The Los Angeles Times: Big Ideas, Big Film,
Composer Mark Snow meets the challenge of transferring X-Files
music from TV to the big screen with the help of an 85-piece orchestra.
Hollywood scoring sessions are usually pretty casual affairs. People stop
by, listen to the orchestra play a cue or two, and go on about their business.
Not so for the big-screen version of Fox's The X-Files.
Every musician, mixer and copyist, even the head of the studio music department,
had to sign a confidentiality agreement stating that they wouldn't disclose
a hint of what they had seen being projected on the scoring stage screen.
Security was so tight that even the composer's wife couldn't get in one
Mark Snow, architect of the sound of The X-Files from its electronically
whistled six-note TV theme to the new movie score, remembers the incident
with a laugh. "Because of the nature of The X-Files--trust no one--the
paranoia factor on the movie was really quite intense," he says in the
tiny studio behind his Santa Monica home.
Source: Jon Burlingame; The LA Times, June 24, 1998.
For the last five seasons, as Mulder and Scully have uncovered evidence
of alien abductions and vast governmental conspiracies on the Fox series,
they have been accompanied by the music that Snow composes and performs
on the Synclavier in his home studio. Two of Snow's seven Emmy nominations
are for The X-Files.
For the $66-million movie version of the show, however, the expanded scope
demanded a much bigger sound. So as stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson
trek from Washington, D.C., to Texas to Antarctica in search of the truth
about potentially malevolent extraterrestrial visitors, they do so to
the sounds of an 85-piece orchestra.
"For the big scenes, in six-track surround, the electronics alone wouldn't
quite cut it," the composer points out. But the decision to supplement
the familiar synthesizer sound of The X-Files with that of a traditional
symphonic ensemble was more complicated than that.
"With the series," Snow explains, "there are basically two types of shows:
the stand-alone shows which deal with the monsters and the paranormal
weirdness, and then the government-cover-up, mythology shows."
On the quirky ones, I can really stretch out and create weird, fun, crazy
[music]. But the mythology shows have always been fairly straightforward,
traditional 20th century musical language." And since the movie falls
into the government-conspiracy category, he saw it "a good vehicle for
a live orchestra."
Adds director Rob Bowman: "I never saw this movie any other way than with
an orchestra, because this needs to be elegant, first-class and timeless.
We would have finally heard the limits of the Synclavier in the feature
"The X-Files has a traditional approach to filmmaking," he
says. "It's still about people and not science fiction. It's the cello
and the bassoon and the violin and the French horn and these [other] instruments
that we've become accustomed to hearing in movies that give us an emotional
Fans of the series will be surprised by something else: the interpolation
of the original TV theme throughout the movie score. Unlike many series,
which beat a theme to death on a weekly basis, the X-Files signature
is never heard apart from the opening title sequence.
Says Snow: "The orchestra could do things with the theme that with the
electronics [alone] would be a little less interesting. Here was an opportunity
to harmonize it in different mysterious, spooky ways. And it's used a
lot in terms of 'Here comes the cavalry,' a theme of heroism."
Apart from that, the strange nature of the plot allowed Snow to indulge
his passion for atonality a la Schoenberg and Webern. There are also Ligeti-like
eerie, distant voices and a handful of calmer, more reflective moments
that are unexpectedly warm for The X-Files.
All of this came about while Snow was performing two other jobs: scoring
weekly installments of both X-Files and Fox's other Chris Carter-created
series, Millennium. Luckily, the last six Millennium shows
required less than 10 minutes of music apiece, and while X-Files
averages 30 minutes of music per episode, Snow was able to handle them
all at once.
"I look back on it as a miracle of juggling," the composer says. "One
thing that I do well is I'm really disciplined about my work ethic. I
know I have a quota of music to write by a certain date; it has to be
done and it's done. I rarely suffer from serious writer's block."
Snow's other advantage was his long relationship with Bowman, who directed
25 episodes of the series and who often called him during shooting. Bowman
says he story-boarded the movie while listening to various soundtracks,
which gave the composer "a clue as to where I was headed with [each] scene
Born in Brooklyn, Snow, 51, is a former oboist and Juilliard graduate.
Thirty years ago, with onetime roommate Michael Kamen, another successful
film composer, he co-founded the New York Rock 'n' Roll Ensemble. In the
early '70s, he moved to Los Angeles.
For the last 20-plus years, he has enjoyed a steady living in TV, writing
themes and dozens of episode scores for such shows as Hart to Hart,
Crazy Like a Fox and T.J. Hooker. Among his recent TV movies
and miniseries have been The Day Lincoln Was Shot, Oldest Living
Confederate Widow Tells All and Children of the Dust.
The X-Files, however, has brought him financial security and a
modicum of fame. He has scored every episode of The X-Files since
its 1993 debut. That's nearly 60 hours of music, ranging from the largely
atmospheric, ambient material of the early seasons to the more frequently
melodic scores of recent shows.
His expanded version of the X-Files theme (on the million-selling
Songs in the Key of X album) went to No. 1 in several European
countries, winning him three gold records. The second X-Files disc,
The Truth and the Light, consisting of music from the first three
seasons, has sold an estimated 400,000 copies so far.
A former X-Files associate, director David Nutter, has hired Snow
to score MGM's teen thriller Disturbing Behavior, scheduled for
an Aug. 7 release. But, Snow says, he plans to stay with Mulder and Scully
for the long haul, both on TV and in features. "I feel a loyalty to Chris
Carter and The X-Files. It's gotten me where I am now."
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