As soon as I started watching The War Within, I was immediately swept away by the majestic soundtrack. Even though I was just watching the movie on my laptop computer, the music gave it a theater feel. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Van Lawson, the composer, is a relative newcomer to the world of film scoring. His films include The Board, The War Within, and Sound of the Spirit. I’m sure as filmmakers are exposed to his work, he will soon find himself swamped with projects.
Thank you Van for taking time to visit with Faith Flix. I’m a big fan of your work. Tell us, what is your musical background?
I grew up the son of a baptist minister and was involved with the music at church for about as long as I can remember. My dad bought me a guitar in 5th grade and I also started learning how to play the piano by ear. I sang in choirs throughout junior high and high school and didn’t realize that I was a lousy singer until I went to college as a vocal music major. In college I got interested in music theory and composition and focused on that. After college I joined a Christian rock band and got hooked on studio recording when we went to record a self-produced project. I’ve been producing music ever since.
What musical instruments do you play?
I play guitar, keyboards, bass, mandolin and can fake my way with a few others.
And your instrument of choice?
I’m most comfortable playing guitar or keys. I have 14 guitars – my wife and I have a deal – I won’t ask how many horses she and my daughters have – and she doesn’t ask how many guitars I have! But I think she has me beat…
How did you get involved in film scoring?
When I was a kid I remember turning the contrast and brightness knobs down on the TV so I could concentrate on the sound and music. I wondered how the music could make me feel the emotion of the scene. And about ten years ago Brett Varvel asked me – or maybe I asked him, but I agreed to do music for all of his student films for free just so I could learn how to do it.
What films have you worked on?
After Brett got out of college I did The Board and The War Within for Brett and I did a film for Guy Camara called The Sound Of The Spirit. I’ve done sound design and music for several trailers and that’s about it.
Tell us a little about the score for The War Within.
Brett had “epic” in mind when he first started talking to me about TWW. He would send me music that he loved or tell me to buy a certain movie or listen to a certain score. We are talking about huge scores that probably cost a couple million to pull off between big-name composers, orchestrators, studios and very large orchestra sessions. Anyway, I’d say, “yeah, we can pull it off with enough time and money.” Then I’d go talk to my production partner David Price and he’d say something like, “NO WAY, are you stupid?” Anyway, money got cut in half, time got cut in half – but we ended up using 22 string players and 7 brass players, a 12 voice choir, and the rest is synths, samples or loops. Nearly every piece was written so that it could be connected to any other piece so we could reuse parts and pieces to make other cues. We did a total of nine hours of string sessions, three hours of brass, three hours with the choir and about 10,000 hours of writing, prep and playing synths and samples or building loops. KIDDING! Not quite 10,000.
What is the greatest challenge with scoring a movie?
When I’m talking to Brett or Guy or whoever, about creating music or soundscapes for their film – I have great confidence in my abilities, but when I first get the raw film and I’m sitting in my workspace in front of a keyboard – I feel like Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants. The drool is dripping off my lower lip – I’m dumbfounded and terrified! But – once I get past that initial fear – I slowly go to work and start to feel like I might be able to pull it off. Really though – the sense of responsibility of working on someone’s film – and especially a Christian film – I guess I just don’t want to be the guy who made a potentially great film with a great message into an unbearable, unwatchable, indigestible block of Velveeta.
What do you do when you’re not composing music for a movie?
When I’m not composing music for films, I am either working at Aire Born Studios where I recently became a partner, or working on the family farm with my in-laws.
I’m looking forward to getting to know some people in the Christian film makers community. I’ve corresponded a little with Jurgen Beck – who seems to be a great person as well as a great composer. I also met the talented Nathan Ashton and his family – they, and any others I’ve communicated with recently all seem to have the same thing in mind — to step up the quality of Christian media. I want to be a part of that!