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Features October 27, 2016

Q&A: Antony Partos, film score composer

Charts & New Music Editor
Q&A: Antony Partos, film score composer

If you have been exposed to contemporary film and television over the last two decades, chances are that you have heard the unique sounds of talented Sydney based film composer, Antony Partos. From current Australian TV dramas The Wrong Girl and Deepwater, to feature films Animal Kingdom and the Home Song Stories, Partos is one of the most prolific and awarded professionals in his industry.

Partos is up for four awards at the 2016 Screen Music Awards, equalling the most individual nominations at this year’s event with fellow film score composer Michael Yezerski. His nominations include Best Music for a Television Series or Serial, Best Music for a Documentary, Best Soundtrack Album and Feature Film Score of the Year, with the latter recognising his acclaimed work in American drama film 99 Homes.

His current role as Vice President of the Australian Guild of Screen Composers (AGSC) is a testament to his revered status in the film score writing community, having composed music for over 70 different projects throughout his remarkable career.

TMN chats to Partos about how traveling to school in the transit lane opened new doors, why his score for the documentary film Sherpa holds special significance, his modest approach to mentoring, and what’s in store for 2017.

Film score composition is not the most obvious career path for young musicians. How was it that you came to be a film score composer?

Composing music was something I have done since a small kid. It was always an act of procrastination from either practising or homework. It was a way that I could also withdraw from the world. I was lucky enough to be accepted into the Sydney Conservatorium High School (studying piano and horn) but soon realised that as a pianist, the other students were far better and more disciplined and that playing the French Horn with braces was a fairly masochistic endeavour. I then switched to formally studying composition.

Driving to school each day, my father and I would pick up random strangers at the bus stop in order to travel in the transit lane. One day we picked up a woman who worked at the film censorship board. Her partner was a documentary filmmaker who offered me the chance to do the music for his latest project. She also suggested I audition for the Australian Film TV and Radio School, where Icompleted a BA in Film majoring in Sound. (There was no film music course at the time).

You are renowned for your distinctive blend of acoustic and electronic elements in your score writing, as seen in many of your works. Are there any particular composers or artists who have significantly influenced your style?

I listen to a wide variety of music, however, the most influential composer to this day is still Bach.

You have written scores for a range of projects including TV shows, films, and documentaries. Which score holds the most significance to you on a personal and professional level?

I have been lucky enough to work on a great cross section of projects. The ones that are dearest to me are projects that have a social conscience or real humour and projects where the directors and producers have faith in me (whether this is warranted or not!).

Specifically the documentaries Sherpa and Neon, The TV series The Slap, Redfern Now and Rake and the films Animal Kingdom and 99 Homes remain some of my favourites.

Drama series’ Doctor Doctor, the Wrong Girl and Deepwater are all currently airing on national TV. What is it like writing scores for multiple projects simultaneously, especially of the same genre?

Finding a distinctive palette for each show helps define the stylistic approach for each project. The only way I can juggle projects is by dedicating days or nights to one particular show. Definitely taking a break between shows is required in order to switch head spaces!

It also helps when I am collaborating with my other business partners on projects, as this keeps one constantly inspired.

You’re up for a number of awards at this year’s Screen Music Awards. Which nomination are you most proud of and why?

It is very difficult to nominate favourites (also don’t want to jinx things!). Still, nothing quite beats being able to write an orchestral score like the one I was offered with ‘Sherpa’. The fact that I could write highly thematic music that hopefully makes for good listening on its own, is something that doesn’t come up too often in Australia. Being able to collaborate with such a prolific talent as my fellow composer Matteo Zingales on ’99 Homes’ was also a treat. Working with the director Ramin Bahrani on such a powerful film was one of the best experiences of my professional life.

Considering your role as Vice President of AGSC, do you see yourself as a mentor in the local screenwriting community? Does your role have any positive or negative impacts on your writing?

I’m always very flattered that people might want to seek advice from me – as mostly I really don’t understand my own craft still all that well. Never the less it is always inspiring to hear what other talent is up and coming!

How closely do you work with directors and producers when you’re commissioned for screen scores?

Every project has a different relationship. With films the relationship is forged with the director. They may or may not have a strong direction for the music. Some direct with specific music in mind, others come with an open mind. With TV drama series, the relationship with the producer is key, as they are the creative force in the post production (typically taking over the director’s role). Editors also are key to the creation of the score. They may or may not cut to music. Sometimes music temp tracks are used in the edits that may or may not be one’s own music. So no two projects or relationships are the same. Each creative brief is a little jump into the unknown.

What’s in store for the future? Are there any projects that you are currently working on?

I’m about to start work on an American feature documentary on the rare pink river dolphin of the Amazon River! This will be followed by Janet King (series 3) for the ABC, along with Love Child (series 4) for Channel 9.

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