lennertzIn the new comedy Think Like a Man Too, all of the couples are back from the first film — this time for a wedding. Candace and Michael are getting married and their friends are looking forward to their pre-wedding bachelor and bachelorette parties. Can you guess that things might go a little bit awry? Okay, maybe A LOT awry. And this time, what happens in Vegas may not stay in Vegas! I had a chance yesterday to chat with the film’s talented composer, Christopher Lennertz. His first big score was for the 2007 film Alvin and the Chipmunks and Lennertz has since written music for many successful movies, TV shows and video games.

think_like_a_man_too_posterDanny Miller: I so admire the work that movie composers do but admit I’m fairly clueless about the process. Do you  start working on the score at the script stage or do you have to wait until there’s a cut of the film?

Christopher Lennertz: It varies. Sometimes I’ll see the script at the very beginning but usually I start working when there is at least a rough edit of the film. That’s important because the one thing you can’t tell by reading a script is the pacing of the film.

I know you’ve worked with director Tim Story before and on a bunch of Kevin Hart projects. Does it help that you’re so familiar with Hart’s comedy style?

Oh, definitely. Kevin has a very particular rapid-fire delivery. As a composer, I need to make sure that I don’t get in his way and also that I’m providing the high energy that goes along with his style and the mood of the film.

Would you say that when you’re scoring a film you want the music to be kind of transparent for the audience?   

Absolutely. If people aren’t really aware of the music but are enjoying the movie, that means I’m doing my job, that’s what it’s all about! If the music does get noticed and they love the movie, that’s great, too, but my primary goal is to serve the story.

There are so many classic film composers I admire—Max Steiner, Bernard Herrmann, and people who are still with us like John Williams. Did I read that you studied with Oscar-winning composer Elmer Bernstein?

Yes, I studied with Elmer when I was at USC. He was one of my main teachers and was such an inspirational figure to me. He really helped me get started in the business, I’m so grateful to him.

Did you have other inspirations when you were growing up?

I was born north of Boston and grew up in the 80s when John Williams was conducting the Boston Pops. I was a huge fan of his scores for movies like Star Wars, Indiana Jones and ET and I went to those concerts with my folks every summer. Those were such an important part of my childhood and my love of movies.

Do you get involved in the rest of the soundtrack for the films you work on — the  existing songs that are used in the movie?

Usually the music supervisor, the director and I get together and talk about where those songs are going to be and how they fit into the overall film. We talk about the mood we want to create and I work at creating very smooth transitions between those songs and the score. You never want it to seem jarring.

Do the stars ever have direct input on the score?

It depends. A lot of times the lead actors are also producers on the movie. I worked on Identity Thief, for example, and Jason Bateman was one of the producers. He had thoughts about the music. And for Ride Along, Ice Cube was one of the producers and he had comments as well. I was a huge Ice Cube fan in the 90s, so I was thrilled to get his input!

When you’re working on sequels like this one and the upcoming Horrible Bosses 2, do you always try to bring in elements from the first film?

Yeah, I think that’s important. When a movie has a particular sound, you want to feel like you’re coming back to something familiar when you see the sequel. But after establishing that, those films often go in a different direction and have very different settings, like this film taking place mostly in Las Vegas, so you go from there. You just want to keep it in the same world emotionally.

It must be fun to watch your movies with an audience for the first time and see how they’re affected by the score.

It’s always exciting to see people bobbing up and down in their seats and seeing the emotions that come up. I love the feeling that I’m helping audiences escape any problems they might be having in their lives for a few hours and have a good time watching a movie.

I know you do a lot of television work, too. Is it very different scoring TV shows?

Television is obviously much, much faster. That’s the biggest difference — you have to really go quick and not overthink anything. I love that I get to work on so many different genres. Comedies like this film, serious films such as Thanks for Sharing, sci-fi stuff that’s a little spooky such as the TV series Supernatural. I never feel like I’m in any kind of a rut.

What shows are you working on right now?

I’m doing Season 10 of Supernatural and I’m co-writing the music for a fun new musical show called Galavant with Alan Menken who did a lot of the Disney musicals. In addition to this movie, I have another Kevin Hart film called The Wedding Ringer coming up as well as Horrible Bosses 2 and a lot of other fun stuff.

What do you tell young people who ask you for advice on breaking into composing music for movies?

I think the key is having the ability to relate to a director, writer and producer and figuring out how to help them tell their story dramatically. A composer speaks the language of music and your job is to help them translate the story of the film into that language. As long as we understand what our role is, it works really well.

Interesting. So I can imagine that there may be great composers whose egos might get in the way of working on a film score.

Definitely. Certain people have a hard time with that! If you come into this career thinking that you’re going to write the most amazing music in the world without realizing that your music is secondary to the story the filmmakers are trying to tell, you’re going to have some problems.

I’m sure even John Williams had to take notes from Steven Spielberg.

Absolutely! And you know what? John Williams is great at taking notes. Spielberg is obviously very trusting of him, but they’re making a movie together, it’s not just John Williams’ music. That’s the reason he’s been so successful for so long because he really understands that.

Think Like a Man Too is in theaters everywhere.