Spotlight is ComingSoon’s interview series with below-the-line and/or up-and-coming talent in the world of television and film. Our aim is to shine a spotlight on the varied positions that make the entertainment you love possible rather than focusing purely on actors and directors.
ComingSoon’s Jeff Ames had an opportunity to speak with composer Philip White about his score for A Madea Homecoming.
His other credits include The Loud House Movie (2021 HMMA nomination for Best Original Score for an Animated Film), Jexi, A Madea Family Funeral, Nobody’s Fool, Boo 2! A Madea Halloween, and Alex & Me. In television, Philip has had the pleasure of working on Supernatural for the duration of its historic 15 seasons on the CW. Other major TV credits include Fraggle Rock, Lost in Space, Ray Donovan, What/If, Bates Motel, Agent Carter, When We Rise, Revolution, and Dallas.
ComingSoon: What led you to become a composer?
Philip White: One of the first movies I remember—I was probably 5 or 6—was Disney’s Fantasia. So much about 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’s such a work of genius. That 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, were enormously influential during my childhood.
My entry into music began with guitar at age 13. By my senior year of high school, I began gravitating towards the piano. I’d come up with short tunes and melodies, and soon realized I enjoyed creating music more than performing it. In college, I enrolled in a dual-degree program with Tufts and the New England Conservatory, where I earned degrees in Drama and Music Composition.
I moved to LA shortly after and joined a theater company, where I acted for several years. I missed music and felt I could contribute more as a composer than as an actor. I enrolled in USC’s film scoring program, and after graduating was recommended to Chris Lennertz, a wonderful composer who would become a great mentor and friend. We’ve collaborated on numerous projects throughout the years, including Supernatural, the James Bond: Quantum of Solace and Starhawk video games, HOP, Identity Thief, Lost in Space, Revolution, Agent Carter, The Smurfs: Lost Village, and Jexi, to name a few.
What was it about A Madea Homecoming that made you want to work on it?
I’ll jump at any chance to underscore Madea’s antics! Joel High, Sami Posner, Johnny Caruso, and the rest of the folks at Tyler Perry Studios are fantastic—to say nothing of Mr. Perry himself. It is always such a joy to work with that team of people. It was also a great release to work on a riotous comedy like Homecoming after two years of a pandemic and a fraught 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 in flux, even during the sound mix. It helps to have an experienced music editor like Johnny Caruso on board who can make adjustments to the score at this late stage and make it sound like it was planned that way all along.
More generally—and Homecoming was no exception—one of the biggest challenges in any project is finding your way in. I go through countless attempts at first, rejecting idea after idea. I remind myself that this is not only normal but necessary—the creative equivalent of flushing out the sewer lines. Eventually, if I keep improvising, trying different sounds, different ideas, or sometimes just going on a walk, I’ll find something. It may or may not end up in the final score, but it’s enough to keep me focused.
Once you’ve zeroed in on an idea, the second challenge is to make it sound as polished and as true to what you want within budgetary and time constraints. That’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 fun, 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, much like the scores to North by Northwest and Vertigo. The rest of the score sounds nothing like this, so it was great fun to bring that musical language to a 3-minute scene. I used sweeping, harmonically dense string passages and also featured low winds, like alto flute 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 gets to do this and have it make sense. Any chance to do more of this musical hopscotching would be a dream.
Do you have any other projects coming up that you can share with us?
While I can’t mention anything specific, I am excited about two very different projects coming up later in the year. I’m just so thrilled about the release of Homecoming. I think we can all use a good belly laugh right now.