Film Composer

(P1) The music you hear as you are watching a favorite scene is a big part of the magic of movies. This is what Carlos José Alvarez does, and at 36, he’s a PROLIFIC young COMPOSER.

(P2) Alvarez has already composed and arranged the SCORES for Hollywood films such as “Deadline,” “One for the Money,” the DOCUMENTARY “Cubamerican,” and the Oscar-winning “Still Alice.” He arranged and wrote the music for the THRILLER “Exposed,” starring Keanu Reeves and Ana de Armas, which recently opened in theaters.

(P3) Alvarez, who has lived in Los Angeles for the past decade and now considers it home, says his career as a film score composer chose him. He also gives his two grandmothers credit.

(P4) “My mother’s mother was BED-RIDDEN, and I used to watch films with her,” Alvarez says. “That’s where my FASCINATION with films began. My father’s mother, who is still alive, is an incredible musician. She was a musical voice in our family.”

(P5) Alvarez was raised in West Palm Beach, Florida to a music-loving Cuban family. Sounds of classical pieces, Cuban folk music, and Beatles tunes often EMANATED from his house. By 12 years old, he started playing the CONGAS and the piano.

(P6) He explains he always knew he wanted to compose music for films, because he had always been in love with cinema, as well as music, and it was a perfect marriage of both of his passions.

(P7) “I was always into music, the story, the characters, the setting,” says Alvarez. “The music is there to tell us what’s happening when nothing is happening on the screen. It’s like the poetry behind it all for me.”

(P8) His most INFLUENTIAL moment, he says, was meeting Michael Kamen, the composer for films such as “Lethal Weapon,” “X-Men,” Die Hard,” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” while Alvarez was in high school.

(P9) “He came to West Palm Beach to give a concert, and I heard about it and I wanted to be a part of it,” remembers Alvarez. “I AUDITIONED for the TIMPANI part, and I got the job… It was such a BIG DEAL for me.”

(P10) After the concert, Alvarez spoke to Kamen and said, ‘You know I’m going to be a composer like you someday?’ He said, ‘I believe you.’ He really knew I meant what I said, and I think that was a TURNING POINT for me.”

(P11) Alvarez received a scholarship to attend Florida State University. He put up FLYERS all over campus offering to score student films for practice.

(P12) “I’d PULL ALL-NIGHTERS to compose music,” says Alvarez, who later attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he graduated with a degree in film scoring.

(P13) Today, a TYPICAL day for him still involves up to 14 hours when working on a film.

(P14) “I cannot wait to be inspired, there’s no time for that,” says Alvarez, who works from a studio in his house. He was given six weeks to work on the score of “Exposed.” “I have to sit down and work. I have to shut out the world.”

(P15) Usually, Alvarez says his work starts when the film is at the end of the editing process.

(P16) “Once the film is close to being completed, I sit with the filmmaker and we go through the entire movie. We decide where the music should start, stop – there’s a lot of problem solving,” he explains.

(P17) Then he begins writing the music. Once the score is approved, then comes getting the SHEET MUSIC ready for the musicians, and the recording process. Once the music is recorded, it is time to edit it into the film.

(P18) “The job is so magical,” says Alvarez. “I wake up every day hoping to create great music. If I do my job correctly, I’m breathing life into the film.”

WORDS: 635



If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. Are you aware of the music when you watch a movie, or not really?
  3. Did you play in musical groups in school?
  4. Was your family very musical like Mr. Alvarez’s family?
  5. Was there a turning point that helped you decide what your career would be


What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.

  • Bed-ridden
  • Big deal
  • Turning point
  • Pull an all-nighter

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