“Film soundtracks are a very important part in the film. They give the film its character,” said Mostafa El Halawany, who has been in the soundtrack composing business since the age of 24, “I was the youngest composer in the scene when I was working on my first film Agamista,” he said.
Now, four years later, Halawany has done the soundtracks for films and commercials and started his own production company ‘pre-to-post’.
“I have been involved in music ever since I was five years old,” he said. His first exposure to music was through music lessons. “I took lessons for 7 or 8 years, but I was never committed enough,” he said. As his music upbringing was entirely classical, he always wanted to explore more. “I know it’s wrong to do so, but I used to add and alter things while playing Chopin,” he said “I always wanted to explore and add my own input”.
His music background broadened when he moved to Belgium during his high school years, where he studied music and joined several bands. That’s when he got introduced to rock and pop music witnessing a turning point in his musical journey. He learned to experiment with different styles and started playing rock and blues. Having been in contact with several music genres, he doesn’t think his music can be categorized in one genre. “This is an important requirement for a soundtrack composer,” he said “they should be aware of all genres.”
He explained that directors request different things. “A director could request orchestral music for an action film or acoustic instruments for a comedy,” he said. “I couldn’t have become a soundtrack composer if my background consisted only of classical music.”
Among his works are the soundtracks for the Mehwar Channel, Commercials for Ceramica, Porto Sokhna and Vodafone. As for film, he produced the soundtracks for ‘Agamista’, ‘Maalab Harameya’ ‘Ogret el Kahira’ and ‘Tick Tock’, a film shot in New York, as well as the music for a film by the band Wama called ‘El Akademeya’.
“The work for commercials is very different from film,” he said “when doing a commercial, you have to transmit a message in a very short span of time (30 seconds), while in film you have more room to play around. You have to make the music fit with the mood and synchronize the soundtrack with the frame.”
He explained that the timing plays a very important part in films. “Imagine this scenario for example, a man walks into his house, sits on his couch, takes a remote control and then turns on the TV. It makes a big difference when the music starts, it could mean something totally different if it starts by him entering or by him picking up the remote control,” he said.
As he believes that the soundtrack is the backbone of a film, Halawany thinks that most directors in Egypt do not understand this power and lack vision. “I’ve worked with several directors in Egypt and abroad,” he said. “Some directors have a certain vision and specify what they want, while others tell me ‘you know what you have to do’.”
For him, Star Wars is one of the films that highly succeeded in incorporating the soundtracks to the actions of the film. “It was a non-stop two hour orchestral music that told the whole story,” he said. His favourite soundtrack composers include John Williams, Hans Zimmer because he revolutionized the art, Harvey Greyson Williams and Ennio Moricone.
“Sometimes a very simple soundtrack could convey a lot of meanings,” he said and started playing a tune very familiar to my ear. “That’s Amelie,” I said “I like listening to it.” “But a soundtrack isn’t necessarily listened to,” he explained “some music is only fit for the screen.”
“Working on my own music I get more freedom,” he said “Currently I’m working on an album.” As for films, he will be working on an Egyptian war film discussing the untold stories of the October war. He also hopes to encourage emerging independent filmmakers through his production company ‘pre-to-post’, which includes sound editing equipment as well as a recording studio, video editing and color grading equipment.