Exclusive: ENEMIES CLOSER Interview with Emmy-nominated Tony Morales

You’re watching a movie, and everything’s quiet. There’s a man wondering around a construction site. Then suddenly, you sense danger. Not because anything on the screen changed, but because an eerie tone started playing. The tone gets louder, and you prepare yourself for something bad to happen to the character. Suddenly it stops, creating even more suspense. Then “boom!” There’s an explosion, and the music comes alive to highlight an epic chase scene through the construction site, jumping over the Empire Cat equipment and machines as bullets whiz by. Try watching that on mute, and it’s nowhere near as exciting without the music.

Emmy-nominated Tony Morales is the man behind the music. If you’ve seen Hatfields & McCoys, Iron Man 3, Now You See Me, Just Shoot Me, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Warehouse 13, then you’ve heard his work. He’s also recently finished working on the new Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, Enemies Closer, due out January 24. I got to talk with Tony about the new film and get a little insight into his creation process. Check it out:

How did you get involved writing music for TV and film?

I discovered film music while attending Berklee School of Music.  Upon graduation, I moved to Los Angeles to then attend the Scoring For Motion Picuture and Television Program at USC. There I was fortunate enough to study under the likes of Elmer Bernstien, David Raksin, Buddy Baker and Chris Young. My first job as a composer was writing music for ads. After several years of doing that, I started to move into film and TV as an arranger/ composer behind other film composers such as John Debney, Brian Tyler and Harry Gregson-Williams.

Describe your process of creation.

It’s always different, and it really depends on the project. That being said, I like to write a few pieces of music that are thematic to preview for the director or producers. Getting a theme or tone right before I start is crucial to the process. Once I have an approved idea in place, it’s all about executing the rest.

What sort of instrumentation do you prefer?

My preference of instrumentation is always in flux. One of the best things about being a film and tv composer is that the musical palette is a wide open canvas. I genuinely love working with the various instrumentations that are available to me be it electronic or live musicians. That being said, the sound of a full orchestra performing your music is quite a rush!

Since you started doing this in 1998, what’s been the biggest technology change that’s affected your work?

There are several to choose from but the biggest, for me, is the quality of orchestral samples. Back then the sample libraries were pretty revolutionary but had too many limitations. Today’s vast variety of orchestral and non-orchestral samples are very flexible. The writing possibilities are endless.

What kind of deadlines do you have when working on a movie score?

Most studio films I’ve worked on, as composer and/or arranger, have schedules that range from eight to four weeks. That includes writing, revising, recording & mix. But it’s never the same. Indie films are harder to schedule because many times they’re not facing a release date so they have more time to tinker.

Do you ever have times when you just can’t think of anything to write? How do you overcome that?

All the time. There’s no real way, for me, to overcome that other than to just keep writing.

Since music is so objective, I’d imagine there are times when other people on your team don’t agree with what you’ve created. If/when that happens, how do you react?

It’s best to be a team player regardless of opinions. At the end of the day, the music is there to serve the filmmaker. So whenever we don’t see eye to eye on music direction, I’m always prepared to keep working on it until it’s right for that project.

Tell us a little bit about the movie Enemies Closer.

Enemies Closer is directed by Peter Hyams starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Orlando Jones and Tom Everett. It’s a fun, over-the-top action film that has some surprisingly good humor to it as well.

Describe how you went about creating the music for it.

When I first saw the film, Peter had already put a temp score to it. Having the style and pacing laid out for me at that point, I just went to work writing a handful of thematic ideas. Once having his approval on them, I got to writing.  We would meet once a week for three weeks straight to go over what I had written the previous week. It was a fast-paced project for sure.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently putting the finishing touches on the score to an indie film called In Your Eyes which is written and produced by Joss Whedon. Be on the lookout for this one to hit the festival circuit in 2014. The past summer I scored a short for DreamWorks Animation called Rocky And Bullwinkle. The film is directed by Gary Trousdale(Beauty And The Beast) and features June Foray reprising her role as Rocket J. Squirel. The short will be release sometime 2014.

What kind of advice do you have for anyone who’s looking to get into composition for film?

You have to be persistent and determined. Don’t get discouraged. It can be a truly rewarding career once you find your way.

When you’re not working on scores and arrangements, what music have you been listening to lately?

Lately it’s been Vampire Weekend, Haim and Aaron Copeland. Not in any particular order!

I noticed on your website bio page you said you spent your adolescence in “a series of unfortunately named bands.” I’m dying to know what some of them were!

Atomicaust, Nervewomb & some not fit for print….although that sounds like a GOOD band name.

Haha those sound great! Let us know if any of them do a reunion tour. Thank you again for taking the time to answer these. I’m really looking forward to seeing what you do next (especially the Rock and Bullwinkle short).

My pleasure, much appreciated!

Check out Enemies Closer on January 24, and check out the trailer here: 

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The Author

Scott Huntington

Scott Huntington

Scott Huntington is a writer, reporter, blogger, and movie-geek. He currently lives in PA and with his wife and son, writing about movies and beyond. Follow Scott at @SMHuntington or check out his blog,