Composing a career of note in LA

WITH his dark mop of hair, tanned skin, even features and dazzling white smile, 25-year-old Lorne Balfe could easily be mistaken for yet another LA wannabe as he strolls the streets of Hollywood.

Yet it is neither his good looks nor potential acting ability which have movie moguls such as Steven Spielberg and Jerry Bruckheimer banging on his door. Whenever they want a musical number or theme tune for their latest film, Lorne is the latest person on their list.

Following in the footsteps of Craig Armstrong, who made his name with the Moulin Rouge soundtrack last year, Lorne from Edinburgh, has already worked on Hannibal and Pearl Harbor. Soundtracks for Terminator 3 and The Ring are next on the agenda, as is a commission to write some "Western" songs for a Bollywood movie which looks set to star Josh Hartnett. Lorne has also just completed the music for Bernd Eichinger’s film Faust starring Claudia Schiffer.

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And on top of all that, Lorne is now in the running to write the theme tune for the long-awaited Scottish soap from the BBC.

Making his name on the other side of the Atlantic has been a rollercoaster ride Lorne admits. Over there he works as Henning Lohner’s arranger at the prestigious Media Ventures Studios in LA, where he has not only come into contact with some of the biggest names in showbusiness, but some of the best composers in the business.

Media Ventures boasts a raft of big-name composers including Stanley Myers (The Deer Hunter), Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Gladiator, Mission Impossible II) and, of course, Lohner who has worked with Stockhausen, John Cage and Frank Zappa.

These A-list composers can command up to 4.5 million a movie as music is now deemed just as important as the film in terms of selling it and making money through record sales. All very different from Britain where 4.5m can often add up to the entire budget of a film. The way producers work with composers is also completely different in the UK, says Lorne.

"In Hollywood, the composer is brought in early with the editor and director, whereas here, music is some-thing people don’t think of until the last minute when the film is almost finished.

"The British don’t really understand music and talk in non-cinematic language about colours and feelings, whereas in LA, they talk in film titles which makes it easier as there’s no debate," he says.

"In Pearl Harbor and Hannibal for instance, we used music from The Shining as a guide along with music by Ligeti, John Cage and Schoenberg."

Lorne attributes his success in Hollywood to "luck and being prepared to work unsociable hours" but his determination and talent have also stood him in good stead.

Three years ago, he wrote to a number of people including Stanley Myers at Media Ventures, saying he was willing to work for no pay just to learn from the best people in the business. A letter came back saying "come on over", which he did, starting there on work experience.

"For the first week it felt like Holly-wood, but thereafter it just became a factory," he says. "When I arrived, many of the interns were being fired for this or that but I was lucky to be asked to work on a concert of Hans Zimmer’s music in Ghent. They needed someone with good pitch to listen to the orchestra, which I did, and I was made an assistant after just three weeks.

"The experience is fantastic as one minute you’re working on one film, the next on something else. There’s nowhere else like it in the world."

Steven Spielberg is always in and out of the studios, he says, and the music for every Jerry Bruckheimer film goes through Media Ventures. Lorne vividly recalls his first meeting with the infamous producer of blockbusters such as Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbor.

"I was sitting in the kitchen reading High Concept a book about Bruck-heimer and Don Simpson when a guy sat down next to me and asked if it was good. It was all about the horrendous LA lifestyle of prostitutes, drugs, etc, so I said it was a bit intimidating to which he replied: ‘Yeah, he was a crazy guy’. Afterwards I found out the man was Bruckheimer himself."

But not content with the Hollywood lifestyle Lorne is now trying to bring a little bit of Hollywood to Scotland through his own company Metro-phonics.

Although his studio is in Inverness, Lorne is currently recruiting composers from Edinburgh and elsewhere to produce material that will be distributed using the internet and the latest broadband tech-nology. Under his own company name, Lorne’s output is equally impressive, taking in jingles, music for commercials such as Planet Internet, BMW and Coca-Cola Europe, the theme tunes to BBC Sportscene and Rugby Special alongside a growing list of film credits.

His studio, set up with financial assistance from the Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust and Inverness and Nairn Local Enterprise, has the same facilities as the studios he uses in LA.

"I wanted to make sure everything was up to the proper industry standard so people didn’t feel they were coming up to teuchter-land. We’re only ten minutes away from Inverness airport which is great for our London clients and we’re also keen to encourage companies from Edinburgh and Glasgow to come north.

"Many of the big jobs in Scotland go to London as I think there’s a fear that people here aren’t quite good enough. Happily that is beginning to change with an increasing number of specialist facilities houses now opening up in Edinburgh."

Which is why Lorne is so eager to become the composer for BBC Scotland’s new Scottish soap, the details of which are being kept closely under wraps.

"One of the main reasons I am so keen to get the Scottish soap commission is to highlight the wealth of talent there is in Scotland. I think the BBC were quite surprised when I submitted 18 pitches for the theme tune instead of just one, but they gave me three weeks so I just kept coming up with ideas."

In many ways, Lorne is a victim of his own success. A lot of people look at his CV and think his music is going to cost an arm and a leg.

But Lorne says an original piece of music is still cheaper than using library music. What’s more, with the system he has devised, clients looking for music for a commercial or jingle for instance will have a choice of music from three or four different composers delivered within 24 hours via the internet.

Over Christmas, Lorne worked on the film 666 entirely from Inverness and last month he sent music sequences by Bryan Adams for a commercial over the internet.

While he may put his success down to luck and a little talent, music is second nature to Lorne. His father, David, who co-wrote Daniel Boone’s 1970s hit Beautiful Sunday, has always had a studio so Lorne feels perfectly at home with the business. Although he won a music scholarship to Fettes College when he was 15, there was quite a lot of pressure from his parents not to go into the music business.

"It was a bit of a test as they thought I wasn’t committed enough, but music was all I was good at. I had dyslexia at school so, while I struggled with academic subjects, I found music really easy. For a while I thought I was going to be a percussionist but then I saw Rain Man and decided I was going to do film music instead. Ironically, the music for the film was written by Hans Zimmer who I now work for."

WHILE he was at Fettes, Lorne constantly churned out jingles for his father’s Sound House studios, a job which also supported him while he studied in London. At that time many of his contemporaries snobbishly regarded film music as being inferior to classical, although they envied the Scot’s ability to earn enough from a 30-second commercial to keep him for three months.

Now of course, everyone wants to write film music but Lorne warns that the business is not for the faint-hearted.

"Writing music for me is easy, and is less stressful than a nine-to-five job. What I find hard is going to meetings and dealing with lawyers. The Hollywood lifestyle is hectic and often you have to survive on just four hours sleep before starting again.

"But at the end of the day the regime works, you churn it out and it pays off."