NMFO: Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself?
MDF: I'm a film composer; I've been working out of LA for many years, and about a year ago, I relocated to New Mexico and started my efforts to create something out here. I've been working with artists abroad and working on films. I’ve been doing this for a long time.
I've worked on feature films, video games, movie trailers, and documentaries. I compose everything from the ground up, produce, mix, master. So, I'm basically a one-stop shop. I collaborate with and record artists around the globe.
NMFO: What motivated you to want to get into music composing and then going into film?
MDF: I started out as a fine artist. I was living in Spain at the time. So, I studied in a school that taught a very ancient technique taught by a very famous Spanish painter called Murillo. I used to listen to a lot of music when I was painting. I was living in the Mediterranean at the time. One day I decided I'd like to write music. I'd like to compose music that I would listen to while I'm painting, and it just seemed to flow when I started doing that.
I ended up doing an album, and then, having an American passport, I decided to come to the US. I landed in Hollywood and got to work with some of the top film composers in the world.
NMFO: Would you mind explaining what a film composer does?
MDF: Usually, towards the end of the film, when a film's already been edited and it's getting ready to be locked, a composer will come in and start writing music to scenes. They work very closely with the director and the editor. So many times, editors start using what they call temp score to get a vibe and an idea of how the music's going to fit the picture emotionally.
So, many times, you get a film that has a lot of temp score, and you have to create your own thing and bring your own vision to it. You work very closely with the director to make sure that the music hits all the emotional points that he wants throughout the entire film. The music is an emotional bridge between the viewer and the actual picture. Sometimes, there's a certain emotion that the director wants to portray in a scene, and music seems to be the gateway that allows the viewer to feel what the character is feeling in the film. So that's basically what the job of a film composer is.
NMFO: Are you well versed in many different types of instruments of how the score is put together? How does that process work?
MDF: I play a lot of stringed instruments, like Middle Eastern instruments. Having lived in Spain, I learned how to play some Spanish guitar. I play the electric guitar and bass. I play some percussion. I also bring in musicians, which is one of the reasons I'm very excited about being in New Mexico, because I think there's a lot of untapped talent here, especially in the Native American cultures.
I'd like to incorporate it into my soundtrack scores. That's something I'm excited about developing and discovering out here.
NMFO: What are some of the most recent projects you've been working on? What projects can we look out for? What do you have coming up?
MDF: I've been working on a lot of films. For my most recent project, I was working six weeks on a film called “Ferrari” for Director Michael Mann, who directed “Last of the Mohicans” and “Heat.” He's a very prominent director. I was invited to set up my studio in his offices in West Los Angeles, and I wrote some music for that film. There are a few composers that are involved. He likes to work with multiple composers. I was set up there, and I was going back and forth from there to Fox Studios to meet with him and get notes from him. That's the latest project that I just recently wrapped up. And I have a film coming up that I'm going to do here in New Mexico very soon. I'm in the process of fully setting up my studio here in Albuquerque.
NMFO: What have been some of your favorite projects that you've worked on in the past?
MDF: I worked on a western called “Jane Got a Gun,” starring Natalie Portman and Ian McGregor. I did the music for that. There was a very famous documentary called “Samsara” that I did a few years back that was very well received globally. I've done a lot of music for trailers. They've used my music for “Avengers Endgame.” Big blockbuster films like “National Treasure” and “Hellboy” have used my music in a lot of those trailers. I wrote some music for “Nebraska” Alexander Payne's film.
When people ask me what I've done, you're always thinking about what you're going to do. Then I go back, and I go, “Oh my God, I forgot to mention that I worked on this or that.”
NMFO: In film composition, what does that look like? What is the process? How long does it take for you to really put the pieces together after this is after post-production?
MDF: It all depends on what they're using, what temp score they're using. If it's orchestral and elaborate, then that takes more time, like writing music for a film like “Lord of the Rings.” Sometimes there are scores where directors want something very minimalistic, so less is more. It all depends.
I sit in the room, and I have images of the film. I have software that allows me to sync the movie to music. So, I start writing, and I start what can be a tedious process because you start to discover what works for the picture. It's interesting. You can put a lot of things up against the scene and you can tell instantly what doesn't work. Sometimes, it takes longer to find what works in the process of elimination of saying, “Okay, I've tried this, I've tried that, that doesn't work.”
Many times, what I've discovered, and I've realized that other composers have this experience, is that sometimes you're convinced that what you're going to do is great, and you've got this scene, and you're very happy with it, and you think it's great until the director walks in. And it isn't until the director's sitting next to you that you're playing that scene back that you realize at that moment that the music you wrote for that scene is completely wrong. It's a process of elimination more than anything else.
It's interesting. I love the whole process of creating music that works to scenes and creating a musical landscape that takes the viewer into the story from an emotional standpoint. That's the process that I really love about doing this.
NMFO: People don’t pay much attention to the fact that it's part of the storytelling. They don’t really think about how much music plays into the story and how much it emphasizes the story along with the acting and the location and the scenery and all the components that really go into telling the story of a film.
MDF: I think if that's the experience you've had, then the composer's done what they should do. I don't think a score should be something that should be noticed unless there is a musical scene in a film. There are scenes that are musical.
I lean more towards that genre of scoring where you don't really notice the score, but then when you walk away, and you hear the music by itself, you start seeing images of the film. A lot of times, I argue with directors because I want them to lower my music. When I was working on the movie, “Ferrari,” I kept telling the editor and the music supervisor to lower my music. I kept telling them that the music should be a mist over the dialogue. It's something you notice, but it's not something that's overwhelming. I'm seeing in more and more films the music is becoming so overwhelming that it almost turns into a music video at times. I don't particularly think that's great for a film unless there is a specific piece of music that needs to be showcased that way in a film. That's just my philosophy.
NMFO: You touched on it earlier as well of hitting that subconscious because then when you listen to the music away from the imagery, it can kind of take you back to that moment in the film.
MDF: Exactly. I discovered that because I used to listen to a lot of soundtrack scores before I started writing music. I picked up instruments when I was a kid, alongside my artistic, visual, and artistic tendencies. I remember listening to scores by composers in the '70s and '80s who were great storytellers.
It's the one thing that I love about doing what I do is trying to tell a story. It's about storytelling so that you can listen to a soundtrack score, and it takes you back into that story.
NMFO: What made you want to bring your talents to New Mexico?
MDF: I was invited to come speak at the Four Corners Film Festival in 2021. I saw the terrain and the landscape, as well as all the potential that this state has to offer, from a creative and inspirational standpoint. Visually, it's stunning. I thought that maybe I could make a greater impact in a community like New Mexico than I could in LA. In Los Angeles, everybody's so overwhelmed. So, from a creative standpoint, I think I would have a lot more open space here to try things out because there's more room to grow as opposed to in Hollywood, where people have a very specific mindset.
My intention in coming out here is from a very humble standpoint; I'm not coming here with any kind of big idea that I'm going to rock the scene or anything, but I want to create something that's unique here, at least on my own, and start from there. I work with artists internationally, and if I can somehow involve the community and start a creative circle of people that I resonate with, we can start creating something that's very signature to the Albuquerque area.
Especially now with Netflix coming in, NBCUniversal, and everything that's happening in Las Cruces. I'm looking to invite artists and create a community where we can all create something that could become a signature sound to this part of the country. You have Atlanta now, where there's a lot of composers that are based there, and they're doing their thing. But I think there's room here to create something that's unique to New Mexico, and it's time. There's talent here that could support that vision that I have, and I look forward to inviting them to be part of the process.
NMFO: As we build up our film ecosystem, we're excited to have you as a part of that. It’s exciting to see someone with your talent and caliber come out here and create something that's unique and specific and contribute to the hub we have out here.
MDF: I was invited originally to come out here and jump back and forth from LA to New Mexico, but I want to make a commitment to this community. I feel at home here. It reminds me very much of the Mediterranean, the sky, the light here, the mountains. Obviously, we don't have the ocean, but we do have the rivers and the mountains. So, from a creative standpoint, I feel a lot more inspired here than I do in Los Angeles. I just got back and it's very difficult for an artist to feel the inner peace and to be able to be creative in an environment where you're hearing helicopters all the time, flying and ambulances.
