Spotlight is ComingSoon’s interview series with under-the-line and/or up-and-coming talent in the world of television and film. Our goal is to focus on the different positions that make the entertainment you love possible instead of focusing solely on actors and directors.
ComingSoon’s Jeff Ames had the opportunity to speak with composer Philip White about his score for A Madea Homecoming.
His other credits include The movie The Loud House (2021 HMMA Nomination for Best Original Score for an Animated Film), jexi, A Madea family funeral, Nobody is a fool, Boo 2! A Madea Halloweenand Alex & me. In television, Philip has had the pleasure of continuing to work Supernatural during its historic 15 seasons on the CW. Other major television credits include Fraggle Rock, Lost in space, Ray Donovan, What if, Bates Motel, Agent Carter, When we get up, Revolutionand Dallas.
ComingSoon: What made you become a composer?
Philip White: One of the first movies I remember – I was probably 5 or 6 – was Disney’s Fantasy. So much if it stayed with me, but mostly how well the animation worked with the music. When I was 16 I watched it again and it felt like reconnecting with a long lost friend. It is such a brilliant piece of work. This soundtrack (which includes excerpts from such seminal pieces as Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 6,” Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” among others), along with the music of John Williams, was hugely influential during my childhood.
My entry into music began with the guitar at the age of 13. When I was in my senior year of high school, I began to resort to the piano. I made up short tunes and melodies, and quickly realized that I enjoyed creating music more than performing it. In college, I enrolled in a dual degree program at Tufts and the New England Conservatory, earning degrees in drama and music composition.
I moved to LA soon after and joined a theater company where I acted for several years. I missed music and felt that I could contribute more as a composer than as an actor. I enrolled in USC’s film scoring program and upon graduation was recommended to Chris Lennertz, a wonderful composer who would become a great mentor and friend. We have collaborated on several projects over the years, e.g Supernaturalthat James Bond: Quantum of Solace and Starhawk computer games, JUMP, Identity thief, Lost in space, Revolution, Agent Carter, The Smurfs: Lost Villageand jexito name a few.
What was it about A Madea Homecoming that made you want to work on it?
I will jump at any chance to highlight Madea’s antics! Joel High, Sami Posner, Johnny Caruso, and the rest of the folks at Tyler Perry Studios are amazing—to say nothing of Mr. Perry himself. It is always a pleasure to work with that team of people. It was also a great release to work on a troubled comedy like Homecoming after two years of a pandemic and a charged political environment.
What was the most challenging aspect of working on A Madea Homecoming and how did you overcome it?
With Homecoming, there were a few places where the timing of the music was off, even during the sound mix. It helps to have an experienced music editor like Johnny Caruso on board who can make tweaks to the score at this late stage and make it sound like it was planned all along.
More generally – and Homecoming was no exception – one of the biggest challenges in any project is finding a way in. I go through countless attempts in the beginning and reject idea after idea. I remind myself that this is not only normal, but necessary—the creative answer to flushing out the sewer lines. Eventually, if I keep improvising, trying different sounds, different ideas, or sometimes just walking around, I’ll find something. It might not end up in the bottom line, but it’s enough to keep me focused.
Once you settle on an idea, the second challenge is to make it sound as polished and as true to what you want, within budget and time constraints. It’s always a bit of a Tetris game, but it can be fun if you’re excited about the raw material.
Do you have any funny behind-the-scenes stories about the making of A Madea Homecoming?
While this isn’t so much a behind-the-scenes story per se, there is one flashback scene that required a drastically different approach than the rest of the score. We decided to score it with a nod to 50s noir, as did the score North by Northwest and dizziness. The rest of the score doesn’t sound like this, so it was fun to bring the musical language to a 3-minute scene. I used sweeping, harmonically dense string passages and also had low winds, like alto and bass clarinet.
What were some of the things you learned about A Madea Homecoming that you’re excited to apply to future endeavors?
Something I love about writing for film is being able to pivot to drastically different styles. With Homecoming, I went from a funk-adjacent R&B ensemble to Herrmann-esque, noir strings and back to modern strings and piano—all in one film. I can’t think of another medium where a composer can do this and make it make sense. Any chance to do more of this musical hopscotching would be a dream.
Do you have other projects in the works that you can share with us?
While I can’t name anything specific, I’m excited about two very different projects coming up later this year. I’m just so excited about the release of Homecoming. I think we could all use a good belly laugh right now.