Los Angeles-based composer Max Aruj worked on two exciting projects this summer: the crime drama Lansky featuring Vertical Entertainment’s legendary gangster Meyer Lansky and action thriller starring Liam Neeson The ice road from Netflix. Jeff Ames of ComingSoon spoke with Max about his evolving career and his musical process.
Max got his start in the industry working for the famous film music center Remote Control Productions in Santa Monica, Calif., Where he worked closely with composer Lorne Balfe on a number of projects including Ad Astra, Black Widow, and HBO Its dark materials.
Max first collaborated with Lansky writer-director Eytan Rockaway on psychological thriller The abandoned. Their established working relationship allowed them to deepen their creativity this time around. For The ice road, Max collaborated with director Jonathan Hensleigh and his goal was to really act in classic action tropes and create an explosive next-level score.
RELATED: Interview: Lansky Director Eytan Rockaway Talks Crime Drama
Jeff Ames: What attracted you to the world of film composition?
Max Aruj: Well I loved classical music as a kid and loved movies and it seemed like a natural marriage of the two. I remember that I loved Fancy – it just blew me away. I think from there I was kind of drawn to it. The matrix and fear of heights, these are my favorite sheet music. It just spoke to me and years later I do, but I was just drawn to it.
You worked alongside Lorne Balfe for a while. How was this concert born?
It started with an internship with Hans Zimmer in college and I met Lorne the first day and after proving myself for a year doing intern stuff – like food and coffee – Lorne asked me to come and work for him the following summer. I worked for him every day – no days off – and we formed a great working relationship. After a year of going back to school, I was finishing and they offered me a job, which was a great time.
During this time you have worked as a sound editor, score advisor and technical assistant for the score on movies like The Dark Knight Rises, Mission: Impossible – Fallout and video games like Assassin’s Creed, how these jobs got you- they prepared for solo gigs like Crawl, Lanksy and the Ice Road?
I think the idea that every piece of music in the film, whether it’s a small traditional line-up or a massive action scene, requires the same care. In my opinion, the orchestral score is thirty instruments. Every part that is rendered must be fair and perfect. So as an assistant you start and it’s a technical task, but then as you get more and more trust from the guys and experience you start to make arrangements and then you write , and it’s just the idea that everything is important. And all of this must be treated with the same level of dignity.
Speaking of Lansky, you had previously worked with director Eytan Rockaway, was that what ultimately drew you to the project?
Oh yeah, that was the relationship. That’s kind of the point as a songwriter is that when you work with someone, they come back to you. And that was the case with this one. He emailed me over a year and a half ago and told me he had this movie called Lansky that he wanted to work on with me. He sent me the script and I was immediately drawn to it. It was a gangster movie, it was about Lansky – it was just cool and touching. I love Martin Scorsese and The Godfather and all those great gangster movies, so I was excited to be working on one myself.
How did you approach this score? Was there a feeling of needing to separate yourself from other âtypicalâ gangster scores?
When we started the project, Eytan said he wanted to go with 80s colors – a sort of Vangelis sound – because old Lansky, played by Harvey Keitel, is in the 80s and he’s looking back on his life. in the ’30s and’ 40s. So we used that palette – and we were hoping that would immediately set us apart, and I think it was – and then we paired it with themes, thematic music. So, a little how The Godfather has this kind of opera tapestry, I think we did the same in that we have themes for Lansky and we also have its theme in relation to Judaism, so we tried to keep it thematically related and I think we succeeded.
Was there an opportunity to step outside your comfort zone in terms of instruments or musical style?
I think something that I hadn’t done before was, in this genre and style of movie – it’s very serious drama – and the goal was to write a theme that we could use throughout the movie. , and I have to say I’m proud because I think it works everywhere. I’ve worked on a bunch of other movies, but on this one it was so hard to find the right tone because it was meant to be serious and dramatic. I think I accomplished this on the first track on the album – that’s Lansky’s theme – but it was just walking the link very gently to make sure I wasn’t pushing anything too far or too fast. .
