'Westworld' and 'Game of Thrones' Composer on Creating Haunting Scores: "It Comes in the Form of Colors"

Ramin Djawadi - composing for more than a decade film and television scores - Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of Ralph Larmann

Double nominee Ramin Djawadi dissects his colorful composing style, his most recent challenges and how he created memorable music for HBO's two biggest hits.

Ramin Djawadi has been composing film and television scores for more than a decade, with a résumé that includes everything from movies like Iron Man and A Wrinkle in Time to such shows as Westworld and Game of Thrones. However, now that he's earned two of the nominations in his category (music composition for a series) for his work on those HBO dramas, is he not only the most nominated composer this year but also the greediest?

"Nobody has said that about me yet!" the 44-year-old native of Germany says with a hearty laugh. "But I guess I can see how you could think it. Right now, I'm just super excited because I love both shows so much."

In advance of his big Emmy evening (he has four previous noms), THR spoke with Djawadi about his colorful composing style, his most recent challenges and a surprising source that could yield more awards for him next year.

What is the process like when you're creating scores for Westworld and Game of Thrones? Do you need to see episodes before you start writing or can you do it from scripts?

I'm a very visual person when it comes to writing music. I like to see something besides just a script, even if it's just a storyboard or pictures from the set. Seeing costumes or things like that will definitely trigger me. Then, sounds begin to form ?in my head. I'll go on walks or drive around while my brain works in the background ?to develop ideas. I can almost see the music. It comes in the form of colors — colors jump out at me, and that translates into notes. They come fully formed: the orchestration parts, not just the melodies. Even though they're not always the right ones to use, the initial idea comes like that.

You've been with both shows from the beginning. Can anything the producers throw into an episode surprise you at this point?

In this second season of Westworld, we used that Wu-Tang Clan song ["C.R.E.A.M."]. They needed me to rearrange it before shooting ?so they could come up with the choreography and then play it on set for the cast. Doing that was something quite different because it was for this new Shogun World, and it had to have very specific instrumentation. But that's part of what I love about what I do, getting new challenges like that.

What are some of the more unusual sounds you've thrown in to your scores?

On Westworld, we used some sounds recorded in space by NASA for when [the show's robots] were offline and sitting in this room. We did it in order to give that room some ambience when [human] characters are talking to a robot and going through code.

Now that you've accomplished so much, do you ever look back on that very first time you composed a score?

I've got two memories: I would sit at the organ and just start making up things by myself — I was maybe 7 years old, which was too young to even know how to notate music. So I never wrote anything down, but when I'd make things up, I'd memorize them. The other thing I did was, when I would go to school, I'd get there early, and ?if my friends weren't there, I'd walk around the schoolyard and hear music in my head that I was making up. Later, as ?a teen, I finally started to write down those ideas that came to me.

Did you keep any of that music?

I think it's still all written down somewhere. I should go back and see if there ?is anything I could possibly use. Maybe there's something that would get me into Emmy consideration next year!

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.