Music can change the entire landscape of a film- the meaning, the emotion, and the tone. There is so much to be said for an emotionally reflective composition and soundtrack to a film. When the composer connects to the material it is apparent in the magnitude of the film, and immediately felt by the audience. Composer Mario Grigorov is well acquainted with the great combination of a connection to a film as well as to a director. This can be seen with the Academy Award winning film “Precious,” which has garnered much attention and praise from the film community and audiences around the country.
Grigorov explained his work on the film and with director Lee Daniels as one that was easy not only on the connection to the director but to the work as well. Composing for “Precious,” Grigorov found the process fairly smooth.
“I was totally represented one hundred percent in terms of what my vision of the film,” Grigorov said. “And this is partly because he also shows respect for me and my ideas in terms of what I gave him. I presented a few options and he (Daniels) ended up choosing one, and it was very easy because he had such a strong vision of what he wanted.”
He speaks of Daniels as “keeping it fresh” in terms of pushing Grigorov to try different techniques, and to not just follow his lead but to go beyond into his own creative palette.
The collaboration of Grigorov and director Daniels will be their third, and to Grigorov it was only a natural progression that he would work on this project after “Tennessee” and “Shadowboxer.” He is no stranger to working on award-winning films either, as he also scored the impactful Academy Award winning documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side.” Grigorov has composed for over 25 films in his career thus far.
Pleased with the soundtrack choices that Daniels made for the film including everything from Bobby Brown and Queen Latifah to Lenny Kravitz, Grigorov dived in to the process of scoring which had to be done fairly quickly. With a classical background of Bach and Chopin, he is very familiar with the Romantic period.
“I really like the tensions and releases within that music and the surprises it has and also the drama that music has,” Grigorov expressed. “It is very dramatic, and I have very good piano technique and it helps me to express myself on that level. It could be a hindrance with that technique because I tend to get over-excited, but as I get older, I learn to control that and now I’m using that drama sometimes in the silence in that composition, not only in the notes I play.”
With “Precious,” the film follows a young, poor, overweight and illiterate teen through her heartbreaking life. The film has many moments of drama, dealing with heavy-handed situations of abuse, rape, teen pregnancy and poverty.
The dramatic and powerful story of “Precious” was enough for any composer to get lost in, and excited over. The intense situations and violence of the film stays with you, it is easy to see how over-dramatic music could have taken away from the scenes by being unnecessarily overpowering.
“The blessing in disguise in this film was that I had to do the music so quickly that I actually didn’t have too much time to over analyze it,” said Grigorov. “I think what I ended up writing was by nature, very supporting and very much nailing the mood without being over the top. I didn’t come from a place where I had to write the most incredible melody of my life, which is usually a recipe for disaster for me.”
To get that reality and bring the audience in to the damaged world of “Precious,” Grigorov worked on the instruments and how they were being used, as opposed to what he calls the ‘skeleton’ of the composition – the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements.
“I kind of wanted to get something with an edge so I recorded it in similar ways to how “Eleanor Rigby” was recorded by the Beatles, it’s kind of close mic-ing and got away from that classical sound of trying to catch the overall instrument, so that made it a little more edgy,” said Grigorov. “I think it was very important, because the part that I needed to score was the most challenging, was the one where we get in touch with Precious’ inner feelings and emotions.”
Grigorov takes a unique approach by combining many different types of music, and overall says he is looking to carve his niche and develop a signature which he feels composing for film does allow. He speaks passionately and creatively about the process of putting music to film and experimenting with different sounds. One of his latest projects was working on a short film by Snoop Dogg called “Malice N Wonderland,” a dark hip hop film about a superhero with an “Alice in Wonderland,” inspiration. Just the involvement in the variety of projects he has composed for shows his versatility and musical open-mindedness. There is definitely room for this composer’s niche in the film world, and future successful projects are highly anticipated.
“One thing I would like to do is work with a bigger orchestra, and world music and electronics,” said Grigorov. “I would like to be known for strong melodies and crossover – to bring different emotion out of music, and I think there’s a tremendous amount of room and opportunity to explore new music that way. Despite the fact that everything has been done, yet I feel that so much has not yet been done.”