Television Academy – Spotlight: Composer Craig Marks

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Publication: Television Academy
Title: Spotlight: Composer Craig Marks
By Libby Slate
August 22, 2014

Spotlight: Composer Craig Marks

Music man Craig Marks scores with his compositions for Food Network shows — and with his passion for rescuing horses. He talks about the cold call that launched his career and, among other things, how an old, squealing dishwasher became music to his ears.

Television and film composer Craig Marks

“There’s music in everything, is how I look at the world.” So says television and film composer Craig Marks.

It’s a philosophy that seems particularly appropriate for the Television Academy Music peer group member’s current niche, creating music for top reality shows.

Marks sometimes records and integrates sounds into his musical compositions from sources no typical person would consider instruments: a dog-run cage enclosure, for instance, and the noises emanating from his dishwasher and washing machine.

Using those kitchen appliances seems fitting, considering the number of shows Marks has for the Food Network: The Next Food Network Star and 18 seasons of various Iron Chef series, such as Iron Chef: America, Iron Chef: Redemption and The Next Iron Chef.

His other credits include ESPN cornerstone Sports Center and 13 seasons of A&E’s Intervention.

Born and raised in San Jose, California, Marks studied music at UCLA, during which time he launched his career with an apprenticeship to noted composer Hans Zimmer. He has since composed for many live-action and animated television shows, feature films, commercials and classical ensembles.

Marks, who also co-founded the nonprofit horse rescue and rehabilitation center Sweet Water Ranch in Chatsworth, California, with Candi C. Cooper, took a few moments to talk with about the cold call that launched his career and more.

How did you start your music career?

I cold-called Hans Zimmer’s studio, and inquired about a meeting. I was invited to come in for a low-level position, which escalated. I was still in school at UCLA, so I’d go to class and then go to [scoring] sessions Hans invited me to. I found myself working at Hans’ studio and working on homework. This was from 1996 to 1998.

I came to this as an outsider. To start at the bottom, learning the ropes and getting an education, is an opportunity I’m forever grateful for.


Tell us about your experience working with Food Network programs.

I’ve gotten more response from these shows than I ever could have imagined. It’s reached a wide swath – people interested in my concert works, people soliciting me to release a soundtrack. (The Iron Chef soundtrack was released in 2010.)

How does music figure into a reality show cooking competition?

It definitely plays an energetic role, a supportive role.

In traditional series, you have themes assigned to each character. Here, it’s more about creating an atmosphere bringing you into the action, creating a hyper-energy. It’s “Julia Child meets World Wrestling [WWE]” – you’ve got to have bombast and bravado. And at the same time that there’s all this intensity, you’re also paying attention to detail.

Do you cook?

I enjoy it. To me, cooking is very similar to composing. You’re taking ingredients with the right taste and timbre, and combining them.

So, tell us about playing your dishwasher.

My old dishwasher broke in the most glorious way; it made the most horrific, wonderful sound – grinding, squealing tones. Prior to replacing it, I realized it would make a great instrument.

The tines that separate the dishes from the glasses had these vibrations. When you cut them down, you can tune them to pitches. You create a more or less chromatic instrument.

I did something similar with a washing machine as well. They’ve been sampled [electronically recorded] and discarded.

I have 48 instruments here in my home studio. I don’t have room for appliance storage.

What role has the Television Academy played in your life?

I feel incredibly honored and privileged to be a member. I appreciate that membership. It has given me the opportunity to meet the composers of the shows of my childhood, that shaped my life.

It’s an honor to be part of the community, to get to know them. And the All-Academy mixers give me the opportunity to meet people from other disciplines, people I wouldn’t otherwise get to know.

It’s all interrelated. The mixers give a much more holistic view of the industry and projects.

I think this is an exciting time to be an Academy member. Television has never been better. It’s exciting to be part of the organization associated with that.

What are some of your non-television musical projects?

The Dallas Chamber Symphony commissioned a new orchestral score to accompany the Buster Keaton silent film Sherlock, Jr. They came to me. I’d become friendly with their artistic director, who is also a composer. That premiered in February. I’m in the process of booking other performances.

In August, I’m spending 2 weeks as composer-in-residence at the Albatross Reach concert series in Sea Ranch [in Northern California]. I’ll be creating a new body of work to be performed there.

And when you’re not busy with music, you’re involved in animal rescue?

I’m co-founder and CFO of the Sweet Water Ranch, which is 5-and-a-half years old. I oversee the program. We rescue, rehabilitate and adopt horses. We’ve rescued and found forever homes for more than 300 horses.

