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Exclusive TV Goodness Q&A: Music Composer iZLER Talks the Revenge Soundtrack [INTERVIEW] 

Copyright JennKL Photography
Photo Credit: Copyright JennKL Photography

The soundtrack for ABC’s Revenge drops today. And so we’ve zeroed in our focus on iZLER, the man behind the music for the show.

The Czech-born artist known as iZLER is a touring musician turned film and TV composer. Yes, he’s made the successful jump from playing massive stadiums for acts like the electric Robbie Williams to creating and shaping the sound for movies as well as primetime series Revenge and Showtime’s Shameless. It’s on Revenge where he gets to work his magic with the help of a 50-piece orchestra. “For me, it’s really an irreplaceable component of the heart and soul of a show like Revenge — its musical heart and soul. The lifeblood of real music is the use of real musicians,” he said. “And you can’t fake that. There are, for sure, other things you can do. But nothing’s gonna elevate the emotion of a show like real players, playing real music.”

Revenge is a series that thrives on high levels of emotion and delicious drama. And the music has to convey every bit of that. In this exclusive interview, iZLER talked to us about his career, how hard it was to figure out what to include on the soundtrack and some of his favorite music cues.

TV GOODNESS: What do you consider your big break?

iZLER: I can trace almost everything I did back to maybe one or two events. Like my first real indie movie, which is a movie called Humboldt County….which was the first movie that I had, that had some success at the festivals and that I won a couple of awards for and got out there a little bit. And then the Sundance Composers Lab program — getting into that was sort of a big thing because it really introduced me to the filmmaking community at large in LA. If you’re lucky enough to get selected for that program, all I can tell you is, do not hesitate to go. Because it’s fantastic. And what I will tell you is — ok — your phone is not going to start ringing off the hook tomorrow just because you’re in this program. But it does let you get a foot in the door and it all depends on what relationships you make from there on and if you’re lucky enough to meet the right people. And then I would say Revenge was a very big break for me because there’s nothing like a bonafide hit TV show — especially the fact that I’m lucky enough to be using a live orchestra. I almost consider it like a movie scoring gig because it’s…although it has to be delivered on a weekly basis. It’s very much like scoring a film.

TV GOODNESS: How did you hear about Revenge?

iZLER: I had just hired a new agent or a new agency and they really batted a thousand because this is the first thing they brought to me. As far as I know, it was a very wide call to a bunch of composers in LA. I remember getting sent the script and thinking ‘Oh my God, this is fantastic.’ It was based on The Count of Monte Cristo, and when I was very, very little, when I was a little kid, my dad used to read me that book over and over — I used to love that book. So that immediately sort of piqued my interest. I just remember having a real great meeting with everybody the first time I walked into that room. Just thinking these are a bunch of people I would love to work with. And we discussed what [creator] Mike Kelly and [executive producer] Phillip Noyce wanted for the show. And I had one cue that really, I guess, encapsulated what they were talking about which in fact — and this is a lesson for all aspiring film composers — I’d scored a friend’s short film for free maybe three years before that. And the theme for this short was exactly what they were describing. In fact, it hadn’t even been on my show reel and I sent that to them over the weekend and I was hired on the Monday.

TV GOODNESS: Can you talk about how long it takes to create the music for an episode?

iZLER: I am privileged enough to have a career scoring movies and TV and obviously they have something in common, especially with an orchestral show like Revenge. But the biggest difference is the time table. On a good week, I will have seven days to score an episode. But, to be honest, it rarely ends up being seven days because by the time you’ve spotted the episode,  you’ve taken delivery of the video and then of course you’ve actually prepped, recorded the orchestra and mixed it and everything else…realistically you’re talking about five days. And it’s been less before. There’s been a couple of crunch episodes. Inevitably, it’s the big ones that involves more visual effects, more editing, more ADR, that everything takes longer. And, you know, I end up getting less and less time. So I have done an episode in as little as two or three days which is a bit rough.

TV GOODNESS: Do you compose for the characters? Any of them have their own theme music?

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Photo Credit: Copyright JennKL Photography

iZLER: The notion of a very specific character theme, can be a little bit one dimensional. Because if you imagine, unless a character does the exact same thing every time they walk on screen, the same thing isn’t always gonna work. It would be the most one-dimensional character ever so you have to — if you do write character themes — they have to be somewhat malleable, I think to the point where, they can lend themselves to a situation. So a theme can be a melody. A theme can be a sound. A theme can be an instrument. For me, it all rests with melodies a lot of the time for something like Revenge. You find that you can’t be as so predictable as to go: ‘This guy walks on screen, this is the music that plays.’ You can change it up. It can become unpredictable and it stays fresher that way, I think. So in some situations, I’m more likely to score a situation or a feeling or an event that recurs between two characters, for instance. Like Emily and Victoria have a theme that really is the heart of the show — the conversation between these two women, the ongoing conversation, the ongoing struggle between these two women…and it kind of means that that theme can work in a variety of different situations as opposed to, ‘Oh here’s Emily, here’s the melody.’

TV GOODNESS: The Emily/Victoria scenes are among the best of the show so that must have inspired you.

iZLER: I think so too. I mean, those two really go at it. The more fierce the scene, the more fun for me to score it.

