Composer Interview: Christopher Lennertz on ‘Think Like a Man Too’
Click on the video link to hear "Zeke Gets Mya Back" by Christopher Lennertz
By Mark Morton for Soundtracks Examiner
Massachusetts-born Christopher Lennertz is a composer who simply does not know how to slow down. Since launching onto the scene nearly fifteen years ago, he has simultaneously juggled score work for television, feature films and video games consistently and with incredible quality. His notable works include several entries in the “Medal of Honor”, “Mass Effect” and James Bond series’ of video games, family films like “Lemonade Mouth” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks”, dark comedies like “Identity Thief” and “Horrible Bosses”, and the long-running CW Network series “Supernatural”.
His name is attached in recent years to director Tim Story’s films that star Kevin Hart – “Think Like a Man”, “Ride Along”, and now “Think Like a Man Too”. Working under tight deadlines on three-to-four (or more) projects at once would leave anyone with very little time to do anything else, however, Mr. Lennertz graciously opened a window to spend a little time with Examiner to discuss his recent endeavors.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but “Think Like a Man Too” is your first sequel to your own work.
CL: You know what, I think you’re right. And it was as fun as I thought it would be. The neat thing about it, and I was just talking with Tim Story about it, was that I loved what he did with the first movie. I really loved the characters; I thought they were really interesting and relatable. I also loved that it was a romantic comedy disguised as a zany comedy, and I loved the subversive nature of that concept, so that by the end all the guys would be snuggled up to their girlfriends, because I’m a big sap. The other thing that was great about it was that anyone could relate to it; it wasn’t specifically an “urban film.” It was just a great romantic comedy film. And the box office proved it. It’s great that Tim is in the business of making great Hollywood movies that people love.
Was that a challenge for you from the first one, to take the preconceived notions people have for romantic comedies and screwball comedies and bleed them together?
CL: Yeah, absolutely. That is something we really worked to do – to keep the heart in it, while always giving the people permission to laugh, especially when it came to Kevin! This was the first of his I did, and now I’m on my fourth Kevin Hart movie. And he really, truly is the next Eddie Murphy, the next Chris Rock, the next Robin Williams. He is THAT GUY. He’s just so quick and clever that my job is to support whatever he’s doing – to give him the license to be funny without telling the audience every joke; let him do that work. And it’s the same with the rest of the cast; the whole cast is so funny. I think my job is really to set the tone while not getting too specific. I think I really get to shine at the end when everyone’s relationships start coming together – the wedding happens, the possibility of a baby with the one couple. I love being able to take those emotions and just run with them.
You always hear about the creation of scores from a clinical, or job-like standpoint. Having worked with “heartwarming” films in the past, do you ever project your own feelings into the score to help progress the films’ “reality”?
CL: Oh yes, definitely. I think you have to relate in some way or another. My wife and I were trying to have our second child, and I remember very specifically that feeling of knowing we were finally going to have one. So, the piece that happened in this film, when Jerry [Ferrara] and Gabrielle [Union] learn that they might be having a baby; I get it! I’ve been there, so I reached into my own world and pulled that out and invoked it musically.
One thing that really rings through both scores is how authentic the scored soul music parts come across.
CL: That is something I worked REALLY hard at. I wanted it to sound and feel like it came off of a record. I wanted it to feel like it was taken from an Earth, Wind and Fire record or something like that. We used a lot of microphones from that era and a lot of other recording equipment that was from that era. My engineer Jeff and I did a lot of research to even find what kind of amps they were using back then. The goal was to make it sound like the instrumental section of an album you might have sitting on your shelf from that era. And then, of course, I updated it with some more modern hip-hop stuff, too, on top. But yeah, the basis for it was definitely that R&B/Soul stuff that gave a really fun vibe to the movie.
Scoring comedies can sometimes be a thankless job, because on one hand, people are paying serious attention to the dialogue and the imagery, and the background music gets lost. And on the other hand, nearly every comedy film known to man has a licensed song-based soundtrack. How do you compete with those factors to make your “voice” heard?
CL: Well, you kinda don’t. One of the things I do, especially with comedies, is that I know my place. I know I’m part of the team and part of telling the story as a whole, but I am not the whole musical voice; especially when you have movies like these that have great songs in them. Both Tim, the director, and Spring Aspers, our music supervisor get involved in picking the music. And I’ve got no problem sharing the stage with great songs by Pitbull, Snoop & Dre, Mary J. Blige…the first one had John Legend! They’re all heroes of mine to begin with.
And I realize that the score works WITH the songs to make the movie a great experience. And I’m okay with that. Obviously, it’s a very different ballgame when you’re scoring something very intense like “Revolution” or “Supernatural” for TV, when there aren’t as many songs and I can be more spotlight-ish. It’s okay. I’m here to help tell the story and to make sure that the movie is as good as it can be. I realize that it shouldn’t be all my music; there is something amazing that a great song can bring to a film, too. Lord knows, Scorsese’s figured that out!
How did you so quickly become “the Kevin Hart composer”?
CL: Part of it is because I became a “Tim Story guy.” I owe a lot of thanks to him, because he brought me onto the first “Think Like a Man.” We worked together great, (we had both gone to USC). Then we went on to do “Ride Along,” then this film, and now we’re on to “Ride Along 2” with Kevin. So, because of that, I ended up doing a lot of Kevin’s movies. It had more to do with Tim and Will Packer, the producer, also doing a lot of Kevin’s movies.
How surprised were you when the first “Think Like a Man” came out and had knocked “The Hunger Games” off of the #1 spot?
