Behind the Score: StaffPad composer Dario Vero on Mission Impossible 7
August 25, 2023

From Rome to Hollywood, Dario Vero has made his mark in film scoring, known for "The Stolen Princess", "Mavka: The Forest Song" and "Mission: Impossible VII." Combining classical training with cinematic flair, Dario discusses his inspirations, film composition challenges, and industry experiences in this interview.

What inspired you to pursue a career in music composition?

I was always obsessed with music, since childhood. I still remember me and some friends spending all our free time playing in a studio. And my Walkman came everywhere with me. At a certain point something happened in my mind; a lightbulb moment. I can’t explain why, but I know when. I was 13 or 14 maybe. I knew that this career was the one that, not only I wanted; but I needed. My dream job. After 20 years in this field, that feeling remains true today.

Which composers have had a profound impact on your musical style?

I have only one name for you. John Williams. Period.

In terms of technique, orchestration, approach and style, I think he deserves to be a member of the prestigious club of the ‘all time biggest composers ever’, with Debussy, Stravinsky, Ravel, Strauss and others. John Williams really changed the course of film music with his New Romantic style. He changed my destiny too.

Thinking of the soundtracks he created, the message his music carried was attached to some of the most iconic movies that I watched at ovie theaters when I was a kid. Jurassic Park, Jaws, E.T., Star Wars, Indiana Jones and many others. We’re talking about the best movies, franchises and series ever, from the 80s and 90s. At the time I was just a kid. And as a kid, these kind of memories are maybe more strong and effective! I still remember how beautiful it was to be in the theater watching these amazing movies with my family/friends. The music was maybe the biggest part of the cake for me! Thank you John Williams and Steven Spielberg for this. I owe you a lot.

How do you approach composing music for a film, such as Mavka: The Forest Song?

What a question man! I’ll try to summarize what I did in order to be specific without being too long. First step: I had several meetings with the producers and directors about Mavka. Who she is. What she likes. How she approaches life etc.

I then studied the script. At that time no sequence of the actual movie was ready — only an animated trailer was out. So, I started to think in terms of emotions. And eventually with the storyboard. Mavka is pure; she is beautiful. She is young. And she is the soul of the forest.

I was really looking for a melody that was able to highlight the qualities of the young Mavka. I started to think about the melody. A small fragment that could work as a statement. This is where I really do like the John Williams approach. A different and unique theme for each character. I needed a fresh, safe and understandable start for the Mavka’s theme — nothing is better than the perfect octave!

I started with this perfect interval. And then a half time step behind in order to have a major7 chord in the melody itself. What could be more pure, transparent and beautiful than a major7 chord?

Let’s think of it in G. I started with an octave jump from G to the upper G and then a small step behind to F# . I wanted a clear statement. So the chords are G and then B min (that work as an inversion of G maj7 with the third on the bass). I then went with the melody, back to E, then back to D, then back to C, then up a third and down to B. In terms of harmony I wanted something dreamy and not predictable. So the theme is still in the key of G but the chords, for this second fragment are Fmaj7 and then Cmaj7.

A Lydian harmony finally. Nothing better than Lydian mode to accentuate and describe a dreamy and pure emotion. With this small fragment I finally concluded the statement. This is the first part of the theme; the semi-phrase.

In terms of orchestration and instruments I wanted some classical and pure sounds for a Hollywood/Western result. It’s an international movie. So you always need to think big. But I also needed to spice it up with a bit of an ethnic approach. I scored everything thinking and dreaming of a female voice for the theme and an ethnic choir for the chords. With the help of the singer Oksana Mukha Illy dreams came true. Our classical orchestral sound was finally blended with this unique ethnic approach.

There are also some alto flute phrases that have a very transparent character, and of course the strings. Strings, strings, strings! There was no brass in this first phrase. That was my interpretation of Mavka! It was crucial for me to build a clear theme that wasn’t too long. In an animated movie like this you need to help the audience sometimes to understand and to feel something in half a second. Even less occasionally, therefore you need this kind of approach.

I did the same with Kylina, the antagonist. A very short minor and creepy statement that is modulating here and there without any preparation. Very different instruments used. Very different orchestration. A contrast between Mavka and Kylina was quite important too.

What was your involvement with the new Mission: Impossible movie?

Mission Impossible was a lot of fun for me. I worked as a music editor/orchestrator and additional conductor/assistant to the conductor.

This means I took care of the orchestral result. I pushed hard to get my team on board; the orchestra I usually work with; Kiev Virtuosi. I conducted this orchestra for Mavka, The Stolen Princess and other projects.

