An Interview With Film Composer Pinar Toprak



Pinar Toprak is a composer whose scores can be heard in the films The River Murders  and The Lightkeepers. Here is a link to her website:

Q: What made you want to become a composer?

A: I started studying and being fascinated by music at a very young age in Istanbul. My first instrument was violin and I ended up getting my degree in classical guitar. Although I enjoyed playing, I knew I did not want to be a performer. I wanted to be the one that writes the music for the performers. Alongside my passion for music, I was also in love with films ever since I can remember. As soon as I was old enough to find out I could combine both of my passions I was hooked. 🙂

Q:  What kind of professional training have you had?

A: I went to a very traditional conservatory in Istanbul, starting at the age of 5. Once I finished high school I went to Berklee College of Music and majored in Film Scoring and Piano. All along, my grand plan was to move to Los Angeles, which I did right after Berklee and I got my Master’s degree in Composition at CSUN. Although I highly believe in the value of proper education, I also believe in mentors and training while being surrounded by the real world so to speak. I was very lucky to be around one of my idols, Hans Zimmer, as soon as I was out of school and then I worked with a master orchestrator and composer William Ross. I consider those years as an important part of my education.

Q:  What makes someone an artist?

A: That’s a tough question. It’s very difficult to say what is art and who is an artist these days. Art in all forms has morphed quite a bit in the last couple of decades. The evolution of technology has created many self proclaimed “artists” that probably would not be considered artists fifty years ago. Although I am all for technology, I think it needs to be used as an aid to realizing one’s vision rather than filling in the blanks of one’s knowledge automatically. With that said, to answer your question, I would say an artist is anyone that has ideas, a vision and has a need and desire to express themselves via their chosen art. Someone that feels empty and unfilled without creating and lastly someone that is prepared to be under-appreciated and overworked but miraculously still feels privileged to be doing what they are doing… 🙂

Q:  How were you selected to score The River Murders.

A: I reached out to Rich Cowan who is the owner of North by Northwest and was the director of the film. I was initially talking to him about another film but he asked me if I would be interested in his current film which was called The River Sorrow at the time. I immediately said “absolutely!” and that was it. I had a wonderful time working with Rich.

Q:  Why is it important for people in the film industry to attend The Sundance Film Festival?

A: I love the energy of everyone at Sundance. It feels like a film school campus. Everyone is passionate about films and they are excited to be there. Besides the obvious fact that there are tons of great films to see, there are lots of opportunities to meet fascinating people from all aspects of the film world and get to know them in a casual environment. Most importantly, it’s loads of fun!

Q:  What is your strangest work story?

A: I do have a couple but I’d rather not mention them in writing. 🙂

Q:  What is your process when writing a score for a film?

A: It changes with each project. Sometimes I get involved at a very early stage (which I personally love and prefer) but sometimes (most of the times) I get hired somewhat at the last minute so the whole process moves along quite fast. It starts out with a spotting meeting where the director and I sit and watch the film and decide where we want the music and what we want to convey emotionally. After that I hide in my cave for a bit and come up with themes and initial ideas. Once the initial direction is approved, then I keep on writing, the director approves everything and we live happily ever after. 🙂 Sometimes it’s that easy and sometimes we go back and forth a few times to tweak it until it feels right. After the music is approved, hopefully there is a budget for an orchestra or at least some live players so we have a recording session, which is my favorite part. Each film is unique and that’s the fun part. An orchestra is not right for every film and you are probably not going to bring out the distortion guitars for a period drama. The process changes with each project and that’s what I love the most about my job.

Q: What film do you believe had the best score ever? (and why)

A: I am a fan of timeless scores. A score that can be performed 50-100 years from now and it will still sound magnificent. I have many favorites depending on which day you ask me but most scores of Ennio Morricone and John Barry will always be at the top of the list for me.

Q:  Who are some of your musical influences?

A: I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by different types of music. As far as I am concerned a piece of music needs to touch my heart or brain, ideally both. There is some great sounding music these days that is produced so well, with lots of intriguing sounds and arrangements. I may not be emotionally affected by it in some cases but I will be influenced in terms of technique and the production quality. And then there is the kind of music that doesn’t need the big bells and whistles, it’s intimate and it goes straight to your heart…Just like the previous question, my influences change all the time. There is so much great music and great musicians out there and we have access to infinite amount of music. That being said, I generally listen to a lot of classical music but besides that if I have to give you a name, (since I already mentioned my top film composers) I would say Peter Gabriel. I listen to Peter Gabriel the way I take my daily vitamins. 🙂

Q:  What advice would you give to an aspiring composer?

A: Know your craft, both music and technology. Consider each of them like one of your legs. Without the other one sure you can hop on one leg to get to where you want to go, but most likely the ones with both legs will get to the destination before you. Be patient. Sure, there are some extreme luck/right place, right time stories but for most of us it takes hard work, patience, humility and diligence. Don’t get discouraged by how many times you hear “no” but celebrate each achievement and most importantly, don’t lose your passion. That’s what keeps you floating during down times.

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)


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