BY JULIA CIRIGNANO
Throughout 2016, Limelight Magazine has spotlighted a number of great film score composers and the soundtracks they created, primarily in the horror movie genre. We think everyone would agree that classic films such as Psycho, Halloween and Friday the 13th just wouldn’t be the same without their memorable scores.
When we found out that J. Blake Fichera, of New York, recently authored a book called Scored to Death: Conversations with Some of Horror’s Greatest Composers, we couldn’t wait to interview him for a feature story.
In his book, Fichera interviewed 14 renowned film score composers who have created music for such films as The Beyond, The Conjuring, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Hellraiser, House of the Devil, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Supsiria and many more. Among the composers he interviewed are: Nathan Barr, Charles Bernstein, Joseph Bishara, Simon Boswell, John Carpenter, Jay Chattaway, Fabio Frizzi, Jeff Grace, Maurizio Guarini, Tom Hajdu, Alan Howarth, Harry Manfredini, Claudio Simonetti, and Christopher Young.
In our interview with Fichera, he spoke about why he chose to write Scored to Death, how he chose each composer, the format of his book, and a number of other interesting things.
“My favorite kinds of books are film and music-related non-fiction and horror film scores are a genre of music that I am passionate about,” Fichera said. “So the decision to write Scored to Death actually, kind of, came out of necessity. I really wanted to read a book like it but I couldn’t find one, so I decided to write it myself.”
Fichera explained why he felt confident about writing the book due to his experience interviewing artists.
“I have been interviewing musicians and film-related people for various publications and websites, off and on, for years,” Fichera said. “In my own mind, it didn’t seem that crazy at the time. Had I not had experience as an interviewer, I may have been too intimidated to actually go through with it but I knew that talking to artists about what they do was something I really loved doing. So I decided to just go for it and now, almost 3 years later, the book has been completed, published, released and luckily, the feedback has been pretty good.”
Fichera is obviously a skilled writer, editor, producer, and musician. Although his parents were not musicians, music has always been a big part of his life, starting with the influence of his grandfather.
“My grandfather was actually a dancer, singer and one half of a comedy duo called Fisher and Marks,” Fichera said. “They were the comic relief in a couple of forgotten music-themed movies in the 1950s and had a live act, etc. I guess music and performing may be in my DNA somewhere, but my grandfather died when I was pretty young so I don’t think he was a direct influence on my love for music and performing live.”
Although his parents were not musicians, they kindled Fichera’s love for music during his childhood that has continued into the present day.
“My parents and my older brother are all music-lovers, with pretty eclectic tastes and I think that is where my love for music, and so many different kinds of music, stems from,” he said. “Listening to music is just something I always did and then when I was in high school, I started playing guitar. Now as an adult, I perform live regularly in New York City.”
In Scored to Death, Fichera interviewed a variety of classic and contemporary film composers over the phone, with the exception of Fabio Frizzi which was done by e-mail because of the language barrier.
“I love horror film music so picking composers I liked and wanted to talk to was my first priority,” Fichera began. “That was really the most important thing to me, because this was a passion project. I didn’t have a publisher when I started. I was doing this on my own and for myself, so I wanted to enjoy the experience! Also, of course, featuring some composers of iconic scores from iconic horror films was important but I’d say even more important to me, was interviewing a diverse group of artists. I really wanted to cover as wide a spectrum of horror film music and artistry as I could.”
Scored to Death is a great read especially for anyone who is interested in horror film scores. One interesting thing about the book is the way it’s structured with self-contained interviews. This way, readers can jump from one composer to another without necessarily reading the book from beginning to end.
“I didn’t really have a format in mind when I started writing, because I didn’t know what I was going to get,” Fichera said. “I think one of the book’s biggest strengths is that the interviews feel very conversational. I think because of that, giving each of the composers their own chapter, seemed to be the best option. I really just wanted to do whatever would serve the book best and ultimately I decided that keeping each interview/conversation intact seemed to be the way I would want to read them.”
Fichera enjoyed interviewing all of the 14 composers. He said each of them had something interesting and unique to add to the book.
“I think all of the composers really opened up and had very insightful things to say about themselves, their work, their process, the business, etc.,” Fichera said. “What I will say though, is that I’ve had more than a few people tell me that they like how ‘raw’ the Christopher Young interview is and I think that is because Chris and I got a bit into the nitty-gritty, regarding the ups and downs of being a composer in the film industry, and he was extremely candid and honest about it. It seems that many readers are finding that part of his interview very enlightening and interesting.”
Despite being very happy with the composers he chose to interview, Fichera said there were some that he wanted to interview but wasn’t able to.
“Two of the biggest deciding factors regarding who actually ended up in the book were (1) could I find contact information for them and (2) did they get back to me,” he said. “Nobody declined to participate, but several people or their agents just never got back to me. Now that could be because the contact information I found was false or out of date, etc., but nonetheless, they are not in the book.”