We’ve also developed numerous seasonal programs geared to the healing of humans and horses — veterans, at-risk kids, battered women.

The main focus is to provide healing. It’s quite a beautiful thing.


Mix Magazine – Craig Marks Scores ‘Iron Chef America,’ ‘Next Iron Chef’

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Publication: Mix Magazine
Title: Craig Marks Scores ‘Iron Chef America,’ ‘Next Iron Chef’
By Matt Gallagher
May 1, 2011

Craig Marks (right) works with cellist Tina Guo on Marks’ soundtrack album for Iron Chef America.

The Food Network’s Iron Chef America and Next Iron Chef have successfully repackaged Japan’s cult-classic cooking-competition series for North American audiences, offering pressure-filled, suspenseful hourlong cook-offs between the Iron Chefs of America and world-class challengers on the battleground of Kitchen Stadium. Throughout these series’ runs (nine seasons and three seasons, respectively), Los Angeles–based composer Craig Marks has scored each culinary showdown. He describes his signature musical cues as “a magic recipe of samples and live instruments.”

Marks notes that in adapting Japan’s Iron Chef, the Food Network’s producers “adjusted some of the [competitions] to appeal more to an American palate. On the musical side, it wasn’t much of stretch for me. All that theme music [in] the original Japanese version of Iron Chef was from Backdraft and Glory. I kept those scores in mind, but my direction from the production company was, ‘Like that, but 100 times bigger.’ We’re trying to create the equivalent of Julia Child meets world-wrestling meets American Gladiator [laughs]. The cues are enormous; they are over the top. Musically, it’s great fun.”

Marks’ home studio in the San Fernando Valley, CineMedia Music, serves as his base of operations; it is where he also scores ESPN’s SportsCenter, A&E TV’s Intervention, ABC’s SuperNanny, and other TV and film projects. “It’s mainly a writing and production space,” he says. “The living room is the studio and the dining room is the lounge. Generally I’m doing overdubs or small-ensemble work. When I need big ensembles, I’ll go out to any of the rooms here in town. I’ve got a high ceiling, but it’s plaster and wallboard. When I’m recording it sounds great with the [mic] capsules in omni, so why mess with something that sounds good?”

CineMedia Music is based around MOTU Digital Performer, Marks’ primary DAW, and Pro Tools. He uses another three PCs and a Mac to host his sample libraries, and calls on software instruments from Spectrasonics and Native Instruments, among others, as well as hardware synths. “I will treat the entire sampled orchestra as if it was recorded as a live session, to blur the line between synthetic and authentic instruments,” he explains. “I’ll use 16 to 17 [instances of Audio Ease] Altiverb [plug-ins] to help me place all of the instruments in the sound spectrum.” Marks notes that he uses live instruments in his productions “about 80 percent of the time. I have a network of colleagues who perform and play, and a growing collection of world instruments.” His microphone collection comprises models from RØDE, Shure, and others, and he says his favorites are a pair of Blue Kiwis. He monitors with Equator Q10s using Equator Control software.

Regarding his Iron Chef workflow, Marks says that producers will first give him advance notes on a season’s worth of episodes: “Because the turnaround times are so short, I do pre-score so the editors can cut as much as possible with music in place, then score critical scenes and big moments to picture.”


UCLA Magazine – Music That Cooks

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Publication: UCLA Magazine
Title: Spotlight: Music That Cooks
By Jack Feuer
April 1, 2011

Music may not be the first thing you think of when you think of reality television, but it’s top of mind for composer Craig Marks ’97. The versatile musician’s compositions have added heft to such reality fare as Intervention, Supernanny and the Food Network smash hit Iron Chef America.

craig-marks-news-daily-bruin-010511Photo courtesy of Craig Marks ’97.

“It really falls to the music to create a tremendous amount of drama,” says Marks about his unique specialty. “It’s Julia Child meets WWE and it’s insanity. Someone’s just cooking, but you put bombastic music below them and suddenly they’re competing. Not necessarily subtle, but we like to think it’s effective.”

Marks recently released the Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef original soundtrack. In addition to composing and producing the titles on the CD, Marks played acoustic, electric and fretless guitars, dulcimer and balalaika, as well as programming and performing all the orchestra parts.

The tasty tune list includes “Shiitake Shakedown,” “Sorbet for the Soul” and “Flamenco Flambé,” as well as “White House Garden — A National Challenge,” composed for First Lady Michelle Obama’s appearance on Iron Chef America.

