Since winning the BBC New Talent, New TV Composers scheme in 2006, Anne Nikitin has worked tirelessly to become the award-winning composer she is today. Nikitin’s work can be heard in various high-profile television series and films, including Locked Up Abroad, Captive, and The Imposter. Her most recent project, American Animals, is set to premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it is highly anticipated by festival attendees.
Earlier this week, Blast Magazine spoke with Nikitin about her composition process and musical growth.
Blast Magazine: Growing up, you had the opportunity to live in various countries around the world. Do you believe that your travels and immersion into so many unique cultures helped you in finding your own personal music style?
Anne Nikitin: Yes, I do. My mom is Romanian and my dad is Polish, so I absorbed a lot of Eastern European music at home, especially Romanian folk music, which is very powerful. I also lived in New Zealand, South Africa, and the Far East, and my parents would often play records from those places. We would go to live concerts to watch traditional music and dance and I learned indigenous songs at school. Memories of learning Maori songs and dance are still signed in my brain, which I love. From a young age, I started collecting instruments from my travels, which is something I still love to do. I do feel those childhood experiences informed my style. Whenever I hear music from those countries, I get a pang of nostalgia.
Blast Magazine: You play many of your own instruments, including guitar and keyboard. Do you think this is an important skill in order to be a successful composer?
Nikitin: I do play some of my own instruments, but I’m certainly not a virtuoso. I have a fear of public performance, especially piano, so I’m much more comfortable playing and experimenting in the privacy of my own studio. With the advancements made in music technology, you don’t necessarily have to play an instrument well, but it does help and I would always encourage it. Decent keyboard skills are useful for recording your compositions into your DAW.
Blast Magazine: During your career, you have been the composer for short films, feature films, and television shows. Is your process different for each of these ventures or do you approach each project with the same strategy?
Nikitin: I don’t differentiate in the way I approach a specific genre. The directors tend to determine the way I approach each project. Some directors want the composer to start very early on, while others will wait to give you a locked version of the firm. Each approach is valid and has its positives and negatives.
Blast Magazine: You seem to spend most of your time working on projects that have intense and exciting storylines. How do you decide which projects you are interested in scoring and how much does the theme of the project play a part in that decision?
Nikitin: I was lucky that in the early days, my first commissions were on cinematic drama documentaries that told the stories of ordinary people being thrown into extraordinary, oppressive situations. I guess I gained a bit of a reputation for scoring dark, intense documentaries and dramas and now these commissions seem to find me. I’m naturally drawn to these genres. I love psychological thrillers, sci-fi, and compelling dramas with rich human stories. I love films that you can just dive into and come out of the other side feeling like you’ve been on an intense journey and completely submerged in the narrative, characters, mood, colors, and music.
Blast Magazine: How long have you known that composing was the career path you wanted to follow in life? Did you consider other pursuits at one time?
Nikitin: I definitely did not grow up thinking that music would be something that I could make a living doing. Although my parents always encouraged my creative side, I grew up believing that music should be a side hobby and I should aim for a “real” job. For many years, I wanted to be an engineer like my dad, until I reached a certain age where I was no longer good at physics and music seemed to be my natural calling. At university, I studied English Literature, but would spend my spare time attending music theory lectures. It was very nerdy and boggled the minds of my peers, but I really missed music. I slowly came to realize that I had to pursue it. I tried to stop the urge and be sensible, but I couldn’t. Luckily, it’s worked out so far.
Blast Magazine: For the film Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, you teamed up with the London Contemporary Orchestra. Is that something you would be interested in doing again?
Nikitin: After the film, I worked with them again on a film called Calibre, which is due for release this year. Most recently, we worked together at Abbey Road Studios to record American Animals, which will premiere at Sundance. They are an exciting and dynamic orchestra who work with an eclectic range of composers and musicians. I love their versatility and their energy. Hugh Brunt and Robert Ames, who formed the orchestra, are incredible musicians and great fun to work with.
Blast Magazine: As you mentioned previously, American Animals will premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. What was your experience like scoring that film?
Nikitin: The score for American Animals was definitely challenging and, at first, a tough nut to crack. The film has many complex layers to consider. First, there’s a wide range of moods to score from humor to sadness to stifling tension and action. There are also four strong characters who each needed an introductory theme. Second, American Animals references other films from a variety of periods and genres – it’s a “movie within a movie”, so music has to play with this idea. Lastly, director Bart Layton has once again pushed the boundaries in terms of genre, so music was needed to help create a smooth transition between the movie world and the real (“doc”) world.
Blast Magazine: You’ve had the chance to work on some amazing projects in the past, but what would be your dream project to score if given the opportunity?
Nikitin: Blade Runner, Drive, and Lost in Translation. When I think of those three films, I think of a “feeling” above all else. These are moody, evocative, atmospheric films, with beautiful cinematography and a striking color palette, each following a central character with a very human story.