TV GOODNESS: What was a particularly memorable music cue that you created for Revenge? We were at an event where you talked about the episode where Faux-Manda died at sea…

iZLER: That certainly was one of the most fulfilling for me to score. And it was one of the hardest to score because that was one of the episodes where we had a terrible time crunch and I had very little time to do it. But what I did have was a long lead up to it of really thinking about that episode and thinking what I wanted. So there were several things — it was a good example of a theme that adhered to a situation as opposed to a character — was the “SOS Theme.” So I had this idea of since it was all set on this boat, of setting the rhythm of the whole episode to the Morse Code rhythm for SOS: three dots, three dashes, three dots. And that worked really well for me because it could work great in the action sequences because you could have this pounding riff in a sort of angular odd time signature. And then there were very creepy sequences like when Trask [from the Initiative] is searching the apartment and it’s all very dark where it would suddenly be just be bobbling under the rhythm of the programming and the low strings and stuff and it’s really fun when you’ve got…for me, to score, when the episode has its own singular identity like that. Because there’s a hook you can always come back to. It’s almost like writing a chorus for a great song. So that might be the most fun.

TV GOODNESS: Very cool.

iZLER: And also in that episode, I had what I would consider the best musical experience on both seasons of the show, which was writing “Amanda’s Requiem,” Amanda’s send-off piece. I had taken some time kind of studying a piece by Arvo Part called “Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten.” And it’s one of my favorite pieces of string writing ever. And I thought, ‘what if I started with the technique used in this piece to write this requiem piece?’ And it kind of — obviously I couldn’t stick to this form. And it sounds nothing like the piece that I used as a jumping off point. But it sparked an idea that I think I wouldn’t have otherwise had. And when we recorded it at FOX, I explained sort of how I had arrived at [it] to the orchestra and they really listened. And then they proceeded to play the most amazing take of this piece. Sight unseen. It was the first time they ever sight read this piece. They had never heard it. And they played it down and that is the take that made it into the show because it was so incredible the way they played it. And if you think about how amazing that is, there’s 50 musicians in a room that all are reading only their part, not the entire score, they’ve never heard the piece, they have no idea what this is going to sound like. All they see is me standing on the podium giving them their down beat. They listened to a clip track. And that’s all they’ve got to go on. And from that they created this incredible feeling between them. And we did a safety take, we did a second take, but it just wasn’t as magical, they were just all listening so intently that first time. It was incredible. So that episode is something that’s always gonna stick in my mind I think.

TV GOODNESS: Let’s talk about the soundtrack which covers both seasons one and two, right?

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iZLER: It is from both seasons. It’s all of the orchestral score. Just to clear up — I know a few fans that asked if it was going to be score and songs. It’s gonna be all score because most of the songs are available elsewhere. It took a little while to just figure out what to put on this album because I’ve written over 30 hours of music for this show.

TV GOODNESS: Wow.

iZLER: It starts with the main Revenge theme which is the first thing you hear when the show opens. The main theme’s called “Mortal Vindication” which comes from Emily’s first voiceover in the pilot. And then you’ll hear that melody pop up at loads of times throughout the album. In other pieces, not as a standalone theme, necessarily. But it’ll be hidden in the harmony, it’ll be echoing somewhere in the distance, but you’ll always know it’s Revenge you’re listening to. It’s hidden in a lot of places. I played with the idea of doing it chronologically at first. So that there’ll be some sort of progression. I’ve done that on a lot of movie soundtracks. But the thing is, that there’s just so much music with Revenge. It was a bare listening experience if I just sort of sequenced it as an album to listen to as opposed to, you know, in chronological order. So you jump from episode to episode. Tyler’s theme is in there. There’s a lot of great themes — a scene in season one where first Tyler really loses it. It’s called “Tyler Goes Nuts.” I had a great time recording that one.

TV GOODNESS: Tyler was a great character.

iZLER: He was such a great character. I miss him. Unfortunately, he is completely stone dead as far as I’m aware so I don’t think he’s coming back. Although, it is Revenge so you never know! What else is in there? Of course, the “SOS” stuff is in there. There is a little mini-progression in there through “SOS Part One” and “SOS Part Two,” “Amanda’s Requiem” and then all the way through to — in fact — before that, it starts with the marriage with Jack and Faux-Manda. And then the two “SOS” themes which is basically when Amanda’s killed and then “Amanda’s Requiem” and all the way through to Amanda’s funeral (“Farewell Amanda”). There’s sort of a mini-story within the album. Then we go through to the finale. The very last thing you hear is a recap of the main theme which is actually from the season one finale. The penultimate cue called “I Am Amanda Clark” was also one of the most fun things to do because it was the last…it basically is the entire last act of the season two finale. It’s a seven or eight-minute cue….

TV GOODNESS: That was a great moment.

iZLER: That was so much fun to write and record. It was all the way from [the real] Amanda at the convention where Conrad had given his speech all the way through to the end where she sort of drops the bombshell on Jack. I’m really excited about the album. It took a lot of work to put it together and I’m very proud of it.

The Revenge Soundtrack is out today. The album will be sold via Amazon, ABC.com, Intrada.com, and other soundtrack retailers. Album cover and liner notes available upon request.

Plus, the season two DVD hits stores today. And, look for the third season of Revenge to premiere on Sunday September 29 at 9/8c on ABC.

Behind-the-Scenes Footage of iZLER

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