Wednesday, 18 June 2008


Since 25 years, the future of the Movie and TV soundtrack industry is invariably written in Germany.

When Hermann Joha, the producer who pushed the limits of action sequences at a level never reached before, needed a totally original musical universe for the feature film adapted from the hit tv series The Clown, he naturally asked Kay Skerra to conceive it. Encounter with one of the most promising, creative and talented german film and television composer.

Kay Skerra, thank you very much for accepting this interview. Long before becoming a composer for film and television, you founded a band, Anchorage. Could you please tell us a few words about your work with this group and the kind of music you were playing.

Kay Skerra : I started my musical career as a drummer in several projects. Anchorage was my first experience in working with a real band. In the very beginning it was only bass guitar (Heiko Nitsche), guitar (Kai Saffran) and me - playing drums. Later on and influenced by Olaf Parusel and his musical project Stoa, I bought my first Atari computer and several sound modules.

We worked a lot with it, especially adding orchestral elements to the music and it changed our ways of composing dramatically. It was astounding to see how easily ideas out of my head could turn into results.

What were your musical influences at the time ?

Kay Skerra : We were influenced by bands like Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, The Swans, Dead can dance or And also the trees. Anchorage mostly played some kind of Wave music with symphonic influences. Film music very soon became a major source of inspiration.

You have a solid theorical and practical backround in music. What did you learn from your studies in musicology, film music and sound design that you consider most important and still have in mind today in your work for movies and TV ?

Kay Skerra : I always try to be open to new influences and experiments and I try to avoid to use the same structures everytime - even if it may seem the easiest way. So I can have a fresh look at every new project with its different needs and - hopefully - find something special that fits and supports the mood of the scene.

But nevertheless I think it is important to always remember your roots - the reason and the feeling, why one started composing music at all.

Since 2001 you have worked for major tv productions and in 2004 you wrote the score for your first theatrical movie, The Clown - Payday, the film adaptation of the Clown tv series. This is a totally original soundtrack with no relation to the musical universe of the series (especially the theme composed by Helmut Zerlett, not used in the feature film - which is a very clever idea).

What kind of atmosphere Hermann Joha, the producer, and Sebastian Vigg, the director, were looking for with this score ?

Kay Skerra : They both wanted to untie The Clown from its television background, renew it and lift it to a cinematic level. So they wanted the music to deepen the emotion and dramatic parts of the main character and the story in an epic scale, and of course the music should support the elaborate action scenes and make them « fast and furious ».

How did you work with them on the conception of the score during the shooting of the movie ?

Kay Skerra : I joined the project after the final cuts were done. From the beginning it was clear, that we would work with a big orchestra. So after Hermann Joha and Sebastian Vigg told me what they wanted the music to do for the movie, I made some suggestions for special scenes. After they heard the music, they were enthusiastic about it and the sound for the movie was set.

What had you in mind while reinventing a main theme for The Clown ? What were your personal demands on this effective, impressive and epic theme ?

Kay Skerra : We wanted a theme that underlines on the one hand the heroic aspects and on the other hand the tragic, broken moment of the main character (only in this movie, in the TV-series there are some storyline based differences). It should add emotional depth to the character. And it had to be a theme that functions in various ways : for dramatic action scenes as well as for epic or emotional moments... because the main character is drawn between a lot of different feelings, like despair - loosing his best friend/lover, rage - hunting down the bad guy, falling in love again...

Find my love by Dare, illustrates one of the highest dramatic moments of the movie (unfortunately, the song has been replaced for some foreign markets). Did you work directly on this song and were you consulted for the choice of the song by Exilia as the End title ?

Kay Skerra : Dare is a group of friends : Gabriela Carasusán, who wrote the text and the vocal line, Dirk Leupolz, who wrote and programmed the playback together with me and played the guitar and Kerim König, who did the vocals, and we wrote and performed the song together specifically for this scene. For the other songs I was asked to make suggestions on a certain basis, because - of course - there was a record company involved and a marketing plan behind it.

Could you please tell us some few words about Gabriela Carasusan and your work with her and about your others collaborations, with composers Kai Saffran or Andreas Koslik ?

Kay Skerra : Gabriela and I met during our film music studies, worked together, fell in love and married. Since then we worked on several projects together as co-composers. We have our studios wall to wall - that makes co-working easy and efficient. She as well composed some additional music for The Clown.

Kai Saffran is a friend and colleague whom I know for a very long time. He was part of Anchorage too. For the moment we have no joint projects, but we are still in contact. I have heard a lot of Andreas Koslik before I met him, and he heard a lot of me and then finally we met on a friends party. We liked each other from the beginning and he invited me to work with him on Mauer des Schweigens (a TV-thriller by Jorgo Papavassiliou). By the way, I really enjoy collaborations. It is very inspiring and most of the time much more fun, than working alone.

One of your most notable entry for television is the theme for the Millennium Mann series. This show was the epitome of a trend to emulate US TV hits but you succeeded in creating a completely original tone. Is it difficult to be innovative in composing a signature theme for a series which, to say the least, is not so innovative ?

