With the growing international success of German films, the popularity of German film composers is also increasing. It is no longer just Oscar-winning Hans Zimmer but also Martin Todsharow and Annette Focks who are reaping worldwide acclaim.
Often, the success is the outcome of a longstanding creative partnership between the composer and the director: prime examples are the collaboration between Martin Todsharow and Oskar Roehler (Elementary Particles / Elementarteilchen) or Annette Focks and Dagmar Hirtz (Ich wollte nicht töten / i.e. I didn't want to kill).
Duo Moritz Denis and Eike Hosenfeld – both of them musicians and composers – are an exciting new discovery. But perhaps "new" is not quite the right word, for despite their young age – just 30 – they both have a prolific repertoire. "We started off in my bedroom", recalls Eike Hosenfeld with a smile. "For the sound check, the producers perched on the edge of the bed and the microphone was set up in the hallway …" The two young composers have known each other since they played punk rock together in a garage band in the Berlin suburb of Friedrichshain, with Hosenfeld on drums and Denis on bass. "We realised very early on that we wanted to carry on working together", says Hosenfeld, "and then we got lucky. Our first major contract came just as I graduated." The music the duo wrote for the children's TV series Pengo! Steinzeit!
on the ZDF broadcasting network was a hit, and the commissions starting rolling in.
A loft, not an ivory tower
As a result, the duo formed their company "Tonbüro" together with Hosenfeld's classmate Christian Riegel. The firm advises on sound production for stage and screen and offers a complete post-production service from sound design to the final mixing. "Working with other industry professionals stops us from being isolated in an ivory tower. You keep both feet on the ground, and there is always someone to give you honest feedback", says Moritz Denis. This creates economic synergies as well. If a guitar sequence is needed or some background music is required at short notice, Hosenfeld and Denis step in.
The studio loft has two recording booths, a black grand piano, around 12 string instruments and high-tech software flickering across oversized screens. The atmosphere is both inspiring and professional. ”A lot of our colleagues spend their days working at a screen in a darkened room. That’s not for us. Making music and doing live gigs with different bands are vital sources of creativity for us", adds Denis.
Working with the director
The duo cover a broad spectrum: feature films, TV and even commercials. So what is the difference between composing for film and composing for TV? "As a rule, TV tends to demand music which conforms with the genre, whereas we have more artistic freedom when composing for films”, says Eike Hosenfeld. Traditionally, film composition was part of the post-production process. "That varies", says Denis. "Sometimes we will have composed the entire score by the final cut, but in other cases, we won't start work on the composition until filming is in the bag." "The advantage of starting the composition early is that neither the producer nor the director gets too accustomed to the layout music
, which is often taken from existing compositions from other films", he continues. "The melodies then become pretty much fixed and we are told to come up with something similar. That's not really very interesting, or much of a challenge".
Does the script provide the basis for the composers' ideas? "The intellectual analysis of the story is important, but composition is also an intuitive process. With a feature film in particular, the music offers the chance to tap into another creative level", explains Eike Hosenfeld. The casting can also add another dimension: in the case of According to the Plan (Frei nach Plan), for example, the director had decided that Dagmar Manzel should sing a song in one of the final scenes, so Denis and Hosenfeld came up with a composition especially for this scene to suit Manzel's voice.
Training and professional networks
Moritz Denis is self-taught, whereas Eike Hosenfeld has a degree in sound engineering from Potsdam Film and Television Academy (HFF Konrad Wolf). "We are the perfect team", says Moritz Denis. "My musical ideas are often quite unorthodox. Eike, on the other hand, can listen to an orchestral arrangement and write it down". With their very different educational backgrounds, the two are quite typical of the German film composition scene. Alongside the graduates with a classical music education, there are a great many self-taught composers – Dieter Schleip is one of the best-known
– who are proving their worth in the market place. "Apart from giving us the basics, the most important aspect of my university career was the chance to network. I worked on more than 40 short films, all made by fellow students", says Hosenfeld. This has given rise to longstanding creative partnerships, notably with film maker Franziska Meletzky. The duo composed the music for all her films, including According to the Plan (Frei nach Plan)
, which recently won the best film award at Shanghai International Film Festival. Other long-term creative partners include directors Katinka Feistl (Am I Sexy? / Bin ich sexy?
) and Karola Hattop (Secondhand child / Wer küsst schon einen Leguan?
"Another important network is the German Film Academy", adds Denis. "It provides us with contacts with other professionals with whom we can discuss a whole range of topics very openly – from contractual terms to fees, and of course creative issues. The same applies to the Composer’s Club and the German Composers' Association." And their network is expanding: for example, since the start of their careers, the duo have worked with music supervisor Matthias Tode. Music supervisors typically deal with the negotiation and licensing of music commissioned for a film and are increasingly involved in handling submissions for film music contracts.
And last but not least, let's not forget the importance of cultivating a diverse network of creative partners: in the film Kebab Connection, the Dean Martin hit Everybody loves somebody sometimes was supposed to be used for a fight scene. Unfortunately, the budget didn't stretch to the acquisition of the original, so Denis and Hosenfeld performed a new arrangement of the song, accompanied by Babelsberg Film Orchestra, and persuaded a friend with a suitably velvet voice to do the vocals. "He's actually a farmer – so that just shows you the importance of networking!" laughs Denis.
Soundtracks composed by Annette Focks, Katia Tchemberdji, Stefan Will and Martin Todsharow are presented in the CD-series edition Filmusik – Komponiert in Deutschland (i.e.edition film music - composed in Germany) by the film magazine Film-Dienst. Additional portraits of composers are intended.