The music of François-Eudes Chanfrault is an ubiquitous presence in European genre films. His compositional stamp has been placed on such works as Alexander Aja's Haute Tension, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's À l'intérieur (Inside), Oliver Alexander's Donkey Punch, and most recently Fabrice du Welz's Vinyan. Chanfrault kindly answered some questions about his career as a composer, including how he got started in soundtrack work, his compositional approach, and his upcoming projects.
Your most recent soundtrack work was for Vinyan. Please describe what it was like working with Fabrice Du Welz, and what he was looking for as far as music for his film.
For Vinyan, I was introduced to Fabrice by the producer who knew my work. In the first place, that was the producer who gave me a lot of space to try things while Fabrice was more cautious. Then Fabrice came to my house and we worked a lot, I mean *a lot*, together in exhausting but very exciting big work sessions. And while expecting me to be the more free I could be, he pushed me to my own corners, always asking for more. More freedom, more experiments, more noise, more trash, more, more. It was a fascinating experience where I literally wrote and recorded music live on the picture while Fabrice was screaming "more, more", yelling and singing to finally explode together in a "yeahhhhhh, that's fucking great!" Loads of beers were needed to get down after these sessions, believe me. Working with Fabrice was something. Sometimes the most dramatic/terrible times I've had in my young career, sometimes the best, both because of his will to always go beyond.
At the end, if I may say, I think this is the best work we've done with my sound editor, the most clean-cut and refined post-production we ever made. As we worked close to the whole sound editing (with voices and fx), building some kind of narrative musical landscape, there was not a lot of things to change in the final sound mix. We thought about the movie as a global piece of work, not picture, then voices, then music.
The first film you did a soundtrack work for was Qui a tué Bambi? How did you get started in film soundtrack work?
The very first movie I worked on was Celebration by Olivier Meyrou. It was a very special kind of documentary about fashion designer Yves-Saint Laurent and his boyfriend and partner Pierre Bergé. As usual with Olivier's work, it was far more than a documentary. More some kind of a poem / a vision about love and working together on a huge thing such as becoming the most brilliant fashion designer of all time and what it costs : pain & mental illness.
Unfortunately, the movie was blocked by Pierre Bergé for some reasons far from the movie itself. But a lot of people / journalists saw it anyway during private screenings, and it left a very strong impression on this audience. In a matter of fact, it was a bloody brilliant movie and I would have done it for free if it would have helped. It's still haunting me and my crew (sound engineer, editor and mixer), even after all this time.
A few words on my work on this movie: I wrote something radical for a soundtrack. The usual audience never noticed it was "music". Pure frequencies, infra basses, weird beats. I was very influenced by Ryoji Ikeda and Pansonic at this time.
Ok. My own story is like a fairy tale nobody would believe because it's exactly what you expect but it never happened. I was more than broken, living in a 9 meters squared flat with no bathroom, writing my very own weird music in the dark. I really needed to eat so I decided to go out and to ring all producer's bells in my neighborhood. The first door I pushed, I said "Hello, I'm a composer, I'm the best, you need me." Believe it or not, there were two guys, a producer and the director of "Celebration", they glanced at me and said "sit down, we're in the need of a composer, something original, electronic but not electro, emotional but distant, textural landscapes" and so on. They were talking about me. I gave a cdr, I was hired the next day.
At this time, the movie was supposed to be distributed by a big company in France, an "independent major" called MK2. The #2 of this company thought I was proposing something so different than usual that he called me for a meeting at his office. His childhood friend Alexandre Aja was looking for something special for a movie called High Tension. He gave him all my cds, and Baxter, the editor, layed 100% of my tracks on the pictures. They're still in place, it worked so well we never made any changes Then I wrote the rest of the soundtrack.
Qui as tué Bambi ? was made in between, because a guy found some copies of my cdrs I don't know how. He was looking for something that could do a bridge between classical music and computer music. I was, myself, in this area of research at this time, and I wrote "Cooper" and the "How I Killed Bambi" suite for this movie. Only "Cooper" remains in the movie.
The amount of freedom you have within a project is probably determined by the director. Can you describe the range of freedom you have on various projects?
My freedom depends on the amount of freedom producers give to the director in the first place. After that, when we're on our own, we usually know where to go together, the director and me, according to the discussions we have previously with the producers.
But usually, I have freedom because of two things. First, I do mostly original / weird movies (commercial or independent movies as well) and they ask me to be free, to do something different. Second, I think my work is unusual, so when someone comes to me, it's rarely to ask me some Zimmer shit, even though it happens sometimes. When it happens, I do my best to write decent / elegant music that could match their needs and mine. But mostly, people want me to be myself.
For Donkey Punch, Warp Films was very confident in Olly's choices, and my work was very close to what they care about, so Olly just said "I love what you did for Haute Tension, I love your music in general, so you're absolutely free to do what you think is good for my movie". I thought we were in the need of a real movie score (like Heat, with huge strings, guitars screaming and horns) and moving / fragile kind of pop songs.
What projects do you have in the works?
We talked with Warp [Records] about my next personal album, which is a collection of all the personal work / researches I've done these past 10 years. I'm also writing an album with songs (guitar and voice) which I plan to record in Corsica with guitars, piano, drums, electronic, strings and brass, and its color should be near Mark Hollis and Gastr Del Sol. I'm working with a brilliant Corsican artist named Pierre Gambini on his next album. I have a lot of soundtracks to do too. Another movie with Olivier Meyrou, the next one with the guys from A L'Intérieur. I'm not allowed to name the other ones.