Film and TV

Prepping Big-Screen Scores for the Symphony Is No Walk in Jurassic Park

Don't miss your ticket to see one of the most successful films of the ’90s paired with a live score by the Houston Symphony.
Don't miss your ticket to see one of the most successful films of the ’90s paired with a live score by the Houston Symphony. Courtesy of Houston Symphony
Film buffs and music lovers, get ready: The Houston Symphony will be your tour guide and part-time paleontologist for an A/V adventure through natural history this Thursday and Friday when the orchestra screens Steven Spielberg's 1993 megahit Jurassic Park on its large screen with a live accompaniment.

Conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos will lead the orchestra, and he reminds us why music is just as — forgive the pun — instrumental to every film as the plot itself.

“Various events need to be supported by music," he says. "Imagine if you put a DVD on and turn the music off, you quickly realize the music in a film supports the action, and it really helps to heighten the emotion.”

Such is the case for the film that recently experienced a rebirth thanks to Jurassic World, the 2015 reboot starring Chris Pratt, but to fit the live accompaniment to the film is no short order. It requires a couple of different systems, coupled with an intense knowledge of the film itself.

“We use a system called streamers and punches,” Kitsopoulos says. “It’s a screen that the conductor uses to know when to cue the orchestra and what the tempo for the music should be. There’s a vertical bar that goes across the screen. When it lands at a certain part, that’s when the music comes in.”

The maestro has a few other tricks up his tuxedo sleeve for getting the timing just right between the film and the musicians. “Quite often, we use a click track," he allows. "It has a metronome going. It’s programmed to change tempo when the music changes tempo."

But don’t be fooled into thinking this production is just a matter of computer monitors and metronomes. Even the most rehearsed conductor must be prepared for unforeseen challenges. “Any time you’re dealing with technology, things can go wrong," Kitsopolous says. "You have to think on your feet and fix the problem."

click to enlarge Steven Spielberg made dinosaurs cool again and reminded us never to mess with Mother Nature. After all, she's got a temper. - COURTESY OF HOUSTON SYMPHONY
Steven Spielberg made dinosaurs cool again and reminded us never to mess with Mother Nature. After all, she's got a temper.
Courtesy of Houston Symphony
Kitsopoulos should know. He was holding the baton for a similar concert when disaster struck. Houston Symphony reps tell us the group was playing the score to Star Trek in 2014 when the monitors failed completely, and he had to finish the concert without support.

Houston audiences were none the wiser. The concert finished without skipping a beat, thanks to the conductor’s meticulous study of the film and knowledge of the music.

“You do your best to deal with contingencies. It’s like flying an airplane. In your training, you’re trained to make ten mistakes before something disastrous happens,” says Kitsopoulos — who holds a pilot’s license, so we’ll take him at his word.

Modern musical organizations have learned to expect the unexpected as well, through a system of backups and double redundancies.

“They’re running the video on two different computers so that if one fails, the other picks up seamlessly. Things can go wrong, but you deal with it as it comes,” Kitsopoulos says.

The excitement of seeing Jurassic Park with a live orchestra is matched by the fervor and legacy of the film itself. The film earned its place in cinema history as one of the biggest blockbusters of the '90s, rivaled only by a short list of movies including Titanic, Star Wars: Episode I and The Lion King.

It also brought us this gem of a scene.

Spielberg recruited his longtime buddy John Williams to write the music. The working relationship between the two is a bromance for the ages; Williams has scored the overwhelming majority of Spielberg’s movies.

Williams is the musical mastermind who put the “B” in bite with Jaws’ two-note signature anthem, and the “F” in fight with Schindler’s List’s emotionally provocative theme. He’s also the man behind the music for E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Indiana Jones franchise, Saving Private Ryan, Amistad, Hook, The Adventures of TinTin and War Horse.

In case the previously mentioned achievements weren’t enough, Williams received the National Medal of Arts, the Kennedy Center Honor, the Olympic Order, and numerous Oscars, Grammys, Emmys and Golden Globes. He remains one of our nation’s most distinguished and contributive musical voices.

When he’s not busy cleaning the dust off his awards shelf, Williams also serves as the music director and laureate conductor of the Boston Pops.

Kitsopoulos sums up the experience by saying that this event is something everyone can enjoy.

“It’s a real family experience. It’s a wonderful way to see a film on a big screen, and it’s such a wonderful opportunity to hear a big orchestra. There are 85 to 90 players on the stage. To hear them making that sound together and making these melodies soar is something everyone should experience.”

Jurassic Park (plus live orchestral accompaniment) screens at 7:30 p.m. on June 15 and 16 at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. Visit or call 713-224-7575 for information. Tickets range from $23 to $112.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd