Imre Czomba is a Hungarian-born American Composer, Songwriter, Orchestrator, Music Producer and Musician based in Los Angeles. A prominent figure in the International music scene since 1993. He is most recognized for his numerous Theatrical Compositions, Songs, Film and TV Scores.
He believes that music plays a crucial role in films, as it amplifies and highlights the desired situations to the viewer. It makes the best out of the best and sometimes saves scenes that only really work with music. Over the years he has been able to experiment with a wide range of music, which is perhaps the most important thing for a film composer. As a Hungarian, he loves big musical ideas, but he can also cope with new challenges.
A couple of months ago, he had an opportunity to work on a new American thriller movie with one of the most legendary scoring mixer engineers in Hollywood. Joel Iwataki praised his work, which is not a big surprise because “A Thousand Little Cuts”’ music is perhaps the best of his work so far.
The last time we read about you in this country was last year, because of the latest quarantine production. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I think it’s the performing artists who have been most tragically affected by this sudden closure and isolation, because for us it’s essential to have direct contact with the audience all the time. I haven’t performed for many years, but I am directly affected when theatres close and film shoots become impossible. I began to think that if I could bring together artists in a production who might never have the opportunity to play together, I could put a little smile on the face of every friend who joins. I’ve managed to find nearly 140 artists from 16 countries. Some of them are true “A-list” stars of the world. I’m actually most proud of the fact that I realized how many people trusted me and actually blindly stood by me and trusted my decisions as a producer.
What do you think is the secret to your success?
It’s difficult for everyone to understand and the way in which the work of a talented and meaningful artist can reach an audience is different for everyone. It’s not enough to be good – which is of course important to hit a certain professional quality, but not everything depends on talent. In many cases, the path to success may very well depend on well-constructed, persistent communication.
How engaging you are, or how sympathetic you are to those who trust you. So there’s some other “x factor” among the many good ones that decides who makes the big movie that gets the breakthrough.
You’ve written hits for a lot of local stars that the country has listened to on the radio, and now you’re writing music for international films and series. How did you get to the point of working with some of the biggest names?
I took a big risk when, out of a certain recognition/acquaintance, I suddenly started working in Hollywood as an unknown composer. Few people take the risk of pushing the “all in” button around the age of 40 and starting somewhere new to build a whole career.
When I came to Los Angeles, I felt I had to find the safe spots very quickly. It’s a different path for a twenty-something starting out in a career and a different path for an older seasoned professional. Since I didn’t socialize here in my professional life, I had to pick up the pace and find every opportunity to show what I could do. I quickly got involved in the most important music organizations and I have put a lot of effort into networking.
Here you are recognized as having a lot of in-demand credentials, but it’s really the American “blockbuster credits” that count. Rebuilding my career is far from over, and I’ve had a harder time on the road because I now have a three-year-old daughter, which comes with serious responsibilities. In America, every project has to show what you can do and how much you can improve. Here, everyone is fighting for their lives, for their livelihood, and this situation requires you to rule out the slightest mistakes.
In a film/series, how much freedom do you get to compose?
It depends a lot on the communication or chemistry between the director and I. But I always jokingly say that the director actually writes the music and I’m just a professional helper. A lot of times this obvious exaggeration is not far from the truth.
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When does a composer join the project?
Usually when the film is finished, the composer receives a so-called “locked” version. The length is unchanged, but the visuals are not yet complete. CGI is only indicated and sound effects and sound post-production are usually missing. Of course, there are times when music is done earlier for certain scenes when justified.
For example, dancing, or maybe a special action sequence that we’ll give you the background for… But also for documentaries, we often work with moods in advance, which the editor cuts. But we adapt them to the film later. It’s very common in animation, for example, to use a back and forth technique.
Which means we’re always developing here and there and sending it to each other. But every project is different, after many years I have to say that it’s very rare that after a locked film there isn’t another cut, which is a major headache for composers and music editors after a big orchestral recording.
How do you usually work? Where do you draw inspiration from?
I’m a more classical composer, so most of the time I’m also my own orchestrator – who orchestrates and does the score that the orchestra plays from. I like to have everything under control.
The process primarily is what’s called “spotting” when we look at the locked cut with the director, producer, where they want music and exactly what they have in mind. I put this into a special spreadsheet so I don’t lose it later.
Finally, after constant consultation, an exact demo of the music is made with samplers and later recorded. Once the recording is complete and everything is edited to picture, the music ends up with the score mixer engineer, who will create the final music mix in 5.1 or 7.1 surround based on the appropriate sound files.
By the way, I already work in surround sound by default and with a specially wired computer system. I can model much better what will be in the cinema later on, and I’m more immersed when I listen to it that way.
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Which of your works are you the most proud of?
Always the last one. Actually, anything where I was able to move the project out of my comfort zone and into my vision. But what I’m really proud of is that I’ve been a voting member of the Television Academy – Music Peergroup for 4 years now and I get to decide the fate of the Emmy Awards.
But I’ve also written songs for Barbara Streisand that are waiting to be released and worked with legendary directors like Julie Dash, Halley and Chloe Bailey. Of course, in Hungary, the 2008-2009 August 20 Fireworks is one of the most important milestones of my career.
Does it make a difference which composers have the best film scores (e.g. Italian, Hungarian, French)? Do your Hungarian roots help you?
Yes, a lot. Extra “unique instruments” are essential for a film composer, I have all kinds of weird instruments, including a lot of Hungarian folk ones. But in composition, roots are definitely very important. Where you come from, what you learn, what you bring with you. But it depends more on the style.
You have to remember that film is a multi art form. Music is just one of the many art forms in film. For something to be successful, almost everything has to be right. If something doesn’t work, it affects every aspect of the film. In turn, if a film is successful, it will drag it along with it to awards in all other aspects.
You have been living in Hollywood since 2015. How do you reconcile that with domestic assignments?
This is an interesting question, as I’m 9 hours behind due to jet lag. Sometimes it’s good because while they sleep in Hungary I can work, or vice versa. Another interesting question is that before COVID, everyone preferred face-to-face meetings.
Nowadays, I hardly see anyone in the production, even though we are a few streets apart, Zoom meeting has become so natural. Now I’m starting to feel like it makes absolutely no difference where you are in the world.
You composed the music for the Hungarian production of Kölcsönlakás without being in Hungary. How did the work go?
This was the first time I had the opportunity to work with Andy Vajna and tragically I was the last composer to work with him. The music was written in LA and recorded at Pannonia Studios. The composers insisted on my presence, so I was in Hungary twice because of that. By the way, it’s a well-established thing called “Remote Recording Session”.
When the composer/producer instructs the band out of the same airspace and even on another continent. Most of the time, this is how I work. The sheet music is sent in advance, and we can listen back in real time with studio quality sound along with the film. We can’t conduct, but we can instruct. By the way, a record amount of music is being made for this film (75 minutes).