Ep. 16 – The Strength of Humility, Embracing Mistakes, Communicating Effectively, and Scoring “The Queen’s Gambit” with composer Carlos Rafael Rivera

February 22, 2021

We’re still talking about Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit on the Hollywood Editing Mentor podcast. Emmy-winning composer Carlos Rafael Rivera is my guest on episode 16 and he’s here to talk about his experience scoring The Queen’s Gambit and how he collaborated with Michelle Tesoro, ACE, who was on the previous episode of the podcast, and how Carlos met writer/director Scott Frank, it’s a really cool story of how they paired up.

We’re also gonna get into the psychological concepts and principles that deal with career advancement, such as being humble and knowing your place in the work environment, as well as embracing mistakes and failures, and using these experiences to learn and overcome our fears. It’s these principles that he learned from his upbringing that he has applied to his life and career and therefore has allowed him to find great success in Hollywood.

Carlos and I talk all things The Queen’s Gambit and music, but we also discuss the importance of effective communication and learning the language of film, dealing with imposter syndrome and taming the fears that can come with working in film and scripted TV, the biggest lesson he learned from being replaced on a project, and the idea that what we are shouldn’t define what we make.

A protegé of Randy Newman, Emmy-winning composer Carlos Rafel Rivera’s work for film and television includes scoring one of Netflix’s most viewed and acclaimed shows in history, The Queen’s Gambit. Additionally, he has scored Netflix’s Godless, directed by Scott Frank and produced by Steven Soderbergh, starring Jeff Daniels and Michelle Dockery, as well as Universal Pictures’ A Walk Among the Tombstones, starring Liam Neeson.

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Other topics Carlos and I talk about:

  • Being born in Washington DC and growing up in Central America
  • Acclimating to the culture in Central America
  • Moving to LA to get his Masters in music composition and getting his rock band signed to Universal Records
  • Interpreting  and executing the director’s ideas as a composer 
  • Picking your battles as a composer
  • Carlos’ approach to composing music 
  • Scoring over 20 chess matches in The Queen’s Gambit
  • Making chess interesting through music
  • What Carlos has learned from the many years making music
  • How to deal with uncertainty and second-guessing your work
  • How Carlos takes care of his health 
  • Why Carlos is inspired by the lives of comedians
  • When Scott Frank first told Carlos aboutThe Queen’s Gambit through Scott Frank and his initial thoughts for music after reading the novel written by Walter Tevis
  • HIs approach to writing the main title theme for The Queen’s Gambit
  • Scott Frank’s initial idea for the score and how it evolved throughout the series
  • The challenges and journey of composing the right score
  • Writing the music to The Queen’s Gambit with no temp score from editor Michelle Tesoro, ACE
  • Having a true collaborative process where there is actual support in lieu of fear and doubt
  • Developing internal motivators 

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Original Music: “Apollo’s Haze” by Jesusdapnk
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