Philip White has enjoyed a fruitful career composing music for Television, Film, and Video Games. But is perhaps best known by fans of genre television for his work on Supernatural and of Course Agent Carter. We were recently lucky enough to be able to catch up with Philip White and ask him a few searching questions about how he got started in his career as well as asking about various jobs that he has done, which now includes a good half of the first season of Supernatural Spin-off The Winchesters.
SciFiPulse: How did you get into composing music for television and film?
Philip White: I graduated from a joint program with Tufts University and the New England Conservatory of Music, earning degrees in Drama and Composition. I moved to LA in 1999 and spent several years trying to decide whether to be an actor or a composer. After some time, I thankfully realized the life of a professional actor was not for me. I re-applied myself to music and was lucky to enroll in USC’s film scoring program in 2004. Not long after graduating, I was recommended to Christopher Lennertz, who was looking for help with an animated movie. Chris is a wonderful composer who would become a great mentor and friend. We’ve collaborated on numerous projects throughout the years, including Supernatural, the James Bond: Quantum of Solace and Starhawk video games, HOP, Identity Thief, Lost in Space, Revolution, Agent Carter, The Smurfs: Lost Village, and Jexi, to name a few. It was thanks to my years-long involvement with Supernatural that led me to being hired for The Winchesters.
SFP: I have noticed that you have also composed music for video games as well. Is there any difference in how you approach scoring a video game versus a TV Episode or a Film?
Philip White: In some ways, yes. Most of the action in a game is not tied to events happening in a fixed time. Instead, you’re scoring an overall mood. As such, I have more flexibility to define the musical structure of a piece of game music. Conversely, with music for film or TV, you may not always be able to write an unencumbered 4-bar phrase (but it’s so satisfying when you can!).
SFP: So far from what I can see. Your music has been used in a wide range of genres when it comes to film and television. Is there a genre that you prefer to compose for over another or are you kind of into having a nice variety of things to work on so you don’t get stuck?
Philip White: I love all genres. Ultimately, I’m attracted to the storytelling, no matter how it’s presented. However, I definitely have a soft spot for animation. Because the entire world is created from the ground up, it can accommodate stylistic twists and turns more easily than live action. And yes, I feel very lucky to be able to jump around wildly different projects.
SFP: I noticed that you did some work on the Agent Carter series which I loved and I also loved the music to that because it felt very in keeping with the Spy genre. How was your experience of working on that show? And is there a favorite moment from the show that you are particularly proud of?
Philip White: That was another project which came about from my years-long collaboration with Chris. He asked me to write additional music for it, which I was thrilled to do. Using and playing with the themes for the different characters was tremendous fun, as was imbuing the music with subtle nods to the 40s. We used more woodwinds than might typically be used in a contemporary score, but we also used a few synthetic elements which helped place it in its own time and space.
SFP: You worked for a time as an assistant composer on Supernatural before working alongside Jay Gruska on the new Prequel Series The Winchesters. How did your time on Supernatural prepare you for this prequel? As I seem to recall there were a few flashback episodes in the 15 years of Supernatural?
Philip White: Yes, I began working as an assistant to Chris during Supernatural’s first season in 2005 and had the great privilege of writing additional music for much of the show’s 15-year run. I also shared a co-composer credit on the last two seasons. Because The Winchesters are cut from the same cloth as Supernatural, Jay and I knew we’d be bringing back many of the same sounds. We realized this made the most sense as an underscore for the horror and supernatural elements. After all, the monsters that Sam and Dean would fight were already plaguing humanity in 1972 (the time when The Winchesters take place).
SFP: The Winchesters are set in 1972 which was a time when guitar ruled and we were all obsessed with Wah Wah pedals. Do you use any pop culture music references in the series as a homage to that? As there were some brilliant tunes that came out of the 70s?
Philip White: There are plenty of fantastic songs of the time which are peppered throughout the episodes. The producers will choose the song(s), and if the budget allows for it, our music supervisor, Justin Kamps, will iron out the licensing details. The underscore will occasionally pay subtle homage to that era with the use of instrumentation which was popular at the time, but generally, we let the songs speak for themselves.
SFP: One of the things I like when listening to a music score is a sense of what is what and who is who. I dabble in playing guitar and a few other instruments. So I get very involved with what I listen to and love it when a Movie or TV score has different cues and theme tunes for different characters and so forth. I know it’s kind of old school. But do you do any of that on the new show? As I am in the UK, I haven’t had a chance to see it yet.
Philip White: Most of the sonic through-line in Supernatural was carried by instrumentation choices and orchestral gestures, rather than themes. For The Winchesters, we all agreed that using more thematic material would help set it apart from its predecessor. The developing love story between John and Mary, which is obviously central to the series, lends itself beautifully to thematic continuity. We’re also developing a theme for the hunter family, which includes John, Mary, Latika, and Carlos.
SFP: A fun question to end with. You’re given a brief to do music for a crossover episode that mixes Fraggle Rock, Planet and the Apes, and The Winchesters. Given that Copyright and licensing fees do not exist in this parallel world. How would you approach a monster job like that?
Philip White: Amazing! So this recipe calls for catchy 80s kids’ pop, atonal orchestral psychedelia, and Penderecki-style orchestral effects, with a dash of emotional strings and piano, topped off with a four-piece acoustic rock band (guitar, upright bass, drums, and Fender Rhodes). How those elements dance with each other and move between the foreground and background will depend on what’s happening on the screen. Are any screenwriters out there willing to take the plunge? Because I’m all in.
We’d probably hire him in a heartbeat if we had the budget. Scifipulse would like to thank Philip White for his generosity and time in working on this Q&A with us. You can catch episodes of CW’s The Winchesters on a weekly basis on CW Seed.
You can learn much more about Philip White and his work at www.philipwhitemusic.com