Film composer Dave Metzger sat down with Solzy at the Movies to discuss working on the scores for both Wish and Once Upon a Studio.
There are light spoilers for Wish as Metzger discusses how one of the cues in particular evolved throughout the process. Please keep this in mind while reading or consider waiting until after watching the film.
Wish is now playing in theaters while Once Upon a Studio is currently streaming on Disney+.
It’s so nice to meet you today. How are you doing?
Dave Metzger: I’m doing great. Thank you. It’s a pleasure to meet you as well.
My short film awards were announced today. Once Upon a Studio won Best Animated Short.
Dave Metzger: Whoa, no way! Wow, that’s cool. Wow, thank you. That’s wonderful to hear.
There’s so much history just watching it—all the nostalgia.
Dave Metzger: Yeah. I agree. Just to say—it was such a joy to work on. I mean, that was just kind of right up my alley. I kind of think just with my background and everything and experience with Disney historically. But, no, I think it’s a beautiful film and I’m really glad to hear that you liked it, too. That’s great.
Were you in the room when Richard Sherman was playing the new arrangement for “Feed the Birds?”
Dave Metzger: I was not in the room for that but I was involved in knowing it was going to happen and how it was gonna go down. I actually live up in Oregon and so it was the whole back and forth is sometimes tricky to coordinate the travel but that was such an emotional thing. To be able to just write the strings around him playing was obviously a lot of fun, too.
Yeah. You have a long history of working on Disney films. How did the opportunity to score Wish come about?
Dave Metzger: It was a mystery to me. Honestly, I really have no idea how it happened. I have been writing music since I was 12 years old and knew I wanted to do film music when I was 16 when the first Star Wars came out—that shows how old I am. I fell into this box of being an arranger and orchestrator and even though I’d always wanted to be the be a composer, I would have opportunities to do additional music composition or things like that. Maybe 10 years ago, I really had kind of come to the realization that I didn’t think I was ever going to get that opportunity, that composing my own film was never going to happen. I was okay with that because it’s been a nice career and I’ve gotten to do what I’ve loved so how can you complain too much about that.
But then, out of the blue, a year and a half ago, I got a phone call from Matt Walker, who’s the head of music for the animation department, telling me that they were considering me for this film as the composer and I was sort of just dumbfounded. You’re kidding, right? There’s no way. Why would anybody consider me when they could have any composer in the world, really, that would want to do this film. I didn’t hear back from him for a couple of months. I thought, oh, it’s gone away. It was just a nice little possibility that just didn’t happen. But then, he called and said that they decided to go with me, and it’s kind of, oh, my gosh, it was just shocking because I hadn’t lobbied for it. I don’t have an agent. I don’t have any—there was no real. I wasn’t pitching myself for it or anything. Tto get the call was just really quite shocking, stunning, and wonderful. I was very emotional when I found out I was going to get to compose the film.
How special is it knowing that this is the animated film that’s released for the 100th anniversary?
Dave Metzger: It made it all much more sweet even. Just to even have any film was just a complete joy but to have it be this one was that much more special with the history I’ve had with the company. I’ve worked on quite a few films for them over the years and so have that, it was just icing on the cake having it be the 100th anniversary film.
How has the shorthand improved in your professional relationship with director Chris Buck?
Dave Metzger: I’ve been so incredibly fortunate to work with him. This is the fourth film because there was Tarzan and the two Frozens and then now Wish. I think the difference has been before this film is I was in that role of arranger and orchestrator and not in the composer seat but I just have to say both Chris and Fawn, are just marvelous people. You couldn’t choose better directors to work with and we had developed this wonderful relationship. They were always just very open to anything that I wanted to write and any cues that I would bring in to play for them. I think they enjoyed them for the most part but it was a really a great experience.
How long were you working on the score?
Dave Metzger: I was involved in the songs also so I arranged and orchestrated the songs. I worked on those for eight months and didn’t start the score. In the middle of those eight months was Once Upon a Studio so I took about a month to where I was just focused on that. But then once the songs were done, I moved into the score and that was about June. I had six weeks to compose the score and it was 68 minutes of music and it’s fairly dense music. My days were pretty full and pretty long but again, what an absolute joy and dream to have happen happen.
How do you tie in the songs to the score as you’re working on the score?
Dave Metzger: One of the biggest things I was really happy to do was to be a part of both the songs and the scores, because so often you’ll see a movie or I’ve worked on them where somebody is composing the score and then somebody else is doing the songs and sometimes they don’t sound like they’re even part of the same film. One of the great things I appreciated was having the ability to be a part of both sides of it in the whole film. I think that helped as far as continuity. I recorded the same musicians in the same rooms in the same studios and so just sonically, even there was a continuity between them. Since I was working for so long on the songs, I was able to kind of think about the transitions of how am I going to get into the songs and how am I going to get out of them at the end of the songs and back into score. I was able to just sort of plot the whole path along the way so I think that helped a lot. I hope it works for people. I hope that they don’t even notice when you’re going from song to score and back.
