Out Take: Geoff Zanelli


Website: geoffzanelli.com 

Contact: Emilie Erskine, emilie@erskinepr. com 

Most recent: Leo 

After studying film music and engineering at Berkeley in the early ’90s, composer Geoff Zanelli fired off letters to dozens of composers, offering free work in exchange for experience. Finally, he got a call back from a receptionist—at Hans Zimmer’s studio— and talked his way into an internship. Zanelli says it’s not as serendipitous as it might sound: “It seems like it was just luck, but it was also the result of some effort; I probably sent out 50 letters, and none of my peers did that,” he says. “And I think something like that can still happen today, just through social media.” 

Now, 30 years later, Zanelli has worked on everything from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and animated Disney films to Blockbuster dramas and thrillers. “The difference in types of projects was the reason I wanted to be a film composer. I was in bands earlier in my career, and I always thought, if this goes really well, and we do get signed, then you kind of get stuck – you’ve got to play your hits for decades. As a film composer, I don’t. I get to write new stuff all the time. I don’t have to look back that often. That was the draw. So when I look for a new project, I really just look for something that’s different from what I just did,” he says. 

To aspiring film composers, Zanelli says any kind of technical skill with computers and samplers will give you a competitive advantage. “I had a really deep technical knowledge, so my demos sounded better than most, which I think set me apart early in my career. It’s an ever-evolving thing, and staying on top of that is crucially important. There’s this idea of a film composer being someone who’s just hunched over score paper, writing music, but it hasn’t been like that for decades,” he says. “I also still really believe in the mentor relationship, which has been crucially important in my career. Reach out to other composers you admire, and see if you can just get in the room with them.”