Music is My Life: Episode 032

Jon Kull on Orchestrating Some of Hollywood’s Biggest Blockbuster Movies

You know who Jon Kull is, even if you don’t know that you know who he is. You’ve heard his orchestrations in films like all of the Hunger Games movies, the Maze Runner movies, King Kong, Avatar, Black Panther, Mary Poppins Returns, and so many more.

On this edition of the Music Is My Life podcast, Jon discusses his three-decade-long Hollywood film orchestrating career, the new Berklee Online Film Scoring master’s program, and notably, the unlikely turn of events that led one of Jon’s compositions to become the MacGruber theme song.

Jon Kull: My mom is a church musician, both an organist and a choir director. So my sister and I would always tag along whenever she had a rehearsal. So probably, the first music that I heard was from my mom, who as an organist you can imagine plays a lot of Bach. So I had a sense of counterpoint I guess at a pretty early age. I don’t know if it really rubbed off, but I was around that kind of music a lot, that and choral music.

When did you start taking lessons?
When I was about six years old, and my mom was my first teacher. Yes. She taught me piano, and we got into a little bit of a period when it was mostly just piano. I didn’t really start writing music until when I was a teenager.

Were the lessons a structured affair where like every week, you’d meet with her for this or was it more casual?
It was pretty structured. We met weekly, and she had me on the method book. She taught a number of people so she had her method. So yeah, it was very structured and I’d say. 

How about your siblings, did they play as well? 
I have one sister, she’s a couple of years younger, and she also plays. She’s pretty versatile too. She played a number of instruments growing up both piano, bass, clarinet, saxophone, so she’s tried a number of different things, she still plays.

You said you started composing as a teenager, was that composition as you do now, or did you get involved in any sort of rock scene?
Through the high school music program, I started writing for some of the ensembles there when I turned 16. There were some earlier efforts there for piano, but the main things that I started writing for were the jazz band and the orchestra. There was a PTSA contest that they do every year on a theme. I think it’s called the Reflections Project or something like that. So I wrote something based on a piano piece that I’ve written for groups. I arranged it for a string orchestra plus a few winds and recorded that and submitted it when I was about 16. I won third place.

Did that set the stage for you to say, “Okay, maybe I have a future in this.”
I suppose so. I definitely had the ambition a couple of years before that. I think when I got into high school, ninth grade or so, I just sort of get exposed to the music of Ravel, and that was a real eye-opener for me, definitely a lifelong source of inspiration. The first piece, I guess I remember really diving into a piece was the orchestral suite Le Tombeau de Couperin. I was obsessed with Ravel pretty much through the rest of high school.

Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin


Now, I imagine that’s pretty unique for a high schooler.
Yeah, I don’t think there was anybody in high school that I really was able to relate to much about this. There were people in our circle that I could talk to. But as far as other musicians among my peer group, probably I was pretty much alone in that interest. I started finding my own path around then. 

Finding your path at that age, how did that lead to your next step and where you went to college? Was there any push back from your parents? I mean, I’m guessing your mom studied music to some great length. 
There was definitely some push back. Mainly, along the issues of having concerns about how to make a living, all the usual stuff. But my parents were really quite supportive. When I was looking for colleges to go to, I wasn’t necessarily going to go in as a music major. I did apply to a few different places. But I ended up going to the University of Colorado at Boulder, and I was a music major there. Interestingly enough as a composition major and finally a piano major. In high school I took a course that was not really a college course but it was taught by Wayne Scott who was a Professor at the CU Boulder, and it was composition. There were a couple of other guys in the class and we would just be, this is probably I think the fall semester of my senior year in high school. I think that really solidified things for me and I realized that I wanted to study this seriously. He was a fantastic teacher and he introduced me to a number of different things like 12-tone music, Roy Harris’ Third Symphony, which is another one of those touchstone pieces for me. A very knowledgeable guy, great music theorists, and great arranger in his own right as well. So that was a strong influence for me in high school, and that really helps solidify my decision to go on with music and specifically music composition.

Roy Harris’ Symphony No. 3

So you grew up in the Boulder area?
It’s a suburb of Denver actually: Arvada. 

So you knew once you meant Wayne that you wanted to study with him more?
I didn’t actually. I think they assigned me to somebody else when I got there, which was fine. I study with Cecil Effinger who actually did study with Harris. So it was good pedigree up there. But I always stayed in touch with Wayne and sophomore year, I believe junior year also, I studied with Charles Eakin, and senior year was Richard Toensing, and they’re really great, very different writers too.

