Music and film. What a magical combination. A marriage born when films began to talk and added the soothing sounds of music after the Silent Movie era. Since that time there have been thousands upon thousands of composers that have worked in Hollywood and the venerable hallways of the scoring stages ranging from the ones at venerable studios such as Warner Brothers (the Clint Eastwood Scoring Stage), Twentieth Century-Fox (The Newman Scoring Stage), and Sony Scoring Stage (The Barbara Streisand Scoring Stage) to name a few. Aside from those hollowed halls, there have been the other hallowed halls occupied by the latest in computer technology where a single person can become the scoring stage and orchestra all in one.
Coming from the rocking sounds of the Red Hot Chili Peppers now to a composer on demand in Hollywood, Cliff Martinez has really come onto his own in the last few decades with his unique and memorable sounds which have made Steven Soderburgh’s films memorable that have included Oscar winners such as “Traffic”. Martinez, a master drummer and percussionist has created memorable music that graced various genres and films in recent years such as “Drive”, “Contagion”, “The Lincoln Lawyer”, “Arbitrage”, “The Company You Keep” and the upcoming thriller, “Only God Forgives” reteaming him with “Drive” director Nicholas Winding Refn.
A recent BMI award winner, Martinez continues to march strongly into the A-list of composers after starting out more than two decades ago with his memorable music for Soderbergh’s “Sex, Lies And Videotape” and will only get better and better. In this interview with Cliff, we will discover what makes him tick musically, how his collaborations have made him a beneficiary excellent films to score and favorite assignments. So read on and enjoy the musical mind of the rockin’ Cliff Martinez.
Please tell the readers about yourself and what made you want to become a
CM: I was a rock and roll drummer for many years. I performed and recorded with THE
WEIRDOS, THE DICKIES, LYDIA LUNCH, THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS and my all-time
favorite musical hero, CAPTAIN BEEFHEART. I became fascinated by music
technology in the late 80’s and in part, that is what led me out of rock and
roll and into film scoring.
My first scoring job was an episode of PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE and I remember
thinking how writing to picture created unique musical structures and allowed
for more originality and diversity than the music I was hearing in clubs and on
Let’s talk about your latest film, “The Company You Keep” starring and directed
by Robert Redford. How did you end up scoring the film?
CM: I have a feeling that it might have started when the picture editor, Mark Day
began to edit the film and use some of my previous scores to cut the picture to.
I saw a rough cut of the film which I liked very much. Then I met with the
producer Bill Holderman and RR and apparently passed inspection.
What was it like to work with an icon such as Redford? And did he make it easier
for you to come up with material for the film?
CM: Robert Redford is part of an era of film making that I consider to be
Hollywood’s golden age and to work with him and feel that connection, even for
just a couple months was a big deal for me.
Was this your best experience working with a director such as him?
CM:I think so…. It was also the only time I’ve worked with a director such as him.
I loved the soundtrack album, how much music did you write for the film and how
did you put together the album?
CM: I think it was about 50+ minutes in total.I usually start an album by
putting everything in chronological order. When you do that, I usually
end up with a few areas that don’t connect smoothly so I’ll start rearranging,
editing and combining things in order to get a flow that will hopefully
hold the listeners’ interest from beginning to end. I don’t know how
other composers do it.
This year also saw you score that action-thriller “Spring Breakers” starring
James Franco, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens which was a hit. Was this
film any different than your more recent ones like “Company You Keep” and
CM: I’d like to think so, yes. There are a couple musical similarities between
“Drive” and “The Company You Keep” though. My score to “Wonderland” was used to
edit “Spring Breakers” so I’m sure that those two scores share some of the same
The soundtrack featured most of your music from the film, were you satisfied
with the end result of the album itself?
CM: There’s actually quite a bit more of my music that will hopefully get released
eventually and yes, I was satisfied with the album.
You also scored the drama “Arbitrage” starring Richard Gere, which is somewhat
of legal thriller. Let’s talk about that film and what was the process that you
went through to get the right tone for the film musically.
CM: For ARBITRAGE I wanted a simple, primarily electronic sound, memorable motifs
and a consistent sound and structure that would hopefully resemble storytelling
in music. I tried to put the audience into the main characters’ head and into
his environment. I shoehorned in rhythm wherever possible as I thought that
would be good for the energetic health of the film. And I used some of my
favorite instruments: pitched metallic percussion (like steel drums) and the
Baschet crystal. That, plus electric guitar were the only “real” instruments
that were actually recorded. Everything else was either a synthesizer or
sampled. In way, ARBITRAGE was a tweak on THE LINCOLN LAWYER, an earlier score
of mine that had a sound and style I liked and wanted to develop further.
Now, let’s start off with the movie that has made you really popular, Drive,
which was one of the best films of 2011 and has become a cult action classic
since it’s released on Blu-Ray and DVD. What attracted you to this film?
CM: I was shown a advanced edit of the film minus the score and sound editing.
Even though it was incomplete, I loved it, knew it was a great film and given
Nicolas’ ideas about the musical direction, I thought I was well cast for the
Was it hard to get a tone on how to score it or did the director give you input
on what he wanted for the film?
CM: The songs were already in the temp score when I was brought onboard and I was
assured that they would be in the final version of the film. It seemed clear
that the 80’s synth-pop style was an important part of the overall sound and so
I tried to integrate elements of that into the score wherever I could. Perhaps
this was discussed at some point with Nicolas but I don’t remember how the idea
of mirroring the song style actually got underway.
Were you surprised on how popular the Drive album has sold and how people have
taken to it?
