Darren Fung Talks PBS’ The Great Human Odyssey & More
Entertainment n More sit down with PBS’ The Great Human Odyssey composer Darren Fung. Check out the exclusive interview below:
What inspired you to become a composer?
Darren Fung: I thought it would be less work than performing! 🙂 In all seriousness, growing up playing saxophone in concert bands, I always loved playing the movie music medleys and some of those scores like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Indiana Jones, Star Trek, Jurassic Park or even a lot of the Disney musicals like Lion King or Beauty and the Beast. The genre really appealed to me and it became a goal early on in my life to write music for movies. When I was 15 I wrote a piece of music for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and I think that buzz of hearing your music being played back by some 50 or so players for the first time was incredible, and I wanted more. Hence I went to McGill to study composition!
Which projects are you most proud of?
Darren Fung: Obviously I’m very proud of the work I did for The Great Human Odyssey, which was the biggest project that I’ve worked on so far, and the first time I got a chance to work with choir. While I’m proud of every project that I work on, I’m particularly proud of my score for Lost Years, which we recorded in Beijing with the China National Symphony Orchestra and a couple of ethnic Chinese musicians. Not too long ago I did a score for a National Film Board of Canada documentary called Gun Runners which was a neat score for me because it wasn’t an orchestral score, which is what I excel at and tend to get asked to do a lot of.
What advice do you have for aspiring composers?
Darren Fung: This may sound blatantly obvious, but I think the most important thing for you to do is to score films. Meet people who make films, and make connections, and then try and score those films. Too often I think young composers hang around other composers — and while assistant jobs are great for learning and paying the bills, ultimately if you want your career to be sustainable you have to have your own contacts and relationships and nurture those relationships.
The other piece of advice to young composers: when you are young and can afford to invest more into your scores (by hiring musicians, a better mixer/engineer, etc.) take the opportunity to do so. When you get older and have more financial commitments like a mortgage or kids, you won’t always have the option to do that. Invest in your career and make music that stands out above and beyond, and really give your clients music that they will love and remember. I say that with a caveat: make sure that the people who you are working for will appreciate it, because nothing sucks more than giving great music that you put your blood and west into, when they really don’t care too much about it.
Do you have any background in music bands or groups? If so, how is it different than writing music for a tv show or film?
Darren Fung: Not really bands, but I did study jazz piano in college, and was a pretty decent classical piano player before that. I think the biggest difference between being a performer and being screen composer is that ultimately, as a composer, you are a gun for hire and your client is really dictating how to write your music. As a performer, and when not writing music for the screen, you are often working for yourself and get to call the shots. Being a screen composer is really about servicing the picture, and if you have a hard time with that, you shouldn’t be a screen composer.
What inspired the music of The Great Human Odyssey? Do you consider the show’s themes/content in your approach?
Darren Fung: I don’t think I treated Human any differently than I did any other project, in the sense that when Niobe and I spotted the film, we were really looking for the underlying emotions behind each of the scenes. I’m the first guy to admit that I’m not a science guy, but you don’t write music around scientific ideas. Rather, you write music that shares in the epic nature of the human journey, the adversity, the mystery, the accomplishment. Those are the emotions that make the film so relatable, and what made it such a pleasure to score.
Where is the best place for us to follow your career?
Darren Fung: Check out my website at www.stinkyrice.com (we’re in the process of updating it now!) and my most recent reel is available at bitly.com/stinkyrice. You can follow my tweets at @stinkyrice.