Khaled Mouzannar is a Lebanese songwriter and music composer, mostly known for his cinematic work on the films “After Shave”, “Caramel” and “Where do we go now?”.

How did you end up becoming a composer for films?

I used to study classical music, but I could never really appreciate or relate to it. I viewed it as a dated genre from a different era. But I loved cinema, and it was actually film that changed the way I thought about classical music. After watching Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, I realised that classical music could be modern. It was the first time I could relate to what I was studying. I am a visual person: when I write music, I see images. So I understood the strength of combining music and images together. I was the natural path for me.

When you’re commissioned for a film, where do you start?

In film, the director is typically the general of the army, and the crew has to abide by his rules. So if a composer works from the director’s cut, over half the work is already done. All he’s doing is decorating the image. But I don’t see music in cinema as mere decoration; it is so much more than that. That’s why I start composing from the moment I start reading the script. Working from the script allows me a freedom that does not exist when working from an edited film. The text lets my imagination run free, hence adding an extra layer to the director’s story. I get inspired from the emotions felt while reading, and I start writing themes.
The music itself tells a story. It’s more beneficial for the director when the composer proposes themes before shooting starts. This way, the director can have musical themes in mind when filming. This method has a lot of advantages, but unfortunately, you rarely have time for it. It’s a luxury.

Besides writing scores for films, you also produce your own music. What does writing for films give you that you don’t get from writing your own material?

Even though writing for film is more difficult technically speaking because it is classical music, I find it easier. When you’re a songwriter, you’re opening up your secret garden to everyone. As an introverted person, I find it difficult digging into my own emotions, and sharing them with the public. On the other hand, when I write for films, I can easily hide behind the director’s emotions.

Do you find writing for films gives you the opportunity to explore different types of music, which you might not try as a songwriter?

Of course. That’s the beauty of writing for movies. You have to adapt to a different director’s unique universe for every project. When you write music for yourself, you’re in your own world, with your own references. But when you are working with someone else, it’s a collaboration that opens new doors for you. Yes, you are less free, but in the end you enrich your own world further. You learn to be versatile. For example I once wrote the score for a Brazilian film, so I was composing Brazilian folkloric music with choros, bossa novas and other traditional sounds. On the other hand, with Nadine’s [Labaki] films, I get to play around with Arabic, oriental and Mediterranean melodies. With each film, I discover something new every time.

How do you view the Lebanese film industry, both as a whole and more specifically for composers?

The Lebanese film industry is very new. I remember ten years ago, when we started filming Nadine Labaki’s Caramel, there were maybe two or three movies being produced a year. Nowadays we have 10 to 15 films being made of varying quality. The industry is growing, which is good, even if the films are not all of the highest calibre. The real difference in the industry can be noticed with the actual people producing the films: Ten years ago, most filmmakers worked in advertising. They would stop working for a couple of months to make a film, and then went back to their day jobs. But these days, the teams behind the films were not only cinematically trained, but also work full time in the film industry.

What have you got planned for the future?

I’m working as a producer at the moment. I founded – along with Nadine Labaki – a production house called Mooz Films. We are currently shooting Nadine’s next film, which I am a producer on. It’s a full feature film that has an 80-day shooting schedule. We hope the film will be ready by April or May.

Why did you choose to set up your own production company?

Nadine and I decided to have our own production company because we wanted to be in control of the entire artistic process of a film. In our two previous productions, we had a lot of say in production, but were not involved in every stage. But now at Mooz, we do everything: from the financing, to the line production, to editing and sound mixing. I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot of work but I believe it’s all worth it, and the end result will be the best we have ever produced. Once we get the hang of things, we will be able to have a sort of well-oiled machine that can produce multiple films.

What do you want to see happen within the Lebanese film industry?

Currently we live in a world hovering between the advertising sector and the artisan sector. I would love to see a country where we have real film professionals who can make a living out of their craft. I want to see more DOPs, editors, music composers and sound engineers. In order for this to happen, more Lebanese films need to be exported. We live in a small country of about 3 to 4 million people. That’s not enough to a make a film financially viable. But if we make better quality films, these films can be shared and shown in other countries. There is no reason why we cannot become like Italian or Spanish cinema. All we need is quality, which will come in time.

by Hugo Goodridge