CM: Yes. You seldom see the words “hit” and “soundtrack” in the same sentence. I
wish somebody would tell me the formula because I would love to repeat the
experience on my next film project.
Now let’s talk about The Lincoln Lawyer, which was one of my favorite and most
entertaining films that I saw a couple of years ago, what drew you to that project?
CM: The first time I saw “The Lincoln Lawyer” was at a preview screening. I liked
the film and wanted to be involved, but because it was one of those scientific
test screenings I knew that I wasn’t imagining things. Everyone else liked it
I loved the score to the film BTW. I loved the “Shoot Me Right Now” track. Was
it easier to get a tone and style for this film than say Drive or Contagion? Or
was it a work in progress?
CM: Getting the correct approach was probably equally easy/difficult for each of
Now let’s talk Steven Soderbergh…how did you guys hook up?
CM: I met Steven Soderbergh in 1988. I had a friend, Mark Mangini, who is a sound
editor. He asked me to create some music for the film ALIEN NATION whose
creators had wanted the sound department to create something part musical and
part abstract sound that the aliens might listen to. As I was chiseling away on
this material, in walked Mark’s roommate, Steven Soderbergh. Before we were even
properly introduced, Steven began making comments and suggestions about the
music. I could tell that Steven wasn’t coming from a musical background, but his
instincts about fitting the music to picture were smart and insightful. Later
that afternoon, he just asked me if I would be interested in scoring his first
film (and mine too), SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE. I had no idea what I was getting
into, but I felt that I would be in capable hands. I said “yes” and the rest is
When you work with Steven, does he tell you what kind of music he wants right
away or does he give you a concept of what he wants and you do your thing?
CM: In the past several Soderbergh films, the input I get from Steven is mostly
through the temp score. There is a lot of information and direction contained in
the temporary music that a director chooses to cut his film to. It tells you the
placement of the music as well as the general style and approach that the
director is looking for.
Contagion, I have to say freaked me out when I saw it and it was one of the more
realistic and unnerving thrillers I’ve seen in a long time. What did Soderbergh
say or suggest to you about how to score this film?
CM: Steven’s first description of the film and the music was “It’s a horror film”
and he sent me a rough cut temped with a lot of music from “The French
Connection” which, taken out of context, sounded like horror music.
Several months later, Steven jettisoned all the horror flavored temp music in
favor of all Tangerine Dream music. Again, this was a vintage style of scoring
but all on synthesizer. I liked this a lot too. In the past, Steven had always
disliked the sound of synthesizers as did I, but there was something about the
overtly electronic sound of synths that I thought connoted scientific pursuit as
well the unstoppable, single-minded unemotional villain that is the virus.
Lastly, Steven asked that the much of the score be rhythmic in order to energize
the pace of the film.
The score is really effective the more you listen to it, in the more poignant
scenes like Jennifer Ehle visiting her father in the hospital, Kate Winslet’s
death scene and Matt Damon’s father/daughter scenes, how did you approach those
scenes without your score being intrusive?
CM: Mostly by keeping things simple as I usually do. One of the secrets to this is
to not use a melody line, at least not in the traditional sense. The top note of
the chord is all you’re gonna get in most of my music if you’re looking for a
Was Contagion the trickiest film you’ve ever had to score in terms of the
actors, dialog and the story?
CM: No. I think that award goes to Solaris.
Was the score purely orchestral or was it a mix of electronics and live
CM: It was a mixture of live orchestra and electronics.
Let’s revisit one of my favorite collaborations between you and Soderbergh,
Solaris, which is celebrating its 10 anniversary a year ago. I loved the
orchestral approach that you came up for that film, which I think is brilliant
BTW, how did that score come about?
CM: It was my first large scale orchestral project with a major studio behind it. I
knew I would just embarrass myself if I tried to use the orchestra in a
traditional way, so I stuck my neck out a little and tried to emulate the
electronic ambient style of “Traffic” and “Sex, Lies and Videotape”.
There was a rather small and unique film that you did score called Wicker Park
starring Josh Hartnett and Diane Kruger, a few years ago. I loved the score to
that film which was really to me added to the drama which does pay off in the
end. What made you go the route on the music the way you did for that one?
CM: The director was a big fan of “Solaris” and wanted something similar so I used
my patented “same but different” approach.
What made you go into film scoring? Do you enjoy it?
CM: I was 32 when I retired from the Chili Peppers and was having a hard time
reconciling the idea of going onstage with nothing but a sock on my genitals at
age 40. I became fascinated by music technology in the late 80’s and in part,
that is what led me out of rock and roll and into film scoring. Yes, I enjoy it.
What was the hardest film you’ve ever had to score and why?
CM: “House of Yes”. I didn’t really understand how to capture the correct tone of a
black comedy through music. I ended up getting fired. Getting fired gets the
highest rating for difficulty.
What is your favorite score and favorite film?
CM: “A Fistful of Dollars”
What is your dream project?
CM: Something that is a collaboration with the next new director who will replace
What are your upcoming projects?
CM: Nicolas Refn’s follow up to Drive – Only God Forgives, coming out in July
Very special and heartfelt thanks to Cliff for being so generous with his time and the always great, Beth Krakowker for setting this up. You always deliver and I’m grateful for everything you do!
Please visit Cliff’s website http://www.cliff-martinez.com for an update on his latest projects and his full bio.
Arbitrage and The Company You Keep Soundtracks are Available on Milan Records http://milanrecords.com/home/home.php
Solaris Soundtrack is available from La-La Land Records http://www.amazon.com/Solaris-Cliff-Martinez/dp/B004B3PBNI/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1369785550&sr=1-1&keywords=solaris