The Hollywood environment is very competitive. The bigger the challenge, the happier I am. Plus I have a long history with Mission Impossible, Tom Cruise, Paramount so…it was really cool for me. My career, my life and my personal approach to music are also connected to Joe Kraemer; an amazing music composer that really inspired me. He was also one of my mentors and Maestro. Years ago, Joe Kraemer created a Mission Impossible soundtrack (the best Mission Impossible interpretation in my opinion).

And what was the composing process like for Mission Impossible?

StaffPad is the extra weapon that I always use with the orchestra. Every single day of my life. It’s my companion.

During the recording sessions of Mission Impossible I was on stage. In front of me, a huge 100-piece orchestra was ready to play. We had some amazing people from Paramount with us. Part of the team was connected remotely via Zoom and Audiomovers.

It’s a very delicate balance when you approach a successful franchise like Mission Impossible. Firstly, there’s no space for any experimental orchestration. Secondly, you need to deliver on time...but there is no time! Because it’s a Mission Impossible.

It’s always a rush with this kind of blockbuster. That’s why they only want to work with professionals that are skilled and experienced. All the material is top secret…at least until the release of the movie.

Usually for these projects the producers want to send all the scores to the orchestrators/orchestra/studio/sound engineer in order to record the soundtrack 1-4 weeks before the release of the movie. In this case we were very, very tight with the schedule.

Keep in mind that sometimes the editor can cut a sequence or even an entire part of the movie. So you have to fix the music and the orchestration in a way that doesn’t sound mechanical or weird. This involves re-orchestrating, making some adaptations and music edits on the spot. Or maybe there is a close up shot at a different point of the timeline that requires a brass hit which means you need to change the music without changing the sense and the mood of the music that was already approved.

That’s why I’m happy with StaffPad. Pencil and paper and I’m ready to deliver the pdf or even print on the spot connecting my iPad with the studio’s AirPrint printer.

As a music supervisor for the Italian side (Mission Impossible was recorded not only in Roma…but also in London, Venezia, Vienna and Switzerland), I checked, controlled and worked on all the orchestrations. I worked on the podium with the orchestra, the main conductor and the artistic team.

I did some adaptations on the spot too. As we were in a rush I made some changes by talking to the orchestra and the international team. Like “Violins1, let’s avoid the vibrato here, do the crescendo up to bar 63. Violas stay like this but change from mezzoforte to mezzopiano and be more gentle with the bow, horns let’s make it more….” It was crazy but funny. Mission accomplished.

How has integrating StaffPad into your workflow enhanced your composition process?

StaffPad is absolutely the core of my working day and my main technology in terms of composition. It’s the best tool I’ve ever had. You know, when you compose using a guitar, for instance, you reach a result that is guitar based and guitar oriented. The inner soul of the instrument itself kind of inspires you and drives you somewhere, in one way or another. Same with the piano or the violin. So if you compose using the piano, you’ll probably finish in some jazzy or classical field. Using the guitar you’ll probably ‘bend’ your composition in a more rock-driven way. If you use a brass section you’ll probably compose in a more epic way. Or maybe Henri Tomasi-ish style. And so on. There’s only one way to escape these traps. Use your imagination ONLY. And then sing every line and put all those lines in a proper score.

StaffPad allows me to do that in a way that was not even close in terms of quality before. I can also send all the ‘previews’ to the producers because I can really count on the powerful engine of this beast. StaffPad mounts Orchestral Tools, Spitfire and CineSamples libraries. The best of the best!!!! I still remember the presentation of StaffPad years ago. That day, I literally ran to the Apple Store and bought an iPad Pro. It was life changing! Now I can score, orchestrate, then send the separated parts/pdf to the orchestra and even conduct with my iPad synchronized with the Pro Tools session. What software! The pencil and paper feeling is way, way better than any other approach in my opinion.. love it.

are there specific genres, directors, or projects you're eager to explore IN THE FUTURE?

I would really like to collaborate with Steven Spielberg or David Lynch. This would be a dream for me. But Spielberg already has his music buddy. I would really like to work on some sci-fi projects. Maybe a sci-fi TV series. Or even better a sci-fi videogame! That would be awesome!!! And some other thriller/noir projects. Those genres are my faves.

Finally, what advice would you give to emerging composers looking to make their mark in the industry?

At first you have to study. A lot. The more you know, the better it is. Always keep in mind that, at first, you are a composer and a problem solver too — this is an essential skill you will need to have. Next, I would say that everyone should find and walk on their own path. It’s crucial we listen to our inner voice and, find our very personal and original way to score and compose. Nothing is more important than this. The world needs this authentic approach. For all the other stuff, artificial intelligence will play its role… let’s be creative!