SE You were a jazz musician first with some acting and directing stints. How did you get into film/TV soundtrack space?
MI I got into the TV and film space quite a number of years ago. I had made a demo of music for synthesizers and classical Chinese instrument shopping to get a record deal, which I did not get. But that music fell into the hands of a film director who really enjoyed it and wanted to explore using music like it for his film. He tracked me down and offered me the opportunity to demo some music for the film. I demoed and was offered the job for Disney’s film Never Cry Wolf, directed by Carroll Ballard.
SE What do you look for when you decide to take on a project?
MI There are a lot of factors that help me decided whether or not to take on a project. It can be something like Godfather of Harlem or The Nevers that I truly believe in and would enjoy watching myself. Or it can be a job that I simply need, to pay the kid’s school tuition that month.
SE In the new TV series Godfather of Harlem (GOH), is there a main theme? How much work is each show?
MI Godfather of Harlem has several themes, but in television it’s easier sometimes to use motifs–smaller musical statements. Scenes tend to not be so long and the music tends to move more quickly through various emotions than perhaps a single theme would allow. The main Bumpy theme, however, is stated in the opening shot of the very first episode and reoccurs. There are themes for Bumpy’s antagonism with the Italians. There was a theme for Teddy and Stella and various other themes to accentuate different story lines. The themes are arrived at by simply understanding the emotion that you’re trying to convey. In the case of Teddy and Stella, it’s romance but troubled romance. So you want it to be slightly of another world, slightly a bit of fantasy attached to it but also rooted in the time and place. Bumpy’s theme is about his heroism and his rise towards becoming more than what he thinks he can actually be. Each show has anywhere from 20-30 minutes of music and we’re fortunate to have as much as 10 days (sometimes more, but usually less) to produce the music for a given episode. It’s often a quick turnaround.
SE Where do you look for inspiration for each project? For GOH, was it the era (1964), the director notes/requests, or driving characters like Bumpy (played by Forrest Whitaker)? How would you describe the "sound" for GOH?
MI The time and place are definitely an inspiration for the music. Certainly in the case of Godfather of Harlem we try to keep the score rooted in that time period and place but also in the emotion. I don’t feel the score should be a slave simply to the time and place as the emotions in a story like this transcend time and place. Especially in Godfather of Harlem, the emotions are as relevant today, perhaps more relevant today, than even then. So the score has to have a certain ability to transcend time and go directly to one’s heart. The sound has a few instruments from the urban culture of Harlem and from the church –piano, organ, electric bass, electric guitar–but we also rely a lot on chamber orchestra. Chamber string orchestras have long shown to be capable of expressing such great emotion. It’s a small group because the intimacy of this group seems to work so well. It was something we tried in season 1 and was very successful, so we’ve stuck with it for season 2.
SE You have your studio in Calabasas. what's your "go to gear" for writing, editing? Do you get involved in post-production?
MI I work in Logic as my main writing tool. I have large sample libraries that I rely on and use Pro Tools for picture and editing. I usually don’t get directly involved in post-production, if you mean the dubbing stage. We deliver things pretty much fully ready for the dub and seldom to we have to come in and fix anything.