Here, you can find a spot where you feel comfortable and just focus on the creative and serve your clients in a much more paced way without all that anxiety that's so indicative of living in a big city. I find that very intriguing to see what will happen in the coming months.
NMFO: One thing about New Mexico is it's very grounding. I love that it also gives you a sense of home, being from the Mediterranean and bringing that sense of peace to you. So that's wonderful to hear.
MDF: In Los Angeles, I discovered, after not having been there for a year and living here, how difficult it is for creative people, truly. People go there because it's a work hub, but it's a very challenging dynamic that I think Albuquerque and New Mexico, in general, are on complete opposite poles. From a creative standpoint, I think it's going to be a great source of inspiration. I'm looking forward to working here.
NMFO: For somebody who's interested in getting into composing and film, how would you recommend that they get started, get into the industry, tricks of the trades, and words of wisdom?
MDF: It's not impossible. I've spent many years trying to break into this industry. The one thing that I would advise anyone who wants to do soundtrack scoring is, first, to listen to what's coming out, listen to soundtracks and find a style that you really like and specialize in that style.
Once you master that, learn other styles of music. Soundtrack scores are unlike any other type of music; they really push you to learn every style of music there's out there because every film is going to demand that you reinvent yourself. That's important to know music. In other words, listen to every film composer and understand what they're doing and what's working and what's not. Grab scenes from films and score to them. Try to find independent filmmakers and work with them.
If you're a young kid and you're in your teens or you're in your early 20s and you want to score films, meet other like-minded creatives, and start working with them closely because if they grow, you will grow with them. That's something that happens in this field.
At the same time, another aspect of what I do, which I take very seriously, is what's labeled production in my field, which is the whole process of what it takes to make something sound good. Learn what they call production, learn how to mix, learn how to EQ, learn about all the tools that are available to make music sound great, because if you develop your own sound, it's very signature, then clients will come to you specifically for the sound that you're developing for them. I've seen that with a lot of artists. I've seen, for example, there are composers in Hollywood who are known for a specific genre, and they get hired for that specific genre, and they've become very, very successful at it. It's a way to break in because you have a specialty that you only do. So that'll create a signature work that you do and people come to you for it.
It's a process of both writing music and creating your own sound, your own tone, and really homing in on that. That's a very important aspect of what we do. And I pursue that very, very seriously.
NMFO: In a way, it's experimenting to find what you're passionate about with sound and then fine-tuning that.
MDF: I attribute it to cooking, for example, and I've mentioned this many times in interviews, a show that really inspired me, which has nothing to do with music, was a show on Netflix called “Chef's Table.” The reason I love that show is because it gives you this insight into many well-known chefs throughout the world. The one thing that I noticed, for example, is that some of these chefs will have a little farm next to the restaurant. They’ll go and pick and grow their own things. So, they create these dishes that are so signature that people travel all over the world to go to his restaurant. And I believe music is something that we experience physically, just like food. I mean, just like air, just like an aroma. You can really work with the tools that we have today with software and hardware to create a sonic experience.
It's more than just music. It's about creating an experience. I've had directors walk into my studio because today, with the advent of telephones and headphones and all that, people listen to stuff on their ear pods. They walk into my studio, and they listen to a piece of music that I've written for their film, and they get immersed in it, not just music but this environment that I'm creating musically and sonically. I can see the reaction they have to it. So, I pursue that with a lot of passion. It's not just about the music. It's the way it's presented, like everything else. You can present something in such a way that's so unique and so signature that people will come to you specifically because that's what you do. I think to create a successful career in this field, that's a very important aspect of what we do.
NMFO: How can people get more familiar with you? Are you active on social media? Do you have a website? How can people really learn more about you, get in contact with you, and what you have coming up?
NMFO: Is there anything else that you would like to share with the film office and the New Mexico community?
MDF: I just want to thank everyone. Everyone's been very accommodating. I think it's an amazing time for New Mexico. I'm happy to be part of the community. I look forward to serving a lot of the creatives here in the state. I'm excited.
NMFO: We're very excited to have you. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today and having this conversation. It's been an absolute pleasure to get to know you and everything that you do. We're excited to have you here in New Mexico.