Composer Cliff Martinez. Photo: Irene Cho

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Even though this was composer Cliff Martinez's first trip to Cannes, his movies have been screening at the festival for years. He first made his mark on the event with his work on Steven Soderbegh's first film, sex, lies and videotape, back in 1989. This year he was back in Cannes with Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives.

Martinez is an acclaimed composer; in addition to recent work with Refn and numerous projects with Soderbergh, he recently collaborated with Skrillex on music for Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers.

“I’m more like the carpenter,” Martinez explained last week as we sat on a park bench in Cannes for a FilmLinc Daily Buzz interview about being a composer. “The guy that gets handed the blueprint and I just take out the hammer and nails and put it together.”

He says that most directors bring him in with just a few weeks to compose music for a movie. Only Soderbergh would get him involved earlier in the process, sometimes before a script was finished. Even though its rare for a filmmaker to consult with him before a movie is even shot, Martinez said, “The process really begins when you see the first cut of the picture.”

Martinez got interested in movie music by watching (and listening to) A Fistful of Dollars. He first saw the movie with his parents at a drive-in theater and realized that it was the music that kept him coming back to the movie over and over again. He also remembers the score from The Day The Earth Stood Still being particularly inspiring.

In Cannes with Nicolas Winding Refn's new film, Only God Forgives, Cliff Martinez offered a bit of insight on working with the director.

“Well, every director’s got a different personality. I think one thing that’s different about Nicolas, that sets him apart, is that he’s a little crazier about music than most directors,” Martinez explained. “He likes to have a lot of it, and both Drive and Only God Forgives are very spare in dialogue. And whenever that happens it really kind of opens things up to have a big role for the music.”

Martinez elaborated that Refn—as the director noted in his own FilmLinc Buzz interview—really relies on music to support his approach to the silence and sound in a film.

“So, a lot of directors use music sparingly, I would say, or they don’t use the music to tell the story so much. But Nicolas is really a bit of a music-ophile, and he’ll really cut things rather daringly, assuming that the music will come in there and help pull things together, which makes it a great gig for a composer.”

Listen to more Daily Buzz podcast interviews from Cannes here on FilmLinc Daily, or on Fandor or iTunes.