When 38-year-old Daniel Pemberton was getting his foot in the door by scoring a TV documentary for director Paul Wilmshurst, television music was looked down upon as an “unclean” way to get paid, the English composer says. “But I found it an exciting way to play and experiment with ideas.”
The attitude ultimately attracted other directors, who asked Pemberton to score other films. He’s worked continuously since the age of 17, beginning by playing with a four-track tape machine and keyboards as a kid, which led to a “fun, strange electronic music experiment” in his bedroom when that scene was burgeoning underground in London in the ‘90s. A 15-year-old Pemberton would hand out his tapes at these shows, and they eventually found their way into influential hands, including Wilmshurst.
“Don’t think anyone else is going to help you out,” Pemberton says regarding his early years of trying to get his foot in the door. “Try not to sound like someone else. Don’t think anyone else is going to sort out your problems. If you’ve got one piece of equipment, you learn to use that so much better than a lot. Use your weakness as your strength. I could program my one [piece of gear] better than anyone. Now I have tons and don’t know what I’m doing half the time.”
To date, Pemberton has scored approximately 400 television shows, he says, in addition to the recently released British-American action comedy spy film The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the biographical drama Steve Jobs, directed by Danny Boyle and starring Michael Fassbender. For the latter, dialogue was an important part of the film, which gave the composer an interesting musical palette to work with. “I wanted Steve Jobs to reflect different things: the optimism of ‘80s synth, the drama of an opera and then the strained emotion of a minimal modern electronica piece.” For challenging gigs such as these, Pemberton’s advice is to be “flexible, but also very sure of yourself,” he says. “It’s always worth looking from the director’s point of view.”
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