Did anyone more than the other become a mentor?
They all had an influence on me. I think because Effinger has association with Harris, that he was really appealing to me. His music was kind of neo-tonal, based in that sort of way of looking at harmony, certain aspects of polytonality. Then Eakin was a surrealist—he was not a real strict surrealist but he’d written a piano piece called “Brains” that David Burge premiered for him. That was a very stark piece that did have its basis in a tone row that he came up with. He also wrote a symphony while I was there that was based around a tone row. But it was a total use of atonality though if you can imagine. He constructed the role in a way that had tonal implications. So that was an influence on me too.

I should say that when I first got to CU, I think I probably had some rigid ideas about what I thought music should sound like. Gradually through the seminar that I had to attend every week, I got exposed to a lot of different things and stuff that I considered really wild at the time. But I learned to listen with what Roger Sessions called “a willing ear.” That’s interesting to me because there are other fields of art where a more modern outlook plays better because visually somehow, I think sometimes it’s not as jarring to look at something, but when you’re listening to music, that’s a time commitment and it’s experienced over time. I think that plays into the fact that sometimes people aren’t as receptive to newer works. So that took a little adjustment. 

The more I explored things, the more interested I got in certain things. The professors that I had that really turned that around for me was Toensing. They made you have a notebook. They wanted you to listen to a number of different things and then either analyze or give your impressions of them, and there was one piece in particular, I don’t remember what it was, but it was really on the edge, and didn’t really present a structure or organization that I could figure out and I expressed frustration about that in my note. I said something along the lines in my note, “Does he really think this is music?” Really reactionary comment and since he was very gracious in his response, he wrote back in the notebook, “You shouldn’t let your outlook on composition ossify so early.” He did use the word ‘ossify.’ I really took it to heart because he was very gentle about his critique of my critique. That really opened up my mind.

What year was that? Is that freshman, sophomore, or . . . ?
That was I believe my sophomore year. He wasn’t yet my composition professor, but he ran the seminar.

Right. So in this time in your college career, what are you thinking you’ll do after school?
Lets see. I was still at least through freshman and probably most of sophomore year, I was thinking in terms of being a composer and in the abstract really because I hadn’t thought about a career path, and hadn’t really thought about what being a composer would entail as far as how I make a living. I guess there was at the back of my mind some fantasy about moving to a place like New York or Paris and partaking of the Bohemian existence here. But right after sophomore year, my sister graduated from high school and my grandmother or my mom came to her graduation, and just in the course of being routed doing stuff together, we all went to go see a movie and we split up at the multiplex, and Granny and I went to go see Poltergeist. Has this mind-blowing Jerry Goldsmith score, and I was familiar with his work already. I mean, I was pretty interested when I was six years old, I saw Planet of the Apes, and I don’t know how I can convey to you just how a score like that can make an impression on a six year old, but boy it did. That and around the same time, True Grit, and also Patton. So the Elmer Bernstein, and another Goldsmith score, and those were three, that when I was in elementary school I was already hip to that. 

Were you learning the main themes with your mom and the piano lessons?
No. We didn’t really cover it in piano lessons. I would just in my own little spare time, my own explorations, sometimes I would try to do stuff. 

It’s probably a bit harder at that time because those soundtracks might not have even been commercially available, right?
Now, let’s see. I never did get the soundtracks. I think they probably did release soundtracks. They did. 

I just don’t remember ever seeing the True Grit soundtrack in the record stores. 
Yeah. Well, Patton is a long movie and the score doesn’t come out until later. Yeah, and I didn’t really ever go look at the record stores. Although, now that I think about it, there is one other movie, and that’s 2001 Space Odyssey. My parents actually have the soundtrack for that. But they took me one Sunday after church so we can see that when I was six or so. That was a head expansion for sure.

Oh, yeah. In many, many ways. So you go to see Poltergeist with your grandma, and then you come out of there, are you a changed man?
Yeah. Pretty much I said, “Hell yeah! I’m going to be a film composer.”

That’s awesome.
Yeah. But that was an inflection point right there. 

So that was a summer movie. What changed in the next year with how you approached your studies? 
I still was focused on getting my vocabulary up and just working on the craft. I started just to make efforts to get some projects involving film. CU had a film school, they still do I think. In fact at that time, I think Stan Brakhage was still there. But I never really pursued that quite as much as I could have. I think part of it was that I added piano as a major when I was junior. So I was doing a double major. I think also I was still interested in so-called serious music.

