Today, we have the distinct pleasure of interviewing Thomas VanOosting, who has been composing music for films for more than 10 years. He holds a certificate in Film Scoring from the UCLA Extension and a degree in Cinema and Photography from Southern Illinois University. His completed projects include Ties That Bind, 13 Families: Life After Columbine, Lincoln: Prelude to the Presidency, Goodbye Johnny Wake, and Mass Hysteria.
Thomas has a wonderfully light yet focused approach to applying his creativity professionally, and as an additional treat, he’s let us embed three samples of his work! If you like what you hear, you can also check out many more clips of his music on his Music in Mind YouTube channel.
Tell us about your creative pursuits, paid and unpaid.
Usually a director will approach me with a film that needs background scoring. It’s my job to supply their movie with music that either supports the action or the emotion of particular scenes. Part of the fun of being a film composer is having the power to subtly manipulate the viewers’ feelings with what’s happening onscreen. Sometimes the music will be overt. But sometimes the scoring will sneak in under the radar. In that way, the audience won’t quite know why they’re feeling certain things. That’s part of the magic of movie music.
Do you have any formal training in your creative discipline(s)? Do you feel training is important in creative development? Why/why not?
My undergraduate degree is in cinema. After that, I attended the UCLA Extension’s Film Scoring program. I’ve always been interested in film music specifically. And I’ve always loved the storytelling aspect of music. Merging film with music has been a natural interest for me starting from a very young age -maybe six? As for the training, I certainly learned a lot about orchestration and harmony from my classes. Those were irreplaceable lessons. I never took a composing class so I can’t speak to that aspect. But I think a lot of my training has come from just listening to a lot of movie soundtracks. Practically every night I fall asleep listening to a movie score. And that makes my brain all spongy with ideas.
What habits do you cultivate to facilitate your creative “flow”?
I think a major habit I have is not believing in writer’s block. I just don’t allow it. I remind myself that “good enough” is always good enough. However that doesn’t mean I have to settle for something that’s less than my best. But I do give myself permission to be “just okay” for most of the writing process. After that, the writing turns into editing. And in my experience editing is much easier than creating something from scratch. In that way, I can turn the okay parts into something special. At least in theory …
Which artistic project that you are working on excites you the most right now?
I’m always most excited by what I’m currently working on rather than what I’ve done before. I do take pleasure in past projects, but nothing is so thrilling as starting something new. I’d say one of my most pleasurable recent projects was the African feature ‘Ties That Bind’ by Leila Djansi. It’s a wonderful, poignant story about three women who deal with loss in specific ways, a great character movie.
How do you select your creative projects? What elements of a potential project tend to intrigue you the most?
Well, to be honest, most projects come to me. I don’t choose them. I mean, there’s a yes or no choice, but it’s very hard to tell what’s going to work and what isn’t, so I say yes far more often than I say no.
I’m intrigued most by projects that embrace at least some emotional ambiguity. I tend also to be more interested in character than plot. If someone’s got a laser blaster and he’s going to destroy the credenza … meh, might be bland. But if someone’s got a laser blaster and he’s going to destroy the credenza and his sister is coming into town … now that could be interesting.
Any other advice to artists to help them make their creative activity more satisfying?
Love it. Even if it sucks, just love it. If it tickles you, you’re on the right path. I don’t mean to sound glib. But for me it’s as simple as that. Film music has always tickled me. One day I said “I bet I could do that,” and now I’m doing it. The in-between parts were training and persistence. The tickles were the trigger.
Sometimes I write things that are awful. Most things are meh. But meh is fine. John Williams writes meh sometimes. Steven Spielberg makes meh sometimes. But as long as you’re tickled, you’re doing fine.
3 Film Music Excerpts by Thomas VanOosting