Were there any particular cues that evolved the most throughout the composing process?
Dave Metzger: Yeah. I’d say Magnifico’s character probably had the largest arc or the difference. I wrote up a cue for the very beginning of the film—that’s where it establishes the kingdom of Rosas both kind of melodically, thematically, and instrumentally or orchestrationally. I built my Magnifico theme off of that part of that original Rosas theme. But then, throughout the film, I developed Magnifico, his theme, as he kind of became more unhinged or whatever term you want to use, I then let my music go more and more that way as well. That theme started to morph as the film went on.
What were some of the goals when it came to the score and the way it sounds?
Dave Metzger: I think a lot of it was I wanted to give a sense of location. To do that, Rosas is this kingdom and an island in the middle of the Mediterranean. You had Spanish influences and you also had North African influences so I really tried to make that work. I used flamenco nylon string guitars, and cajones to kind of try to capture the Spanish flare or flavor, but I also use percussion instruments from North Africa and I used just percussion and well, all instruments that are part of that world, and that was really one of the main things I was trying to do was just to try to make make this an identifiable location.
Is there a studio that you prefer to record at because of the way it sounds?
Dave Metzger: I’ve been around a long time so I know all the rooms in LA and other places pretty well. I ended up choosing the scoring stage there at 20th Century Fox as the orchestra room, and it’s partly because of Once Upon a Studio also because we recorded in the same timeframe and I just wanted to be in one room. I felt that that room had the most character for what I was trying to accomplish. All the rooms in LA are amazing. I mean, they’re all great studios but I just settled on Fox in this case. For the rhythm stuff, we recorded at Sunset Sound on Sunset, and that’s just such an iconic studio. The room sounds so great and I’ve worked there so much. Those were my choices but you can’t go wrong—there’s so many wonderful studios here.
How did you first get an interest in composing and orchestrating?
Dave Metzger: I said already that I was 12 years old when I started writing. Believe it or not, my parents weren’t musical at all and in fact, my dad was completely tone-deaf and couldn’t recognize any melodies or anything. My mom always had music going in our household when I was young and so I was exposed to a lot of music then. I quit piano lessons after a month because I just wasn’t that interested so I gave my parents a hard enough time that they let me quit. But then, when I was going into seventh grade, it was junior high for me, I went to have a woodshop class but that class was full. The administrators of the school just randomly put me in the choir class instead. I didn’t want to do it but my parents said, just give it a shot. It turned out that that my choir director was one of the top composers of junior high choral music in the country, a woman named Joyce Eilers and later known as Joyce Eilers-Bacak. I noticed that all of the music that we were singing was music that she composed. I thought, well, that sounds interesting. At holiday vacation—winter holiday in seventh grade—I thought, well, I can try this so I did an arrangement of the old song Barbara Ann. Do you know that one—The Beach Boys?
Dave Metzger: I did a four-part arrangement of that without a piano or anything. I just went straight from my head—I don’t even know how I did it, honestly—onto paper. I took it in and showed it to her. I think she must have thought I had a little bit of talent or something or an ability so she encouraged me. Starting in eighth grade, a lot of the music that we started to sing in choir was also stuff that I had composed and arranged. In high school, I switched over to band and played in jazz band and started writing a ton of jazz band charts. In ninth grade, I took my first year of college music theory at the college in the town that I was in. I was always supported by amazing teachers, honestly, in public schools, who encouraged me and my parents were always very encouraging as well.
Orchestration wise, I really kind of caught the bug when I first saw that first Star Wars when I was 16 and I heard John Williams’ music and Herb Spencer was the orchestrator on that film. Something clicked for me that I then started studying scores, classical Stravinsky, Revel and all sorts of things, just studying orchestration essentially on my own. Over the decades, it still is a passion of mine. I still study scores now, pieces I don’t know, and I get a lot of joy just always learning. One of the beautiful things about life is there’s always more to learn and music especially, the horizon goes on forever. You can never know it all and there’s always something fun and interesting that’s new. Long story. I’m sorry for taking so much time on that but that’s my path.
You can never go wrong with John Williams.
Dave Metzger: I’m glad to hear you say that because he really is an idol of mine and influenced so much of my youth and even to this day. I just think he’s brilliant and has been a fantastic addition to the world.
One of the best pickups that I had during the pandemic was John Williams: Conductor box set.
Dave Metzger: Oh, wow, great. I don’t have that but I’ll have to check that out. Amazing. Cool.
That was everything I had. It was so nice to meet you and congrats again on everything.
Dave Metzger: Thank you. Thank you so much. It’s wonderful having a chance to talk with you and I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.
Dave Metzger: Cool. Alright. Thank you very much. Take care.