“I’ve been into music since I was a little kid; my mom was really into music. She always said that she wanted to be a singer, but it was a […]
“I’ve been into music since I was a little kid; my mom was really into music. She always said that she wanted to be a singer, but it was a different time – her parents were very controlling, she got married very young, then she had me when she was 21. She was always singing around the house and she really loved music,” Pedro Bromfman tells me, when asked how he first developed such a passion for music. “Unfortunately, she passed away at 32 years old. I was 10. The very next birthday I asked for a guitar. For many years, I didn’t really connect the events. Looking back, I think it was sort of a way of continuing her legacy,” he continues. “That spark and that desire she had sort of seeped into me very early on.”
That passion for music really did have a massive effect on the young Bromfman, especially once he had his own guitar. “I was very seriously into it, really putting in the hours and studying – and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.” Though his father was always very supportive of Pedro’s musical ambitions, there was also some worry about the path he chose, as he tells me, “No one in my family came from a musical background or anything. So they were all like ‘oh my god, is this going to work out?'”
They needn’t have worried. Pedro was clearly very talented; moving to Boston from his native Brazil at the age of 18, he attended Berklee College of Music, studying composition and arranging, first wanting to write for big band, jazz orchestras. He returned to Brazil, released a solo album in 2000 – working with some of the best musicians in the country – and was soon being asked to write music and advertising jingles. However, fate soon intervened to slightly change Bromfman’s musical trajectory. “My girlfriend at the time – now my wife – wanted to study in the US. I thought, maybe that’s the perfect opportunity to study some more. I enrolled in UCLA and studied more orchestration and composition; I started recording with small orchestras and groups. Everyone from my girlfriend’s school needed music for their [film] shorts and documentaries – and that’s when I started working with [film composer] Jeff Rona, doing additional music for him for a short period of time.” This pushed Bromfman further towards composing in general, as he tells me, “Right away, I was able to start getting gigs in writing for trailers and commercials; then mostly, at the time, romantic comedies. These day it’s rare that I get called for those – usually it’s for action adventure!”
This interest in composing – as opposed to music in general – didn’t just spring out of nowhere, as Bromfman relates, “I also remember going to watch Cinema Paradiso with my Dad, when I was around 13 or 14. Afterwards I was trying to play the music, the nylon string guitar – trying to learn some of Ennio Morricone’s score.” The film had a huge impact on the teenage Bromfman and continues to resonate for him to this day, as he explains, “That movie has been with me throughout my life, at several stages – and each time I watch it, it’s from like a different perspective. When I was young it was from the kid’s perspective, then from the point of view of the teenager falling in love and now when I go back to it, as the older man going back to his hometown and reliving his childhood, seeing where he ended up. It’s a very special movie.”
Though perhaps less known outside of Brazil, Bromfman’s most high profile composing work was initially for some genuinely huge films in his native country – with the first example being Elite Squad: a movie shot almost like a documentary, focusing on violent crime and the extreme methods used to tackle it in Rio de Janeiro. The sequel – which Bromfman also composed the music for – is still the biggest box office hit in Brazil to this date, when adjusted for inflation. “It’s really become part of the zeitgeist in Brazilian culture. The first one went to Berlin [Film Festival] and won the Golden Bear, against films like There Will Be Blood – and the films did so well at the box office that all the studios were like, ‘who are the guys making these movies?'” Opportunities in the US then started to open up: Elite Squad’s director, José Padilha, made the 2014 RoboCop remake in the US – which Bromfman also scored – before going on to perhaps his biggest success in the US, the hit Netflix series Narcos. A frequent collaborator with Padilha, Bromfman also took on composing duties for Narcos.
In terms of video game composing, Bromfman’s first work was for Rockstar on their 2012 title Max Payne 3. How did that come to pass? Bromfman informs me, “Max Payne 3 took place in Brazil – because of both [Elite Squad] movies, they were like, ‘oh, let’s call Pedro to work on the score’.” Things didn’t necessarily pan out as initially planned though, as Bromfman relates, “I did more than two hours of music for them, but then the direction changed and they decided to bring in a band. The score ended up being a hybrid of what I had done and what the band did.” However, Bromfman still considers this to have been valuable experience: “It was my first foray into video games and my first experience writing things like loopable cues that have to vary in density. So it was good training for what what was to come later.”
