Ilan Eshkeri Interview at TIFF 2018
Award-winning British composer Ilan Eshkeri is known for his diverse body of work. He has previously scored the films “The Young Victoria,” “Kick-Ass,” “Shaun the Sheep,” ” Johnny English,” and many others. He has co-created two ballets, worked with Burberry, collaborated with Annie Lennox and David Gilmour, and even created music for British Astronaut Tim Peake‘s Principia mission to the International Space Station in his career.
Eshkeri was in Toronto for the premiere at TIFF2018 of his latest project, the film ” Farming,” written and directed by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (known as an actor in the TV series “Oz“).
“Farming,” tells the story of a young Nigerian boy whose parents in the 1960’s give him to a white working-class family in London. He then grows up to be a leader of a white skinhead gang. Eshkeri wrote the score and co-wrote all the songs with Adewale.
“Farming is a film about identity, and I found that really interesting,” says Eshkeri. “I was working on another film, “White Crow” a little bit before and a little bit after “Farming” which was also about identity. That seems to be my theme this year. The films couldn’t be further apart. Stories about people having to do something extreme in order to come out the other side and discover whom they are. I think that’s an important part of the human condition. Isn’t that a journey everyone needs to go on? It certainly is one I’ve been on the last 2-3 years or 4 years, even.”
Eshkeri looks for projects that are, as he puts it
“in sync with me as an artist creative person, so I can put a part of myself in it.”
“I don’t want to just write film music purely as a craft, as something functional. There’s a big element of that, and I enjoy that. But it’s not ultimately what I want to be doing at this point in my career. I’m looking for something that I can feel passionate about. The story relates to my story, and I can put a piece of me into it. So that’s what attracted me to “Farming.”
He described how music and film are partners. “With “Farming,” Adewale approached me when they started shooting, that was great. I could go down to set which I did and see things unfolding and get a feel for how the movie was and how we may approach the score.” says Eshkeri.
“music and film can be a foreign partnership.”
“When you put a piece of music on a bit of film, it can completely change the meaning of the film. And when you attach a well-known piece of music to an unexpected piece of film, it can change the whole meaning and make you feel a new thing about that song that you always knew. The combination of music and dialogue is incredibly powerful and can do unexpected things. I always think that no matter how much you talked about it in advance and worked on it; until you have the film in front of you and see that marriage of music and image and dialogue, you don’t really know, anything can happen.”
Eshkeri chatted about his work “The British Astronaut Tim Peake.” Tim Peake was the first British Astronaut to go up to the space station. He just happened to be a fan of my work, and he got in touch with me,” says Eshkeri.
“And in fact, it’s a funny story. The UK Space Agency followed me on Twitter, that’s our version of NASA.”
“That’s going to catch your attention, isn’t it? So I followed them back, and I got direct mail from somebody on Tim Peake‘s team saying ‘Tim is a massive fan of your work.’ And I spoke to Tim, and he said, ‘would you write some music for these videos I’m going to make on the space station?’ And I said ‘yes, absolutely, I’d love to but what I want in return is I want to come for the launch.’ And Tim said that’s going to be quite difficult because the launch is in Kazakhstan on a Russian military base and it’s extremely difficult to get to so you can’t come to that.
“Instead, Tim invited me to Houston to the Astronaut training facility at NASA. I got the tour you can’t get. I got to go to the replica of the space station and try on his spacesuit. It was really a very inspiring and mind-blowing experience. Out of that, I had this idea for a project that I am now doing with the European Space Agency. We’ve been working on it for a couple of years and probably a couple of years more until we get to where we want to go.”
“A lot of my work has been collaborative, and a lot is me on my own,” says Eshkeri.
“I enjoy collaboration. They make you think about things in a way you wouldn’t normally think about. And I love that, learning something you wouldn’t learn otherwise. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to collaborate with amazing up and coming young artists on cool projects like Tom Odell, who is now a huge star and I worked with him at the start of his career. And I also got to work with some super famous legends like Annie Lennox and David Gilmour. My career is diverse and deliberately so. I enjoy challenging myself to make music in every conceivable way. A lot of people know me for my film music, and I love that. I love writing films, and I love all the other things I do, as well.”
When asked what inspires him to write on a daily basis, Eshkeri laughs and says “ Fear! It’s actually probably true. On the day to day when you agree to do a project there is always a terrible fear, and then you walk into the studio, and you sit in front of 88 black and white notes. And they are the same 88 black and white notes that Tchaikovsky sat in front of. That Wagner and Beethoven sat in front of. When you think about that how do you begin? Choose a note. Start. That is terrifying. And I have anxiety that all most artists get.”
“‘Can I do it? Maybe I was just lucky the other times?’ But there is something about that the intensity of that that I think pushes you forward to find a way through that to the music, to the creative bit. That always fascinates me. ‘What is that moment?’ Artists have so many different techniques in whatever your discipline is. ‘How do you get past the fear? To that creative place?’ ‘And what’s that moment of creativity? When does it go from being just a bunch of random notes to being a melody?’ And that’s the magic moment, and that’s what you are searching for.”
He continues ” It keeps me going. That’s the bit that I love. This isn’t just notes. It means something. The moment, which it becomes greater than the sum of its parts. A little intellectual maybe but that’s what fascinates me on the creative process.”
The subject of other great film composers came up like John Williams and his mentor Michael Kamen. He says, “Max Steiner kind of started it all. I love his scores. I also love all the classical music, opera, and ballet. So much to be learned there. I recently got Tchaikovsky’s book on harmony. I get my inspiration from all over the place. One of the contemporaries that I admire is Max Richter. There is a lot of amazing music out there. That’s just in the post-classical and neoclassical world. There are a lot of rock and roll musicians that I love working with and learned from.”
When asked about any Canadians he’d like to work with, Eshkeri thinks for a moment and says, ” I would love to work with Deadmau5. I’m a huge, huge fan of Deadmau5. “