The future is going to be epic

June 17, 2015

Music grad heads to California for an internship with legendary film composer Hans Zimmer

Oliver Westall, a member of the Bachelor of Music in Jazz and Contemporary Popular Music program’s first graduating class, always knew that music would be his life’s work. He began playing piano when he was a three-year-old in Southampton, England, but it was in 1997 when the film Titanic was released that he had his first inkling of what could be his true musical calling.

While most kids were focused on what was happening on-screen, Oliver couldn’t get the movie’s music out of his head and spent the next two years memorizing the entire soundtrack.

“It started to trigger something,” says Oliver. “A decade later when I watched Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, there was a really amazing scene with a guy walking down the ship as it’s being blown up around him. He’s just walking with a shocked face and you hear this really epic, powerful music written by Hans Zimmer. I thought ‘I’ve got to do this—I have to find a way.’”

That way involved a winding path, but when Oliver eventually decided to transfer to MacEwan University a few years completing his music diploma at Mount Royal University, it was the contemporary focus of the program and mention of a senior-year film scoring course that really got his attention.

“I did a lot of jazz at Mount Royal, but that wasn’t really my thing,” says Oliver, adding that moving to Edmonton wasn’t just about the music—it was also a way to find his focus and meet new people. “I wanted to write music for films, games or TV, so the composition program, the faculty and the film scoring aspect—which has been my dream for a long time—was really exciting.”

Scoring the opportunity of a lifetime

Partway through the Fall 2014 semester, Oliver began to see how that dream could actually come true. “One of my classmates came into class with a big smile on his face, saying that he had an interview to intern with Remote Control Productions in Santa Monica. I hadn’t heard the name before, but when he said it was Hans Zimmer’s studio, he immediately had my attention. He came back a few weeks later with an even bigger smile on his face saying he got the position. I couldn’t believe it.”

So Oliver set out to see if he too could work with the composer behind the soundtracks for movies including Titanic, Gladiator and Interstellar. Eventually it led to an interview via Skype where he learned about the internship, including the opportunities to sit in on writing sessions.

“A stressful few weeks passed after the interview,” says Oliver. “I wanted it so badly and when I finally got the email that they wanted to have me, I ran around the house screaming.”

Oliver leaves for Santa Monica the day after Convocation for what he says is the five-week opportunity of a lifetime. “To learn what I did in the film-scoring course was incredible, but to have it lead to this is just amazing. I’m still numb, actually. It’s a five-week opportunity to make an impression—one I plan to seize with both hands.”

But Oliver knows the road to having “film composer” on his business card is a long one. “You have to be willing to work hard, and I’m willing to do that. In 10 years’ time, if I play my cards right, I’d love to be writing music for film—to be able to make people feel the same magic I did as a little boy growing up listening to Titanic. This is the first step, and every step is progress. I’m excited to see where this takes me.”

Seeing where the paths the music degree program’s first graduating class might lead is something Allan Gilliland, chair of the program, looks forward to.

“I can’t wait to hear all the incredible music that this graduating class will create. The amazing thing about the music business is that you never know where you will end up—you want to have as many tools in your toolbox as possible, and then you go where the opportunities arise. I know that as the years go by I will be so pleased to hear their music—written in every style and every type of ensemble imaginable—popping up on video games, TV shows movies, CDs and live performances all around the world.”

MacEwan University is proud to celebrate the over 2,100 members of the Class of 2015. Congratulations to this year's graduates, medal recipients and distinguished award honourees.

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