Throwback: “Keeping Score” with Mark Mancina

Mark Mancina. Photo: Larry Mah

From our archives an interview with Tony, Grammy, and BAFTA nominated composer, Mark Mancina who has scored over sixty films and television series…

Film composers like John Barry and Thomas Newman are known for their signature sound. And then there are others like Mark Mancina whose genius comes from successfully eluding such trademark sound recognition. The Grammy award-winning composer who has given pulse to films like Speed, Training Day and The Lion King is passionate about breaking new ground and exposing listeners to what’s fresh and unexpected. By incorporating sample sounds and fusing traditional and exotic instruments from around the world, Mancina has not only enlivened his films, but also changed the scope of film music altogether.

Mark’s studio.

“I only had six weeks to write Speed,” Mancina recalls. “It was one of those things where I decided to take all the percussions from the orchestra and move it to sampled bus sounds. I had a friend of mine who went out to a metal yard and sample tons of metallic sounds. This was a while ago when they didn’t have sample libraries with metallic sounds so this was a new concept that really worked because that movie was about a bus. But today, that’s become the sound of action movies.”

For the Oscar-winning film, Training Day, Mancina broke the mold again. “I did something nobody was doing – an ambient score against a gritty picture. Instead of doing the predictable hip-hop sound, I did something multi-cultural to reflect Los Angeles, which is full of all sorts of styles of music and people. I started that score with Asian-sounding instruments. At first, the director felt confused about the score but in time, he acknowledged its contribution.”

Mancina, who trained from an early age in classic guitar, piano and composition counts Bach and the Beatles as his influences, and credits composer Hans Zimmer for recognizing his talent and introducing him to the film community. An innovator himself, the versatile composer doesn’t limit himself to just the action and thriller genre and his repertoire boasts some of the most unforgettable dramatic film scores including the late Natasha Richardson masterpiece, Asylum, and the harrowing Vince Vaughn/Joaquin Phoenix feature, Return to Paradise.

The composer has his own favorites. Regarding the Looking at You track from Return to Paradise, Mancina says, “I think it’s one of the best things I’ve written. Not only does it really work with the picture, but also it’s a strong piece of music on it’s own…I sent it to the director and didn’t hear back from him for two days and I’m sweating. And then he calls me up and says ‘it’s genius. There’s nothing I would touch.’ That’s why I do what I do. Once in a while a great director like Joseph Ruben gets it.”

Mancina is currently working on taking scenes from his films and rewriting them for classical guitar to be played by the greatest guitarists in the world.

UPDATE: This article originally ran in our magazine in 2010. Since then, Mancina has scored numerous more films including Cry Macho, Moana, August Rush, Shooter, Criminal Minds, and most recently, Netflix’s The Sea Beast. More on Mark Macina at

— Ghalib Dhalla