Interview: Sandra Tomek (Hollywood in Vienna founder and producer)
MM: Hello Sandra and nice to meet you. Hollywood in Vienna this year literally looks as if someone took my dream and made it happen: my favorite kind of music, one of my favorite composers and in my favorite city in the world… How did this come about? Why film music?
“Film music was always my favorite kind of music I remember when I was a teeneager the others bought pop CDs while I bought film scores; I was fascinated by the fact that film music could relay so many emotions that the images or dialogue couldn’t express. I was always fascinated by this. See, we also have a symposium at the festival and in the past we had great composers and what I really love so much is when they at the symposium show how a scene works without music, without dialogue or without sound effects and then those things are added and all of a sudden a scene works. For example Alan Silvestri showed a scene from Forest Gump, the one where he’s running with the leg brackets and all of a sudden they fall apart and he runs and he showed us the scene first without music and without music it was nothing… couldn’t transmit any emotions. And then, with the music, the scene changed and it became something completely different. Also David Arnold was here and he’s a great talker. He’s a very nice person and he showed film clips of James Bond and he added the dialogue first, then sound effects and then the music and we saw how the clip changed. This is still one of my favorite things to watch and it shows how important the music is. There were movies that worked without music, of course, some Austrian movies as well, but that some something else.
MM: How did you get the idea to do an event like this in Vienna?
I was very fond of film music but first I was actually in medicine. I worked at the hospital, 6 years at the Vienna University Hospital, specializing in internal medicine. But culture and music were always a very important part of my life and around 2006 I realized that I really didn’t have enough time for other projects next to the medicine so I took a couple of months free time and organized the first film music concert in 2007, already called Hollywood in Vienna and then by chance I met John Mauceri, the founder of the Hollywood Bowl orchestra, he was a friend of a friend and he told me a lot about the musical connections between Hollywood and Vienna, pioneers like Max Steiner and all the influence they had on film music and I thought this was very important to Vienna and I asked him if he wanted to come there and do a concert like that and he said that nobody invited him yet . So after a couple of months I told him “I’m the one who is going to invite you” and I just called ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra who at that time knew nothing about film music but I just made my way through and I set up the first concert in 2007, which was a bit smaller, not regarding the size of the orchestra, which was still big, but we had projections but not like now and after that first concert a lot of people contacted me and told me it was so great to finally have a film music concert in Vienna, that they had dreamed of that and they wanted to work as part of my team…. so the team developed and that’s the story. In 2009 we had a new release of Hollywood in Vienna with bigger budget, more multimedia, light show and so on and it got bigger and bigger every year.
MM: Well if you think about it, you still work in a sort of internal medicine except now it’s for the soul
You are right and it’s comparable because for example if you talk to an artist you have to be very careful and understanding, a bit like a doctor is.
MM: What would be your favorite edition so far? Do you have one?
I liked the James Horner concert very much. It was the first time that we used 5 screens in the concert hall which was a big change and it was much more interesting, glamorous and also of course because having James here was very special because he has ties with Vienna, his father was Viennese, Harald Horner, he was a stage designer at one of our theaters in Vienna and he then went to Hollywood and became a stage designer there. So for James it was very emotional to come to Vienna, to his father’s home town and also it was the first time he got to listen to his music in concert which I really didn’t know before. So I always adored his music, plus his personal component… he was already very moved to be in Vienna and to listen to his music for the first time, he was like crying the whole time and when you see him so happy there’s not much more you can want. But I must say that very awardee so far was a really nice person. Alan Silvestri for example is a wonderful person, just like Randy Newman, David Newman, they are all quite modest, they are used to be team workers; they have to create a score in a few weeks and they’re very easy to deal with, very nice people.
MM: How was it to talk to James Newton Howard, to meet him? Must have been like a dream…
Absolutely and I think it’s going to be quite an interesting concert because he’s one of the most versatile composers we’ve had so far because he’s able to write for big sweeping orchestral scores, he’s able to write mystic scores , very sensitive ones and romantic ones as well as electronic scores, scary scores and songs. He’s a great songwriter as well. It’s really unbelievable how versatile he is.
MM: Yes he is, he’s one of my favorite composers and actually on my site, I have written the most reviews for his scores…
MM: So how do you choose the recipients of the award? Is there a process?
We have a board, we are a jury and at the end of the year we’re discussing the next awardee and then we propose the name to the city of Vienna and then I’m informing the awardee.
MM: Lately there are more and more film music events happening, there’s one in Poland which is very popular, mostly in Europe. What do you think sets your event apart from the others?
Well we are trying to create a show; we are not only taking concert suites that are proposed to us and put them on stage. We think this through for months and we create our own arrangements with the composers and we try to create a show where everything fits together, where we really enchant people, we always have a special theme for the concerts; you will see for yourself, it’s hard to describe. We are really trying to think of every aspect and create a real, unique show that works from beginning to end and also can be marketed for TV and it’s broadcasted now in 35 countries, which is quite big, and this sets us apart.
MM: How long does it take to prepare one edition? I imagine you start as soon as the previous edition ends…
Yes, it takes about one year.
MM: Does the composer get in contact with the orchestra before, do they rehearse together?
We have a team or composers, orchestrators in Vienna and we’re usually creating our own concerts suites. When they are ready we suggest them to the composers and we send them and he gives us his consent. For example for Blood Diamond this year James Newton Howard provided us the electronic files and we then used them to create our suite. It’s a complex process and the composer himself is present and then gives his input. We try to solve all issues in advance and really involve the composer so that he feels safe when he comes here.
MM: What are your future plans? How do you see the show evolving?
Well I still like the idea that prolific composers are awarded in our city, I know it means a lot to them to receive this award from the city of Vienna.
MM: Who would you like to see? You have a favorite composer?
Yeah of course there’s a guy named John Williams. He was the first composer we asked to come but in his case it’s not so easy because he’s an elderly person and for him the problem is the flight. He had some bad experiences with long distance flights in the past, he was once trapped in London so I asked him if he would prefer to receive the award in LA but he said that he’d rather save the possibility that he comes to Vienna in the future so we’re still hoping.
MM: So what would be your proudest moment since you’ve been organizing this event?
If you are a perfectionist it’s always hard to be really proud because first you see what didn’t work out 100% and then you realize that everybody else is happy. I wouldn’t call it pride but when I see that the composer we are awarding is really moved and I see this happiness I’m just really happy, it’s a very happy moment in my life as well and I’m not doing this because I want to earn a lot of money, but because I want to have joy and to experience such a joyful moment and when I see him so happy because of us it’s a very memorable moment for me. And if the audience is clapping and overwhelmed and standing ovations it’s really great.
MM: Will there be something from King Kong?
Yes, of course there will.
MM: So, a more amusing question, what’s the dress code for the event?
We don’t have an official dress code but we are very happy about elegant evening wear because it’s an upscale gala event and our star guests always dress nicely so we hope the audience does as well.
MM: Do you still listen to film music? Do you have time?
I listen to film music all the time because if you want to make a great James Newton Howard program I listen to everything he’s ever composed and then I ‘m the one setting up the program so I have to listen to really everything so I made my hobby my work. We cannot bring everything unfortunately, we are limited in time and I know that we can’t play everything so there will be people unhappy because something is missing so we are creating medleys so that we can at least play a couple of minutes of a certain score.
MM: I won’t ask you for the full schedule because I want to be surprised but I’m sure I’ll be very happy. Thank you so much for talking to me and see you there!