Fichera doesn’t have a favorite horror movie composer but he did mention one of his biggest inspirations.
“The biggest inspirations for my pursuing the book were probably John Carpenter and the band Goblin,” Fichera said.
Due to Fichera’s passion for many horror movies, he couldn’t possibly pick a favorite.
“I don’t have one favorite horror film but I will say that one of my favorite horror films is John Carpenter’s The Thing,” Fichera said.
Fichera said he has been inspired and intrigued by the genre of horror for a while now.
“In one way or another, horror has always been a very big part of my life,” he said. “Although I didn’t get serious about horror films and really start to study them and explore all aspects of them until high school and then especially in film school/college.”
Fichera promoted the book with a signing at Dark Delicacies in Burbank, CA, on August 21, 2016. He talked about how he found out about the store.
“I took a trip to Los Angeles in the spring and had the great pleasure and honor of hanging out with a few of the composers featured in the book,” Fichera said. “While at dinner with Harry Manfredini and Joseph Bishara, they told me that I should check out this bookstore called Dark Delicacies while I was in town because they thought I would love it.”
One thing led to another and the store owners Sue and Del Howison ended up hosting Fichera for a signing at their store. While many of the composers whom Fichera interviewed attended the event, Fichera was surprised to see Charles Bernstein and Alan Howarth in attendance. This was Fichera’s first time meeting them. He talked about the experience and the support he received.
“I knew Harry, Joseph and Chris would come because those are three of the composers I spent time with during my spring trip to LA and they all expressed that they would definitely be there,” Fichera began. “Several of the other composers that live in the area expressed that they would love to attend, if their scheduled permitted, so that was the reason for the uncertainty regarding Charles and Alan. I knew they wanted to come but I wasn’t sure they would be able to. Thankfully they did show up!”
Fichera has been surprised by his own success and thrilled by the outcome at the Dark Delicacies signing.
“The signing was amazing! I had never done one before, so I don’t know what a ‘good turnout’ is for that kind of thing but the store’s owners seemed happy. So that made me happy,” Fichera said. “To me it was a bit like a dream. Before the signing, Joseph Bishara and I were standing around chatting and he commented, ‘Hey people are starting to line up already. That’s great!’ For some reason I replied, ‘Yeah, but they are all here to see you guys (meaning the composers, not me)’ and he looked at me and said, ‘Maybe, but we are all here because of you and to support your book. Don’t forget that.’ Which left me kind of speechless because I never really thought about it that way. For some reason, it hadn’t sunk in that five of horror’s most iconic composers were not only in the same room together but they were there, specifically to support the book and me!”
Fichera also spoke about how glad he is that many boutique labels, such as Mondo, Death Waltz and Waxwork Records, are now filling the void in the marketplace by releasing horror movie soundtracks on vinyl.
“I am extremely happy that these scores are having a renaissance and being distributed,” Fichera said. “It is about time that these composers and their amazing work are being highlighted and given their due. I do have to admit though, that I don’t love the ‘limited edition’ and ‘variant’ aspects of that business. It has been getting better because labels are now releasing less limited ‘standard’ editions of soundtracks in addition to the ‘limited editions’ but much like variant comic book covers and the way the DVD/Blu-ray industry releases a new-and-improved edition of beloved films every year or so, I can’t help but feel like it preys on and takes advantage of the loyalty and passion of the true fans and collectors.”
Most of the feedback that Scored to Death has received so far has been positive. Fichera talked about his surprise due to the positive reaction that he hadn’t expected but gladly accepts.
“There haven’t been that many formal reviews but the ones that have been written are favorable,” Fichera said. “The book was just included on a list of ‘10 Essential Books for the Horror Fan,’ which is amazing because it is in some very good company. The coolest thing though, and something I totally wasn’t expecting, is that people are sending me and posting pictures of their personal copies of the book on social media. I find that amazing and a bit surreal. That’s my baby popping up in pictures from all over the world! I love that and I’m grateful to everyone that has purchased a copy and has supported the book and I hope they enjoy reading it as much I enjoyed working on it.”
You can grab your copy of Scored to Death: Conversations with Some of Horror’s Greatest Composers on Amazon by clicking HERE and it can be ordered at most local bookstores.
“I’m hoping to do more signings and I will be selling and signing books at various horror conventions in the future,” Fichera said. “If people are interested in that kind of stuff or just want to keep up with all things Scored to Death, they can follow the book on Facebook and Twitter @ScoredtoDeath.”
Also check out one of Fichera’s other projects.
“I co-host a very fun and nostalgic movie-themed podcast called Saturday Night Movie Sleepovers,” Fichera said. “If you love movies and listen to podcasts, give us a listen when you get a chance. It’s available on iTunes and most other podcast sites and apps and people can follow that on Facebook and Twitter as well, if they like.”