Meet Your Creator: Composer Marcello de Francisci's Journey From Painting To Scoring Films
Marcello De Francisci in the studio
For APM Music composer Marcello de Francisci, the music world was a secondary ambition that came later in life. Well, later in life is subjective when you’re a childhood prodigy, but these days, Marcello’s compositions can be heard in films as disparate as Alexander Payne’s five-time Academy Award-nominated film Nebraska, Natalie Portman’s Western film Jane Got A Gun, that co-stars Ewan McGregor, and the feature documentary Samsara, which is a sequel to Baraka. Before his big breakout into film composition, though, Marcello was focused entirely on visual art. At the impossibly young age of three, he started drawing, and since his uncle was already a well-known painter in Argentina, this natural talent seemed like the logical thing to pursue.
For many years, painting and visual art was more of a priority for Marcello, even if he was still aware of and drawn to music. Initially, that relationship was mostly through osmosis, due to his mother’s background as a pianist. “My mother was a pretty accomplished pianist, she knew how to read music and was always playing piano at home,” de Francisci remembered during a recent interview. “She was always playing Verdi or Puccini—we come from an Italian background. But I never thought I would take music, because from the age three I started drawing, and my uncle was a very accomplished painter in Argentina. I started drawing naturally and I started to really pursue art.”
During Marcello’s formative years, the de Francisci family moved around quite a bit, mostly due to his father’s job, so he experienced childhood in many different places: Argentina, as well as Spain, across the Caribbean, in North Africa and even in the United States. And it was a chance encounter with a spaghetti Western film that led to his deeper, personal interest in music in the first place. “It wasn’t until I was about nine or ten that I took up the clarinet in school because I had to,” de Francisci said. “I had an assignment in school where I had to be part of the orchestra, but I wasn’t really into it.”When I was about 13, I watched a spaghetti western movie. “We were living on the east coast, and the music from the film, by Ennio Morricone, really inspired me to start playing guitar. And I just didn’t drop it since then. Once I got that bug to play guitar, I never stopped.”
That chance encounter, seeing Morricone’s music set to film, changed the course of Marcello’s life. He became an accomplished guitarist by age 16, and when he was studying fine arts in Seville, he started writing Flamenco and North African-inspired music set to his own paintings, interpreting them, if you will. “I used to listen to a lot of soundtracks while I was painting,” he said. “I would listen to Vangelis, and I’d listen to Eric Serra. There was a soundtrack in particular, from a movie from Bertolucci, it was called The Sheltering Sky, and it was a beautiful movie with Debra Winger, and John Malkovich. It took place in Morocco. I fell in love with that album and listened to it. All that music inspired me to start writing music so that I could paint to my own music.”
Around that time, Marcello connected with a friend who had a recording studio, and they began to write music together, which eventually led to putting out a CD. That music was used in advertisements for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and became the first sync in Marcello’s career, which would eventually include many others, even if he didn’t know it at the time. After finishing his degree and spending time on the coast of Spain, de Francisci decided to move to Los Angeles and pursue music more seriously.
“I came to LA with basically no money, but I had a passport and American citizenship, so I could work,” he said. “I just winged it! I ended up living at this hole in the wall in Venice Beach, got a job, and started trying to make money however I could. I used to go to Guitar Center to get quotes for my dream studio gear that I couldn't’ afford. One time, the worker there gave me a magazine that had Hans Zimmer on the cover, he’d just won the Academy Award for The Lion King. I read the article in detail, I still have it, and I called his company to see if they had any positions available. She said they had an internship program, you’re welcome to come Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
With that initial foot in the door, De Francisci’s internship didn’t go as he planned’ people were threatened by the talent he had at the intern level, and he felt the hierarchy and politics involved would’ve relegated him to working as an assistant, instead of pursuing his passion for composition. “Things didn’t really work out for me there,” he said. “When people started to experience and see the talent I had, it ruffled a lot of feathers. I realized I could be an assistant and have to bow and hide who I really am, under the guise of someone who I don’t think is as talented as me, or, I can go on my own, and know for sure that whether I get to work as a professional composer or not, at least I’ll get to do what I love most, which is music.”
Going out on his own meant Marcello hustled on the side for a while to make money, and when he began to finally make inroads in the music industry, it was through the tech side of things. He made a living selling computers, and some of his customers included Disney, Apple, Interscope Records, and even Hans Zimmer’s studio. De Francisci was then able to turn his connections around and learn how these composers worked in their own studios, and invest in his own studio with his own money. He started working on compositions at night, and landing opportunities with his music.
He joined the publisher Riptide Music, and through that connection, his music was featured in a video game soundtrack called God Of War for Sony Entertainment. Little did he know that video game would be the springboard for his entire career, winning the prestigious Games Audio Network Guild Award for Best Soundtrack Of The Year, and around the same time, his work also started appearing in trailers for massive films like National Treasure. With the award for God Of War and other royalties finally coming in, Marcello was appreciative that things were finally coming together for him.
“That was the first major credit,” he said. “As somebody who had been struggling for ten years, and had finally been able to go out on my own, it was surreal to all of the sudden start to see my music in all of these big movie trailers as well.” Another window of opportunity opened when a chance meeting with Australian musician Lisa Gerrard led to a collaborative relationship between the two that has yielded a number of other albums and soundtrack pieces, including the Portman film Jane Got A Gun. Gerrard is well-known for her work with the group Dead Can Dance, and for collaborating on the score for Gladiator with Hans Zimmer.
For his latest release, de Francisci has partnered with APM to release the album Sovereign, which also features Hila Plitmann and Bahar Shah as collaborators. That project, along with a follow-up that is a partnership with Gerrard, called Exaudia, are both geared toward emulating the music of the crusades, and producing songs that would be suitable for gladiator-oriented projects. “I love the history of the Crusades,” he said. “I wanted to release an album with APM Music that was in that genre, because I can see that music being used. With that style, I approached Lisa Gerrard about doing an album in that world.”
Along with his most recent albums, Marcello is also eager to help increase representation of Indigenous peoples in the world of film composition. A massive influx of government subsidies in New Mexico has made the area an emerging hub for filming and all the related economies that come with it, so he’s been spending quite a bit of time there trying to educate local native people—who are already incredibly talented musicians—on the process of working in the industry. As someone who struggled quite a bit to get established himself, there’s no one better suited to help fellow outsiders make their way in.
“I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great, now with everything that’s going on in New Mexico, if some of the Nattive Americans here would start to make money as a result of the film industry?” he said. “If we could solidify an inflow of work here, the money an indigenouos person would make goes back into the whole community. We’ve been so lucky to be able to work in this industry, we’ve got to give it back to other communities, somehow.”
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