Do you feel like composing for film gets a bum rap, like it doesn’t get respect? You’re talking about the bohemian lifestyle of smart music. Do you think that that perception has changed?
Definitely. I think it’s a lot more mainstream than it used to be.

What do you think is responsible for that?
I think a lot of it is through the culture, and I think probably the most obvious answer would be John Williams because he really mainstreamed the orchestral score, brought it back from what it used to be. Seeing Star Wars in 1977 was another big deal. I think probably around that time, things began to change and film soundtracks definitely spiked in popularity, or it started to be right around then. Then you have certain guys like Corigliano with Altered States who crossed over from the classical world and was involved later on. I think those things also had an effect on legitimizing it for the academic world.

So you get out of school, what year is that, 1984?
Actually, I went an extra year because of the two majors, so I graduated in ‘85.

What was your first hustle right after?
My first hustle was actually continuing school, and I was all set to go to the University of Michigan. But I was vaguely not quite on board with it because I still felt the pull of film music. This is starting to become a topic in lessons when I was studying with Richard Toensing. He knew about my interests, and he was suggesting places to go. He mentioned the Dick Rowe school, and he thought something like that would be, if I really wanted to get into film music, that would be a great next step because you specifically study writing for music media. I didn’t ever end up contacting Dick Rowe, but around the second semester of my last year at CU, my roommate, Jeff Carter, his parents were both studio singers. His mom once sang the Jetsons’ theme.

Wow. That’s awesome.
His mom got an alumni newsletter for USC, and there was an article in there about a program that had just started which was the advanced studies in film scoring, and she scribbled a little note at the top: “Thought that John might find this interesting.” That qualifies as perhaps the understatement of the century in my world. So this is kind of late in the game. I contacted USC, ended up applying, and ended up being accepted, and that was that. It was a year-long program. It’s a complete immersion in all things related to film and TV music. The courses were taught by industry people, working professionals like Bruce Broughton, our first composition professor. We also got lessons from Laurence Rosenthal, and a host of other people, and a lot of guest lectures including one that I set up because I became the program coordinator for our seminars. I got Jerry Goldsmith to come to one. So I think he was actually a little involved a little later on in teaching there. So I couldn’t have asked for a more comprehensive immersion in the field. It was really perfect at the time.

You were responsible for getting Jerry Goldsmith there?
Well, I mean they gave me numbers. Like, “Here’s the number of his assistant. Call her.” I mean some groundwork had been laid.

I mean, that’s great, you started networking already though.
Kind of, yeah, definitely. I got to talk to the agents and things like that as well. 

So you finished the program. What’s your first gig then?|
The first gig kind of delayed a little bit more even. I had a girlfriend back in Colorado and I wanted to see how that would turn out, so I decided to go back to Colorado after I finished the USC program. That ended up not working out. But I also had a pull to get even a little better at piano and to study literature a little more deeply. Right after my fourth year, what would have been my senior year at college, that summer I spent at the Aspen Music School. It’s the first time that I had the opportunity to spend the summer and just spend all day practicing and I caught that bug. I think there was still a part of me that wanted to focus on performance. So I ended up going back to CU Boulder for a master’s in piano. It took a couple more years at which time I think that itch had been scratched and I was ready to move on, and get going on this career in film music. 

Now, I imagine that, it might have seemed like a detour, but I imagine it informed the composition and orchestration you’d later do. Or how do you feel about that time? Do you feel that was time well spent? 
It was time well spent but it was most definitely a trade-off. My classmates were already back in LA, and going through their networking and doing their hustles and all that. So I missed a bit of that. That was one of the nice added benefits though of being in that program was that you’re around people with the same goals as you and the same focus. I’ve had some lifelong friendships that were forged there. 

Yeah, I mean, I’d imagine it was probably even helpful that during those years that you are studying piano, they were advancing. So when you got back there, they were able to probably help pull you up a little bit. 
Yeah, we all did that but they definitely, they got a bit of a head start for sure.

Now we’re entering IMDB territory, right?
Let’s see. Yeah, probably the first edited thing is an orchestration for And You Thought Your Parents Were Weird, which was scored by Randy Miller, who was also in the program. Although he left after the first semester because he was already starting to do more professional work.

What year was that?
1991. 

I always have to ask this because there are sometimes things on somebody’s Wikipedia or their IMDB that are just wrong. So is this Lone Wolf? Were you a composer on that in 1988?
Yes, that was actually the first feature that I ever scored. It was all electronic and, to be honest, not very good. It was a start. 

