He’s scored more than 50 films already, but the talents of 55-year-old French film composer Bruno Coulais have been more or less under wraps, at least as far as Hollywood’s been concerned. Now, with the success of his score for Henry Selick’s “Coraline” — which recently remained a top-10 box office draw after 45 days in release — Coulais’ American profile has skyrocketed.
When he jetted into New York and Los Angeles in February in support of “Coraline,” the Paris-based Coulais conducted back-to-back meetings with studio music honchos and film producers, unable to squeeze all the requests for his time into his itinerary. When pressed for specifics, however, the rather shy composer was cagey, clearly more comfortable talking about music than deals.
An Academy Award nominee for his score to 2004’s “Les Choristes,” Coulais started out as a violinist, interpreting other composers’ material before writing himself. “My first intention was to write ‘pure’ music,” he says laughingly from Paris, “but then I got involved with film and never looked back.”
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His “Coraline” score evokes both the lovely wonders and the psychological terrors of growing up without an ounce of saccharine sweetness. “I used not just an orchestra, soloists and a children’s choir but also the sounds of toys, like music boxes,” Coulais says. ” ‘Coraline’ is so beautiful and so complex, it was really important to me to mix the light with the dark. Even toys can be frightening, you know? And being young is scary anyway, and I wanted to weave in that feeling of anxiety — that’s much more interesting psychologically to me.”
Coulais’ textures and colors were just the right thing for “Coraline,” too, Selick observes. “Bruno tends to use acoustic instruments and lots of voices, particularly children’s voices, and not with a lot of digital treatment. And that really matches the ‘handmade’ quality of the stop-motion visual that we were going for.”
Selick first encountered Coulais’ music in Jacques Perrin’s documentary ‘Winged Migration.’ “In storyboarding, you use any little crutch you can to envision a project,” Selick explains, “from temp voices to music. I probably listened to a hundred soundtracks during this time, and the soundtrack for ‘Winged Migration’ was absolutely perfect. The minute I put up cues, Bruno’s music fit like a glove. He was the only composer I encountered who seemed to be in touch with another, darker side of childhood.”
Now wrapping up his work on a new Perrin documentary called “Oceans” that features a collaboration with Paul McCartney, Coulais is weighing his options, including, according to one rep, a large-scale studio vehicle and a project from a prestigious producer-director team — and that’s only if they can tear Coulais away from Selick first.
“Bruno is a perfect match to my sensibilities,” he declares, “and we share a very particular way of seeing the world. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll never work with anybody else again.”