Catching up with Joseph Trapanese is like getting a summary experience for a hustling composer. In the past year, he's scored, worked in sound design and arranged for a diverse array of films, including franchises like “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” and the “Divergent” series; remakes like “Annie”; a sequel like “The Raid 2”; and original scripts like “Nightcrawler.” He's dipped into TV like for “Wonder Woman,” and nabbed further video game gigs like he did for racing title “The Crew.” On top of all that, he's still active in the pop music sphere, having just completed work with repeat customer Kelly Clarkson and collaborating with acts like M83 for live performances.
I sat down with Trapanese back in January, after “Raid 2” punched Sundance in the face, and even after only 10 months, it was time we caught up. This week, during our chat, Trapanese exclusively revealed that he's on tap as composer for Shailene Woodley-starring “Insurgent,” the sequel to “Divergent,” out Sept. 14, 2015. The first film, which came out earlier this year, featured music be electronic musician Junkie XL and had Hans Zimmer on as executive music producer (Trapanese did for some additional arranging).
Trapanese also filled us in on what's happening with Clarkson, how scoring for video games is different for film, if “Tron 3” is still in the works and what's happening with “Oblivion” score co-composer Anthony Gonzalez aka M83. Below is our abridged interview.
HitFix: Tell me everything about “Insurgent.” That's a big deal for you!
Joseph Trapanese: It's a great step forward for me, in terms of scoring a franchise film on my own. It's really exciting to step into a mythology that's going to last over several films, work with a world built over those films… to be part of a franchise like that.
I had already read the books for the first film, and the script, and worked on M83's songs and Ellie Goulding's song for the soundtrack.
How's “Insurgent” going to be different from the first movie?
It's going to connect the world of the film and Tris' mind. The first film was all about Beatrice becoming Tris, coming from a peace-loving community and becoming this warrior. In this movie, she has become a warrior, but there's obviously a bigger war that's going on. We've stepped from beyond a world of just focusing on one woman's journey, and now we're looking at the world in a very different way. We've grown up in this film. It's a bigger concept to be had.
The first film had a lot of sounds in it, very song-driven from artists like Woodkid and Ellie Goulding. It gave the film something to hold on to, to really bring you through the journey. This film, there's a lot more danger and a lot more at stake. We've vacated the song-based soundtrack, relied more on the score. The score is darker and more intense.
But are you still going to be working with guest and featured vocalists? I sure do love Ellie Goulding.
I love Ellie as well. We'll just have to wait and see. Not only can I not talk about it, but I haven't finished the score yet. We've scored about two-thirds to three-quarters of the film, about to dive into the final steps. With digital filmmaking, everything can be changed, which is a good and bad thing. Before, you have to be bound to a decision. Now, it's also great but challenging if, later in the game, we have to tweak those decisions. We've been working on this since July, slowly. We've been talking about it since March.
Is it also kind of nice, though, to be the only composer?
My goal is whether I'm with another composer or collaborator… it's a team effort to score a film like this. It's always exciting to score, period. I am the sole composer, though, so it's a real challenge.
How's scoring for a video game any different? Talk about “The Crew.”
It's extraordinarily different. It is so different day-to-day. You have to break apart the production process and the pipeline. We wanted to make sure we had different sounds for different parts of the game, so I had to make a chart, for each mission, what kind of speed, what kind of sound… it was a nerdy, scientific way to think about it, it's a whole different set of rules.
One thing that got easier as I went along was that I had no pictures. You had to just imagine, one player could take 30 seconds for a level, and someone like me would take 10 minutes, so I thought about loops. Music plays a very different function for these loops.
We also build it differently, adding a second layer of music in addition to the first. I explain it like this: you have a race lap, so you have the base song. When you get to the final lap, there's actually a second layer that makes it more intense more exciting. The classic version of this happening, like for Mario Kart, is you take the same music and just speed it up. For us, we wanted to do something more sophisticated. So the intensity is greater. Those are the types of things that get to the heart of “How was that different?”.
In a movie, I go up to a guy and punch him in a scene. In a video game, you could go up to a guy and talk to him and then punch him. The elements are so much more malleable.
What's new with Kelly Clarkson? You guys worked together on [2013's] “Wrapped in Red.” Are you working on a lot more pop?
I just wrapped on some arrangements and recording for her new album. I know nothing about when it will be released, but I was with [producers] Greg Kurstin and Jason Halbert. It was really fun to work on Kelly's album again.
And with Greg, he produced the music for the new “Annie” film, so I did some arrangements for that. David Campbell was the lead orchestrator on that project. He's an incredible person when it comes to arranging pop music for orchestra. He did all the songs, and I came in toward the end and did the score with Greg, I arranged and orchestrated the orchestra. That was super fun.
It's been a really, really great year because I've had the pleasure being involved in so many different things. For “Nightcrawler,” James Newton Howard asked me to do some additional music production and some interesting sounds, alternate mixes and remixing for that score, and that was super fun. It was Jake Gyllenhaal like nobody's ever seen.
How many tracks did you work on for Clarkson's album? What size of orchestra did you work with?
I did four or five arrangements, I don't know how many will end up on this record. It was a full orchestra. When we first worked on “Wrapped in Red,” and when we got a chance to work on her Las Vegas run, it was fun to see when a great pop artist who has rarely seen the full force of the musicians. It goes beyond the big bombastic scope of a whole orchestra — the big timpani and cymbals thing — there's a certain humanity you can't replicate when you have 50 or 60 members in a room. That's one thing that led Daft Punk from “Tron Legacy” to [their 2013 album] “Random Access Memories.” Even though I didn't work on that album, as a fan, you could tell what a lot of what they did was influenced by working with an orchestra. There's no way to replicate it.
Is there any update on those Joseph Kosinski projects, the Tom Cruise Le Mans film or the follow-up to “Tron: Legacy?”
For that Le Mans project, I would love to be involved if that moves forward. Joe Kosinski, in my book, is one of the greatest working directors out there. Any time he asks me to jump, I say “How high?”.
And for “Tron 3,” every few months, I hear a rumble from a friend who's either a sound designer or a producer, someone involved who was on “Tron” say, “I hear it's coming… I hear it's coming.” I hear it's coming and I know they are actively working on it, but stars have to align for everyone to get the green light. Hopefully that happens soon, because I would love to strike up the band again and do something new for the Tron world.
How's M83 doing?
I know he's in pre-production on his new album, and if he comes calling again… Anthony remains one of my closest collaborators and musical friends. Any time, whenever I see his name pop up on the caller ID, I get very excited. I sure hope we can work together again on this new record.