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Tuned In Spotlight: TV Composer Kevin Kiner [Star Wars: The Clone Wars, AMC’s Hell on Wheels] 

TV Composer Kevin Kiner (2nd from left)

At this summer’s Comic-Con 2013, we caught up with several composers for television, who were there to be part of a Behind the Music panel. They got a chance to talk about their craft and how they do what they do so well. They were some of the biggest composers in the biz, and TV Goodness was able to take part in interviews with them. For this feature, we’re shining the spotlight on Kevin Kiner, the man responsible for the music for such shows as CBS’ CSI Miami, AMC’s Hell on Wheels and Cartoon Network’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars, for which he received a Daytime Emmy nomination earlier this year.

The difference between scoring for a live-action project and an animated series

KEVIN KINER: I’ve been nominated for several Annies, which are the cartoon Oscars and I’ve also been nominated for Emmys — all for animated projects. I’ve never won, but I have made up a speech. So here we go! I like to thank my wife — (laughs) no, but I always thought I would say if I ever win, that every single person who gets nominated for scoring an animated show has my total respect because it’s the hardest thing to do. It’s much more difficult than scoring a live action because you wind up having to follow — musically — you have to follow the action a little closer than you do with live action. The actors — they kind of say it themselves — when you’re looking at a live-action film. But some of the animation, you need to kind of tell people musically what’s happening a little more so it’s much more difficult in writing it. I did CSI: Miami for ten years. In that, we would kind of do a tune and let the actors say everything and we would just be an underlying sound that would create a mood. Whereas with Clone Wars, I’m following — oh this is happening, he’s raising a sword, I better do something — so there’s a lot more writing involved.

The time factor for animated vs. live action

KEVIN: I get a little more time but not a lot. Where CSI: Miami I would do one [episode] a week and Clone Wars I do one every two weeks, which is still pretty fast. I write better when I write fast, actually, because I don’t over think things.

On not getting too cartoon-y

KEVIN: We try not to be too cartoon-y. That’s actually a term that musicians will use amongst each other or composers,’Don’t you think you got a little too cartoon-y in that last piece of music?’ So there’s a fine line that you have to kind of…because you don’t want to Mickey Mouse it. You don’t want to be like a Bugs Bunny because, you know, I’m Star Wars. But I still have to do that.

Composing music for AMC’s Hell on Wheels [The two-hour season three premiere airs Saturday Aug. 10 @ 9/8c ]

KEVIN: Hell on Wheels — we decided to use all solo acoustic string instruments. And I use a lot of Middle Eastern instruments. I use like a Turkish tambour and Egyptian ouds. Oud is like a predecessor to the lute. And so instead of a Spanish guitar, where you would use it in a western, I’m playing an oud. So it’s a vastly different way of scoring where Clone Wars I’m doing orchestra. And yet, there is still a similarity. And the similarity is, as a film composer, I’m there to support the drama. I’m not there to toot my own horn. I’m not Beyonce, I’m not Madonna or whatever it is. I’m there to support the drama and to make the mood right. And even though I’m using vastly different instruments, I think that’s the main skill that I need to employ. I need to support what’s happening on the screen.

An example of a project that was exquisitely scored and was supportive, meaning it didn’t draw attention away from the drama going on

KEVIN: I just saw the latest Superman movie [Man of Steel]. And it’s Hans Zimmer, who’s probably the biggest film composer alive right now. That just worked perfectly in the film. Hans is very heavy. He does very bombastic music. And yet it didn’t draw attention to itself in a bad way. It kept you rockin’ with the action when it was supposed to. I think it did exactly what a film score should do, just perfectly executed. Cause I’ve heard criticism of it because John Williams did the first Superman and that’s an iconic melody, right? And I’ve talked to people about this. And, you know, when Dwight Howard, the basketball player, goes to the Houston Rockets, his nickname is Superman. Well, are they going to use Hans Zimmer’s theme or are they going to use John Williams? They’re going to play John Williams’ theme, right? That’s the one everybody recognizes. And yet, what Hans did for the new Superman movie was totally appropriate for our day and age and for that film, too. I thought that that was spectacularly done.

Some of Kiner’s work on Star Wars: The Clone Wars

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