Enis Rotthoff is the composer for Love Sarah, but his process for creating the movie’s music was different from the norm. In our interview, Enis explained how he collaborated with director Eliza Schroeder, how that partnership affected the sound of the film, and one particular scene that he took completely out of the box. Get to know him better with this conversation!
Brittany Frederick: How did you originally become interested in composing? Was it a case of always having a musical interest or background?
Enis Rotthoff: My love for film music really started when I was ten years old. When I would watch films, I was most excited about the music. I was playing piano at that time already, and the most interesting thing for me was to memorize melodies of scores. Once I was done watching the films, I’d go to the piano and try to play these themes, and it became a playful way of being excited about film music.
Over the years, I started building my interest in film music more and more in a very natural way. It was not that I thought I should become a film composer. It was more like I just loved film music so much. When I started improvising on the piano, it became more and more interesting to me to think about how I could build a career out of that in my teenage years. I was lucky enough to get a scholarship for young composers in Berlin, Germany, which really was the foundation for me to learn how to study composers and their work. And through that, step by step, it became a dream of becoming a film composer.
BF: Your sound has combined both orchestral and electronic elements. Many composers tend to prefer one or the other, so how do you manage both?
ER: It started with orchestral film music in my time as a teenager. I was drawn to film composers that would compose orchestral scores. I studied all these scores. [Then] growing up in Berlin, I would go to clubs and concerts of electronic music because Berlin was already a hub for electronic music. It was a fascination for me. I always thought had I not gone into film music, maybe I would’ve done something with electronic music. This fascination stayed with me, and over the years I worked on my skills with electronic music, and when the time was right, I was lucky enough to get projects for films with synthesizers and drum machines. I would say that fascination for electronic music paid off later in my life.
Today, I’m transitioning between orchestral scores and electronic scores and sometimes combining them. It definitely is a very different mindset to compose with synthesizers and create a sound palette out of a certain collection of sounds. By working with the orchestra you have a set amount of instruments, though you might add an interesting instrument, like an exotic instrument to the orchestra. Working with a completely different and unlimited palette of sounds, as you do in electronic music, is a very different way of working.
BF: Love Sarah is different from most of your past credits; it’s an intimate, romantic kind of film. Was that its appeal for you or how did you jump onboard?
ER: I got involved with the film through the director, Eliza Schroeder, whom I had met ten years earlier. We wanted to work together on a short film, which did not happen because of scheduling conflicts. But ten years later she contacted me to see if I was interested in her debut feature film, and the first thing she shared with me was a teaser of some scenes from Love Sarah.
She had just finished shooting the film, and in the teaser you already saw the positivity, the uplifting feeling, the deep-held emotions, and the pastries that really drew my attention because I love desserts. These elements are combined in this film in a very special way. I just loved the energy of what I saw and was very interested in working with her, especially with the backstory of us not working together on her short film and now getting the opportunity to work together ten years later.
BF: You worked closely with Eliza, so what kind of effect did your partnership have on the score that we’re hearing?
ER: It is very important for me to work closely with the filmmakers. I feel like we are counterparts in finding the right language for the film. Music is a cinematic language in itself, and with music, the filmmaker has the opportunity to navigate the audience through the film and help the audience understand certain storylines or characters. This is a huge responsibility that I like to have the filmmakers involved in. And for me, this is the most inspiring part: to figure that out together. I see myself almost like a method actor, where I dive into the world of the film and just try to find the right musical language for the film and include the filmmaker in it to find what is most appropriate for the vision of the film.
BF: Do you have a particular favorite scene or cue from Love Sarah?
ER: One piece I really like is the track “Opening Up the Bakery,” because it represents the uplifting feeling of the film and the journey of the character. The other track I really like is “The Final Dance,” which is a piece composed for the dance sequence from our character Clarissa who makes and uses this dance as a way of reflection and healing. I was given the task to score that scene, which the actress Shannon Tarbet performs, and there was no music. I started following her moves, following her body movement and also the flow of her movements, and scoring that was truly an inspiring experience.
BF: You’ve worked on over 80 films in the last decade-plus. How do you sustain that much creativity, and have you seen a greater awareness of composing over that span?
ER: It is the movies themselves that inspire me. It can also be an experience in my life that inspires me, but usually I try to gain the inspiration from the films themselves and the conversations with the filmmakers. It’s a beautiful thing to add music to a story. So that in itself gives me so much inspiration that I am lucky to be able to compose so much.
I can very much see that. When I started out and wanted to become a film composer, I was buying every book I could, and it was just a handful of books which were helping me to understand how to become a film composer. Nowadays, besides books, there’s so much more awareness for film music as it’s become a place where you can have your orchestral music performed by an orchestra, or have performances of your scores in other venues. The appreciation of film scores has definitely grown in that time over the two decades I’ve experienced.
BF: What’s the music or who are the composers who inspire or excite you?
ER: I try to listen to as much music from different countries and genres, as this is truly inspiring. My taste is also influenced by what I am currently working on as I like to dive into different musical worlds. In terms of film music I love, the extensive works of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Bernard Herrmann, Ennio Morricone, John Barry, Nino Rota, Alan Silvestri, Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, Howard Shore, Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, Alexandre Desplat, Michael Giacchino or Michael Nyman. I appreciate so many composers and I find it truly beautiful that there is so much good film music out there.
Enis Rotthoff’s score for Love Sarah is now available on your favorite digital media platform.
Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.