Student Profile: Chris Bilton
For Chris Bilton, films and their scores are inextricably linked.
"I've always been intrigued by creating moods through music. I was always curious why I was feeling this way watching movies and it had a lot to do with what was happening with the music," says the film scoring major from Canada. "I would turn the music down or off and just see what it was like. Then I would turn it back on and think, 'Wow, this is a big difference.'"
That revelation encouraged Bilton, who started playing piano at age 5 and writing music at 10, in his musical aspirations.
Bilton was in 10th grade when he first heard about Berklee from a film composer in Canada, now a mentor to him. "He told me about Berklee. He said, 'Your music sounds like it belongs in film.' And I was hearing that comment from a lot of people."
But Bilton would have to be patient. Straight out of high school, Berklee was simply not an option for him financially, especially with a younger brother only a year behind him in school.
Bilton, whose parents are nurses and owners of a health care company, briefly pursued medicine but the experience only served to reaffirm that music is his true passion.
"My parents said, 'If you want to go to Berklee, you have to show us that you're serious and you've got to make a certain amount of dollars in a certain amount of time.'"
Bilton did just that, landing a job in sales and marketing with the Toronto Blue Jays, where he stayed on for three years, saved enough money, and got accepted to Berklee.
Once he finally arrived, Bilton knew right away that he wanted to major in film scoring but, like everyone else, he had to wait until his third semester to make it official and declare his major.
"The film scoring program here is unique," he notes. "Just reading the faculty bios online—even though you might not have necessarily heard their names at first, you read their credentials and you see they've done the work. And that was what was most interesting to me, being able to talk, work, and study with people who have scored films, met directors, have been through the whole process, and can teach me that."
"The program here is great. It's a small, concentrated group of people," Bilton says. "You know everybody. The teachers know you. You're all pretty much focused around the same goal. You help each other. It's kind of like a family."
Bilton appreciates the technical skills he's learned through the major, but also that it's steeped in tradition. "The film scoring major is very much technically based in terms of software. It's learning inside-out the applications from which you create music electronically now. But there's also an element of composition, different compositional techniques that are used specifically for film, studying other great composers that have scored many films in the past. . . You also see the traditional side of film scoring. You're still learning about the old reels, the old film, the old techniques, and splicing and things that are really not here today. But you still have to know how it was done."
Bilton also took advantage of Berklee's international study abroad program, traveling to Greece for the college's inaugural program there at the Philippos Nakas Conservatory in Athens. "It's a very small school and they just treated us like we were heroes. . . It gave us the opportunity to study music in another culture, in another environment, to step out of the North American rock-pop world and hear traditional Greek music, played by real, excellent musicians. As a film scorer, it is so great to learn and have an appreciation and knowledge of many different styles.
Early on at Berklee, Bilton made strides toward his professional aspirations, including writing music for independent directors. "Film scoring and music are all about the people you meet. I've always been a pretty good networker. I'm not afraid to pick up the phone and say, 'Hey, I write music. You make films. We should work together,'" he says.
"Networking is so huge," Bilton continues. "It's all about relationships . . . So half of it is the knowledge and getting through the program, and the other half is what you do with it." Bilton, who's been practicing what he preaches, has his sights set on Los Angeles after graduation, in hopes of landing a job, of being in the right place at the right time.
Chris's Top Five Film Composers
- Thomas Newman
- Howard Shore
- Jon Brion
- Danny Elfman
- John Williams