Yeah, a 1988 horror movie, that sounds about right. That type of music that it would require. 
It was suitably schlocky, that’s for sure. 

So you’re doing that and I imagine that on some level that’s a great experience, but on another level you probably wanted to do something different. 
Well, it was instructive also in a real hard knocks kind of way. It prepared me for the general attitude that a lot of people take towards film music, and that the music budget was pretty small to begin with. The majority of it was used to license the songs for the band that was in the movie. So they go, “You know our music budget is this, but in truth you only have about 40 percent of that because we needed to license the songs.” Such a real education from the beginning. 

So how did you decide though that your track was going to be more orchestration than composition?
That came about I would say just through the kinds of jobs I was getting. I was still pursuing composition things and getting a few things here and there, nothing really big. But I was also getting hired as an orchestrator thanks to a large part of the work that I’ve done for Randy on that film and another one called Into The Sun. Randy got another member of our class involved in or orchestrating for him early on, and then put me on later on both of those pictures. But then through that, he also recommended me to his work for Robert Folk. So I ended up working on a few of his films he orchestrated. 

I got married in 1995, and started having kids. We had two daughters not too long after that. So I saw at that point that this is potentially a good way to earn a living, and it was something that was in music and I’m still involved with film music and I found I liked it. 

Now I guess I have to profess a little bit of ignorance in a way, in thinking more in depth about the difference between composition and orchestration. So it’s more like bringing out the best performance from the players?
It definitely has something to do with getting the performance to be as good as possible. Also just balancing things. In some cases rethinking colors. The one thing I’ve noticed about a lot of mock-ups is that a number of the orchestral sounds kind of distort or misrepresent the instruments that they say they’re mimicking. So a lot of times you have to think, well, that’s not going to come out quite as strongly as it will in this demo. So I’ve got to think about ways to punch that sound up a little bit.

Right. Is that something you work with the composer with at all or it’s been handed to you and now it’s your duty and you don’t have to run those things by them? 
Well, you get to a certain point some relationships move closer and they trust you. It can take a little while to get to that point. Other people want to check out what you’ve done and will come back to you sometimes about things. So it’s kind of all over the place. I think if you develop a longstanding relationship with a composer, that’s really the best circumstance I would say. Because you get in the foxhole with them and you start to get a feeling for their tendencies, what they like, what they don’t like, and what you need to do to give their music the best representation of them for the orchestra.

Over the years, who have been some of your most key collaborators?One composer that I did a lot of orchestration for early on, was Christopher Young, and that was again through a USC connection, Pete Anthony. He brought me on board, first proofing stuff for him and then gradually assigning me a queue here and there, and that just grew over time. But I do a lot of work for Chris through Pete. So that was an important early on relationship. I also did some apprentice work I guess you’d say with Pat Russ, a terrific orchestrator, and great mentor, and friend also. Pat at that time was doing a lot of work for Elmer Bernstein and also Maurice Jarre, but mostly Elmer, I think. So he would bring me on to proof stuff that he did. He would toss me stuff and say, “Here do this.” So I got on all that and then actually it got to a point there on a few projects where he said, “I got some source stuff. Stuff that needs to be done. We’re going to need a waltz for like a party, like a quadrille orchestra.” So I would get that kind of stuff, utility stuff that needed to be handled but it’s one of those things that he didn’t want to spend a whole lot of time on, so he would just give it to me. Then later gets to work for James Horner. I was starting with Troy which was a rescore, a rather famous rescore actually.

Yeah, what’s the backstory with that?
I don’t know the entire story, only sort of the general sketchy details, but the film tested apparently well. The director was over the moon with Gabriel Yared’s score. But then they tested it again and somehow I think they may have gotten a comment back about the music or something, or something else that is unrelated. But they somehow ended up not being as enamored with the score as they were, and somehow it just got tossed about three weeks before they had to get it done. Randy Kerber was the principal orchestrator at the time, and I got a call from him and Conrad Pope was on it, Eddie Karam was on it, and there was me. It was my first experience with or working on a Horner film, and there really wasn’t time to think about anything. It was just like, let’s turn it out. It’s a really rewarding experience too. I got to go to the final session. It was about 10 minutes long. There was the fall of Troy, it’s the sack against the city, and it was back at Todd-AO and it was packed to the gills and because Todd was the hugest room in town. They had a 100 plus orchestra, plus the women’s choir that had flown in, the Bulgarian women’s choir, plus a vocalist that Horner liked to use. Then five grand pianos all lined up right next to the recording booth, so behind a conductor. The place was just full. That was an overwhelming cue, an overwhelming musical experience. We spent all morning on it, and they got a great take. That was really a high point, one of the high points for me in terms of orchestration work. 

