Christopher Young: Composer

One of the foremost talents in film music today, Golden Globe-nominated composer Christopher Young has scored an impressive number of features in virtually every genre, all with strikingly original music. The spine-tingling “Hellraiser” showcases the composer’s seminal upbringing in horror; the new-techno sound of “Swordfish” displays his versatility; the resonant, genuine Celtic sounds of “The Shipping News” display his attention to detail; to the heart-pounding rhythms of “Spider-Man 3″ are all evidence of his willingness to experiment. These scores are among the nearly 100 films that embody the work of this prolific composer.

Born in Red Bank, New Jersey (birthplace of Count Basie), Young graduated from Massachusetts Hampshire college with a BA in music, and did post-graduate work at North Texas State University before moving to Los Angeles in 1980., At the time, Young was a jazz drummer, a precursor to some of the edgier scores he would later complete. Soon, an introduction to esteemed composer Bernard Herrmann’s movie scores (“Vertigo,” “Citizen Kane”) opened up a new world for Young, who was unfamiliar with film scoring. “Here was someone doing everything I wanted to do. I fell in love with the music before I realized that it was written for movies,” said Young.

He proceeded to take classes at the UCLA Film School, where he studied with famed film composer David Raksin (“Laura”). His first music that he wrote for class received a negative response from Raksin. The young student was devastated and nearly quit. Raksin would become his greatest mentor. Young met a number of college filmmakers with whom he would later work in the business. One of these filmmakers wrote and directed the student film, “The Dorm that Dripped Blood,” which Young scored. It because a New Image studio release, providing Young with an early foray into Hollywood. Within a few years, his abilities thrust him to the attention of major studios and directors, including Clive Barker. His talent was recognized with a Saturn Award (given by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films) for his unsettling demonic orchestral-and-choral score for “Hellbound: Hellraiser II.”

Though Young had built a solid reputation scoring horror and science fiction pictures, Director Jon Amiel recognized that the composer’s talent transcended genre. Amiel entrusted Young to score Warner Bros.’ dramatic thriller, “Copycat.” The film and score received critical-acclaim and Amiel requested the composer for his follow-up film, the Bill Murray comedy, “The Man Who Knew Too Little.” Young proved that he could not be pigeonholed by genre. The professional kinship ensued, and they subsequently would work together on the Fox feature, “Entrapment” and later, “The Core.”

During this time, Young scored MGM’s “Species,” which became a box-office sensation. For his work, he received a Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel nomination for his work. He was firmly established in Hollywood, and his reputation as a multitalented composer was cemented. His next work was the resonant score for “Murder in the First,” completing an era marked with major turning points in Young’s career.

Not wanting to be restricted to features, it was at this time that Young received the first of two Emmy nominations, despite scoring only four telefilms. The nominations were for the dramatic urgency of his music for the fall-of-Saigon film, “Last Flight Out” and for the smoky jazz of the critically acclaimed HBO picture, “Norma Jean & Marilyn.”

When Academy Award winning director Norman Jewison hired Young to score Universal Pictures; “The Hurricane,” Young officially entered the pantheon of A-list composers. His composition was widely praised, impressing the legendary director, who exclaimed, “I love it…he captures the power and strength of what was happening onscreen.” Later Jewison would personally recommend Young to Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson for the MGM release, “Bandits.”

Immediately following “Bandits,” Young scored the Miramax romantic drama, “The Shipping News,” directed by Oscar nominee Lasse Hallstrom. Young received both a Critic’s Choice and Golden Globe nomination for this strikingly original work. Earlier in 2001, Young further displayed his versatility with the composition for Warner Bros.’ “Swordfish,” as he incorporated elements of DJ Paul Oakenfold’s hypnotic trance into his orchestral score.

Young had established himself as working with the brightest and most-talented directors. Sam Raimi hired Young to score his high profile film “The Gift.” Raimi had always used Danny Elfman but due to a scheduling conflict, Elfman was not available. The relationship would continue to include additional music on “Spiderman 2,” scoring “The Grudge” and “The Grudge 2″ and scoring “Spiderman 3.” Young continued his successful working relationship with Raimi more recently on the thriller “Drag Me to Hell.”

Young has also collaborated with Oscar-winning director Curtis Hanson on “Wonder Boys” starring Michael Douglas and “Lucky You” starring Drew Barrymore. His other works include the scores for “Head Above Water;” “Beauty Shop,” starring Queen Latifah, “Ghost Rider,” and “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”

Chris kept his momentum going, scored “Untraceable,” starring Diane Lane. Furthermore, Young delved into the dramatic with “Sleepwalking,” starring Charlize Theron. Young worked closely with Theron who was also a co-producer on the film. He then found his way back to his roots in “thrillers” with the action packed Vampire flick “Priest”. More recently Chris has worked on “Black Tulip” and the much anticipated Hunter S. Thompson drama titled “The Rum Diary” starring Johnny Depp – in theaters October 28th.

Young likes to say that he has two distinct sides: one side that is attracted to abstract ideas and 20th Century music, and the other that enjoys writing “the great American tune.” That dichotomy serves him perfectly as a film composer, constantly called on to write the most dissonant music for a suspense cue one minute and collaborate with a lyricist on an R&B track (“Give me a Reason” with Dave Hollister for “in Too Deep”) or a love song (“Against the Wind” with vocalist Lori Perri for “Set it Off”) the next.

When not working, Young spends his time delving into a rather eclectic hobby. Though he ascended from the ranks of solely scoring horror and science fiction films, his ongoing fascination with the macabre is evident in his vast collection of jack-o-lanterns, masks and autographs of many horror film stars of the past.

Christopher Young says he has been blessed with his career so he gives back to the film music community. He has taught a film scoring class at USC for over ten years, a two-term past president of The Film Music Society and the president of the Madrid Film Music Festival in Spain.