Tell us a bit about yourself, how you got into music?
I’ve been writing music since I was able to play my first few guitar chords around the age of thirteen. For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by its effect on me. It’s inspired me to continuously listen to more and more music and teach myself new instruments and methods of creating it. I love how you can constantly learn and develop ideas through sound. I’ve never been able to express myself through other art forms so making music has been an important part of my life.
I’ve been involved in the music community in Cardiff for the past 9 years or so through various bands. I formed Winter Villains with my partner Faye in 2011 out of a shared passion for similar types of music. We’ve released two albums so far, the first of which was shortlisted for the 2013 Welsh Music Prize. We’ve toured around the UK quite a bit and played at various festivals and we are currently writing again.
I’ve been writing music for film and TV for the past three years or so. Music has always been visual to me. When I listen to music it often conjures up images in my mind. When I make music I’m trying to communicate a vision or feeling through sound, so writing for film and TV feels very natural.
You’ve recently scored your first feature film, tell us a little about it.
It’s called ‘Cruel Summer’ by Cardiff based filmmakers Phil Escott and Craig Newman. It’s a dark, gritty story about working class teenagers with a brutal, devastating outcome. There’s an underlying sense of dissatisfaction and inevitability amongst the teenagers. An uneasy tension runs throughout it that builds to a release of violence. It was shot in South Wales and has some scenes of real natural beauty, which contrast wonderfully with the dark storyline. It felt like the perfect first feature film for me to work on. The guys had quite a clear vision for what they wanted for the score in terms of mood and atmosphere. Parts of the soundtrack are dark and foreboding, whilst others are quite dreamy and beautiful. I used cinematic arrangements in certain sections of the film, whereas other scenes needed more of a soundscape or slightly more experimental feel, so it was just a case of getting the blend right. We chatted in depth over a long period about the score, and I had a lot of fun coming up with different themes for the characters which run throughout the film.
How do you find the process of working with filmmakers?
I find it fascinating. The connection between a filmmaker and her/his film is rightfully a very personal one. They have developed the idea and seen it to the point where a composer comes in to add the final touches before post production. When the film comes to me, I treat it with the respect it deserves and I love working with filmmakers to help them complete their vision for a project. It’s no different to a songwriter or band completing an album. We all need to work with people we trust to see an idea to its completion. The important thing is ensuring an open dialogue about what they want my role to be. I’ve worked with filmmakers who have had a definite vision for a score, others who have sent temp tracks as a guide, and others who have given me complete free reign. I wouldn’t say I have a preference of any method of working, they all have positive elements. The important thing is to get a score that they are happy with.
How would you describe your music?
I love writing different kinds of music, which is why writing for film and TV is so appealing - every project is different. Though I’d say my passion and maybe something that is ever present in my music is atmosphere. I love creating both dark and light moods. I find merging electronic and classical sounds really satisfying, because the options for creating new sounds are endless. Saying that, I do love working with more conventional instruments and voices too. I’m maybe happiest creating sparse pieces that build into more complex or epic parts. I love both making and listening to music that takes you somewhere else.
With your band, Winter Villains, obviously you collaborate creatively with your fellow musicians– In film, though, you’re working mainly alone with dialogue, tone, mood, pace. Do you find that transition difficult? How different a process is it?
Creating music for film is definitely a different beast to making music in bands. Our music in Winter Villains is a shared vision between two people based on initial concepts or ideas, which are continuously developed and honed until we’re happy with them. We’re involved in every step of the way.
In film, the vision comes from the filmmaker and he or she will have an idea of what role they want the composer to play. Composers are often invited onto projects right at the end. There are so many components to making the overall film work. The acting, the dialogue, the camera shot, the cinematography are all locked… so its about establishing how you can contribute most effectively to the whole. It is a different process, but I haven’t found it difficult necessarily. You’re just hyper aware that the music has to compliment and not take over or get in the way of the other elements.
Through the projects I’ve worked on so far, I’ve found out that I’m quite an intuitive writer. I love being guided by the visual stimulus of the film, and I tend to arrive at general pieces of music quite quickly. Making the tweaks and changes to arrangements to make sure they’re not too much and not too little is the tricky part. That can be a very fine line.
Do you think about the audience when you’re composing?
It’s a good question. I wouldn’t say I’m consciously thinking of the wider audience. By default I am one of the first audience members to see and experience the film, and I watch and interact with it just like I would any other film. But it’s with the knowledge that I have the privilege and responsibility of being part of shaping it. So I’m more thinking about the pallet and mood of the sounds and how they need to fit in with the whole experience. At the early stages I have the filmmakers aspirations for the score in mind, and you obviously can’t help your own tastes and opinions being part of the formula. But ultimately composing the music is about filtering all those elements so you get to the crux of what the film needs as a whole and what will best for it.
How can a filmmaker collaborate effectively with a composer?
For me openness and honesty right from the outset are the most effective attributes a filmmaker can have when it comes to collaborating with a composer. If they have a strong idea for the score, then the earlier they can communicate that the better. If they have no idea what they want from the score, that’s also cool. We just need know where we stand as soon as possible, so we can get on with developing ideas. The possibilities of music and sounds are infinite, so it’s always useful to have an open and honest dialogue about ideas from the start.
I also admire filmmakers who are comfortable in acknowledging when an idea isn’t working. Some may see that as a weakness, but for me all things worth creating are processes of trial and error, and being comfortable in admitting something isn’t working is an important part of that.
Which composers, soundtracks have influenced you? Do you have a favourite?
There are lots of composers who I admire. Alexandre Desplat and Philip Glass are two of my favourites. I love Desplat’s score for the ‘Imitation Game’ and Philip Glass’ score for ‘The Hours’ is incredible. One of my favourite soundtracks of recent years is by Will Butler from Arcade Fire and Owen Pallet for the Spike Jonze film ‘Her’. I love their respective music as recording artists, and it was great to see them translate their talent onto film so effectively. Similarly I think Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead’s work on ‘There Will Be Blood’ is pretty special. I know that divided lots of people, but it certainly worked for me. And the soundtrack for ‘Drive’ is another favourite of mine.
Tell us a bit about your latest project ‘Forever Tomorrow’?
It was a feature by a London based filmmaker called Ben Rider. It’s a fragmented story about four different characters, who all meet at an AA meeting. Ben wanted 4 different composers to write music for different aspects of the film, to keep the fragmented feel to it. So I contributed about 20 minutes worth of material, just based on the script and conversations with Ben about what he wanted from the score. I still haven’t seen the finished film, but Ben is very happy with it, which is all that matters.
I’ve been speaking with lots of filmmakers in recent months about upcoming projects. There are plenty of really interesting ideas being developed for film in Wales at the moment, so I’m hoping to have the opportunity to work on some of them. I’ll be working on a short film by film maker Kyran Davies in the not too distant future. It’s about a video shop in the 90s, I’ve only read the script so far, but I loved it, so I’m looking forward to starting on that. My aim is to keep working on as many projects and with as many filmmakers as possible.
I’ve been writing music for a new project with my partner Faye and a friend of ours called Owain. We’ll be recording some songs over the summer. It’s layered electronic music with lots of beats, so it’s a nice change for us. We’re also writing for the third Winter Villains album which I’m excited about. We haven’t got a deadline for it or anything, we’re just writing for writing’s sake and seeing where it takes us.
You can find out more about Joesf's work and his music here:
Website: www.josefprygodzicz.com (to be available shortly)
Filmmakers wishing to get in touch with Josef can reach him here: