Interview Spotlight: A Madea Homecoming Composer Philip White

Spotlight is ComingSoon’s interview series with below the line and/or up-and-coming talent in the world of TV and film. Our goal is to shine a light on the diverse roles that make the entertainment you love possible rather than just focusing on actors and directors.

ComingSoon’s Jeff Ames had the opportunity to speak with composer Philip White about his score for A Homecoming Madea.

His other credits include The Loud House movie (HMMA 2021 Nomination for Best Original Score for an Animated Feature), jexi, A Madea family funeral, no one is fooled, Boo 2! A handmade Halloweenand Alex and me. On television, Philip had the pleasure of working on Supernatural for the duration of its historic 15 seasons on The CW. Other major TV credits include fragglerock, lost in space, Ray Donovan, what if, Bates Motel, Agent Carter, When we get up, Revolutionand dallas.

ComingSoon: What led you to become a composer?

Philip White: One of the first movies I remember—I was probably 5 or 6 years old—was Disney Fancy. So many things stood out to me, but especially how well the animation worked with the music. When I was 16, I saw him again and felt like I reconnected with a long-lost friend. This is such a work of genius. This soundtrack (which includes excerpts from key pieces such as Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 6”, Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”, Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, among others), as well as music by John Williams, were extremely influential during my childhood.

My entry into music started with the guitar at the age of 13. From my last year of high school, I began to gravitate towards the piano. I was making up short tunes and melodies, and soon realized that I liked creating music more than playing it. In college, I enrolled in a dual degree program with Tufts and the New England Conservatory, where I earned degrees in drama and music composition.

I moved to LA soon after and joined a theater company, where I performed for several years. I missed the music and I felt that I could bring more as a composer than as an actor. I enrolled in USC’s film music program and after graduation I was recommended to Chris Lennertz, a wonderful composer who would become a great mentor and friend. We have collaborated on many projects over the years, including Supernaturalthe James Bond: Quantum of Solace and Starhawk video games, JUMP, identity thief, lost in space, Revolution, Agent Carter, The Smurfs: Lost Villageand jexito name a few.

What made you want to work there in A Madea Homecoming?

I’ll jump at any chance to point out Madea’s antics! Joel High, Sami Posner, Johnny Caruso and the rest of the folks at Tyler Perry Studios are fantastic, not to mention Mr. Perry himself. It is always a pleasure to work with this team of people. It was also a great outing to work on a wacky comedy like Back home after two years of pandemic and a difficult political environment.

What was the hardest part of working on A Madea Homecoming and how did you overcome it?

With Back home, there were a few places where the timing of the music fluctuated, even during sound mixing. It helps to have an experienced music editor like Johnny Caruso on board who can make adjustments to the score at this late stage and make it sound like it was planned that way from the start.

More generally – and Back home was no exception – one of the biggest challenges of any project is finding your way. I go through countless attempts at first, rejecting idea after idea. I remind myself that this is not only normal but necessary – the creative equivalent of flushing out sewer lines. Eventually, if I keep improvising, trying different sounds, different ideas, or sometimes just wandering around, I’ll find something. It may or may not end up in the final score, but it’s enough to keep me focused.

Once you’ve nailed an idea, the second challenge is to make it as polished and as true to what you want within budget and time. It’s still a bit of a Tetris game, but it can be fun if you’re excited about the raw material.

Do you have any funny behind-the-scenes stories from the making of A Madea Homecoming?

While it’s not really a behind-the-scenes story per se, there is one flashback scene that required a radically different approach to the rest of the score. We decided to mark it with a nod to the black of the 50s, a bit like the scores of from north to northwest and vertigo. The rest of the score doesn’t sound like that at all, so it was a lot of fun bringing that musical language to a 3 minute scene. I used wide and harmonically dense string passages and also featured low winds, such as alto flute and bass clarinet.

What are some of the things you learned on A Madea Homecoming that you can’t wait to apply to future projects?

Something I love about writing for film is being able to pivot to radically different styles. With Homecoming, I went from a funk-adjacent R&B ensemble to Herrmann-style black strings, and back to modern strings and piano, all in one movie. I can’t think of any other medium where a composer can do this and make sense of it. Any chance to do more of this musical hopscotch would be a dream.

Do you have any other upcoming projects that you could share with us?

While I can’t mention anything specific, I’m excited about two very different projects coming later this year. I’m so thrilled with the release of Homecoming. I think we can all use a good belly laugh right now.

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