Interview: Christopher Lennertz, Comedy Movie Composer

Posted on February 20, 2014 at 7:53 am

ride alongChristopher Lennertz is one of Hollywood’s busiest composers.  Lately, he has specialized in writing scores for comedies like Kevin Hart’s Ride Along, with two more big comedic projects later this year: Think Like A Man Too (with Ride Along director Tim Story) and Horrible Bosses 2. In addition, he also does the music for the CW series Supernatural and the NBC drama Revolution.  Past credits include last year’s Identity ThiefThink Like A ManHorrible Bosses, and Alvin & The Chipmunks.  He was generous in taking time from his very busy schedule to talk to me.

How did you get involved in writing music for movies?

I started loving music at a very young age, I started playing the trumpet when I was nine and then I think I wrote my first song in fifth grade.  Then I realized that the guitar is much cooler and the girls seem to like guitar players much better so I started playing the guitar when I was 13 and I just got more and more into music. I played in a rock band and as I really started to get into it, I studied classical and jazz and then coming out of California, I originally studied guitar and then I found myself in my sophomore year of college recording a session with Henry Mancini.


Yeah, that sort of changed everything and I sure went back the next day, changed my major and decided I wanted to be a composer.  I think it was just watching that session that gave me the impetus to sort of change my focus and focus on writing rather than on performing and that is a big difference. For me, that was a really big move.

What it is about writing that makes writing a score a comedy especially challenging? Especially something like Ride Along which is really 60% action movie, 40% comedy; how do you cover both types of themes in composing?

You’re right. There are sort of three different styles of music in Ride Along. One is most definitely the comedy and that is usually focusing on what Kevin Hart is doing. But one of the things that Ioved about that movie and that I liked about those types of comedies is that it allows you to sort of us set up the comedy with reality and sort of hyper reality so what that ended up doing was playing Ice Cube really, really straight, very, very tough no-nonsense, so that when Kevin did get funny, everything sort of became a big contrast. Same thing with the action; I really treated the action as real.

At what stage in a movie like that do you get involved? Is it early on or after the story has been shot?

This one I came onto about halfway through shooting and I had worked with the director, Tim Story, on Think Like a Man, so we had a relationship.  At that point it was relatively quick that I sort of jumped in and started to come up with ideas and Tim and I started working on our approach and figuring out what he really wanted out of the music and that is sort of what put it to the next level.

I know you can’t talk too much about Think Like a Man Too, but you are working on that now aren’t you?

I started on it last week. All I can tell you is that it is just as funny, if not possibly funnier than the last one but it is also very similar in the fact that the ending is even more romantic and it is really kind of sweet. Again it is a great movie because it is funny for guys and super romantic at the end. It is just all around a great movie and I think it is just going to be bigger than the first one.

Do you just create the themes or do you also work on the adapting them to individual scenes?think like a man too

By the end of the day every single scene has gone through trial and error.  I try to make it fit every bit of the action just the way Tim wants it to and that’s really how we do it. It is a very intricate process going through the movie from start to finish we will probably, on Think like A Man 2 be about a six week to two month process.  Usually what happens is I’ll write for a brief period of time, I’ll write for five days, seven days, have him come in, check out how the process is going, give me some directions, continue writing, that kind of thing and then slowly but surely we get through the whole thing and that is definitely what I assume is going to happen with this one too.

What’s on your iPod? What are you listening to when you are in the car?

Oh wow! You know, that is one of the reasons I love doing what I do. If you looked at my playlist in the car you would find Metallica, you’ll find U2, you’ll find the Beatles. You will also find Danny Elfman, John Williams and you also find John Coltrane and Miles Davis and a bunch of stuff like that so I really like the idea of being very eclectic with music because it really keeps things interesting. I think every style of music has a valid thing to contribute to people’s lives and I think that I love the fact that I can float around in various multiple genres.

Can you give me an example of a movie where you think that the music works really, really effectively to create the mood and tell the story?

There’s so many. I think John Williams is sheer perfection. Indiana Jones was sheer perfection and Star Wars and at the same time I think of Braveheart.  The Godfather was perfect. That was really one of my favorites.

If you could pick any movie from the past that you could magically transport yourself back in time and create a score for, what movie would you pick?

It is really hard to do that because the movies that I love the most already have what I would consider to be phenomenal scores and so when I go back and think about that I think one that always comes to mind that I would love to get a crack at is Terminator. Because I feel like, and let me explain this and be clear, I think that the music for Terminator was absolutely perfect the year that it came out but because it was so synthesized  it becomes very traditional. It becomes very dated 80’s music, an example of that where the music was so current as far as what the instruments were, that later on you watch it and you can’t get it out of your head how dated it sounds so I think that given an opportunity, I would love to take a shot at it.  I would love to do a big sword and sorcery kind of thing. I would love to do a Lord of the Rings or Braveheart or something like that but then again, who wouldn’t

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This Weekend at the Box Office: “Think Like a Man” Beats “Hunger Games”

Posted on April 23, 2012 at 1:15 pm

“The Hunger Games” is no longer the #1 movie in America.  After four weeks on top, there’s a new champion, the ensemble romantic comedy “Think Like a Man,” inspired by Steve Harvey’s best-selling book, which made a robust $33 million, exceeding expectations.  Further examination of the numbers shows just how strong that showing is.  According to Box Office Mojo:

The movie’s $16,377 per-theater average is third-highest for a nationwide release so far this year behind The Hunger Games ($36,871) and The Lorax ($18,830) and significantly above huge hits like The Vow, Safe House and 21 Jump Street. Its opening was also better than nearly all comparable titles, including all Tyler Perry movies except Madea Goes to Jail ($41 million). Finally, it topped 2009’s Obsessed ($28.6 million) to become Screen Gems’ highest opener ever targeting African-American audiences (overall, it’s their second-best opening ever behind The Vow).

