‘Waterman’ Documentary Composer, Timothy Stuart Jones, Talks About Career and Dream Projects

Timothy Stuart Jones is an experienced and talented film and television composer that has worked on amazing projects like the Marvel feature Thor Ragnarok, and the television series Chuck. His most recent project is the documentary Waterman which follows Duke Kahanamoku a surfer and world-record setting Olympic swimmer. Timothy works hard to deliver a composition that complements the emotional aspects of the documentary. In this interview, Timothy talks about his career as a composer, favorite long-term collaborators, the elements for the score of Waterman and helpful advice for new composers.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What was your first job in composing and how did you decide to pursue your craft professionally?

My first project was a TV Pilot called P.C.H. It didn’t end up as a series, just a film. It was directed by Nelson McCormick has gone on to do a lot of great work in both Film and TV.

I was in my 3rd year at UCSD in La Jolla. I was majoring in music, but not sure exactly where I wanted to go with that. I found out about the Film Scoring major at the Berklee College of Music and I jumped. I bought a plane ticket to Boston before I knew I had gotten into the school. From my very first class in the film scoring department, I knew this is what I wanted to do.

Who are some of your favorite long term collaborators?

I have worked with Dave Jordan who was the music supervisor on several of the Marvel projects I’ve been involved with. He’s fantastic. My friend, Mike Elliot, is a director and a producer who I’ve worked with over the years. My showrunners on ‘Chuck’ were great, Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak. I worked with them over five seasons of the show and 91 episodes.

Chet Thomas who was the producer on ‘Waterman’. We’ve been working together a long time. Also, Darrin Fletcher who is Chet’s producing partner. Those guys are awesome.

What scene was the most fun to work on for Waterman?

I think the last scene, which is a big montage of all the things Duke has done and all the lives he has touched. It goes from small to very big musically. It was emotional and a lot of fun to put together.

What instruments/gear do you tend to use, especially in the production of Waterman?

I have a grand piano that got used a lot in the score for Waterman. I also have a very special guitar made in the early part of the 20th century by a Norwegian builder named Chris Knutsen. It’s a beautiful Hawaiian Lap Steel made from koa wood (I’m pretty sure). It used to belong to Ben Harper and I bought it from his Mom out in Claremont, CA at the Folk Music Center. It’s their family shop. It’s an amazing place. My grandmother lived in Claremont and used to buy me little flutes and things as well as take me there. That guitar is used quite a bit on the score in an ethereal kind of way. It has a such a sweet, angelic tone. It felt like a great talisman to have for making music for Duke. It has a ton of great mojo from the hands that have touched it and music that has passed through it before it got to me.

Who are some of your influences?

There are so many! How do I choose? I take inspiration from so many genres of music. I’ll focus on orchestral music here, but you may have to edit this down! I’m going all the way back here as far as my influences, but Mozart’s music has always spoken to me. This is very specific. Just for fun, listen to the overture from Don Giovanni. (I like the Neville Mariner recordings because of the Amadeus soundtrack). At approximately 1:26 there is a very short arpeggio section where the orchestra climbs and the chords underneath are moving in counterpoint. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve heard it. That passage always gives me chills. It’s very simple, but just so elegant and effective. He brings that material back in the very last aria of the opera and he builds the entire orchestra around it with the vocals. I’m not a musicologist, but I think he was ahead of his time in many, many of his works.

I like the icy, long lines of Sibelius. The melodic brilliance of Puccini. I used to skate around Burbank at night listening to Brahm’s German Requiem. Like Batman haha.

I love the Hollywood Gold Era composers like Franz Waxman, Erich Korngold and Miklos Rozsa. They as well as the other classical composers paved the way for many of our modern composers:

John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Newton Howard, James Horner, Basil Poledouris, John Powell, Danny Elfman. I continue to learn and enjoy things from all these composers and more.

What is your dream project? Dream collaborators?

Honestly, it could be any project where music can be a character. An opportunity to work with a lot of different colors whether it be innovative synth work or orchestral writing or preferably both. That’s something that both Newton Howard and Powell do so very well. I already get to collaborate with Mark Mothersbaugh. He has such a creative mind and has so much experience, it’s a pleasure to work with him.

Off the top of my head and If I’m allowed to choose people from the past, I always wanted to work with Harold Ramis. On a personal level, I really wanted to meet James Horner and talk about airplanes. It’s very sad that they’re both gone.

As far as the future is concerned, a director who can be a partner in the filmmaking process. That may sound a little generic, but I learn something from every director I’ve ever worked for. It’s really cool when they are open to learning things as well. That’s what I mean about a partner. I certainly don’t know everything. I know…it’s a shock to me too! Each score is a kind of exploration to find just the right fit for the film. They are all different. The director is always the director and captain of the ship. However, on the really great projects, they give the composer some wiggle room for discovery. The end result, the film, ends up being greater than the sum of it’s parts. A final product that could only have come from the interplay between these two particular minds. Ok, I am aware that there are way more than two minds involved, but it’s a dream right? Haha.

Where can we find you on social media?

I’m timjonesmusic on Instagram.

Thank you for reading! Learn more about Timothy Stuart Jones here.

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Jenny Poole

Jenny Poole

Film, TV & Music Journalist, Writer & Teacher. Over 10 years covering the entertainment industries, working with major US and Global outlets.