielberg (who came from the lots-of-music school) made me go back into the studio with an additional 10 minutes of music.
Justin: What's your opinion on the state of film music today? So many good voices to unused, while people like Zimmer and a team of composers score a single movie.
Safan: That's show biz.
Justin: Just for the record: have you or do you plan to retire?
Safan: I'm mostly focusing on writing stage musicals right now. I live half-time in New York City and have four shows in various stages of development. Also, there are several possible films in the works, but I'm putting most of my creative energy into stage works. I'll probably never really retire... I'll just move from project to project. I've always developed some of my own product and that long-term effort is really satisfying to me.
Justin: A bit of an odd question: from IMDB I see that Alf Clausen used to orchestrate for you up until "The Simpsons". What was it like working with him and are you happy to see him still on the show?
Safan: Alf and I only worked together on "The Last Starfighter". He orchestrated 1/3, Joel Rosenbaum 1/3, and I orchestrated the final 1/3. I'm still good friends with him and I couldn't be happier that he's had such a long run on "The Simpsons". Also, it may be the last tv show that uses a live orchestra week after week. Also, he was great to work with, very supportive and enthusiastic.
Justin: At this point in the interview I'd like to move on to the rejected score questions, so I don't end the interview with them.
Why was "Wolfen" not used?
Safan: The director, Michael Wadleigh, was fired. Soon after many other elements of the film were ejected or drastically changed by the incoming director who wanted to put his own stamp on the film.
Justin: I read that "Wolfen" got released because you were getting so many requests for it. True?
Safan: Doug Fake from Intrada always wanted to put a "Wolfen" cd together. He was the driving force behind it.
Justin: I see you've likely been a victim of Michael Mann, on "Thief".
Soundtrk.com lists: "partial score"
Can I assume like other Mann-handled films, "The Insider" and "Miami Vice", that you were the second composer onboard (before the 3rd and final) and that half (or more) of your score got replaced?
Safan: The score to "Thief" was written by Tangerine Dream. They basically sent lots of music tracks to Michael Mann. As the film was cut, the music editor, Bob Badami, worked with Michael to shape the music into a film score. Michael was unhappy with the music for the entire ending of the film (around 10 minutes) and Bob recommended me to compose new music. I wrote a long, moody rock piece with screaming guitar. Bob and Michael took it and then moved the elements around and shaped it to their liking. So what I wrote was totally used, just in a slightly altered form.
Justin: I've read that Mann is notoriously difficult to work with. Is this true?
Safan: I had no problem with at all with Michael. He's a very hands-on director and I guess that bothers some people. But not me.
Justin: What's your personal opinion on scores being rejected?
Safan: It hurts, but it happens to pretty much everyone. My old agent, Al Bart, once said that his famous client, Miklos Roza, commented that the mark of maturity on a young film composer is having his first score thrown out.
Justin: Again, browsing your IMDB.com page, I see you've had a pretty good mixture of work for television and film. Do you have a preference for one or the other?
Safan: I think whichever medium gives one the most time, resources, and creative support is the best. Sometimes it's film, sometimes tv. But overall, film gives one the opportunity to do their best work.
Justin: At this point I'd like to go ahead and read you fan questions.
"Anakin McFly" at alan-silvestri.com/forum:
"Why didn't you score THE BOY WHO COULD FLY, TAP and DENNIS THE MENACE by Nick Castle, considering you scored almost all of his other movies ?"
Safan: Nick wanted me to score all those films, but the studio and producers had other ideas. As far as "Tap", I helped Nick develop the project but was unavailable to score it. I was working on a musical at Goodspeed Opera House at the time.
Lukasz Waligorski from alan-silvestri.com/forum:
"Was there any inspiration with Star Wars in composing The Last Starfighter?"
Safan: Sort of the opposite. The studio wanted a "Star Wars"-like score... it was pretty much impossible to not give them the big orchestra. I tried to move away from that as much as I could by adding electronics and using Sibelius as a model (rather than Holst).
Cindylover1969 from intrada.com:
"What got you into doing Cheers all those years?"
Safan: I was asked by Jimmy Burrows to do the very first episode. No one knew it would be a hit but once it got going, I was glad to stick with it for the entire 11 years. There was very little music in each episode, so it never prevented me from working on other projects.
Justin: I'd like to congratulate you on your recent score CD release, "Remo Williams", on Perseverance Records. I remember instantly liking this unusual mix when I first saw the movie. Are you happy with this expanded release?
Safan: Yes, I think Robin Esterhammer did a great job. He was very dedicated to the project and worked hard on putting it all together.
Justin: Any comments you'd like to make on the movie and the score?
Safan: It was probably my most complicated score. We linked two 24-track tape machines together (this was way pre Pro Tools!). I used a Synclavier for the basic work, then overdubbed an 80-piece orchestra, and then a 12-piece Korean orchestra. Making all these sounds work together was a real challenge for me and the mixer, Dennis Sands. Just the tuning of the Korean instruments was a huge challenge. Some of the score I really like, other parts just never came together for me. I think I like the main title best of all.
Justin: Are there any projects in the works, any future films? CD releases?
Safan: Possibly some more CD releases. We'll see.
Justin: Mr. Safan, I really appreciate this interview and speaking to me. I wish you luck on your future endeavors and I think I speak for other fans when I say that I hope we hear more from you.
Have a good day.