This should be a message to Hollywood that audiences want to see more of “Think Like a Man’s” outstanding cast in lead roles and not just snappy sidekicks and supporting characters, including Romany Malco, Gabrielle Union, Regina Hall, Meagan Goode, Taraji P. Henson, and Michael Ealy.  Those who enjoyed Kevin Hart’s performance should be sure to listen to his thoughtful and very funny interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast (note: very strong and explicit language).

The Lucky One” also did very well at the box office, with $22.8 million, the second-best opening for a Nicolas Sparks film.  Both films got very high marks from the people who saw it, so a strong showing over the next few weeks is likely, even with some competition from the first warm-weather blockbuster, “The Avengers,” opening next week.  It was good to see “Chimpanzee” become the highest first week nature documentary ever, especially because Disney made contributions for every ticket sold to the Jane Goodall Institute.

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This Week at the Box Office

Think Like a Man

Posted on April 19, 2012 at 6:17 pm

A gimmicky best-selling book about love, sex, and marriage has been made into a high-concept romantic comedy with an all-star cast.  “He’s Just Not That Into You”?  No, that was so 2009.  This time the inspiration is the book by stand-up comic and talk show star Steve Harvey, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment.  The advice is the same — the stunningly obvious and yet too often ignored principle that people will treat you the way you insist on being treated.  If you expect a man to open the car door for you, he will — and he will recognize that you are a woman who deserves respect and courtesy.  If you give it up within an hour of meeting him or continue to live with him without any prospect of building a real home and family together, he will think you do not honor yourself and he will not honor you.   And some women need to learn to choose their men by their hearts, not their resumés.  Both men and women need to learn that lesson in this ensemble story about a group of friends and what happens when the ladies take Harvey’s advice — and then when the men find out what is going on and try to turn the tables.

At the most superficial level, the movie is suitably entertaining, with beautiful and talented performers coping with a range of romantic challenges.  There’s a player named Zeke (Romany Malco) and Mya (Meagan Good) who wants commitment.  There’s Lauren (Taraji P. Henson), a very successful female executive who wants a “suitable” consort.   An aspiring chef (Michael Ealy as Dominic) does not fit her PowerPoint-worthy strategic plan.

A “mama’s boy” who brings his mother along on a Valentine’s Day dinner (Terrence J) has to decide if he can allow another woman (Regina Hall as single mom Candace) to come first in his life.  And Kristen (Gabrielle Union), who feels as though the place she shares with her boyfriend (Kevin Ferrara as Jeremy) is a frat house, wants a home that looks like grown-ups live there — starting with getting rid of the disgusting old sofa.  The group is rounded out with a happily married guy and pepper pot Cedric (Kevin Hart) who is in the midst of a miserable divorce and self-medicating his hurt feelings with visits to strip clubs.

The cast gives the usual rom-com banter as much sizzle as they can, and there is a whole second level of pleasure just in seeing these stars get a chance to play romantic leads.  Malco, terrific as a doorman in “Baby Mama” and a sidekick in “The 40 Year Old Virgin” makes an assured transition to leading man and Ealy has an enormously appealing screen presence.  King, Union, and Hall should all be doing the roles that get sent to Katherine Heigel.  It is good to see an almost all-black cast get a chance to make a glossy romantic comedy but it would be great to see them do something more than the usual multiplex formula.  A few Tyler Perry jokes (however welcome) are not enough to make this feel anything other than disappointingly generic.


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Based on a book Comedy Romance

Opening This Week: Three Movies Based on Best-Sellers and a DisneyNature Documentary About Chimps

Posted on April 16, 2012 at 8:00 am

A sheltered Christian student finds himself at a notoriously free-thinking college, women learn to play the game of romance a man’s way, and a former Marine finds the woman whose photograph was his lucky talisman in this week’s feature films, all based on best-selling books.  Also opening this week is DisneyNature’s latest “how do they get that footage?” documentary, the story of an orphaned chimp named Oscar.

The Lucky One, by Nicholas Sparks, is the story of U.S. Marine Logan Thibault, who finds a photograph of a smiling young woman buried in the dirt during his tour of duty in Iraq.  He experiences a sudden streak of luck — winning poker games and even surviving deadly combat. Only his best friend, Victor, seems to have an explanation for his good fortune: the photograph — his lucky charm.  When he returns home, he seeks out the woman in the picture.  Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, and Blythe Danner star in the movie, directed by Scott Hicks.

Stand-up comic and talk radio stat Steve Harvey is the author of the best-selling advice book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment.  Like He’s Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys, it has been turned into an ensemble romantic comedy featuring a dozen talented performers.  Come to think of it, the advice is both books is pretty much the same, too — the better treatment you insist on, the better you will be treated.  Perhaps the next movie on this theme will be based on Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies.” This movie’s title: “Think Like a Man.”

Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality a series of essays about his evolving thoughts on faith and grace.  It has been turned into a film about a young man from an evangelical community in Texas whose non-believer (and jazz music fan) father sends him to study at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

And Disney’s fourth Earth Day release is “Chimpanzee,” with a contribution going to Jane Goodall’s institute for every ticket bought this weekend.



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Opening This Week
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