You mentioned how you were at that session, but up to that point were you not going to every session? 
There was no time. That happens a fair amount, you’ll still be working while sessions are going on. I don’t always get to go until the end. I can think of a similar experience that actually was maybe a little bit more intense even, and that was working on King Kong for Jason Howard. There was a clash of orchestrators on that one for sure. Must have been about eight eyes. In fact, we were working all the time, and that was also a re-score. Howard Shore had one instance where Peter Jackson wasn’t quite in sync with Howard. I don’t even know what the circumstances were. They got James to come in. I think he had about three and a half weeks, and that was just unreal. They can record it in dribs and drabs. They would have a few days of writing, a couple of days of scoring, and then it would just on and on like over the course of about three and a half weeks. Everybody got pushed to the limit on that and I have to say just overall, that hadn’t been the LA music scenes finest hour as far as playing the score together. All the performances were all great, we prepped the orchestration all was just so tight and so solid, and we got it done.

Well, how do you take something like that? I would imagine that’s probably even part of the curriculum of the film scoring masters is to take that sort of thing in stride. 
Well, yes, you do. You just learn to take it in stride. The cue that I worked on for Horner on Troy, I have to say that was a triumph. Everybody was just patting each other on their backs afterwards. It was a really supreme musical experience. I go back into the booth to talk to James and just to tell him how much I enjoyed working under him. I go there to find that they’re already making changes to that cue and cutting out this glorious part. It was this trumpet fanfare and they took it out because the director wasn’t grooving on it. I said to James at the time, “Why? This is so horrible.” He very matter-of-fact said, “Well, it’s the director’s picture. We have to make him happy.” So you think of somebody with a stature James Horner who thinks very pragmatically like that and serves the picture in the director’s vision. It was very instructive for me. 

It would really be remiss of me to not mention Douglas Pipes, because he’s been a real pivotal person in my career as far as orchestration and other things as well. I first worked with him on Monster House, which was a film that he had worked with that director before on, I believe it was a UCLA student film. That director’s name is Gil Kenan. Gil, once he got this rather big animated feature, wanted to stick by his composer and for the studio, I guess they bought a little bit, but they said, “Okay, well, audition your composer essentially.” The audition for Douglas was to mock-up the entire score and they judge it I guess from that. He passed with flying colors. I mean, it was orchestrated at that point, but he did have mock-up scores for us for the entire movie. I think I had a couple of orchestrators in mind and Douglas called me and we got together and hit it off right away actually, right from the beginning. 

That was a really great project. With that big score, I mean there were really no constraints put on it as far as, I was able to get the orchestra that I thought I needed without any conditions. I did scale it for the bigger cues, the more involved action-y scenes had a bigger orchestra, and tried to scale the orchestra back with the smaller stuff as well. Tried to be budget conscious, but it was really a great experience all around. 

Now, with all the work that you do and were doing it this time and you’re saying you were too busy to go to the sessions a lot of time. Are there movies that you’ve orchestrated that you have never even seen? 
Yes, that’s kind of the norm now. I don’t get to see any movies I worked on. 

During the orchestrating process, are you privy to viewing the clips that the music will appear in?
It’s not a guaranteed thing. Sometimes the composer will watch the work in a scene that you’re orchestrating. Maybe about half the time, but it’s not always an expected thing. But if the composer thinks that it would be beneficial for you to have a look at the scene, then they’ll arrange for you to have a view. One obstacle to a lot of this, I think, is the studios. Because they are pretty tight-fisted about letting go of cuts. They don’t want it to get out there. So that’s kind of an obstacle, on Avatar we had to jump through some hoops to make that happen, but it did. 

You had mentioned being thrown a few bones early in your career by friends, and collaborators, and mentors, and you do have a number of soundtrack credits. Were those the result of that kind of “Oh you could do this” or was there a period of time where that was something you wanted to focus on?
Are you thinking of anything specifically?

