Be self-critical: it’s the only way to success
Composer Alexander Kostov on films, music and silence
How did you started making music?
My interest in music started my when I was little. My father is a composer, so it was somehow by default that I started taking piano classes and solmization for a while. But it only took a couple of years and then I continued to some regular high school. In 2006 I came back to it, this time it was on my own accord. I got my dad’s old PC and suddenly I discovered the music software that he was using to make music… I totally loved it and I started taking piano classes again. It was a long pause - over 10 year, but I caught up.
In 2010 I started getting my first projects, doing music for some video games and documentaries. I was really motivated and I started sending emails to many people and studios, most of which didn't take me any seriously, of course. Then little by little I started gaining more experience and doing bigger projects.
Have you ever disliked a film so much that you would refuse making their music?
Yeah. I recently got invited to write the OST for a film that was quite big. We went to see the pre-screening, and I really didn't like it. So I decided that I am not going to enter this project at all. In the beginning we all have done projects we dislike, just because it pays the bills. But one needs to learn how to overcome this, to start choosing things they really want to put in their portfolio.
I always try to choose my projects. It’s not just about inspiration, because it doesn't come every day. But the least you should have is sympathy for the job.
And you should definitely care.
“Shooting star” (2015, dir. Lyubo Yonchev) was the only Bulgarian short film nominee at Cannes and the European Short Film 2016 awards, and you wrote the music. How did that go?
I’m working with Lyubo for quite some time, and we have always had very different ideas about the music of his films. (Laughs) Of course, we’ve gradually found common ground. We finished Shooting star about two years ago. Now that I see it, I think I would have done the music differently. But this is how we learn, right?
This is how every creative process goes: you take a look at your previous work, you become critical to your younger self and you see how you can evolve. This is how progress happens.
How is film music different from any other types of music: the one we play at home, at parties, on the radio, etc. Is there any difference in the creative process of writing film music?
Film music it’s not independent. The music you play on the radio is made to be listened independently, or rather it becomes a complete product by itself. Film music is there to illustrate and to complete the notion of the picture. It is, in a way, limited within the frame of the film, it cannot live independently. The process is also different, because some conditioning is there, like the film genre, the idea of the director, or his perception of music. Most of the directors I’ve worked with are quite open and we get to agree on my proposals. But sometimes it’s not so easy, as the director has his very own creative idea.
Do you always insist on having the final cut of the film to start composing?
Normally I do require the final version of the film to do the music. I tent to do that because its way easier and you get to avoid a lot of unnecessary corrections. If the picture is done and it has its own dynamics, its way more logical to build the music upon it, instead of redoing it every time the cut is being changed.
What do you think of silence?
Silence is needed in film as much as music. Films need dynamics, action, they need to continuously stay attractive and catchy. This is like having one and the same actor on the screen - if he’s there, he has to be exceptionally interesting and intriguing. Its the same with music - if it’s there, music has to contribute, to add extra value every single second. This is why sometimes the most dramatic moments in films have no music - it’s just no need for anything to be added.
Soundtrack doesn't necessary means MUSIC. One of my favourite OST’s is the one from Birdman (2015, dir. Alejandro Iñaritu), and it is a very dramatic drum solo (comp. Antonio Sanchez) that appears in some particular moments of the picture. It so masterfully made to click with the character’s inner chaos, that it literally drives you nuts.