CL: I was less surprised than most people. I think all of us who knew the movie well and saw what was happening underground, in terms of marketing and test screenings, knew that it was going to be something. I didn’t know that it was going to know off “The Hunger Games,” but I did think it was going to do well. It was a great movie, and I thought the timing was right for that kind of a comedy.
But you have to give a lot of credit to the marketing. They didn’t do marketing for a film the way everybody else did. They didn’t just put up a bunch of posters and have trailers. They sent the whole cast into each major market to do screenings for a full month or two before the movie ever came out. Then you started to hear people talking about the movie before its release and it went viral. A lot of that had to do with Will Packer, who is great at that stuff. I could see it happening, and I thought it was going to work. And when the numbers really hit, you realize how big a hit it was, especially considering the budget of the film; it was pretty amazing. I think a lot of other studios took notice.
Do you have any predictions for how “Think Like a Man Too” will do, or do you not want to jinx it?
CL: I would like to think it’s going to do at least as well, or better, than the first one. It’s got what people want. The fact that it’s a summer release is a great thing, but summers are a little more crowded, so you have to hope it’s going to find room. Obviously, “22 Jump Street” did really well last week, so it’s going to hold over pretty strong. But Kevin’s a much bigger star now than he was at the time. I really think it’s going to do well…at least I hope so.
Now that you’ve broken the ice, so to speak, with doing a sequel to your own work, will you use this as a sort of template for how you will attack “Horrible Bosses 2”?
CL: “Horrible Bosses 2” is definitely a continuation of the first movie, and then just take it up a notch. It’s obviously got more of a rock vibe and less of the R&B. But there is definitely a hip-hop flavor to it, much in the way that the first one had that Beastie Boys vibe. What I love doing is making sure that the comedies feel contemporary.
I think doing comedies that are too stereotypically orchestral without incorporating popular instruments and popular styles will unfortunately not feel relevant to a younger audience. You want the audience to feel comfortable in the seats when they’re planning to have a fun night out and laugh. I couldn’t be a bigger fan of huge orchestral music, having worked for Basil Poledouris and Michael Kamen when I first got into the business. I love that and can’t wait to do more of it, but at the same time, I want to make sure each movie really gets what it needs. And I believe that contemporary comedies need contemporary music.
Knowing you have a track record to taking on many projects simultaneously, it seems like recently you have been working on fewer projects than you previously subjected yourself to. Am I seeing that correctly, or is the list not being updated quick enough?
CL: I think the list isn’t being updated, because I definitely feel busy. Maybe it’s because I’ve been working with these bigger-budgeted films that take a little more time. And then the big reason, that has actually been keeping me busier, is all the television, doing both “Revolution” and “Supernatural” for the last couple of years. That is a fulltime gig in of itself. So, on the list, it may look like one, but 22 episodes is a lot of music.
Please forgive me for asking this, but how does it feel having spent all this time building this world and this musical landscape with “Revolution,” to critical acclaim, ultimately to have the rug pulled from beneath your feet?
CL: Obviously, I wish it would have gone a different way, especially because I love working with my friend Eric Kripke, who created the show. And I really enjoyed working with Jon Favreau and J.J. Abrams, who are amazing! But I think TV is a funny place right now. I think so much of the luster of television has moved into cable, into things like “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad” and “House of Cards”. I think the network television model is really going to have to look at itself.
And I think that doing 22 episodes and trying to appeal to a super-wide audience, while not pushing as many boundaries as you can push with cable is hard to do. I think people are really expecting things that are edgier with more of a miniseries kind of a vibe with shorter story arcs. And then you make them wait for the next 8 or 10 episodes. I think there is something to be learned from this. I think that’s what’s going on, and “Revolution” unfortunately got caught in the turmoil of that. And I think that what these shows do next is going to follow the guidelines that cable set up with these great shows, like “Homeland” and “Orange is the New Black”. Networks really have to look at that and be aware of it from now on.
So what is this magic recipe that “Supernatural” concocted for survival?
CL: You know what? None of us know! I think the main part of that magic is all of the characters that Eric created, in as far as The Winchesters, Sam and Dean and their family, and the fact that it never took itself too seriously. I think that was a huge factor in it. And you have to give a lot of credit to the casting. Sam and Dean, and now Castiel, especially guys you just like to watch on TV, have great chemistry. Any series that lasts a decade, there is always chemistry between the cast. They have an energy on-screen that you can’t fabricate; it just works.
Since we’re on the topic of television, was your work on the “Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter,” in any way, some kind of subversive audition for the upcoming “Agent Carter” television project?
CL: It was not at all subversive. In fact, at the time, I didn’t even know there was going to be a new series. It actually wasn’t until after the “One-Shot” was done that ABC started becoming interested in the series. Louis D'Esposito, who is the co-president of Marvel, had me do this first short, “Item 47”, and then a second one, which was “Agent Carter”. We had an amazing time and got along really well.
And he told me last summer at Comic-Con that there was a possibility this was going to become a series. And he said that if he was going to be involved, he wanted me to be involved, too. So…I can’t say anything more than that. But, there is a series, and Lou is the producer, and he may be directing some of the shows. I hope to be doing it, I really do.
You’ve had success with TV, you’ve had success with video games, and you’ve experienced success with film, so what is left out there for you to do?
CL: Well, there’s still so much to do! I like to do different things. I really want to get into more songwriting and animation – real broad-audience kinds of things – song-driven animated films, like “Frozen”. I’m also a huge fan of epic, adventure movies, and I hope to be getting into some of that stuff. And Lord knows, I’d love to do a Marvel movie, when that comes around. I still have lots of stuff on my bucket list.
The “Think Like a Man Too” soundtrack is currently available at iTunes, Amazon and Amazon Digital.