Like The Usual Suspects and MacGruber even.
MacGruber, they used that in the show, Saturday Night Live. Those were actually music cues from the original skits on SNL. Those were licensed, those were library tracks that I wrote for, as it turns out, a former classmate at USC who was on the founders of Megatrax. So they’re in the Megatrax library. They got licensed for the film in addition to Saturday Night Live

That is amazing. So that was just something that you did as some extra work and then it got picked up? 
Yes. You can never predict whether those things go. There are instances of library music making it all the way to be a main title or something like that. Two examples off the top of my head; The Twilight Zone theme was actually composed of two library cues stuck together. The Captain Kangaroo theme also was from a library. It comes from Chapel Library. So you don’t have much influence on that, but if you placed it with a library that has a good reach, a good marketing department, your chances are improved. But again a lot of that comes down to connections as well. Megatrax for a number of years had a good connection with NBC. 

So when did you see that sketch for the first time? 
I’m pretty sure that I just tuned into Saturday Night Live one night and was very surprised and pleased to hear it was on there. 

I’m guessing the original version you composed didn’t have all the words which are “making life-saving inventions with household materials.”
Yeah, that was the original. That was not mine. Mine was the underscore underneath the really tense action music. So that was, I think that was probably something that they wrote, the SNL staff put together. But altogether, it was a lot of fun. I love when they take music like that and really serious sounding stuff and put it into a unique situation. Now as the other one that you mentioned, The Usual Suspects, that was through actually a high school friend who was a music supervisor on the show. So she just, knowing my piano playing and all that, she said that they needed a recording for some piano; some background piano music for a scene that took place in a restaurant. Originally she wanted me to write some stuff. So I wrote a couple of different things and it wasn’t quite what they wanted. They actually were looking for something even a little bit more classical and it was a Debussy prelude. She said, “Well, if you can learn this in a weekend, I’ll use it in a film.” They made a recording. So it was not that hard. You know, spend a weekend learning it and recorded it with a friend, and it made its way to the movie and onto the soundtrack. 

I’m interested to know more about the library music that you’ve composed and how often you do that. 
I still do it. I’m not as involved in it as a lot of people are, but I manage to do a CDs worth every couple of years. Most of it has been released through Megatrax, again through this connection that I established at USC. They had me do a lot of stuff with them; synth-based stuff as well as orchestral. When they started planning to do an orchestral library, I was one of the people that they contacted. This must have been 25 years ago. I wrote a ton of stuff for their first orchestral release, and then another couple since then. The third time they went back to do that, we did a group of sessions in London. So I sort of became a specialist in orchestral library stuff. 

Working in so many genres, I imagine there must be some that you are like, “Oh god. Not another horror movie.” Or like “Wow, a kids movie. I’ve never done that before.” What have been some of your greatest challenges throughout the years with different genres? 
The biggest challenge, I think is, probably still in the horror, sci-fi genres, where they want to use a lot of extended orchestral techniques; so the notation has to change. You have to be a little bit more graphic with the notation. There are some conventions that have been established and actually Corigliano had a lot do with that. But then there are other instances where you just kind of find yourself being descriptive in vocabulary about the kind of sound that you want; or you just mention a specific technique. But notionally it’s different it always takes a little bit more thought how to lay that out architecturally. But I like that stuff. It’s a complete turn-around from my early days at college. I just like working that way with sound. 

Are there any genres you haven’t touched?
I think I’ve done pretty much everything. That’s comedy pictures, done some dramas, sci-fi, fantasy. I think I’ve managed to work on pretty much any kind of film, any kind of genre. Over time, you just get called on to do whatever a composer does. 

Looking back on all that you’ve done and all you continue to do, what thus far is that work you’re most proud of? 
You don’t always have the time to sort of sit and savor something, but there have definitely been films that stand out that way. You watch Troy, Avatar was another one. That was very immersive. It took about six months actually which is uncommonly long for an orchestrator to be able to be on a project. J.A.C. Redford was the principal orchestrator and I was the second and between him and me we did the bulk of the orchestration on that film and it was really very rewarding. When we first got called to look at the film, I didn’t know what to expect and I was so amazed seeing clips of that film; and they were preparing a promotional reel for Comic-Con. So that’s kind of why they brought orchestrators on early, so that they would have a soundtrack to play for the clips they were using. Those cues ended up staying pretty intact for the film anyway. But my jaw dropped. So never seen anything like that. It was so striking and I always want to feel like I’m growing or developing in some way. Just always moving forward. Music is a lifelong profession and if you’re doing it right, music will humble you every single day. It just gives you a sense of being alive, to always be looking for something new to learn and to explore. You could spend a lifetime and just never feel like you mastered everything. That’s something very exciting about that. 

JON KULL PHOTO BY MICHAEL KOSINSKI/BERKLEE ONLINE