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On The Table Read, “the best entertainment magazine in the UK“, film composer Jonathan McKinney talks about the work that went into the score for new film, Johnny Twoshoes.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Jonathan McKinney about his life and career, his latest project, the score to new indie film Johnny Twoshoes, and his creative process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m a film composer from Staffordshire in the UK. I’m 39, and a bit of a depressed maniac I guess? Give me films and TV shows to write music for and I’ll be fine. I also produce songs and I’ve written a film, and novels and short stories too. I love Buffy, the Sopranos, Danny Elfman, Metallica, and The Cure.
When did you first WANT to write film music?
When I saw Nightmare Before Christmas, I thought the music was so genius, I had no idea how Danny Elfman had made it happen. I wrote music back then, just on the piano and guitar, but the effect of a whole orchestra took my breath away. It seemed so far away from anything I could do myself, but I really wanted to try. I thought composers were so clever and that it was just impossible for me.
What training or lessons did you take to get work in the film industry?
No training or lessons really. I bought a posh computer in 2019 and backed myself to have a go. I bought libraries of virtual instruments and started writing orchestral music. I figured you get one life, so I might as well try and do something that would bring me real joy, something I’d always wanted to do but had never believed in myself enough to make happen.
Finding work as a composer is absolutely soul destroying, as it is with a lot of creative endeavors. Rejection happens, and it stirs up feelings of irrelevance and being talentless, and so on. But I kept looking and looking. I’ve scored two films and I adore them both.
What was the first film you scored?
Hollowhood, which I co-wrote and co-directed. My partner and I were fed up writing and never making anything, so we decided to just go ahead and make something. It’s a goofy horror movie with loads of funny bits and a creepy monster. Writing the score was so much fun, especially the thirteen-minute finale. I went full Danny Elfman. Full Jonathan McKinney. Tremolo strings, stomping brass, legato bassoon, none-stop harmonic minor scales, and haunting choirs. I fucking loved it.
What was the latest film you scored?
Johnny Twoshoes, which was written and directed by Emre Oran.
Focusing on your latest project, what is the plot of Johnny Twoshoes and how did it impact your musical choices?
The main character Johnny has multiple personalities, and each of his personalities has a girlfriend. When one of the girlfriends discovers something fishy is going on the adventure spirals out of control from there.
It was such a privilege to score the film, not just because of how much fun it is, but also because the different personalities demand their own themes so it was like scoring three or four movies instead of just one. When Johnny switches personalities the music switches with him.
In his first personality he’s quite sensitive and a bit of a soppy guy, and his theme is all pianos and strings. Then he switches to a bit of a rough criminal fella with a Spanish girlfriend so I got to play some flamenco style guitar in the score too, so much fun! Then he’s a Scot, so I wrote some pipes, and so on and so on. Love it!
How long did it take you to score Johnny Twoshoes?
About three months around other work.
What were your biggest challenges with Johnny Twoshoes?
I don’t know really. The film knew what it wanted from me, so it all flowed pretty easily. Finding the time to work on it was the main challenge. Any chance I’d get I’d be at my computer having the time of my life with Johnny’s various girlfriends and personalities.
What film composers have inspired you the most?
Danny Elfman, my hero. We all love John Williams too. Also, Bernard Herrmann, Thomas Newman, and Bear McCreary.
What film score inspires you the most?
I mentioned Nightmare Before Christmas but really it’s Batman Returns. From the moment it starts the music is absolutely perfect. Catwoman’s scenes are brilliant, especially when she loses it and transforms. And when Penguin is visiting his parents’ graves. Just the whole way through, I was obsessed.
What is your favourite piece of music you’ve recorded, and what do you love about it?
The Finale from Hollowhood. Thirteen minutes of haunting orchestral spookiness. I love it because… it sort of wrote itself. I had all the themes in place by the time I wrote it so I just revisited the musical ideas I’d already created in this whimsical, melodramatic silly climax with characters running around trying to figure out how to stay alive while my orchestra bomped and stomped its way through it all.
What instruments do you play?
I play guitar really well, and piano okay. I’d love to play a cello but I’ve never tried. Maybe now I’m filthy rich I’ll get one.
Do you release other music, or stick to film scores?
I do release other music. I produce songs, I’ve got about eight bands at this point? I created a bunch of bands for the soundtrack to Hollowhood because I wanted it to have an eclectic authentic soundtrack but I had no money to license other peoples’ songs, so I went ahead and made my own.
Is your music available to the public, and where can people listen to it?
You can listen to me on Spotify and all the other streaming sites, yeah. The Hollowhood soundtrack is here and the score is here. I have a couple of new bands coming in 2023 so follow me on Twitter for updates and so on.
Are your friends and family supportive of your music career?
No they are always telling me that I suck and should get a real job. Just messing, yes they are always kind and positive.
What’s something you never expected about writing a film score? What have you learned that surprised you?
I never expected that it would be possible. I thought you had to live in Hollywood and have industry connections, not be a sad loser from nowhere with no connections. What have I learned? It sounds cheesy but… if you believe in yourself you can make things happen.
Have you had any experiences that really stand out because of your work in music?
I recently started working with a singer from Leeds. She’s so fantastic, she took one of my backing tracks and turned it from fine to something incredible. I can’t wait to do more and start releasing these songs.
Do you have any future film work lined up or are you available to book?
I’m 100% available baby. *Millhouse eyebrows*
What is the first piece of advice you would give to anyone inspired to write film music?
Listen to film music like an obsessed weirdo. While your mates are listening to Dua Lipa or whatever you should be going ooh this “Dead Already” from American Beauty is great.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I am insanely proud and it really wasn’t an effort. I guess figuring out how to make my computer sound like an orchestra took effort, so yes it was totally worth it.
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