Kay Skerra : It always is a challenge to be innovative. But what was special in this case was that I had to work on the base of a written synopsis of the series and sketches, graphics and storyboards (because the titles hadn’t been finished at that time), which were really inspiring.

Talking about innovation, your name is associated to action concept, the company which revolutionized the production of tv-series in Germany. How did you start working with Hermann Joha ?

Kay Skerra : The first movie I did for action concept (AC) was Megalodon (2004), but I did’t meet Hermann Joha personally. The Clown was the major project for the company at that time and a kind of special « obsession » to him, so he was much more involved. When he visited me in my studio in Berlin the first time, I was quite a bit nervous, but when we met, I found out that he really is a down-to-the-ground normal man, who can burn with passion when he is in love with a particular project.

I am really thankful, that a company like AC exists in Germany, because - besides their normal business - they take on the challenge to produce movies almost no other company would dare to make, because there is no secure market - for instance, action movies or genre productions like Megalodon. And the success of their work is showing that it is worth the risk.

It has been announced that you will score Alarm for Cobra 11, their most glorious title if not an institution of german television. What do you want to bring musically to this institution ?

Kay Skerra : I was asked to modernize the sound of the music on the base of the style the former composers Reinhard Scheuregger and Klaus Garternicht have created. This is great fun, because it allows me to experiment with sounds and techniques, that would hardly fit into a german television movie format.

Who are your favourite film and television composers ? Are there composers that influence your work and your artistic conception of your work ?

Kay Skerra : To establish the list of my favourite composers would be very long, if we would try to deal with this task seriously. For example I like the work of James Newton Howard (for the noblesse and a certain stylishness in his music), Alan Silvestri (for the great impact of his music), Howard Shore (especially his dark night-pieces for Fincher movies like Seven or The Game) or Elliot Goldenthal. These are the « classical » favourites, but besides that, there is quite a lot of « young » composers, whose work I watch with great interest, e.g. Roque Banos or Alexandre Desplat. But I think I am influenced by almost all the music I listen to.

Which themes marked you the most when you were younger ?

Kay Skerra :
When I was about 14 years old, I was interested in arts especially in the work of H.R. Giger. Then one day I watched a television documentary about him, where pictures of the movie Alien were shown. Some days later the first Alien movie was on TV. I even missed a party because I was so strained to see it - and was struck by the score of Jerry Goldsmith.

I wasn’t very interested in film scores or classical music before but since that moment something grew inside me. A little later I discovered Scriabin’s The Poem Of Extasy and Prometheus/Poem of Fire and this and the first Alien score showed me a world of sound, which illustrated magically this Giger world of artwork. For me this experience was the beginning of my passion for film music and illustrative music.

Do the german TV and movie industry offer to the artist you are all the personal and professional satisfaction you wish ? Would you like to have the opportunity to work in the US and, maybe, contribute to change the film score conception and production there, like Hans Zimmer or Klaus Badelt did ?

Kay Skerra : Since I always have new dreams and ideas, it is not that easy to be satisfied completely - but I think that’s not dependent to the country or specific film industry you live or work in, but would be the same everywhere else, in every situation. I would always long for the next project and dream of this or that.

Actually I would like to work more for cinema productions, but in Germany only very few movies are produced per year. That’s sad, but the number will only increase if a good job is done here. And I think, that’s happening at the moment.

Anyway what about Europe ? I also would be happy to have the opportunity to work for french, british, italian... productions. A lot of really interesting and ambitioned movies are produced here in Europe, I think it is a very interesting market. Of course I wouldn’t reject to work in the U.S. since they have the biggest film industry, a lot of very interesting productions are done there.

But finally I would work everywhere if there is an interesting and challenging project.

As a spectator, what kind of movies do you prefer ? What is the last movie you’ve recently watched ?

Kay Skerra : I like movies that have an emotional impact on me. For example most of David Lynch’s movies or Alejandro Amenabar’s Abre los ojos or Brian de Palma’s work - I am very impatient to see his adaption of the novel Black Dahlia from James Ellroy.

Recently I saw Stay on DVD. It is a very mysterious movie with fantastic photography, an innovative edit, a beautiful music from Asche and Spencer and a story that still occupies my mind.

What are the themes you’re most proud of ?

Kay Skerra : It is always difficult to be proud of one’s own work - at least for me, because I always look for improvement and I am never completely satisfied. And because there’s a constant development in one’s abilities, the recent work is always nearer to what for the moment seems to be « perfect ». When the person I work with - e.g. the director or producer of a movie - leaves my studio happy and inspired and satisfied, then I feel proud for the work I have done.

On what are you working currently and what are your next professional projects ?

Kay Skerra : Currently I work on the Cobra 11 Series. Additionally we are in discussion for two really interesting television movies, but they are not confirmed yet, so I cannot give you more information about that at the moment.

(Interview done in 2006)


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