Interview with Lalo Schifrin – EXCLUSIVE SoundTrackFest


Let’s talk about composing music for films and television, both genres in which you have worked hard. What are the differences you see when addressing a project?

Interesting question! Let’s say you have to send a message to your family. Then, film music would be an extensive letter where you can say many things, and the equivalent of television would be a telegram, where you have to say the most important things but with less words.


Following with television, this year 2016, particularly now in September, is the 50th anniversary of a mythical series like “Mission: Impossible”, with a fabulous main theme that has been used on countless occasions. How do you get the assignment from the producer Bruce Geller? What was the process you followed to compose the main theme, an icon of television and film music today? How do you decide to approach it that way?

First, I had no idea what the project was about, because they did not even give me a script to read and know what it was. Producer Bruce Geller was interested in my music from other films I had done, and called my agent to ask me to go the shooting. I was invited there to get the ambience and atmosphere of the series… but … I did not understand anything, because I had never been in a shooting. Everything is very slow, and everything goes in different order, and of course, without the script, when one of the characters said something, I did not understand anything. Now, when they put it all together, then is when I understood.

Mission: Impossible

The main theme for me was not the main titles, which is well known now. There are two themes. If you pay attention, especially during the series, in chapters I did, you will see that there are two themes.

The main theme, the titles theme, had not been figured out yet at that time. First I thought of a topic of suspense, because you never know if the agents are going to win or not, and there is always planning and tension. The theme for when they make plans and do not know what will happen. That is the main theme for mel.

Then Bruce Geller told me, “You have to write a theme for the titles, a theme that if people are in the kitchen drinking a soft drink, and the television is in the living room, when they hear it from the kitchen, I want them to identify it and make them know Mission: Impossible has started“. So, it’s like a call. And there it is when it occurred to me to write this piece, that is so well known now.

So the first theme was the suspense theme, making the plans, the preparation of the mission, and then came the main titles. But of course, I had to deliver all together because when we recorded the first chapter, I had to record everything.

Interesting story! What other television works do you keep good memories from?

The same producer began a series called Mannix the following year, that also had a very interesting, very dynamic, and different main theme.

And then there are others like Petrocelli, which I also liked.



Let’s change subject now and talk about your work for cinema. There are some movies that are already legendary and generate a lot of memories in people, such as Cool Hand Luke (1967) with Paul Newman. What can you tell us about it?

This movie is my favorite of all! It was so amazing! Because, I do not know if you know it, but it was very difficult for me to get hired. There were two composer agents / representatives at that time. Only two in Hollywood for everyone, and my agent told me that all the composers wanted to make that movie.

Cool Hand Luke

What happened was that from that moment on, the producers and the director knew that everyone wanted to compose for the film, and did a kind of test. They cited composers. The film still had not been filmed, but they wanted to see who could be the composer, so they were calling us one by one.

They gave us the script to read, I read it, and I was part of that test. In the meeting I told them, “You have two possibilities here, either use a composer who can make popular music, country music, because the film does not happen in the city, or use the classical American symphonic music, Aaron Copland style. That is the other possibility. But you also have a third possibility, which is to do both, mixing country music and symphonic music, in the same score, alternating or combining.

And that was when I was hired. And hence my career went up, making more and more films.


I personally love Bullit. The main theme is wonderful with a combination of rhythms and sounds, that really convey the feeling of thriller and tension.

Thank you very much. If you look carefully, Bullit, Mission: Impossible, Dirty Harry… almost all those scores have a Jazz background, a Jazz rhythm section, because I could never completely leave the Jazz.

Whether I have done operas or symphonic scores such as The 4 Musketeers with Richard Lester, where I tried to compose music in my style but looking like music of the seventeenth or eighteenth century, when there were musketeers, the Jazz is part of me and my life.

Listen to what I say, and this is already a personal reflection. I’ve had a very nice life, and I still have it because I keep writing. Not much for film, but today I had a letter and a phone call from an Argentinian director, a young director, who told me he has a film ready, and he wants to send me the script. I asked him to send it to me early December, because now I have no time.