Outtake: Robert ToTeras

Robert ToTeras


Web: film-noise.com

Contact: Staci Griesbach, [email protected]

Most Recent: The Walk

Robert ToTeras, who has previously worked as a performing musician and professional blackjack gambler, found his way into film and television music by first working as a composer’s assistant. Most recently, ToTeras scored The Walk, a drama about desegregation in 1970s Boston. “There’s something that happens at the end of the film that I’d never seen in another film about race,” he says. “There’s usually a way Hollywood does that. It’s just a little moment, but, without giving anything away, it makes the film. I saw it and thought, I want to do this.” 

ToTeras says the most important tools in composing are not instruments, but how the composer perceives emotion. When he’s working on a project, he takes a scene and starts “sketching like mad,” likening the process to sculpting from clay. “It’s a mess at first, but then you start refining,” he says. “My method is always about refreshing my perspective. At one point in scoring The Walk, I would go watch an episode of The Monkees. That was absolutely not what I was doing musically, but it helped refresh the browser.” 

As one of few Black composers in the industry, ToTeras says there’s still a lot of work to do, but things are changing. “There have been two big steps forward: the telling of Black stories, like The Walk, which probably wouldn’t have gotten too much of a chance 20-30 years ago, and Black composers doing projects that are not specifically about race or being Black,” he says. “I’ve been lucky in that regard. I was hired to score Cold Justice, a show about cold case murders, just because [producer] Dick Wolf thought my music was good. The truth is, this art form–storytelling–is universal.” 

To new and aspiring composers, ToTeras advises asking for what you’re worth. “People expect to get music for free, but you can’t clothe and feed your children or pay for studio time if you don’t get paid. You have to tell people, ‘I don’t want to do this just for exposure.’” This is still a problem at the highest level in Hollywood. Don’t undersell yourself.”