The Palm City – essentially a fictionalised Miami – setting of Need for Speed Heat, the 2019 entry of EA’s long running racing series, was seen as another good fit for Bromfman, as he explains. “Steve Schnur – the President of Music for EA – brought me in and was very gracious. He said, ‘we’re huge fans of Narcos – we’d love to have you work on this game’.” Bromfman flew to Gothenburg in Sweden to work with Ghost Games on the project and it wasn’t long after his work with EA was completed that he was brought in to work with UbiSoft on the next game in their blockbuster, open-world FPS series: Far Cry 6.
As gamers who’ve spent time making their way through a Far Cry game will know, they’ve been pretty big, growing to an almost overwhelming size at times, in both the general game world’s area and the duration of the game, as well as the integration of the ambitious cinematics and in-game performances of an often-sprawling cast of characters. Though numbered sequentially, the settings and cast – barring one or two exceptions – shift in tone and style from game to game, with the only common element being an exotic locale and at least one charismatic villain who’s often the cover star for the title they appear in. Due to Far Cry 6’s fictional Caribbean island setting of Yara – ruled by the dictator Antón Castillo (played by Giancarlo Esposito, undoubtedly the highest profile actor to take on the role of a villain in the series) – Bromfman’s music was seen as a natural choice for the game.
Bromfman had heard of Far Cry, but hadn’t played any of the previous titles. Given the lack of consistent settings and the soundtracks being tailored for each game’s locale, that wasn’t an issue, however. “That’s a question that comes up a lot – whether I had played the other games and if the music of the other games influenced me. I hadn’t – and on purpose once I was doing this, I decided I didn’t even want to hear,” Bromfman says. It’s understandable; each game has it’s own identity and its own approach with the musical accompaniment. Bromfman continues to explain, “It’s a new world; I wanted to do my own take on the material – with the approval of UbiSoft of course – I didn’t want to influence myself with other themes or other material, the way [the previous composers] treated combat and high blood-pumping missions and things like that. I wanted to give it my own take without without diving into that.”
It makes perfect sense; when you think of Far Cry, there’s no specific musical theme that immediately springs to mind, which Bromfman acknowledges. “With Far Cry each one is brand new, each one is totally different – It’s not like [the situation] with the Superman theme, where whoever scores it in the future is expected to reference that theme.”
Creating the music for any Far Cry game is clearly a huge undertaking. There’s such a wide variety of musical cues that are needed, from mission-based music to more ambient accompaniment and even down to music that appears on radios outside of the clearly licensed music tracks. How does the process work? Where would a composer even begin with that? “The audio team is very specific about what they need, at what point and also, it wasn’t just me – I was doing the score,” Bromfman reveals. “I’m doing the themes for all the characters, I’m doing the sound that the player is listening to and the sound that represents Yara in the game – but when you see a band playing on a street corner or when you hear the Yaran marches, those are different things and were either licensed or by other other composers.” That’s not to diminish Bromfman’s work; he clearly had an awful lot to do in terms of providing the music for Far Cry 6, as he explains. “My job was almost four hours of music of original music for a game, over two and a half years.”
Being brought in so early in production had some positive aspects for Bromfman, but also meant a significant challenge in creating music at the preliminary stages of development. “They called me in so early that they had very little to show. We had one mission that needed to be scored right away, but we were scoring initially based on concepts. It’s like ‘what does the Yaran revolution sound like? What does Anton’s oppression sound like? What’s the theme for Anton? What’s the theme for [Anton’s son and heir] Diego?'” This is a significant difference to the way that Bromfman was used to working, on film soundtracks for example. “They would usually give me a scene or photographs of each of the characters – they would then receive my music, listen to it and they’re like, ‘Oh, this is what Anton sounds like’. We were both influencing each other, which usually doesn’t happen in my job because when I come in, usually the stories are written, the film is edited. The performances are there already. I don’t [usually] get to be a part of the conceptual process, but they listened to, say, this revolution theme and it actually changed and inspired them to do something different. So it’s really been great in that way.”
