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Interview – Composer Geoff Zanelli Discusses His Latest Film ‘Traffik’ & More


Posted May 8, 2018 by

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Interview – Composer Geoff Zanelli

From Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales to Mortdecai, Emmy winning composer Geoff Zanelli has proven he can score any genre.  Whether it be a pirate’s tale or a comedy about a shady art dealer, Zanelli explains he looks for projects that he can help tell through music.  His latest one, Traffik, being a feature by Deon Taylor which tells the story of a couple who embark on a romantic weekend in the mountains and then find themselves terrorized by a biker gang.  We sat down with Zanelli to discuss his scores for Traffik, Pirates 5 and much more.

Composer Geoff Zanelli


You have scored everything from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Disturbia to most recently Traffik. How do you pick which projects to work on?

What drives me to compose is knowing that I can make a film better by being part of it, so I look for stories that I can help tell through music.  Usually I have ideas from the first conversation or the first viewing of the film.

It also helps me to stay at my best if I can find projects which are very different from whatever I’m just finishing.  So going from Pirates to Traffik, for instance, or from Traffik to what I’m now doing, which is an animated fantasy really keeps me on my toes.

You haven’t scored a thriller like Traffik in a long time. Why is that? Are thrillers more challenging to score then a comedy like Mortdecai?

I wouldn’t say that thrillers are more challenging, no.  It wasn’t necessarily planned for me to be away from the thriller genre for a while, but on paper it does look that way.  Really it’s just that I was engaged in other projects that happened to be in other genres.

I’ll be doing another thriller actually, called Motivated Seller.  That’s directed by Deon Taylor, who also directed Traffik so we’re already on our second film!

And at the end of the year I’ll be starting another very tense thriller that David Koepp is making called You Should Have Left.  So for anyone who was following my work for all that tense music, I can tell them I’m back!

How closely did you work with the director Deon Taylor?

Deon worked very closely with me.  We started with some get-to-know-you conversations cause we only knew each other from our work, not personally.  Right away, we found some common ground with how to approach the score.

Deon would come to my studio every week, at least, during the writing process.  It was a really smooth relationship, lots of conversations which helped me get into his head so I could know the reason for each of his shots, and the reason for each decision that went into his direction.  Then I’d write something that combined his approach and my response to the movie itself, and we’d discuss the resulting music.

We were in sync the whole time, and really as a result of the many discussions we had, the actual writing process was very, very streamlined and efficient.

How much music in total did you write for Traffik?

It was just under an hour in total.

Are we going to see a soundtrack released for Traffik?

At the moment I don’t think that’s in the works.  I find that music on an album is a different animal than music in a film.  Sometimes, like in the case of Pirates or The Odd Life of Timothy Green, the music sort of wants to live on an album and be experienced that way, but I find with a lot of my thriller scores, they are so specific to the film and the story that if you take those elements away, it’s not really as pure a listening experience.

What I mean is I think that my score for Traffik is best experienced in the movie theater, with a hundred other people in the audience.  It’s not necessarily radio-friendly but it’s tightly linked with the film itself.

Your last film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, is obviously very different from Traffik. Can you tell us about your experience scoring Pirates 5? What was your favorite part about scoring that film?

I just felt like I’d come full circle scoring Pirates 5.  The first Pirates was a big part of my early career, and one of the first films where I had a substantial role as a composer, even while it was an “additional music” credit.  Hans Zimmer, of course, wrote all the main themes but I could still hear my own ideas within that score.

And I worked on the next three in the series with Hans, each time with a more obvious presence, so by the time Pirates 5 was in the works, it was just a natural thing that I would stay on to continue the series.

We had new directors, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, but a lots of the main cast stayed on board.  So it wasn’t really a re-boot, per se, it was a new chapter in an already established world.

I enjoyed writing the new themes the most.  We had a great bad guy in Javier Bardem’s Salazar, and Carina was another great character with a long story arc.  So I tried to take it somewhere dark for Salazar, somewhere bright for Carina, and a few new adventurous themes had to be written as well.

It all had to live in the world of Pirates, of course, but I was able to bring in some new instruments and sounds that weren’t in the earlier scores, while still honoring the original sound that I was a part of way back in 2004.

If there were to be another Pirates of the Caribbean film and you were to score it, do you already have ideas on how you would like the score to sound? Or were there things you didn’t get to put in Pirates 5 that you would like to use for the next one?

Well first, I’d love to stay involved if there were another Pirates film, but I haven’t heard any word about one in the works.  I was able to accomplish what I wanted with the score for the 5th, so nothing was left out that I was hoping to use.

As for the sound, that really gets defined by the particular story.  If it’s within the world we already know and love, I think it’s a disservice to the audience to make a radical shift tonally, but if the film were a reboot then all bets are off!

That said, I think the Pirates fanbase is great in that they are ready to be challenged with the music you give them, so I can take the score somewhere new if a new character or the story points me in that direction.

Now that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales has been out for a while, looking back do you wish you would have done anything different with the score?

There isn’t.  I still feel great about the score and I’m proud to have been involved.  When you think about how daunting the task is, really, of taking over a massive franchise like Pirates with an already established sound it’s easier to see what my role actually was.  I think it would have been much harder if I wasn’t around on the first four films, but since I know this music inside and out, I felt I had the right way to approach the fifth one.

And before I go, I want to thank you for your interest in my work.  I appreciate talking with you very much, thanks for listening!

You can learn more about Geoff here


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