Called “one of the most prolific and gifted of the current generation of film composers” by American Film magazine, Alan Silvestri has composed scores for Hollywood blockbusters including Romancing the Stone (which marked Silvestri’s first big break as a composer for film), the Back to the Future series, the Bodyguard, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away. During his 30-year career, Silvestri has composed more than 30 film scores and provided music for the television series Starsky and Hutch, CHiPs, and Airwolf.
Silvestri was born on March 26, 1950, in New York City and grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey. He graduated from Teaneck High School in 1968, counting among his friends at the school Roger Birnbaum, who was to become a producer of such top-grossing films as The Sixth Sense. The two were friends from an early age, and continued to be close after they both succeeded in Hollywood. “Roger Birnbaum and I first met on the Little League field in Teaneck when we were 11,” Silvestri told the Record of Bergen County, New Jersey. Of his high school career Silvestri told the Record, “I was neither a lady-killer nor a good student.” He excelled in music, however, which was to become a lifelong passion. Playing in his high school band, he learned to play drums, saxophone, clarinet, and guitar. Silvestri cites his band director at the time, G. Donald Mairs, as a major influence on his development as a musician, telling the Record, “He had been a professional musician all his life and became a mentor to me. He played with Les Brown and had been out in the world. We became good friends and that was a godsend.”
After high school Silvestri went on to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, which he attended for two years before moving to Las Vegas, where he played guitar and toured with Wayne Cochran & the C.C. Riders. Promised a job arranging music in Los Angeles, Silvestri moved west and found himself unemployed in the film capital of the world when the job fell through. Broke, he managed to talk his way into the first job of what was to become a long and prolific career; becoming the film scorer for a low-budget movie called The Doberman Gang in 1972. A series of such jobs followed for the next six years. He then moved up to prime-time television when he landed the job of composer for the popular drama about California motorcycle cops, CHiPs. The job lasted five years, and at the end of it, he returned to film in the late 1970s and early 1980s, composing scores for the films Las Vegas Lady, The Amazing Dobermans, and the 1984 film Par où t’es rentré? On t’a pas vu sortir (How did you get in? We didn’t see you leave).
Silvestri reached a new level in his career when he got a call from director Bob Zemeckis, who needed music for a single scene in his big-budget Hollywood movie Romancing the Stone. It was Silvestri’s lucky break, and he scored the entire film, which was released in 1984. From then on he composed the music for one Hollywood blockbuster after another, including Back to the Future (1985) and its two sequels, Predator (1987), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), and The Abyss (1989). He continued to land high-profile film projects in the 1990s, composing for such films as Predator 2, Soapdish, Father of the Bride, Super Mario Brothers, Grumpy Old Men, and Forrest Gump, for which he received an Academy Award nomination in 1995. His more recent credits include Cast Away and What Lies Beneath (2000).
Although he received no formal training in film scoring, Silvestri was deeply influenced by the films he saw as a child, and this, in turn, has influenced his work. “I grew up watching those things,” he told American Film. Silvestri also acknowledges that his music has a particular style, and that there is “a strong rhythmic component in what I do…. A composer develops a vocabulary just as a filmmaker does.” He’s aware that his vision is not the only one that counts, however: “The important thing,” he continued in American Film, “is finding the relationship between the composer and the director that will be the most beneficial in bringing about the director’s vision of his film, not the composer’s vision…. My impression of what I do is very much like conversing with film. I’ll see a picture. I’ll begin to work through scenes, and I have a response that is very conversational.”
Silvestri’s working process begins, in fact, by talking to the director. Together they decide what kind of sound the film is to have, and, as the film nears completion, they hammer out the details of what scenes are to include music and where it will start and stop. It doesn’t
For the Record…
Born on March 26, 1950, in New York, NY; married Sandra Dee Shue; children: Alexandra, Joseph, James. Education: Attended Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA.
Got a start in low-budget films, early 1970s, composer for the television show CHiPs late 1970s; hired to score the 1984 hit film Romancing the Stone; composed for other top-grossing Hollywood films, including the Back to the Future trilogy, Predator, Father of the Bride, Forrest Gump, What Lies Beneath, and Cast Away.
Awards: Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Saturn Awards, Best Music for Predator, 1988, and Back to the Future Part III, 1991; BMI Richard Kirk Award for career achievement, 1995; American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) Film and Television Music Awards for Contact, 1998; for Stuart Little and What Women Want, both 2000; and for Cast Away and What Lies Beneath, both 2001; Grammy Award, Best Instrumental Composition for Cast Away end credits, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —Varese Sarabande Records, 11846 Ventura Blvd., Suite 130, Studio City, CA 91604, phone: (800) 827-3734 or (818) 753-4143, website: http://www.varesesarabande.com.
end there, however. After the hard work of composing, Silvestri told American Film, “you find yourself in a studio with 98 musicians. You are spending about $50,000 a day and you are getting maybe two minutes of music an hour. At the end of the day, maybe you’ve recorded 12 to 15 minutes of music.” With the stakes so high, Silvestri believes it of the utmost importance to have done his homework, and to create the music the director wants to hear. Even so, directors have been known to throw out entire film scores and start over, often with a new composer.
Along with purely artistic considerations that come into play when scoring film music, Silvestri must work within the technical requirements of filmmaking—for instance, writing music loud enough to come through a scene involving a freight train, or soft enough to avoid stepping on quiet dialogue. “How to marry sound to image is a question the composer has to continually ask himself as he is writing,” he told American Film. Ultimately, Silvestri always strives to stretch his creative muscles, to try things he hasn’t done before. As he told American Film, “I’ve always been associated with slambang action movies that use big orchestral scores, but… I’m excited about the fact that there are folks out there looking for me to do something I haven’t done before.”
Back to the Future, MCA, 1985.
American Anthem, Atlantic, 1986.
The Abyss, Atlantic, 1989.
Back to the Future II, MCA, 1989.
Back to the Future III, Varese Sarabande, 1990.
Predator 2, Varese Sarabande, 1990.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Disney, 1990.
Father of the Bride, Varese Sarabande, 1991.
Ferngully… The Last Rainforest, MCA, 1992.
Blown Away, Sony, 1994.
Forrest Gump, Sony, 1994.
Father of the Bride II, Hollywood, 1995.
Quick and the Dead, Varese, 1995.
Richie Rich, Varese, 1995.
Voyages: The Film Music Journeys of Alan Silvestri (compilation), Varese, 1995.
Eraser, Atlantic, 1996.
Contact, Warner Bros., 1997.
Stuart Little, Polygram, 1999.
What Lies Beneath, Varese Sarabande, 2000.
What Women Want, Sony, 2000.
Cast Away, Varese, 2001.
Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 3rd edition, Macmillan, 1998.
American Film, August 1991.
Record (Bergen County, NJ), October 27, 1999.
“Alan Silvestri,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 4, 2002).
“Awards for Alan Silvestri,” Internet Movie Database, http://us.imdb.com (February 4, 2002).
—Michael P. Belfiore
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