Rolfe Kent: A Gun Shy Composer

An Interview with Rolfe Kent by Ford A. Thaxton
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol.19/No.73/2000
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor Luc Van de Ven

With no formal classical music training, composer Rolfe Kent became a self-taught musician while earning a degree in psychology at the University of Leeds. An association with local bands resulted in Kent’s composing music for a stage play called GROSS, produced at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Additional stage play music followed, and by 1989 Kent found his way into television and soon into films. One of Kent’s earliest notable scores was that for Alexander Payne’s CITIZEN RUTH, which starred Laura Dern. Kent also scored THE SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS, and, last year, Payne’s ELECTION. His latest project is the contemporary gangster comedy GUN SHY, starring Sandra Bullock, Liam Neeson and Oliver Platt.

Interviewed in February, Kent described is music for the film and his burgeoning role in motion picture music.

How did you come into doing GUN SHY?
I think it was because the editor, Pam Martin, had introduced the director to some of my stuff.

Do you know what attracted them to your music?
I think it was the dry humor that they found in it. Frequently, although it’s not funny music, it’s often got a certain quirk to it. The music isn’t humorous, but it leaves room for you to find humor in it. I think that’s the sort of stuff they were listening to, certainly THE SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS.

When you went in to look at GUN SHY, had they already temped it?
I came on a couple of months before they finished editing, and they were still making changes. They had put in a lot of temp score, but a lot of it was my music, some of BEVERLY HILLS and bits of other things.

What did they have in mind for the music?
The fact that it’s dark but it’s also a funny film, they wanted broad strokes. They liked the idea that there were certain ethnicities drawn out of the characters, who were variously Colombian, Italian-American, Irish, and American. And they liked the idea that, in some way, the different characters and their different takes on life were supported in the score.

I take it, then, they wanted kind of an acoustic sound to this?
Oh, yeah. There were elements of pastiche, and there were thriller elements. Essentially it’s a quirky movie and it has a quirky humor to it. That was the main element.

Did you have any trouble with the temp track in this film?
My tendency with temp tracks is to say, “I know you really like that, butt I can better it, because it wasn’t written for the film. There’s another way of going which can be more interesting and belongs to the film.” There was an interesting moment in GUN SHY where there was a piece of music that borrowed from CITIZEN RUTH, it’s a sort of twisted military thing. They really liked it, and they played it through this moment where Oliver Platt is washing the kitchen, and it had this sort of working, militaristic fervor or flavor to it. They loved it and they couldn’t imagine that I could replace it. So I did a sort of Italian MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE with me singing all over it, and it was great, because the director said, “Wow! We never thought you could better what we had, but this is better!” So it was very much one of these things, where they emphasized how much they loved what they had, but I just didn’t want to do the same thing twice. I didn’t want to be leaning on the temp track too much.

How much original score is there in the film?
I think there’s quite a lot. There are a lot of songs, Sandy (Bullock) really enjoys song-driven soundtracks, so there are a significant number of songs in the final mix, but there’s maybe half an hour of score as well.

Will there be a soundtrack album with your music on it?
No. There is a soundtrack release, but I think it’s just the songs.

You’ve had a few full albums out, such as THEORY OF FLIGHT.
THEORY OF FLIGHT, yes. In Britain, they released the full score of DON’T GO BREAKING MY HEART, which was a romantic comedy starring Anthony Edwards. Some of my BEVERLY HILLS music was on the album.

When did you come over to the States?
I think it was 1991. I’ve been here for a few years.

How do you feel you’re doing career-wise right now? You’ve certainly gotten a lot of very interesting projects.
I love it. I think the things I’ve done have been very enjoyable to work on. I want to keep it that way. I’ve had the luxury of being able to be quite discerning about what I get to work on. Since the age of 12, I’ve always wanted to score films, so it’s always been an ambition and it’s great to be working out this way. It’s a lucky position I’ve been in.

What’s up next on the agenda for you?
I’ve just scored a film called NURSE BETTY. It’s kind of an ensemble piece, with quite a large cast and several different story threads. It’s a romantic film with significant crime elements. (The film is a comedy about a widow’s post-traumatic obsession with a soap star. rdl)

What kind of a score did that film require?
It’s full orchestra for a lot of the time, and then it’s got a lot of percussion and weird noises for the remainder of the time. Apart from the fact that the film’s really fun and the cast is really good, it’s that Neil LaBute (the director) never had a score written for a film before.

So this is the first time he’s actually had a legit score for a film.
Yeah. He had some incidental music, concert pieces, in his previous films (YOUR FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS, 1998, IN THE COMPANY OF MEN, 1997), but this is the first one he’s had scored. So it was an interesting thing, when you have an experienced filmmaker who’s inexperienced in this particular realm.


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