It’s a much more collaborative, two-way process than may have been expected then, even for Bromfman himself. Despite being a daunting task that spanned a long period of time, Bromfman tells me, “They were always saying, This is what you need. Now let’s work on these themes. And then once we had the main themes that everyone loved, then we moved into the missions; we already had sort of established the sound of Yara.” Fascinatingly, the level of detail in the music went deeply into regional variations across the in-game island of Yara too, as Bromfman elaborates, “We started working on the different regions – there’s a cohesion of course, the whole score sounds like it’s the same thing, but I wanted to infuse different elements of each of the regions. According to conceptual ideas like: the West is where the farmers are, where the more traditional families are, so it’s more acoustic, sounding more like Caribbean music, more like more acoustic instruments. The East is where the factories are, so it’s like more metallic, more industrial, a lot of sound processing. The central region is where Anton is – and also where Máximas Matanzas is.” With Máximas Matanzas being a hip-hop band, Bromfman explains that in that region, “we decided to use more urban elements and hip-hop elements and fuse the music with those.”
As time went on, the approach changed as the game’s content was completed further. “There was a lot of going back and forth,” Bromfman says, “and then they would start sending me the missions to score specifically each one with what they needed. Then the very end was the cinematics.” As Bromfman notes, “This game has like an entire feature film inside of it – it has almost two hours of cinematics, so if you do play just the cinematics it’s almost like a movie. I probably I think I scored like about an hour of cinematics; that is just what I do.” This is the closest the process gets to scoring a film, perhaps unsurprisingly, as Bromfman tells me, “it’s exactly the same: we have a scene, you know what the music needs to do when it comes in, how to build it and so that part is more familiar.”
Though being so deeply involved in a project such as this over a two-and-a-half year timespan – and which also took place in the middle of a pandemic, adding further challenge to the development of the game – could have been somewhat difficult, Bromfman has nothing but praise for the team at UbiSoft and would welcome the opportunity to work with them again. “I’ve never had such an easy, fluid collaboration. They were very excited about everything I delivered and it flowed so smoothly. It’s usually not like that! Usually, with film or TV composers, you have to redo multiple times until you hit the target until everyone’s happy – or they’re used to listening to a scene with specific music in the background and then anything else that you deliver doesn’t work, because they’re so used to that specific piece,” he says. “In this game, we never had that. From the beginning, whatever music went against the pictures, it was my music. So they were used to seeing a specific mission and playing it ‘dry’ without any music; then all of a sudden my music would get introduced and – not even whether it’s my music is great or not – just the fact that something new was in there; the music helps so much. We’re talking about working together again, for sure.”
In terms of working on video games in general, Bromfman is similarly enthusiastic and positive, especially when it comes to gamers; it really is such a different way of absorbing music than with films, as he explains: “Video games have been such a great experience for me – and people are so passionate about them. People are passionate about the movies, too. But maybe you watch a movie twice, then you go away and that’s it. Five years later, you watch it again, maybe – and the music is there, but it’s not really that immersive thing where you’re hearing that music over and over again. People just fall in love with it; I’m asked ‘What is that track? Are you releasing this?’ They’re so passionate about it!”
It’s clearly very rewarding to get that kind of feedback and interaction with the audience – and when Bromfman travelled to Toronto recently for the game’s launch, he got to not only try the game for himself, but receive some of that positive feedback in person. “I got to play some of the missions and some of the producers were talking to everyone, I heard people saying ‘Oh my god, the music!’. I told them I didn’t even need to get on a plane to come back – I could just float back to LA! It usually doesn’t happen that way – people are happy, but rarely this passionate.”
From Pedro’s mother passing on her own joy of music, to Ennio Morricone’s incredible body of work having such an effect on the young man and now Pedro himself sharing his gift with the world, that love of music is clearly infectious and being put to good use. There’s absolutely no doubt that Pedro Bromfman’s mother would be immensely proud of the talented musician and composer that he’s become.
Huge thanks must go to Pedro Bromfman for taking the time to speak to me. Thanks also to Andrew Krop and Kyrie Hood of White Bear PR for facilitating this interview.
Far Cry 6 is now available on PC, PS4, PS5 and Xbox consoles, as well as being available to stream via Google Stadia. The soundtrack can be heard on Spotify at this link.
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