RELATED: Interview: Liam Neeson Talks About Netflix Action Movie The Ice Road
So Lansky is more of a character study, but The Ice Road is a direct-action image. I read that you wanted to build on classic action tropes – what led you to this approach?
When I first spoke with [director] Jonathan Hensleigh, he was very clear on what he wanted. He wanted a fun action movie with themes that he remembered that hit things and followed the action and – the beginning, the middle and the end – was a full and complete story. When I found out Liam Neeson was in it I was excited because he’s awesome and everything he does is awesome – but, for example, every time our hero does something heroic or saves her day, we wanted to hear his theme. So writing a theme that worked in different places in the movie that I was able to fit throughout the movie, that played in those tropes where when the hero saves the day we hear his music.
Likewise, when the bad guy is reveling in his bad behavior, we need to hear his music. So, it’s very academic in that you have to have a melody that works from start to finish. It cannot just function, it has to function fully.
Ames: So, what genre do you generally lean towards? More dramatic dishes like Lansky, or big action movies like The Ice Road?
I don’t have a preference, I like everything. Having a sense of variety in the workload is really important because then when you hit the new genre, you feel fresh again – the ideas and approaches that you can gain from working on a different genre.
These two genres occurred simultaneously, The ice road mostly happened after Lansky, but there was a bit of an overlap. But all was welcome. It was all fun.
On a related note, when you are working on so many projects at once, are there elements that flow from project to project? For example, do you develop a concept in Lansky that you develop further in The Ice Road?
I’m happy to say that didn’t happen on those two projects, but I remember working for Lorne and seeing him switch between multiple projects in one day. I remember thinking, is this guy crazy? It takes many years to be able to sit down and divide your creative mind and be like, âOkay, now I’m going to be working on this Lansky movie and in three hours I have to get back to this great action movie. The ice road because the director has to see it the next morning. As a movie songwriter you sometimes find yourself in these situations and all that hard work and years of blowing off steam for Lorne, you develop all these skills and abilities to do it.
Ames: Do you have a favorite piece from either sheet that you are particularly proud of?
Good, Lansky is definitely the first track, titled “Lansky”. This is the main theme that you hear throughout. I’m really happy with this one. It took a while to get there but as soon as Eytan heard it he knew this was the one that would guide us through the movie.
At The ice road, that would be track seven, titled âThe Ice Roadâ and that’s the main theme of the film; and also the hero theme you hear throughout. I think these two tracks really epitomize the movies and I’m proud of both of them.
When do you know a track is finished? With all the technology, you could play with these things forever!
Exactly! Years ago, I wondered the same thing. Like, when do these people know the trail is over? Lorne would stop. After some experience, I think the answer is a bit like a painting. There has to be a foreground, a happy medium and a background. From a technical standpoint, it needs to be low, medium, and high, and once you have the content – whatever it is – you need to make sure that all of these other elements are complete and appear complete. It’s like studying orchestration in college or somewhere else, you will usually double some instruments with each other, and when you go up the range you have to make sure you don’t lose all of the midrange and that’s just to be very disciplined. he.
Again, to be technical, you can open your key editor in your program and see which notes are actually played – am I missing the bass or what have I done here? Is it supposed to be a major chord or a minor chord? By working with this stuff all day long, you start to know how to hone the skills needed to complete a track to make sure it sounds good; and from a technical point of view, let’s just say you look at a score, that looks good too.
Is there a particular composer or soundtrack that you have loved since you were a child? You mentioned Matrix and Fantasia earlierâ¦
Well i really liked it The matrix and fear of heights, but the score I grew up with … I must say Gladiator. For me, at this age, this score is a kind of definite cinema. I felt like I was put in another world. It is without a doubt one of the best films ever made.
The matrix was another where, in that scene where Neo is walking on that ledge and you hear those dissonant strings, you feel like you’re going to fall!
Do you have other projects you are working on?
Yes, I’m working on a documentary called Does my vote count, which concerns the elections, of course. I work with American anthems and different state songs and perform them in different ways and I was also going to weave that by following the story of the election. It will be an emotional journey that, when you listen to it, will make you feel like you are part of the process.