Darren Fung. Photography provided by CW3PR Inc.
Based in Los Angeles, Darren Fung is a talented, award-winning music composer. Born in Canada with strong Chinese roots, Mr. Fung’s music is a medley of the East and the West. His love of music began at the age of three and led him to become an accomplished composer. After a lifetime of living in Canada, Darren Fung moved to the United States to create music for film and TV in a new location.
Fung has a colorful, diverse, and nostalgic music style with a powerful yet gentle effect on the viewer’s senses. “With over 100 composition credits to his name, Darren Fung is seminally gifted and a highly influential composer who is well-respected in the TV and Film scoring worlds. Fung is one of Canada’s most accomplished composers, thrice nominated for a Canadian Screen Award. Most recently, he scored The Great Human Odyssey, a mini-series that explores the roots of humankind. The project opened to widespread critical acclaim in Canada, winning the 2016 Canadian Screen Award for Best Music and receiving a nomination from the International Film Music Critics Association. (The Great Human Odyssey premieres in the U.S. this fall on PBS.) Darren utilizes an epic, large-scale orchestra and choir to bring this special’s score to life, replete with memorable melodies and unique musical colors. His diverse credits also include a recreation of Canada’s second national anthem (the beloved Hockey Theme) for CTV and TSN and the theme music for CTV’s flagship morning news show Canada AM. Additionally, Darren scored Bell Canada’s Orchestra advertisement spot (for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics), which was voted as Canada’s top commercial by readers of The Globe and Mail. Darren’s feature and short film scores have been heard at prestigious film festivals around the world, including Toronto, Cannes, and Sundance. After Fung studied at McGill University and worked full-time as a composer in Montreal, he moved to Los Angeles and is represented by Maria Machado of Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency and CW3PR.”
In 2016, Mr. Fung spoke with local Texas writer, Nicolette Mallow, to discuss the bird’s-eye view of his life lived in music and how he came to be in California with his wife and daughter after many years in Canada.
Darren Fung and orchestra. Photography provided by CW3PR Inc.
Nicolette Mallow: Will you please tell me a little about when your love for music began and when you learned to play an instrument?
Darren Fung: I started playing piano when I was 3. Music has always been part of my life. After piano, I dabbled a little in violin and then the saxophone. I loved trying new instruments and playing the music in my head.
NM: Yes, I read in other interviews that you tend to create music with a large-scale orchestra. That makes sense, given you learned to play so many instruments… What number of instruments (musicians) entails a large scale orchestra?
DF: A large scale orchestra can be 40, 50, 60 people. Even 90-100. For me, that means anything over 40. Over 40 is a pretty big orchestra…Now, do I prefer to work with a recording group? I also like the challenge of not having a large scale orchestra and doing other things that are not orchestral.
NM: Your online biography states that you “caught the composing bug at age 15” when you wrote a piece for Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s Young Composer Project … Did you always know that music was your life calling?
DF: Yes, and no. I always loved music, but at the age of 15, I knew I wanted to be a composer. But it was hard for my family at first to accept that I am good at this, good enough to make a career of it. My mother is a Chinese tiger mom, and she wanted the best for me growing up. She had a preset idea of what my future looked like. She wanted me to pursue something more secure than music. Music or a creative career was too risky. So, when I first began music school instead of pursuing a life as a lawyer… it was hard for her. Culturally there were some conflicts and it would’ve been easier and more accepted had I chosen to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. My mother is very supportive now and she is very happy for me that I chose music.
NM: I understand the family and cultural aspects of what you just said. My Latina mother was most displeased, if not furious when I said I was going to Savannah College of Art & Design 12 years ago instead of Barnard or Stanford to be a psychologist or doctor. But she, too, is now very happy for me that I chased my artistic dreams.
DF: Yes it can be hard at first to choose your own path.
NM: In regards to music composition, what are some of the most distinct differences between Canada and the US?
DF: The most significant diff between the two is that Canada is more comparable to the Indie film scenes—the budgets are not that big. The AFM calls them low-budget films because we are lucky to get around a $3 million budget. We are supposed to do more with less. However, since we are so close to the states, we have a lot of similar musical influences.
NM: Reading about your career, I saw the phrase “musical colors” mentioned in writing. Can you tell me a little about what musical colors means to you?
DF: Instruments or sounds are our palette. Composers (and musicians) can kind of make whatever we want out of it. Musical colors are why I think I love orchestra so much because there is so much available—so many colors and moods to portray. Not to say other genres of music don’t have that. But I am a classically trained musician, and to be able to take that stuff and play away. It’s endless and I never know what will happen and I love it.
Darren Fung and orchestra. Photography provided by CW3PR Inc.
NM: Were you nervous or excited to recreate the 2nd national anthem for Canada?
DF: Both. When I recreated the 2nd national anthem for hockey night in Canada, we wanted to pay homage to the original, but with a whole bunch of orchestrations and differentiators. For the longest time, it was a really iconic song in Canada. Everyone knows the song and it’s equivalent to Major League Baseball’s classic tune “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”…At the time I was working with CPC and they wanted to make it their own. I was 26 at the time and I didn’t want the country hating me as the guy who guy who f*cked up the hockey thing… However, I was thrilled to be part of the project. And at 26 I got to work with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and specific members who the company hired to play. So to be given that budget and content for a major broadcast was amazing.
NM: The Great Human Odyssey sounds amazing. What was it like writing for this TV show?
DF: It was 85 minutes of music in 7.5 weeks. There was material to score but we didn’t start writing till 7.5 weeks before we recorded… Niobe Thompson (Producer and Director of The Great Human Odyssey) sort of talked about bringing me on board as he was shooting. Almost two years before he started editing, I saw some raw footage. And I have to admit that when I first met up with Naobi, there was not a lot of money and I was not really sure the resources were available to create what he wanted with an orchestra and choir. But then he showed me the first warrior of this man jumping across ice flows. Drone shots across ice flows, and the backdrop was spectacular. The costumes, everything was visually stunning. And I realized we needed to get the music to match the greatness of the film… Fast forward in time and he then needed trailers. Then suddenly later on I am going to Prague so I can record a couple of cues to cut… Fast forward to the final count down where we are talking frame by frame, intentions, character and motivations; figuring out the music for each character and each scene.
NM: Do you have any hobbies that you enjoy to keep you balanced outside work?
DF: Hockey and rowing are my two hobbies. Often I get up at stupid-o-clock in the morning around 5 A.M. to go rowing before work. What I love about hockey and rowing is that it’s two completely unrelated things to music. I meet people who aren’t in the business and it’s not a sedentary job. I get to move around and I get to blow off a lot of steam. I keep biz cards on me, just in case, but I like that it’s totally separate from work. Honestly I worry about the day where I might have to give one or both of them up… I find so much sanity and comic relief in hockey and rowing. Im horrible at both… but trying to get physical activity is necessary. And it’s fun to go have a beer with the guys sometimes.
NM: Are there any genres in film or television that you would like to write for that you’ve yet to work on?
DF: I’ve been lucky so far and enjoyed all my projects. But I would like to write for sci fi or opera. I haven’t yet had the chance to do either. Also, Animation is something else I am interested in. I like changing things up and I just finished up on an installation work for a gondola ride in Banff. So long as it’s a great project with great music: count me in! I am always looking for new projects and I came to LA to establish myself here.