“Flamenco Flambé”? “Why not?” Marks laughs. “For that track in particular, the show had gone down to Olvera Street in Los Angeles and contestants were getting their ingredients for the battle when they got back to the stadium. What’s the best way to cook? In fire. And in that particular battle, there was a lot of flame.”

Before adding reality TV to his resume, Marks was composing music for movies and animation ranging from The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland to End of Days. And though he recently finished a series of concert works and installation pieces in conjunction with a Chicago-based chamber ensemble, Marks says has no plans to stop his “real” work. Negotiations are underway to continue Iron Chef America and Intervention is now in season 10.

After all, “let’s be honest,” Marks says. “The entertainment industry is a beast. I’m just grateful people want to hear my music.”


Daily Bruin – Cooking up compositions

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Publication: Daily Bruin
Title: Cooking up compositions
By Christine Rendon
January 5, 2011

Alumnus Craig Marks demonstrates his musical success yet again with the recent release of the new “Iron Chef America” soundtrack

UCLA alumnus Craig Marks has composed the music for reality shows including “Intervention” and “Super Nanny,” and he recently released his soundtrack for the popular Food Channel cooking competition show “Iron Chef America.” Marks interned for composer Hans Zimmer while he was an undergraduate at UCLA.

The music of “Iron Chef America” comes from all around the world. Whenever he travels, Craig Marks, a UCLA alumnus and the show’s composer, carries a microphone to record the sounds he hears around him as possible inspiration for his upcoming assignments.

Marks has also composed for popular reality shows, including “Super Nanny” and “Intervention,” and he recently released his soundtrack for “Iron Chef America.”

While still an undergraduate, Marks interned for composer Hans Zimmer, who wrote the scores for “The Lion King” and “The Dark Knight,” all while undergoing daily student life in an intense musical department.

“Being in a department where everybody was doing what you’re doing as well was really a phenomenal experience. … It really prepared me for some of the rigors of actually being out (in the real world) and being creative on crazy deadlines,” Marks said.

Now Marks continues to compose for popular reality shows, where music remains an underlying key factor to the series’ success. Producer John Pattyson, who is currently working on an upcoming project with Marks, attested to the importance of music in the storyline of any drama, whether it be film or reality television.

“Music is absolutely critical to TV and film,” Pattyson said. “I look at music … (as being) as important as any character in the show or the film, and if you look at major feature films, music has to carry the whole mood of the film or TV show, … and if the music is off, the show is off, it just doesn’t work right.”

Paul Chihara, a professor of theory and composition and the chair of the visual media program, similarly noted that the music is crucial for a television show’s success, especially with regards to the theme song, which is often the most memorable aspect of the show.

“The primary responsibility for the composer is to come up with a theme … that announces and identifies the show. It’s very important that the show has an identifiable sound or song,” Chihara said. “Name a show and most people can immediately think a song that accompanies it or announces it. … That is one of the hardest assignments given to composers.”

Considering the high intensity of the culinary competition that is “Iron Chef America,” Marks described the show as Julia Child meets a world wrestling smackdown. Yet despite this incongruous comparison, the enduring popularity of “Iron Chef America” led to the release of the show’s soundtrack.

According to Marks, fraternities, sororities, youth groups and other organizations across the country that hold their own smaller-scale Iron Chef competitions lobbied for the soundtrack’s release as an accompaniment to their own edible battles.

“If you have a show like “˜Iron Chef,’ they have that down to a science now,” Pattyson said. “It’s the classic reality show, it’s got big thunderous kind of music, and as they go to commercials it’s the same, they leave you with these cliff-hangers on the commercials and the music has to reflect that.”

Chihara agreed that scores can influence a show’s long-lasting popularity.

“In music school … we give assignments to our students to compose something, but when you work for television, … the assignment is “˜write something that everybody will remember and … love.’ That’s a pretty tough assignment,” Chihara said.

Additionally, Marks’ creative process in approaching an assignment is a testament to his music’s continued usage.

“A lot of the times if I’m playing these instruments, I’m not playing them the “˜right’ way,” Marks said. “One project I can think of was all guitars, but it didn’t really sound like it because they were … scraped and beaten with mallets. They weren’t just strummed and chorded, and played like you’d normally play a guitar.”

According to Marks, his unusual method of concocting compositions makes his music hard to define.

“I think if you needed to put me in a genre, it would be “˜film composer,’” Marks said. “Different projects require different sounds, so I’m constantly being forced to either dig into my past and pull out knowledge or experience … or even more exciting, actually learn something and explore new territory.”